Ordination is rooted in the need for order within the Christian community. It tends both to reflect and to shape the church’s life and witness amid changing historical circumstances. An important development in the post–New Testament period was the emergence of a three-office structure for ordained ministry (bishop, presbyter, deacon) and the subsequent transformation of that structure into a more authoritarian one as the church came to assume a public role in a wider cultural context.
In the formative years of the church its ministry exhibited amazing variety and adaptability. Emerging at Pentecost as a Jewish sect, the church naturally modeled its ministry in part on patterns borrowed from the synagogue. But the Spirit of Christ also fashioned new functions and channels of ministry through which the grace of God might be communicated. The principal “orders” of ministry that arose were those of the elder (bishop) and the deacon.