A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination – Part 1

(The following is Part 1 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)

Introduction

These reflections are born out of personal experiences. I was reared in a Free Will Baptist minister’s home, saved and discipled, for the most part, in a rural Free Will Baptist church, and licensed and ordained by an historic Free Will Baptist Association in Arkansas. The whole of my ministry has been among Free Will Baptists. Because of ministry positions in national and state Free Will Baptist agencies, I have been in hundreds of Free Will Baptist Churches. Therefore, I can speak with a reasonable degree of authority on the subject about which I write.

After attending dozens of district, state, and national associational meetings, and having attended hundreds of church services and heard and observed the same amount of preachers, I have come to the conclusion that there are many who have been ordained to the gospel ministry among Free Will Baptists who are unqualified. More than a few do not have the ability to preach doctrinally sound, biblical sermons. Many do not possess adequate pastoral skills. Perhaps even more disturbing is that some manifest a mediocre attitude toward the responsibilities of ministry. The result is a tainted denominational ministerium.

Yet, incompetent sermonizing, inattentive shepherding, and a feeble view of the ministry are merely consequences of root problems. The problems are we have significantly diminished the ministerial licensure and ordination requirements in the Free Will Baptist denomination and we have created an ecclesial culture of mediocrity where anything or anyone is acceptable.

Two looming questions arise out of my proposition: (1) How was this culture created? (2) What steps can we take to correct it? The answer to those questions will be the body of my remarks.

 I. A Culture of Mediocrity

A Reduced Pool of Ministers

The demographics of Free Will Baptists are changing. It is my firm conviction that during the next few decades there will be fewer Free Will Baptist Churches. Small rural churches built close together around small communities of 40-80 acre family farms in the early part of the twentieth century have changed into 1,000-5,000 acre farms where technologically advanced agricultural equipment has replaced dozens of farm laborers [1]. Consequently, these densely populated rural communities in close proximity to one another have faded away. Also, many small towns built around these agrarian cultures have decreased in population and are now dying slow deaths.

What were once thriving country churches in these communities are now struggling congregations comprised of only a few people. In the next few decades, these churches will cease to exist. In some cases, the core of these churches will move to another Free Will Baptist church close by, but many will not.

The practicality of the present situation is that these churches are fighting to stay alive. One of the key components in their fight for existence is securing a pastor. Unfortunately, there is a very small pool of ministers who can afford, or who are interested in pastoring such a church. Adair T. Lummis makes a pertinent observation: “Regional leaders generally find helping congregations get the best clergy for openings paying good full-time salaries a far more pleasant and productive use of their time than trying to find clergy for congregations at a distance from urban areas, offering low clergy salaries.   It is probably fair to say that the great majority of regional judicatories have at least several and sometimes many congregations with open pulpits that cannot pay enough to attract a full-time pastor” [2].

Most churches that fit into this category draw from a small group of retired ministers in their area. There are more of these churches than ministers available. Therefore, the churches are forced to take who they can get. Many times, homegrown youngsters are coerced into ministry by these congregations simply so they can have a pastor. The churches actually contribute to the problem by doing this. Oden astutely observes: “Ill-prepared ordinations may jeopardize the health of the Christian community. This is why the advice and consent asked of all relevant parties in ordination is taken so gravely” [3]. Many times congregations settle for whomever they can get just to extend the life of the church while in actuality they are draining health from the church by settling for an unqualified pastor.

Free Will Baptist churches in this situation are numerous and have had, and are having, a great impact on the dumbing down of licensure and ordination standards for these reasons. In many cases, though they do not make up the bulk of statistical membership in a district or state association, because they are so numerous, their delegate count overrides attempted reforms in the standards and requirements for licensure and ordination [4].

Substandard Educational Levels

The general culture of only a few decades ago was much more learned than that of recent years. The reading, writing, and comprehension skills of a person who only had a grammar school education were more proficient than many high school or college graduates today [5]. Thus, their study and sermonizing abilities were much more scholarly as far as reading and comprehending the biblical texts.

