(The following is Part 4 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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Encouragement to Obtain Formal Education
For many denominations, formal education is a requirement. For Free Will Baptists, it is not. While there isn’t space to devote to making the argument for this requirement, we must awaken to the realization of what our Free Will Baptist forefathers knew well: the necessity of an educated ministerium. Does this always mean attending college? In the past, formal education was not readily available to many in our ranks. However, there was a perceived need for upward mobility for the clergy in many Free Will Baptists minds, particularly when it came to learning. Yet, the commitment to providing a venue for formal education was very much alive in our history. Our historical landscape is dotted with colleges with Free Will Baptist roots .
Currently, if a person is willing to sacrifice, he can obtain a formal Christian education that is thoroughly Free Will Baptist (residential or on-line). Still, if a person feels like he cannot commit to such a course, he should be committed to attending seminars, Bible institutes and conferences, and reading broadly. This should be encouraged and instilled in all those seeking to serve the Lord in ministry. The District, State, and National Associations should provide the means and venues for this training. Learning and education should be a natural, noticeable facet of the Free Will Baptist culture.
A Required Commitment to Confessional Christianity
Confessional Christianity is another essential ingredient to licensure and ordination. Jeremy Craft captures the nature and significance of confessional Christianity:
“Confessionalism is not a term used very often among evangelicals. The idea is often associated with strict, rigid doctrine that has been the source of centuries of theological division within the Church. This, however, is a misconception of what it means to be confessional. Confession is the means by which the body of Christ seeks to identify and affirm the main doctrines and teachings of the biblical narrative as Christian truth. This enables us to know, teach, and protect sound doctrine. ‘[Confession] is the watchword by which [the Church] is known,’ states David Wells, ‘Without this knowledge, it is bereft of what defines the Church as the people of God, bereft of the means of belief, worship, sustenance, proclamation, and service. Confession must be at the center of every theology that wants to be seen as theologia, the knowledge of God, a knowledge given in and for the people of God’…
“This is the sole purpose of confession and has been the Church’s priority since her inception. It is why Jude exhorted Christians to ‘contend for the faith that was once delivered to all the saints’ (Jude 3). Paul charged Timothy to follow the ‘pattern of sound words’ and to ‘guard the good deposit’ (2 Tim. 1:13-14). He taught that it is by this means that Christians walk in Christ, being rooted, built up, and established in the faith (Col. 2:6-7). For this reason the Apostle John tirelessly reminded Christians to remember what they had received from ‘the beginning’ (1 Jn. 1:1; 2:7). The protection and establishment of this truth is a primary function of confession” .
Contrary to popular opinion, confessionalism is not divisive, but actually unifying. It unifies those with similar beliefs and enables them to see what degree of fellowship they can exercise with other movements. When a Free Will Baptist is confessional, he commits himself to a body of doctrine and practice that he believes to be the truth. In doing so, he becomes more than an enthusiast in a movement; he becomes a guardian of truth and an ambassador for Christ.
I believe that Free Will Baptist doctrine is the faith delivered to the apostles that they in turn delivered to the church. I believe that every minister should have the same commitment. Doctrine is not a necessary evil. Doctrine guides practice and therefore we are able to define our roles as Christians as well as ministers.
Where does a commitment to confessional Christianity fit into the ordination process? Every ordinand should be required to commit to the Treatise. It is our confession. If he cannot, then he should not be considered for ordination in the Free Will Baptist denomination. He should be charged that if he ever violates this oath and retreats from any doctrine or practice, he should voluntarily surrender his credentials. It also should be made clear to the candidate that if he is found in violation of any doctrine or practice, his papers will be rescinded . This would strengthen our Free Will Baptist ministerium as well as the denomination.
Things Less Considered
F. Leroy Forlines has perhaps been the foremost authority on personality among Free Will Baptists. In his unpublished manuscript “Understanding Yourself and Others,” Mr. Forlines explains, in effective detail, to difficulties that plague the human experience. It very well could be that upon examination the candidate may reveal or exhibit significant personality problems. Should this prevent him from seeking ordination? That should be answered on a case by case basis. Yet, if personality problems appear to be substantial, then this must be taken into consideration.
Additionally, the prevalence of such problems that congregants experience should be pointed out in the training process. It is unlikely that anyone can be fully prepared for the problems he will face in ministry. However, it is much less likely to be overwhelmed when there is an awareness and anticipation of difficulties that may be present ahead.
“Upward mobility” is defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as “the capacity or facility for rising to a higher social or economic position.” Again, Leroy Forlines expands the use of the term in relation to matters of propriety and ideals. It should be explained to each ordinand that a minister is to be a sterling citizen of the culture of excellence and ideals. The man called by God should be suitable the office to which he is called. Manners, deportment, and culture should adorn the office of the minister.
This is not a popular subject and many will disagree about this matter. Though I am in the lower class of citizenry of this culture, I do sense the need for improvement. Radical informality, a fascination with popular culture, and a disregard for propriety has no place in the ministry.
I long for the day when Free Will Baptists take an involved and serious approach to ordination. If there is to be a bright future for us, we must. I am convinced that God still calls men. But I am equally as convinced that we have issued a call “that whosoever will may come.” While this is true as it pertains to salvation, it is not true to those who are to be considered for formal ministry. God has made it clear in his Word that only the qualified may serve.
 William F. Davidson, The Free Will Baptists in History (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 289-303.
 Jeremy Craft., The Importance of Being a Confessional Christian, February 14, 2011, http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=127.
 Treatise, part 4, chapter 2, section 2.