A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination – Part 5

  (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 fwbtheology@gmail.com)

 

Addendum

Implementation

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?

Gradually

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.

With Consensus

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.

Without Bias

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.

Associational Ordination

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 [1].

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 [2].

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.

____________________

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

[2] Treatise, chapter 3, section 1.

A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination – Part 4

 (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 fwbtheology@gmail.com)

 

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 [1].

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” [2].

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 [3]. This would strengthen our Free Will Baptist ministerium as well as the denomination.

Things Less Considered

Personality Problems

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

“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.

Conclusion

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.

____________________

[1] William F. Davidson, The Free Will Baptists in History (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 289-303.

[2] Jeremy Craft., The Importance of Being a Confessional Christian, February 14, 2011, http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=127.

[3] Treatise, part 4, chapter 2, section 2.

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.

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.

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.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine