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.

 

____________________

[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].

____________________

[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.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine