(The following is Part 5 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 issues that have been raised are weighty and were written not only to precipitate a serious conversation about these matters, but to begin the process of designing corrective, biblical strategies. How we can implement a more serious approach to licensure and ordination?
A top-down approach is rarely successful among Free Will Baptists. My suggestion is that local associations should prayerfully, thoughtfully, and gradually implement changes in the licensure and ordination process. All comprehensive reforms will not materialize quickly. However, if someone does not begin the process, they will never occur.
There will be resistance if a move is made to change licensure and ordination standards. Some opposition will be principled and some will be emotional. While we will never achieve full consensus, I believe it prudent to secure broad support for changes. This means that there will need to be extensive, meaningful discussions on this issue and the peripheral ramifications cited in this work.
By Qualified Presbyters
No matter what you call your ordination committee (examining board, presbytery board, etc.); it should be comprised of men of God who see their duty as a grave responsibility and calling of the church. This is not to say that members have a permanent position on such a council. However, appointments to this council shouldn’t be shuffled around so that each minister gets a “turn.” As mentioned above, council members may need to reexamine or receive training in matters that pertain to true biblical ordination. Never let the novice or the unprepared occupy a place on the ordaining council.
It is my opinion that we often re-label issues of principle to “preferences.” When this happens, it is supposed to signal to all that this issue is undebatable. The modern view is that issues that have been downgraded to preferences are just opinion and have no substance. This is not always true. There is such thing a legitimate ethical reflection and discernment.
Nevertheless, genuine preferences can and do invade the ordination process. It is possible that an ordinand will be quizzed as to whether his wife wears pants, his millennial view, or anything in-between, but never asked to account for whether or not he is sober-minded or exhibits self-control. While I am convinced that many matters of propriety and belief are worthy of discussion, the ordination process must be kept biblical and never impose standards that are not required by or informed by Scripture.
There is also the danger of politicization. An ordinand may be related to a prominent churchman. He might be well-known to the examining council. But shortcuts should never be taken because of the fear of reprisal or due to familiarity. The process must be kept biblical.
It should be noted that this doesn’t necessitate total uniformity among associations. For example, some associations may stipulate that an ordinand be involved with a specific ministry prior to ordination. Some might require formal or informal (associational) training. Such stipulations would not qualify as a bias.
Under The Authority of the Body
I have emphasized the importance of a serious and qualified examining board. However, the importance of this council can never supersede the authority of the church body. In fact, when a candidate is licensed or ordained, a thorough account of his worthiness for ministry should be offered to the body for their prayerful, extended deliberation and approval.
Our Treatise reads:
SECTION I: His Ordination
A. The authority to ordain ministers has its source in the local church.
B. 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 .
Free Will Baptist churches, while independent, do not practice isolation. They form associations with one another in several levels of organization described in this chapter. It is to be remembered, however, that these associations are voluntary, both at the beginning and in their continuation. The local church remains at liberty to withdraw from the association it has voluntarily joined .
Voluntary association has always been an intricate component of Free Will Baptist polity. While maintaining the autonomy of the local church and upholding the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, most Free Will Baptists have always seen the wisdom and value of conference (association) membership on the district, state, and national levels. The reasons for these associations are numerous. One main reason is for the purpose of assisting in the licensing and ordination of ministers and deacons. J. Matthew Pinson in his book, “A Free Will Baptist Handbook,” describes the general process:
“How is a Free Will Baptist minister ordained? The process differs from association to association. When one sense a call to ordained ministry, his local church determines whether or not to recommend him to the presbytery or ordaining council of the association or conference. The minister must usually undergo a period of licensure for a year. To become a licensed minister, the individual must be recommended by his church and examined by the presbytery of his local association.” [italics mine]
In recent years some have trended away from associational licensure and ordination to local church ordination. The reasons for circumventing associational ordination will vary. As I have previously stated, the ordinand may not meet the qualifications that Free Will Baptist requires. However, some churches may ordain their own because of the anemic or superficial licensure and ordination process of an association.
Barring extreme circumstances, I believe there are good reasons for associational ordination. On the negative side, most local congregations do not have a plurality of elders (ministers) for an adequate and thorough examination process. Also, local church ordination, I believe, is much more susceptible to partiality and bias. The networks of relationships are close in local congregations. In some churches family structures are embedded within the church assembly. The potential for partiality and bias is high, though it may even exist on a sub-conscious level. Local power structures and relational subjectivity are less likely to occur in an associational setting.
On the positive side, associational ordination fosters uniformity in the ordination process. It also brings years of experience and expertise from multiple, committed presbyters to bear on the process of examination. When local churches utilize the associational presbytery, there is also an apparent level of transparency and testimony for them and their candidate that conveys that they are an island unto themselves, but welcome the accountability of the broader body of associational churches.
 Treatise of the Faith and Practices of Free Will Baptists, part 4, chapter 2, section 1 (A. & B).
 Treatise, chapter 3, section 1.