A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination – Part 3

 (The following is Part 3 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)


II. A Return to Biblical Ordination

The Call to Ministry

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased business partner, appears to him. While Scrooge is distraught, he doesn’t trust his own senses. The bitter old miser doesn’t believe what he is experiencing is real. He tells the ghost, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” [1] It is not nearly as amusing to realize that, in many cases, the call to ministry has been reduced to no more than a peculiar feeling in the pit of a person’s stomach. Yet for many presbyters and congregants, this is all that is required to be considered for licensure.

I believe in a divine call to ministry. Paul told Timothy: “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” (1 Tim. 3:1, NASB). Martin Luther described this call as “God’s voice heard by faith” [2]. He believed there was a divinely-precipitated sense of leading. Charles Spurgeon described the call to the ministry as “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work” [3]. While God cannot be limited in how and whom He calls, there must be presbyters, endowed with God’s wisdom and spiritual discernment, who examine those who claim to have been called by God into ministry. They must be able to recognize the call of God upon a man’s life for the ministry. And, this must be done before commencing the licensure process. It would not be unreasonable to have a pre-licensure period for reflection and counsel with the person who claims God’s call on his life.

 Preparation and Selection of Presbyters

Dr. Darrell Holley once said in a chapel address at Welch College (then Free Will Baptist Bible College), “If you take the Bible seriously, you will find it hard not to be a scholar.” While most pastors will not be a scholar in the classical sense of the word, every man of God should be an ardent student of the Word. Every minister should be scholarly as well as pastoral [4]. There are different levels of intellectual abilities. God certainly does not always call the strong, the smart, or the influential, but has chosen at times to show His power through the weak. However, He does expect each minister to have more than just a cursory knowledge of His Word. There will be times that ministers should conduct intensive studies on pertinent passages in the Bible. It is my contention that ordination should be one of those occasions since ordination carries great weight in the church. Thomas Oden describes this importance:

“The received means of passing on an intergenerational ministry is by the laying on of hands with prayer by the power of the Spirit. This is a mark of apostolicity typically enacted ritually by the tactile laying on of hands in due order. It practice requires the due transmission of apostolic teaching. The act of ordination points beyond itself to the promise of transmitting the sacred deposit of faith to succeeding generations (italics mine), (2 Tim. 1:14; Irenaeus, Ag. Her. 3:4).”[5]

Many of the ministers who are called upon to serve on an examining committee or ordaining council may not have adequately grappled with the Scriptures concerning ordination. Yet the ordination of a minister is one of the most consequential events in Christianity. As mentioned above, district associations have little in place for the examination of an ordinand. Therefore, each district should appoint a group of ministers to meet each month to pray, study, and discuss all biblical passages pertaining to the Scriptural qualifications for a minister. The study should not only focus on the meaning of the passages, but on their practical relevance in ministry. Then, the ministers should devise an effective process for examination from the ordinand’s first petitioning to the end of the ordination process.

The Licensure Process

The candidate must usually be licensed for a period prior to ordination, often at least a year.

Treatise of Faith and Practices of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Inc.

In my opinion, this is the most critical time of considering a person for ordination. While I have proposed a season of examination and godly counsel in regard to a person’s claim to having been called by God, I think that this period should be the most rigorous time of scrutiny. It should also be a time for training and advice from the presbytery. While this process will necessitate a substantial commitment of time and effort on the part of the presbytery, it is vital for the future health and life of the church.

If an ordinand is unwilling to go through this process or is slothful in his participation, then the examination committee should terminate the process. If the ordinand has trouble, but is committed, the committee should work with him and perhaps extend the period of licensure. Yet, the fact remains that if the presbyters see that the candidate is unable to meet the criteria for ministry, then they should terminate the process and counsel the person to reconsider this calling and redirect himself to another area of service in the broader ministry of the church. In my lifetime, I do not know of a single time this has been done. Nevertheless, this responsibility rests on the examiners not the candidates.

Again, I have attached the Free Will Baptist Mentorship Program as an example, a starting point if you will, to precipitate this process. It needs much more work and certainly can be improved, but it is a beginning.

The Accountability of Association

Free Will Baptist churches, in most areas, have traditionally delegated this authority to the associations in which they voluntarily unite themselves. This is done because the local churches desire the assistance of their sister churches and ministers.

 Treatise of Faith and Practices of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Inc.

Local church autonomy is a vital component of congregational polity. This is why the Treatise emphasizes the free exercise of corporate volition in association. The Treatise is very clear on this point.[6] Yet, the language suggests the real need for not only the organization of associations, but for the accountability they provide. Even the Free Will Baptist Covenant alludes to this need.

 Having given ourselves to God, by faith in Christ, and adopted the Word of God as our rule of faith and practice, we now give ourselves to one another by the will of God in this solemn covenant.

 We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together for church conferences, public worship, and the observance of the ordinances of the Gospel:

 To this end we agree to labor for the promotion of educational and denominational enterprises…

We can see that voluntary submission to one another through association is built into the fabric of our movement. Associations serve a valuable purpose in many ways. One of the most valuable is ordination. Through association, we preserve our doctrine, maximize outreach and benevolence, and create a means of accountability. In ordination, we call upon the presbyters of the association to examine the ordinand to see if he is qualified for the ministry, committed to Free Will Baptist doctrine, and see if he pledges to be supportive of denominational endeavors on the local, district, state, and national levels. By requiring a commitment from the ordinand on these issues, our movement would be much more progressive.

Many decry the decline of associational meetings. However, if we would emphasize the importance of the association on every level to the next generation who are seeking ordination, we could revive these conferences in our ranks.

It should also be noted that some churches choose to bypass the district association and ordain on their own. Some of the time it is because the candidate will not or cannot meet the qualifications required for ordination among Free Will Baptists. When this happens, the association should not recognize them as ministers or deacons. While they can be elected as a local church delegate, they cannot serve as one of the ordained. This would serve further to purify the ordination process.


[1] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Plain Label Books), 35-36.

[2]Albert Mohler, Jr., Consider Your Calling: The Call to the Ministry, Thursday, July 15, 2004., http://www.albertmohler.com/2004/07/15/consider-your-calling-the-call-to-the-ministry.

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Piper, D.A. Carson, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor (Wheaton: Crossway Publishing, 2011), 13-17.

[5] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: Harper One, 1992), 758.

[6] Treatise, part 2, chapter 3.

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