Currently, many who petition for ordination are lacking in these rudimentary skills. Younger petitioners have been affected by an onslaught of technology and media. Gary Small and Gigi Morgan declare: “Daily exposure to high technology—computers, smart phones, video games, search engines like Google and Yahoo—stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones” [6].  They go on to cite another expert: “Since 1982, literary reading has declined by 28 percent in eighteen-to thirty-four-year-olds. Professor Thomas Patterson and colleagues at Harvard University reported that only 16 percent of adults age eighteen to thirty read a daily newspaper, compared with 35 percent of those thirty-six and older” [7]. The result is that those who do not seek any specialized or formal training for ministry are less knowledgeable ordinands than a few decades ago. This accounts for a significant number of Free Will Baptists.

Therefore, there is sufficient empirical evidence to suggest that the young preachers today who are answering the call to preach do not have the discipline and cultural educational background that their ancestors did.

An Abandoned Ministerial Apprenticeship

Before the mid-twentieth century, when formal training for ministry for the common man was not as accessible, mature, experienced ministers would consider it their duty to mentor young men who petitioned the association for credentials. Conversely, these young petitioners would eagerly attach themselves to those veteran pastors. There was a network for training and advice. It was a natural internship model that was unofficial, yet effective [8].

This classic model that was once prevalent in the Free Will Baptist culture is all but non-existent. While those who have been privileged to receive formal education could also benefit from such a model, those who have no formal education many times have nowhere to turn for training.

The Pervasive Attitude of Non-Confrontation

Serious churchmen are decrying the absence of biblical church discipline. Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. states: “The absence of church discipline is no longer remarkable—it is generally not even noticed” [9]. I believe that marketing philosophies of church growth adopted in the last few decades have created a mentality of lenience. Endemic to consumerism is “the customer is always right” philosophy. Biblical church discipline runs contrary to marketing and consumerism adopted by some churches. David F. Wells points out a key marketing mantra in rhetorical form: “how effective can discipline be if the person being disciplined can simply go down the road and find a new church?”[10]. While we cannot blame the church growth movement for the state of the broader culture, I believe you can see its contribution to the air of tolerance in the church world.

Also, postmodernism, in its day, unraveled any ties to truth and absolutes. If there is not truth or absolutes, then there can be no authority to impose standards [11]. Free Will Baptists have not been unaffected by these concepts. While we would say we believe in absolutes and standards, we have ignored the creep of consensus among us. Diversity, tolerance, opinion, preferences are all catch words that confirm our biblical timidity. Many times we are hard pressed to find people who will stand for clear biblical principles.

Lest a person doubt the last statement of the previous paragraph, I would like to offer an example taken from 1 Timothy 3: 2-7:

 “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” 

 The second phrase is “the husband of one wife.” For example, in the Arkansas State Association there are stated positions against the ordination of a man who has been divorced and/or remarried, or whose wife has been divorced and/or remarried [12]. Yet repeatedly in recent years this standard has been ignored in many sectors of the denomination. One of the primary reasons is that no one is willing to confront the issue. This is but one qualification. We take the others much less seriously.

My point is not to argue for or against the standard at this time, but to point out that people are willing to blatantly ignore denominational positions so they will not have to confront or rebuff people. Sadly, this is true of many presbyters with biblical principles surrounding licensure and ordination.

 

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[1] According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 1964 there were approximately 3.5 million farm units in the U.S. In 2013 there are 2.2 million farm units. That is a decrease of 37%.

[2] Adair T. Lummis, Finding Leaders at All for Part-time and Rural Parishes (Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research), 1.

[3] Thomas C. Oden, Classical Pastoral Care (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 103.

[4] The 2012 Free Will Baptist Yearbook’s statistical report showed that there were 1,130 city churches and 1,205 rural churches in the Free Will Baptist denomination.

[5] A 2002 Zogby Poll International conducted for the Princeton, NY-based National Association of Scholars states that high school graduates of the 1950s did approximately the same on a general information test as college seniors.

[6] Small, Gary; Vorgan, Gigi (2008-10-01). iBrain (p. 1). William Morrow Paperbacks. Kindle Edition.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Benjamin Randall established an elaborate organizational structure of quarterly and yearly meetings. Though concept of formal mentorship was probably in his mind, and there were probably more autocratic motives at hand, the establishment of Elder’s Conferences reflected, as Bryant states: “… [a] desire to maintain control, both theological and ethical, over the minister’s within the movement.” Scott Bryant, The Awakening of the Freewill Baptists, (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2011), 181.

