In recent weeks we’ve commented extensively on the need to revoke the ordination of pastors who have been convicted of child/sexual abuse. I’m confident our Voices writers and readers agree on that. We have not discussed how that can be done. That thought prompted me to do some research on revoking ordination. I checked the Broadman Minister’s Manual by Franklin Segler, a longtime professor of practical theology at SWBTS. His chapter on ordination is detailed and helpful, but he does not mention revocation. I also consulted W. A. Criswell’s Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors. His chapter contains lots of good information, communicated in his unique style. Again, Dr. Criswell does not write about revocation. After that, I went to the internet and found a helpful essay on ordination by Leo A. Endel (Executive Director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention), posted on the website of the Heartland Church Network. Dr. Endel draws heavily on Segler’s chapter in the Broadman Minister’s Manual, but he adds this on revocation:
In the event that an ordained pastor falls into unrepentant sin that causes shame on the church and our Savior Jesus Christ, the ordained person shall return their ordination certificate to the ordaining church. Charges against a pastor are very serious.1 Timothy 5:19, “Don’t accept an accusation against an elder [pastor] unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will be afraid.” It is the responsibility of pastors (especially those involved in ordaining the pastor in sin) to recommend to the ordaining church that a pastor’s ordination be revoked. It is the responsibility of the ordaining church to fully investigate the charges and revoke the ordination if necessary. Accusations should be handled in the biblical manner Jesus gave us in Matthew 18:15-17.
I’ve been a Bible college and seminary professor for 43 years, and I’ve participated in lots of ordination services, as you can imagine. I’ve also taught Baptist history and heritage.
Here are my thoughts on ordination:
- Churches should be slower to ordain candidates. William Thornton wrote that “some churches would ordain a ham sandwich.” This is only a slight exaggeration.
- Most ministry positions do not require ordination. Pastors and chaplains need to be ordained. The assistant youth director does not need to be. Famously, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was never ordained, and he did pretty well.
- Here in the USA ordinations are authorized and performed by a local Baptist church, but in many countries overseas, ordination falls under the authority of the association or state convention or national convention/union.
- A candidate for ordination should be properly trained for ministry and have been called to a ministry position.
- Candidates for ordination should be thoroughly vetted. We have always questioned the candidate about his doctrinal understanding, but we need to go farther now.
- Ordained pastors disqualify themselves by teaching heresy, joining another denomination, engaging in a pattern of immorality, and committing child abuse.
- Churches who learn of the above should communicate with the ordaining church to alert the ordaining congregation to the problem.
- Associations and state conventions should establish advisory committees to assist churches in conducting proper ordinations and by advising churches on the revocation of ordinations.
- An ordaining church that learns of disqualifying actions should, after adequate investigation, vote to revoke the ordination and publish that information in the state Baptist paper.
- The SBC should create a database that lists ministers who have been convicted of child abuse and financial fraud. Also, this database should include the names of ministers whose ordination was revoked. (The information provided should be extensive enough to avoid the problem of mistaken identity. For example, there are lots of SBC pastors named John Smith.)
As I mentioned, I’ve participated in many ordination services, both in the United States and in the Philippines. I have never recommended that anyone’s ordination be revoked, and I personally do not know of a church that has done this. Nevertheless, I believe that it is time to start cleaning house.