A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination – Part 2

(The following is Part 2 of a 5-Part series of posts adapted from Tim Campbell’s “A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination,” presented at the theological trends seminar at the 2014 FWB National Association Meeting. Readers who desire a copy of the full-length presentation can request this by emailing their request to fwbtheology@gmail.com)

Disregarding Scriptural Qualifications

There is a process that has been established for ordination among Free Will Baptists[1]. Most ordaining committees have a questionnaire that candidates for licensure are required to complete, which are them examined by the committee [2]. There also may be an oral examination. Usually, in the questionnaire there are questions that address the Scriptural qualifications for ministry. Answers may range from a few words to a paragraph or two. However, rarely is an ordinand required to give thorough answers to the questions. Many times applicants simply consult commentaries and give general, rote responses. Seldom are the specific qualifications for ministry found in Scripture considered with any depth. This is not only true of the applicants, but also the examiners.

When considering someone for ministry, the Scriptural qualifications for ministry should be given more attention than a common word study. There must be a thorough understanding not just of what the qualifications are, but practical applications of what they mean in the context of life and ministry. The gravity of this duty falls on the examination committee (presbyters). Again, quoting Dever: “As they have the charge of souls, and are leaders in the house of God, churches cannot be too careful in choosing men to the ministerial function” [3]. The committee who meets with the candidate should be fully prepared to spend a significant amount of time in conveying and exploring the significance of each qualification. This should be done from the perspective of knowledge, but also from the crucible of experience. The examiners should speak specifically about the gravity of each qualification and speak directly to the applicant about his ability to adhere to the qualifications [4].

For instance, it is insufficient to give the meaning of not being a striker.  Hypothetical situations born out of real experiences should also be discussed in detail with the ordinand. He should be questioned and observed. Does he lose his temper? Does he strike back under pressure? This is but one example.

Out of necessity, this will require that the period of examination will be extended. But these qualifications cannot be compromised. They must be dealt with in serious detail.

A Detached Licensure Process

The last point raises another issue in the licensing process. Most associations say they are “setting someone aside” for ordination [5]. Unfortunately they are literally “setting them aside” for a year or whatever time is specified. Frequently a candidate is licensed and there is little or no contact with him until it is time for him to be ordained. Consequently, the licensure period is meaningless and of no benefit.

This observable time is crucial to the qualifications for ministry. It is one thing to hear an ordinand formally pledge that he will endeavor to live up to the qualifications for ministry; it is quite another thing to observe him doing it. This means that the ordaining committee/council should have scheduled mentorship meetings with the candidate [6]. When time is spent one-on-one in mentorship meetings with the ordinand, and time is specifically devoted to observe him in various facets of family and church life, then there will clearer discernment of the candidate’s worthiness for ministry.

If there is a comprehensive examination period, members of the council will be able to see if he, for example, rules his own house well. They can observe his wife to identify if she is behind his move into formal ministry. They can observe if he is prideful. But they will not be able to do this without meaningful, extended, and purposeful interaction with the ordinand.

Radical Individualism and Heart Mysticism

It is my contention that Free Will Baptists have been significantly and negatively influenced by the radical individualism that grew out of the Pelagian views [7] rampant in the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening (especially exemplified in the practices of Charles Finney and his followers) [8]. William McLoughlin states,

“Finney considered himself orthodox according to the standards of reason and experience and he did not feel that any other standards were necessary or valid: ‘The fact is, unless [a minister] can preach the Gospel as an experience … his speculations and theories will come far short of preaching the Gospel’ [Finny]. This pietistic concern for personal faith coupled with the implicit reproach against a learned, speculative ministry epitomized the whole evangelical movement. After 1835, churchgoers and ministers alike dropped their preoccupation with theology and based their religion on ‘experience.’ ‘Experience religion’ or ‘heart religion’ as opposed to ‘head religion’ was the essence of modern revivalism from its outset despite Finney’s (and Beecher’s) Lockean claims regarding the reasonableness of Christianity” [9].

The result has been nothing less than a lack of emphasis of commitment to theological purity and a swell of unbiblical aspects of heart mysticism and radical individuality. Doctrine is intentionally or unintentionally set aside in favor of Christian experience [10]. Guinness explains this matter in a discussion on pietism: “Whenever evangelicals have an experience of direct, personal access to God, we are tempted to think or act as if we can dispense with doctrine, sacraments, history, and all other ‘superfluous paraphernalia’ of the church—and make our experience the sum and soul of faith” [11]. Of course, this is a heretical denial of corresponding essentials of personhood; of thinking (intellect), feeling (emotions), and acting (will) [12]. Inner experience becomes the final authority in a person’s life. Michael Horton points out: “Obviously, if the truth or importance of doctrine is determined by what we consider most useful for our moral improvement and religious experience, many of the most important Christian doctrines will lose their weight and eventually their saliency” [13]. In this approach, personal experience always trumps doctrine.

The prominence of this error is easily seen in the call to ministry, and subsequently in licensure and ordination. A particular candidate may not be able to teach, but he claims that God has spoken to his heart. He may not at all fit the qualifications that Scripture requires, but the general consensus of examiners is, “Who are we to tell him that the Lord has not called him?” His personal experience trumps any or all of the Scriptural qualifications for ministry. What the ordinand claims that God told him overrules what God says in His Word. This is a travesty, yet it is prevalent among Free Will Baptists. We must repent and return to strict, Scriptural standards for licensure and ordination. Paul warned Timothy: “Lay hands suddenly on no man…” (1 Timothy 5:22a, AV).


[1] A Treatise of the Faith and Practices of Free Will Baptists, part 4, chapter 2, section 1.

[2] There is an ordination guide and questionnaire available from the National Association of Free Will Baptist, Inc. at www. http://fwbpastor.com/?p=256. However, there is not a standard guide for the denomination.

[3] Dever, Polity, 120.

[4] It is the responsibility of both the ordinand and those who ordain to proceed with caution toward the rite of ordination. The crucial injunction to “not be over-hasty in laying on hands” comes from First Timothy: Oden, Op Cit., 102.

[5] Treatise, part 4, chapter 2, section 1, C:1.

[6] Timothy G. Campbell, Free Will Baptist Mentorship Program (Unpublished Resource).

[7] This is a reference to certain features of Pelagianism. One specifically is the belief that one is not affected by original sin and has the power of will to choose good over evil without the “interior action of God upon the soul,”: Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (second edition), (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 897-898.

[8] Ibid, 1029-1030.

[9] William G. McLoughlin, Jr., Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1959), 66-67.

[10] Paul V. Harrison, “Pastoral Turnover and the Call to Preach.” The Journal of Evangelical Theology 44.1 (2001): 100.

[11] Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think And What To Do About It (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 38.

[12] F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 136-138.

[13] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 99.

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