[9] Mark Dever, Polity (Hunt Valley: Sheridan Books, 2001), 56.

[10] David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 237-238.

[11] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 209ff.

[12] See original document for full-length citation.

Theology and the Courts

by Jackson Watts

Recently the United States Supreme Court handed down several rulings on cases heard during their most recent term. This was nothing extraordinary. Typically during the summer months Americans hear from the highest court in the land—sometimes prompting relief, and other times bewilderment. Nevertheless, this is part of our unique civil experience.

Many Christians concerned with religious liberty were especially interested in one recent decision: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. By now, most readers will be aware that at the heart of this case was the refusal of several privately-owned, closely-held companies to provide the comprehensive contraceptive coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “Obamacare”). Specifically, these business-owners, driven by their religious convictions, argued they had legal grounds to refuse to pay for contraceptive devices or medications which were believed to be abortifacient (abortion-inducing). In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Court agreed with them.

The reactions to this decision have been nothing short of astounding. Reihan Salan of National Review and Fred Clark of Patheos both have articles here and here, respectively, which survey the range of responses to the Court’s decision. Naturally, anything that smells of the culture wars, and more specifically health care policy, will summon everyone from their respective corners of the ring.

Christians should take interest in such political moments for several reasons, though here I will highlight only two. First, this case concerns religious liberty and matters of the conscience. Second, the multi-faceted nature of this case reveals something deeper about the nature of theology and its relationship to politics.

Concern for the Conscience

The Scriptures caution us in numerous places to never use our freedom in Christ (often called “rights”) as a means to do evil, or trample over our Christian brethren (Acts 16:3). Depending on the context of these commands, sometimes they are aimed toward facilitating the relationships among Jews and Gentiles, while in other places they appear to relate more generally to Christian faithfulness in a fallen world (1 Pt. 2:16).

On the other hand, we find the apostle Paul appealing in several instances to his rights as a Roman citizen, apparently in order to advance his evangelistic ministry before the rulers of his day (Acts 26:32). Is there a conflict between rights and responsibilities? A complex relationship exists between these two, both in terms of civil life and Christian ministry. In short, however, I think Russell Moore is correct when he says that religious freedom is a good thing for everyone:

The ruling isn’t just a win for evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Greens [owners of Hobby Lobby]. It’s a win for everyone…A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens can steamroll over any dissent anywhere. Whether you agree or disagree with us about abortion, every American should want to see a government that is not powerful enough to set itself up as a god over the conscience [1].

While this argument will not be an obvious one to many secularists who find their own views (read religion) enshrined in government policy and leadership, the principle itself is worth some sustained attention. Christians take an interest in such cases because it reminds them that their faith is never truly a private matter. Thus, it will occasionally—and perhaps more frequently—bring them into conflict with the spirit of the age as it is manifested in public policy.

Politics as Theology

One of the challenges for the church and even ministries such as that of the Commission for Theological Integrity, is to adopt a sound framework of theological judgment. This entails the faithful instruction of biblical doctrine and the capable defense of that same doctrine. In many respects, Free Will Baptists have done these effectively compared with other Protestant denominations.

However, there is a lingering challenge reflected in the way we speak about theology. Because formal theological instruction has primarily been given through the discipline of Systematic Theology, this has had the tendency to truncate theology by reducing it to an outline of propositions Christians should affirm. We should quickly point out that Systematic Theology need not be approached in this way. Leroy Forlines, for example, has shown how ethics, counseling, preaching, and worldview analysis can be theologically-driven. It is unfortunate, then, that so many reduce theology to doctrinal affirmations. This leaves churchly practices like evangelism and worship, or even civil concerns like politics or economics, substantially uninformed by a decidedly theological perspective.

The Hobby Lobby case is an excellent example of how a full-orbed theology can help us exercise discernment. This case raises a host of profound questions: “Do corporations, that is, groups of people in business together, have religious liberty?” “Does concern for the reproductive rights of my neighbor require me to curtail my moral convictions?” “Does some of Hobby Lobby’s other business practices potentially expose them to charges of moral hypocrisy, or are those separate questions?” “In what ways do providing financial resources implicate one in the decisions of the recipient of those resources?” The list of questions could easily be continued.

