Ordain –A word study

I was, for whatever reason, singing the Preamble song from Schoolhouse Rock earlier this weak, when my mind pinged on the word Ordain in the Preamble. I had never noticed it before, and I started wondering why the word was used, and what it meant in that context.  See the Preamble below:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My most common association with Ordain is in the religious context, where pastors and elders are ordained by a church. In that circumstance, when one is ordained it means that:

  1. The candidate meets the Biblical qualifications of the role of elder or pastor
  2. Is considered by the church leadership to be called into this ministry
  3. Is thus commissioned by the church to fulfill this responsibility

From a dictionary perspective, the word ordain means: order by virtue of superior authority; decree.

If I wrap that definition into the religious context, I see that the church councils that are ordaining a candidate are doing so based or the superior authority of God expressed through their church hierarchy.

So WHY did the word ordain get put into the preamble, and what does it mean there? I don’t think there is any appeal to religious authority here.

Think back to the Declaration of Independence. There was a bold declaration there that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The Preamble is explicitly calling upon this power of the people, those with superior authority over the government, to ordain this constitution as

  1. deemed qualified by the people to fill the role of government
  2. called by the people to fill the role of government
  3. commissioned by the people to so fulfill this responsibility for the people, under and through their authority

To me the importance of the word ordain is that the constitution wasn’t just thrown together, to be scrapped upon any whim. It was a serious construction and process by the people, by their sovereign authority, to ensure there was a suitable candidate to fulfill this role.

But just like any ordained minister can be stripped of their ordination when they go outside the calling or countermand the terms of their original calling, the people can choose to remove the authority of the government when it abuses the responsibility entrusted to it. Such a process, like the defrocking of a pastor or priest, is not easily done, and such process can cause serious dissention. But any person entrusted with authority who thinks they have the right to decide what is right even if they know it countermands the commission they have been given, isn’t being faithful to their calling, and needs to be removed.

I am sure many other thoughts follow from this, but I’ll choose to end my contemplations here. feel free to continue them in the comments.


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