"Online Ordination FAQ"
1. Is online ordination a legal ordination?
Yes. As an independent church with thousands of members around the world, The First International Church Of The Web has the same legal rights as any other church. This includes the right to legally ordain ministers, to issue independent church charters, and other legally recognized church activities.
2. That sounds good, but what is the legal basis of this?
In 1974, the United States government was sued by the Universal Life Church in response to the government's challenge to their right to have a tax-exempt status. When the judge ruled on this case, he also addressed the question of mail-order ordination, independent church charters, etc. While the Universal Life Church is not really a Christian ministry, nevertheless they performed a great service to all non-traditional ministries by fighting this case in court and eventually winning.
The following is excerpted from the court's decision in this case. The Universal Life Church is referred to as Plaintiff:
"...an Honorary Doctor of Divinity is a strictly religious title with no academic standing. Such titles may be issued by bona fide churches and religious denominations, such as plaintiff, as long as their issuance is limited to a course of instruction in the principles of the church or religious denomination... The statute is silent as to recognized honorary titles conferred for some meritorious recognition."
The court then addressed the issue of whether the ordination of ministers, granting of church charters, and the issuance of Honorary Doctor of Divinity certificates are substantial activities which do not further any religious purpose. The following is excerpted from the court's decision:
"Certainly the ordination of ministers and the chartering of churches are accepted activities of religious organizations... The fact that the plaintiff distributed ministers' credentials and Honorary Doctor of Divinity certificates is of no moment. Such activity may be analogized to mass conversions at a typical revival or religious crusade."
Now here is the real meat of the court's decision, and the part that guarantees the legality of your ordination:
"Neither this Court, nor any branch of this Government, will consider the merits or fallacies of a religion. Nor will the Court compare the beliefs, dogmas, and practices of a newly organized religion with those of an older, more established religion. Nor will the Court praise or condemn a religion, however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may seem. WERE THE COURT TO DO SO, IT WOULD IMPINGE UPON THE GUARANTEES OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT."
So you can see, your ordination is completely legal and every bit as respectable as an ordination from any other church. If you'd like to read the complete case decision, it's filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, Civil No. S-1954.
3. If that's true, why doesn't this ministry issue Dr. of Divinity degrees?
Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degrees are available from Educational Outreach Ministry; email us for suggestions.
4. How is an ordination from an online Christian Church different from an ordination from the Universal Life Church, or World Christianship Ministries, or other mail-order ordination services?
That's a good question. Since there are differences in the two, let me first address the ULC, then World Christianship Ministries and others.
First, it is important to recognize that the Universal Life Church, while it is a church, is not really a Christian church. Their only doctrine of belief is that one should "do what is right", and they make no definitive statement of what is right, but leave that up to each individual member. The ULC openly and as a matter of policy embraces all belief systems, even atheism. See, even an atheist can be ordained by the Universal Life Church. These are all openly stated policies of the ULC. If you are a Christian who has been ordained by ULC, you are especially encouraged to join our church and receive a truly Christian ordination.
World Christianship Ministries, as well as United Faith Ministries, and others like them, are what is known as "Ordination Ministries", and are sometimes referred to as "mail-order ordination services". As such, they provide a service and fill a need, and it is not my intention to claim otherwise or in any way defame them. However, they are not churches. They don't have a church membership, beyond their own records of ordination, or certain "associations" of clergy, membership to which they charge a fee. In all fairness, they don't claim to be churches. They are, in fact, exactly what they say they are, "Ordination Ministries".
An online Christian Church, on the other hand, Is a Christian church, based on the Bible and its teachings, and committed to spreading the Gospel of Christ. Membership in our church is free, as are our ordinations. Your ordination has the full backing of Saint Luke's Evangelical Ministries. So, when you've been ordained, you can rest assured that your ordination is from an established, Christ-centered church. That is what makes our ordination different from those offered by the Universal Life Church, World Christianship Ministries, and other "Ordination Ministries".
5. Okay, but I haven't donated any money, or gotten a Certificate of Ordination, or anything like that. I received a free ordination, and all I have is an e-mail letter. Is this legally recognized?
Yes, e-mail is a legal document. Of course, you should print or save the e-mail letter of ordination for your own records. Also, many of our clergy do like to have the Certificate of Ordination and laminated wallet sized card. If you're planning to perform marriages, you are, however, advised against trying to register with the authorities using only the e-mail letter of ordination, simply because there are some people who aren't aware of the legality of online ordination, and they may refuse to accept the e-mail letter of ordination. If you're going to be registering to perform marriages, you should at the very least order a Letter of Ordination on Church Letterhead and embossed with the seal of incorporation of our church.
6. Okay, I've been ordained, and I'm ready to start a ministry or church. How do I get an Independent Church Charter? What's that cost?
Church Charters are available for order via email, for a very small contribution. When ordering, please include a URL to your church's web site or some other means for this ministry to verify that you're chartering a Christian ministry. This ministry will not knowingly issue a charter to a non-Christian ministry.
7. I got ordained so I could perform marriages. What do I need to do to legally perform marriages?
You just need to check with your local County Clerk's Office and get details on things like filing the marriage license, ages of consent, blood test requirements, etc. They'll be happy to give you all the details and necessary forms. While you're there, ask them to show you how to fill out the license, so you can be sure you do everything correctly. Other things to check on are whether you need to file a copy of your ordination credentials before doing weddings, whether you need a license from the state or county to do weddings, how many days before you must return the marriage license to the county, which office to file the license with, and are there any other requirements before you can perform weddings. Again, you're advised against trying to register using only your e-mail letter of ordination. Be prepared to show your Certificate of Ordination, or, at the very least, the Letter of Ordination on Church Letterhead.
Finally, Nevada, Oregon, and New York City all have laws that may require you to have a formally recognized church with a congregation before being allowed to do weddings. This may require you to incorporate your ministry in Oregon and Nevada.
Canada, that country has particularly restrictive laws regarding who may register to perform marriages. But even in Canada your ordination is acceptable for all other regular duties of any member of the clergy.
8. I'm glad I got ordained, but some of the people I tell about it don't seem to take it seriously. What should I do?
As an ordained Christian minister, it's up to you to make the most of it. If you minister to others, show Christian love in all your actions, start a church or ministry, and otherwise demonstrate your calling as a Christian minister, who can argue with your ordination? Look at it this way - do people respect the Rev. Billy Graham because he carries around a document that says he's ordained? No, of course not! They respect him because he is obviously a man who has committed himself to serving Our Lord. If you are also committed to service and ministry, you'll be respected as a minister, no matter where your ordination came from.
9. Where can I find information on how to perform a marriage, baptism, or other rites and services?
Your local Christian book store is a great place to start. Most have a selection of books for clergy covering marriages, baptisms, funerals, writing sermons, etc. They are also good sources for blank marriage and baptism certificates, and even clerical clothing.
10. Do I have to wear clerical clothing while performing marriages or other services?
No, that's completely optional. A nice suit and tie if you're a man, or dress or gown if you're a woman, should be acceptable for almost any occasion. In some instances, the couple being married may actually prefer an informal ceremony and request that you "dress down". You should attire yourself according to the wishes of the couple being married.
11. I've been ordained, but I'm not sure what sort of ministry I should start. Any suggestions?
This is something that you can only answer after much prayer. You may even try several different types of ministries before you find the right one for you. Our Lord and His Holy Spirit is your best guide when starting any ministry.
12. Different types of ministries? What do you mean?
There are many different types of ministries. Here are a few examples: marriage ministry, bible ministry, chaplain, Christian relief ministry, church minister or pastor, evangelist, street ministry, tract ministry, film ministry, home fellowship ministry, hospital or nursing home ministry, prison ministry, home visitation ministry, informational ministry, missionary work, music ministry, one on one ministry, radio and T.V. ministry, rescue mission ministry, or you may even want to start a ministry on the internet!
I hope this FAQ has helped you with your ordination and new ministry.
God bless you.