When we consider these kinds of questions, we are forced to think deeply about several issues. We cannot resolve such questions by simply reviewing the Bill of Rights. We have to decide on what it means to be a moral agent. We must determine if going into business necessarily requires moral compromise. What does love of neighbor obligate one to in the realm of employment?

Some of these topics are traditionally addressed in moral philosophy (ethics). But historically one will find Christians—often ones we consider “theologians”—dealing with such issues. This is a helpful reminder that the courts, and the idea of government in general, are far more theological than we could ever imagine [2].

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[1] Russell D. Moore, “Why Hobby Lobby Matters,” http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/06/30/why-hobby-lobby-matters/ accessed on 15 July 2014.

[2] The work of Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan in Desire of the Nations and The Ways of Judgment has informed my thinking on this subject.

Fulfilling Our Purpose

by Matthew Pinson

 

The purpose of the Commission for Theological Integrity of the National Association of Free Will Baptists is threefold: “(1) to alert our people to theological trends that could threaten our theological integrity as a denomination, (2) to prepare materials that will contribute to the continued preservation of the theological integrity of the denomination, and (3) as need and opportunity arise, to conduct seminars on subjects which are pertinent to the purpose of the Commission.”

Great things are happening with the Commission for Theological Integrity as we continue with tried and true ways, and seek new ways, to fulfill our purpose as a Commission.

This new blog is part of our attempt to do more to advance the vision laid out for us by our denomination. It is our hope that you will find this blog helpful, and we would love to hear from you about how we can improve it.

This blog will not have a set format. Our goal will be to post at least one post per week. The blog will be a platform for the members of the Commission to offer personal reflections that fit within our broad purpose as a Commission. The posts might be simply brief notes or comments on books we have found helpful, discussions of various issues of theological significance, or even longer, scholarly explorations of a topic. The opinions of each contributor will not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Commission or the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

It was our pleasure this past year to welcome two new members to the Commission who were elected at the 2013 annual session: Randy Corn, pastor of Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church in Ashland City, Tennessee, and Jackson Watts, pastor of Grace Free Will Baptist Church in Arnold, Missouri. We also wish to commend Craig Shaw, who resigned from the Commission last October, for his years of service. Our other members are Kevin Hester, chairman of the Department of Theological Studies and Director of Institutional Planning and Assessment at Welch College, and myself. A fifth member will be elected at the annual meeting of the National Association in Forth Worth.

Last October, we sponsored our seventeenth annual Theological Symposium. The Symposium met on the campus of Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in Moore, Oklahoma. Our eighteenth annual Theological Symposium will meet this October on the campus of Welch College. The theme will be “Theology and Practice: Evangelism in a Post-Christian World.” We will host a panel discussion on the symposium theme, and Dr. Mark Coppenger, Vice President of Extension Education and Professor of Apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will be our featured guest speaker.

We invite paper proposals for this symposium. While preference will be given to the conference theme, proposals will also be accepted on other topics. All who are interested in submitting papers for possible inclusion in the Symposium program are encouraged to contact Jackson Watts at fwbtheology@gmail.com.

The Commission will publish the next issue of Integrity: A Journal of Christian Thought, this year. The journal is provided free of charge to Free Will Baptist pastors, as well as a number of theological libraries, and can be purchased for a nominal charge.

The 2014 Commission Seminar at the National Association meeting will feature Tim Campbell, executive director of Arkansas Free Will Baptists. He will present “A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination.” That seminar will be held Monday, July 28, at 2:00 p.m., in Hall CD of the Fort Worth Convention Center.

We’d love to hear from you. Please email us or comment and let us know how we can serve you better through this blog and the other initiatives of the Commission for Theological Integrity.

Evangelism in the Post-Christian West

2014 Theological Symposium Announced

The Commission for Theological Integrity invites you to take part in the 18th annual Theological Symposium, October 27-28, on the Campus of Welch College in Nashville, Tennessee.

This year’s symposium will explore “Evangelism in the Post-Christian West” and will include a panel discussion featuring Dr. Mark Coppenger, professor of apologetics and director of Southern Seminary’s Nashville campus.

Make plans to attend this important event today.

 

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine