The following information has been prepared by the Executive Committee of the General Board of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, and has been approved by the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
It must be clearly understood that these guidelines are intended to be descriptive, and not legislative. No governing body can set ordination requirements for the denomination as a whole; each ordaining body across the denomination has full liberty to follow whatever practices it chooses.
From time to time, however, various persons engaged in exercising ordaining responsibilities are desirous of knowing what is being practiced abroad in the denomination. For that reason this set of guidelines has been prepared. The Executive Committee trusts that the suggestions and descriptions will be helpful for those who need more information regarding ordination.
PART ONE: GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
A. The Authority to Ordain
1. Free Will Baptists, committed to the doctrine of congregational church government, understand that the authority to ordain ministers lies in the local church.
2. ln practice, however, some local Free Will Baptist churches work together in the matter of ordination by delegating the authority for ordination to the association of churches in which the local church holds membership. However, the true source of this authority should never be forgotten.
B. The Procedure for Ordination
In most areas of the denomination, ordination follows a procedure similar to the following:
1. The individual, acknowledging his call from God, makes known his calling and desire for ordination to the local church of which he is a member.
2. The local church, led by the Holy Spirit to recognize that the individual does possess the gift, proceeds to have the candidate licensed.
– In many areas, the local church grants this license directly.
– In other areas, the local church files a petition with the association that the license be granted.
– Generally, there is no formal examination of a candidate for licensing. The request or action of the local church is all that is necessary at this stage. (For this reason, local churches should “license” or request licensure only after being firmly convinced the candidate has been called by God.)
3. The license is in force for a period of one year, and may be renewed annually if the licentiate is not ready for ordination. This renewal must be made by action or request of the local church.
4. Near the end of the licensing year, if the candidate feels he is ready for ordination, he again approaches his local church and signifies this. The local church, if it too feels the candidate is ready, files a petition with the association that the candidate be examined for ordination.
5. Having received petition from the local church, the association’s ordaining body proceeds to examine the candidate.
– In reference to the examination step of the procedure, it should be noted that the details of the practice differ considerably from one place to another, but the basic practice is the same. Each association has some level of organization (a presbytery, ordination council or committee) that conducts the examination.
– Many groups require the candidate to fill out a formal application at this stage. This application should cover basic information on the candidate.
6. The ordaining body reports the results of its examination to the association as a whole, and makes recommendations to be acted upon by the association as a body.
– If a recommendation is made and approved that the candidate be ordained, the actual service of ordination soon follows.
– In some cases, the committee for examination will recommend some further studies for the candidate before he should be ordained, in which case his license will be renewed until the suggestions are followed and another examination made, or, in some cases, the committee should recommend that the candidate completely withdraw for consideration as an ordained minister, in which case his license should not continue to be renewed.
– It should be noted here that, in at least one or two areas, a recommendation for ordination does not have to be approved by the associational body as a whole. Such a practice tends to forget that ordination, after all, is done by churches, not the ministry.
7. The procedure for setting up the ordination service varies considerably.
– In many associations, the same committee that made the examination arranges and conducts the ordination services.
– In other areas, the associational recommendation is directed back to the local church and the local church arranges and conducts the ordination service.
– In some areas, the candidate is permitted to choose some or all of a committee of ministers to arrange and conduct the ordination service.
8. In all areas, the ordination service is conducted by ministers as the ordained representatives of the churches, and includes the “laying on of hands” as signifying the candidate’s ordination to the gospel ministry.
C. The Meaning of Ordination
1. Free Will Baptists believe in a divinely called ministry. Some groups do not practice any kind of official ordination. Free Will Baptists are not among these, but it should not be inferred that Free Will Baptists believe the church gives a man authority to preach. The authority for preaching lies solely with God.
2. Yet, the visible church always finds itself called on to pass judgment on the exercise of all spiritual gifts, the ministry included. The injunction of the Bible is everywhere “Try the spirits.” It is not sufficient that a man gain hearing simply because he says he is called by God and is bringing God’s message.
3. Ordination then, is simply the church’s official recognition that a man does indeed possess the gift and calling of God to the ministry and, therefore, is entitled to be heard as such.
4. There are really two levels of direct responsibility in ordination: the local church, primary; the associational ordination apparatus, secondary.
– Both levels should be thoroughly convinced, based on the evidence seen in life, ministry and knowledge, that the candidate has the required gift.
– The general public should always be able to rely upon the fact of ordination as a clear sign that many Christians of mature judgment have recognized that the one ordained is gifted and capable to minister.
5. No group responsible for ordination would presume to imply that it is infallible. Candidates genuinely possessing the gift may on occasion be rejected, but although this is true the ordaining councils must not simply decide to ordain anyone just because he desires it.
D. The Responsibilities of Ordination
1. The candidate who has been ordained continues to have certain responsibilities relating to those who have ordained him.
– He should report regularly to the body with which he holds ordination.
– He should submit to any call issued by the body for disciplinary purposes. If he shows himself, by conduct or doctrine, to be unworthy of continuing as ordained, he should willingly relinquish his ordination certificate to those who have the authority and having followed the correct procedures request it.
2. The ordained has obvious responsibilities to the Lord who has called him.
E. The Transfer of Ordination
1. A minister in good standing in one association is usually granted confirmation of his ordained status in another association with a minimum of procedural requirements.
2. Caution should be followed so that two definite responsibilities are observed.
– The association from which a minister is transferring has the shared responsibility to inform the new association if there were any questions at all about the minister’s standing, conduct, or doctrine.
– The association to which the minister is transferring should make sure, by whatever means are necessary, that the minister has left his former association in good standing, and is worthy by conduct and doctrine, of ordination.
PART TWO: STANDARDS FOR ORDINATION
Obviously, there is considerable variety within the Free Will Baptist denomination in reference to requirements for ordination. The following outlines will deal with the areas generally agreed to be most important.
A. General Qualifications of Character and Conduct
1. The earlier portion of these guidelines make it clear that the primary requirements for ordination is that the candidate’s life provide ample evidence to convince those who observe—both in the candidate’s local church and in a broader area—that he possesses the gift and calling of God.
2. More specifically, the character and conduct of the candidate should be above reproach. To begin with, the Bible itself furnishes a list of standards in this area, and this list should be carefully checked (l Tim. 3:l-7; Titus 1:5-9). All persons responsible for examining candidates should make sure, either by their own personal knowledge or by interviewing enough persons with direct knowledge, that the candidate meets the standards of these Biblical passages.
3. Obviously, the official recommendation of the local church should not be given to a candidate unless that recommendation can be fully relied on to mean that the candidate, by sufficient length of time, has given full assurance to the members of the church that he meets the standards of these Biblical lists.
B. The Candidate’s Business Relationships
1. One of Paul’s specific requirements is that the ministers “have a good report of them which are without” (l Tim. 3:7). In reference to this, great importance is placed upon the candidate’s financial reputation. The ministry has been blighted by men who do not pay their bills. Every effort should be made to ensure the candidate is scrupulously careful to keep his finances in order.
2. To aid in achieving this assurance, many Free Will Baptist ordaining groups now require the candidate to submit several credit references, and then perhaps even the credit bureaus are closely checked.
C. The Candidate’s Ministerial Activities
1. There have been far too many Free Will Baptist persons ordained as “preachers” who almost never preach or perform any real ministry for which ordination is required. Every effort should be made to be sure the candidate is actually going to be involved in ministerial duties. Indeed, he should already manifest ministerial abilities in some degree.
2. This need has brought more and more of our ordaining groups to follow the practice of only renewing license and not actually ordaining until a candidate actually gets involved in a specific ministry such as pastoring, regular evangelistic work, missionary labor, or some other type of church employment that needs ordination. Perhaps this reflects Paul’s requirement that the individual to be ordained not be a “novice,” neither immature as a Christian nor in Christian service.
D. The Candidate’s Marital Status
1. Perhaps the touchiest area connected to ordination requirements concerns divorce and remarriage. Paul says “the husband of one wife.” Most groups do not take this to mean a single man cannot be ordained, but only that if he is married, he must not be a polygamist.
2. In a few areas, a person divorced and remarried might be ordained, although this is not true in most places. Whether this is right and good is a matter that needs a great deal of careful study across the whole denomination.
E. The Candidate’s Gender
1. Throughout the years, a few women have been ordained to the ministry in the denomination, and a small number are currently active. The general trend, however, has been in the opposite direction.
2. Most areas will no longer ordain women.
F. The Candidate’s Education
1. To our knowledge there are no specific educational requirements connected with ordination that are generally followed across the denomination and probably never should be.
2. However, to raise the level of biblical knowledge (see the next section), some areas now require the completion of certain Bible correspondence courses in preparation for ordination.
G. The Candidate’s Biblical Knowledge
1. It is absolutely necessary that a minister have a good general knowledge of the Word of God. Many ordaining councils have procedures to help them determine the level of biblical knowledge possessed by the candidate. This is, indeed, one of the main purposes of the “examination.”
2. When administered well, oral examinations can certainly be sufficient, but many ordaining councils now require some type of written examination covering Biblical knowledge.
3. Examinations, whether written or oral should consider:
– Knowledge of general Biblical facts and ability to explain basic Biblical concepts. In order to cover these matters well, such examinations have to be carefully planned.
– The examining body should be prepared to recommend specific studies through which a candidate can prepare himself for the examination—both before his first examination and in preparation for a second examination—if he fails to satisfy the ordaining body the first time.
H. The Candidate’s Doctrinal Position
1. Closely related to the previous area (biblical knowledge) is the matter of the candidate’s doctrinal position and understanding. By actual examination (whether orally or in writing) the ordainers should be completely satisfied on three counts:
– That the candidate is doctrinally sound and holds a clear-cut position in agreement with basic fundamentals of Christianity;
– That the candidate is denominationally sound and holds a clear-cut position in agreement with the distinctive doctrines of the Free Will Baptist denomination;
– That the candidate not only knows the right words, but understands and can satisfactorily explain the doctrines involved in the two areas just mentioned.
2. Please note that Appendix 1 of this booklet contains a sample examination covering this area and the previous one. The examination is much like one in actual use by one ordaining group in the denomination.
APPENDIX ONE: A Sample Ordination Examination
Examination practices vary widely within the denomination, but all candidates for ordination should be examined carefully. Following are some suggested questions that may be used by ordaining groups as a means for determining the candidate’s sincerity, conviction of call, and knowledge in the basic areas of Biblical and denominational teaching.
The following questions may be used for oral or written examination; other questions, offered by the members of the particular ordaining council, may be added or substituted as felt needful.
Briefly tell of your conversion and give reasons for your assurance of salvation.
How long have you been a Free Will Baptist?
Why do you want to be ordained?
Give a short account of your call to preach.
Do you meet the qualifications of I Timothy 3: l-7?
Do you have a family?
Number of children?
Have you or your wife ever been divorced?
What is the extent of your education? Elementary? High School? College?
What is your attitude toward intoxicating beverages, tobacco, drugs or worldly amusements?
Do you believe without reservation that the Bible is the verbally inspired, infallible Word of God and that it is the only rule of faith and practice?
What do you believe about evolution and the Genesis account of Creation? What is the gospel?
What is salvation?
How would you proceed to explain the way of salvation to a lost soul?
Explain your views on baptism.
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
Should feet washing be observed? Explain.
What do you believe about apostasy and the perseverance of the believer?
Give your interpretation of the following doctrines:
-Deity of Christ
-The Virgin Birth of Christ
-The Work of the Holy Spirit
What is the church?
Who is eligible for membership?
How should the church discipline a member?
How should the work of the church be financed?
What are the duties of a minister?
What is the mission of the church in the light of Matt. 28:19, 20?
Who is a Free Will Baptist?
What is meant by the term “free moral agent?”
Have you read the Free Will Baptist Treatise completely and do you subscribe to the doctrines and practices that are outlined in it?
Is there anything in the treatise that you do not believe or would not teach?
If you ever changed your views on any of these doctrines what would you do?
What are the grounds for relinquishing your ordination credentials?
What is the relationship for the local church to the denomination?
References: provide three character and three credit references.
Do you solemnly pledge to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints and to faithfully uphold the Free Will Baptist doctrines outlined in the Treatise?
©2009 Executive Office, National Association of Free Will Baptists, PO Box 5002, Antioch, TN 37011-5002. Phone: (877) 767-7659.
*Permission to reproduce granted for local and regional church use.