Reflecting on Adam Walker Cleaveland's Ordination

For the last few days I’ve been thinking about Adam Walker Cleaveland’s latest frustration in getting ordained. Check out his post, “When an M.Div. from Princeton Isn’t Enough”.  What do you do when the denomination that you are seeking ordination from is making you jump through (to say it politely) seemingly unnecessary hoops?  As we all like to say, each situation is different but unfortunately, not every situation is treated as a unique case and their treatment of him seems to fulfill every negative stereotype of the institution.  And our dear friend believes they like him.  

The quick summary is that he is trying to be ordained by a particular presbytery, but this one is unsatisfied with the classes that he took to complete his MDIV from Princeton Seminary.  Add that he has another Master’s in youth ministry and passed his standardized test on his first attempt, they still want him to take 7 more classes!

Provided the concessions he is willing to make (taking the two classes he mentions on his post), I do not understand the motivation behind this denomination in making things so difficult.  I understand that we as a church do not want “just anybody” to get ordained but it’s been my understanding that we still want people to actually get ordained. Right?

This is reason 587 of why people leave an established tradition and start their own which eventually repeats the same problems which is why we have so many denominations and independent churches.  Honestly, I would not have believed it unless I was alive now – it’s almost unfathomable.  Admittedly, I do not read all my emails/memos but are we trying to catch up to the number of boy bands or something?

But here we are and denominations and the Jonas Brothers are a part of our reality and I’ve come to appreciate and dislike a great deal about being in a denomination.  I feel I can contrast this for my first church was independent and my current is a part of the Evangelical Free Church Association (we like to say that we are not a denomination but for this post, I’m going to say we are.  Please don’t tell them or I might not get ordained ;-). 

The advantages of being in a denomination is the comradery that you can have – if you want it.  Honestly, I enjoy our annual meetings and I like the emails that I receive informing us of a networking opportunity or a new church plant or workshop that is coming to the area and various other things.  Independent churches have to network themselves with others to have something similar which is something that my previous church was not interested in.  But it’s great to be a part of a similarly-minded community that you desire each other’s mutual success and fulfillment in serving the Kingdom.  After seminary, I will have been in this denomination for 4 years and by then, I think I will have a feel for it.  Assuming I feel the same way I do now, I’ll apply for ordination here.  Having spoken to countless people and reviewing the ordination packet, I’m confident that I will have a better experience but if not, hmmm …

Anyway, I could go on and contrast but Adam’s case demonstrates an obvious problem – the ridiculous behavior of those with too much power and not enough sympathy over an issue of great importance.  My personal opinion is that they simply do not want Adam to be associated with their denomination.  Which is a real sad statement to make but I am simply unwilling to believe that a group of reasonably intelligent people reviewed his application and came to this unsympathetic conclusion.  Given the story is as I read it, they have thoroughly investigated the matter and determined that they will make it next to impossible for him to obtain this ordination from them and are hoping that he gives up and proceeds in a different direction, likely the Methodist Church as this is the tradition he is currently serving in. 

Prediction:  Having won the lottery, Adam could go back to school to obtain the completion of these classes and achieve the highest grades a student has ever received. Mark my words, new issues will have arisen detailing why he cannot be ordained or what he needs to do next in order to be ordained.  It may be something simple like, “We have too many men so we need you to undergo an operation” or it may be something completely impractical like, “We need you to read all the Left Behind books and believe that they are based on the Bible”.  As surely as Calvin watches from heaven hating the acrostic TULIP, this presbytery has foreordained Adam not to be admitted. 

Though I would negotiate and exhaust the opportunity to satisfy my stubborn need for closure, Tony Jones offers an interesting solution.  Skip the denomination and be ordained through his community of friends (Also, I do agree that they are sinning against Adam.  It’s just too cold for a group of supposed God-fearing people to act).  What would it look like, what would it actually mean?  If Adam was not in his Methodist setting, but planting a church or something, I would find this to be beautiful and an ideal solution.  In any case, I am signing the “petition”.  You can do so too here.  

Back to the point though, If we weren’t thinking like a present-day Christians, we may consider this to be obvious.  Can’t you hear the thought, “Well who needs some denomination to tell you that you can administer the sacraments?  Where did Paul get his ordination?  You say from the Lord Himself right?  Prove it.  Are you going to show me a letter written by Paul or one by his friend Luke?”   

If we weren’t present-day Christians that grew up with terms like denominations and accreditations, we could make a safe assumption that as a Church, we could ordain each other.  I understand why doctors have MCATS and get Board certified and get licenses.  But similar to how church communities hire and call pastors, it seems they could/should have the same ordination privileges.  What if that were expanded and an individual was able to select their ordination committee? 

This is what I don’t like about our current state of the church.  We read passages like I Cor. 12 and call ourselves a Body then do everything we can to be as non-relational and unemotional and take on the form of some kind of robot void of a soul.

All this said, I will respect whatever Adam concludes he ought to do whenever he decides to do it.  He has a lot of good advice on that blog and many people care about him (and yes, there are those that call themselves Christians that are eager to watch him fail and suffer too.  They are the canker sores and warts of the Body and Christ died for them and I love them like Jesus loved the Pharisees).  Grace to you, Adam.