One of the most common questions I’ve fielded over the past few decades is about the ordination of Southern Baptist clergy. The most common misconception in regard to ordination is that seminaries confer ordination after the individual graduates, along with the degree earned.
Nah. Seminaries confer a lot of stuff but not the thing that lets the pastor or prospective pastor be properly addressed as “The Reverend,” “Rev” in rural South Carolina, as in “Hey, Rev…”.
Here are a few facts and opinions on Southern Baptist ordination:
There is no Southern Baptist theology of ordination, or so I’m told was stated by our leading public figure, The Reverend Doctor Albert Mohler, president of our largest seminary and candidate for president of the SBC next month.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (and, did some media guy change the name of this from The Baptist Faith and Message Statement?) does not have a single syllable about ordaining clergy. The word appears a couple of times: “God has ordained the family” and ” “civil government being ordained by God.
There is no registry of all ministers ordained by Southern Baptist churches. Not at the Executive Committee. Not at state conventions although they compile a list of self-submitted ordained clergy. Just how many ordained Southern Baptist ministers are there? No one knows.
The two “scriptural offices” of the church are “pastors and deacons” according to the BFM.
As a general practice, churches will ordain those who serve who feel called to serve in these two offices, but no church is compelled to ordain their clergy or deacons, nor are they required to utilize only ordained individuals as their pastor.
Longstanding church practices include the ordination of a panoply of sub-pastor positions: age specialists, music leaders, administrative tasks, teachers, recreational leaders, etc., etc. The widespread use of ordinations by SBC churches is a scandal itself.
As a practical matter, no function of the church (serving the Lord’s Supper, baptisms) requires an ordained individual. Churches may authorize any individual, they don’t even have to be saved, or of any gender, or of any age, to perform religious functions within the church.
Guidance for ordination comes from popular pastor guide books, not from official SBC actions or guidelines. Your humble hacker and plodder blogger, for example, found guidance in The Broadman Minister’s Guide (Seigler, 1968)and later, I think, Criswell. I have no idea where my younger whipperspapper millenial clergy colleagues get their guidance. Maybe from Twitter.
Ordination, seems to me, is a carryover from the Catholics and other sacerdotalists, without the sacerdotalism. I have been around a few who acted as if their ordination by a popular or highly successful megapastor conveyed some special grace on them. (I watched a couple of these crash and burn. No special grace was evident.)
My Baptist historian friends here can inform me of all the obscure writings that no one reads but them and that do nothing more than, well, provide a little history lesson.
…which brings us to the transcendent Rick Warren and Saddleback Church. Notably, they ordained three females as pastors. I saw the picture, three females kneeling with a bunch of people laying hands on them. You read it: brouhaha ensued, ugly tweets, opinions about kicking out the church and the broad implications for Christendom.
Two things about Saddleback’s action
1. Ordination of women doesn’t violate any Baptist Faith and Message article. Some churches will ordain a ham sandwich. Some churches have ordained pedophiles, adulterers, murderers, thieves, liars, and St. Louis Cardinals fans.
2. The ordination was of three women who were called by the Saddleback people “pastors” but they were sub-pastors, under the authority and supervision of the honcho, head, lead, senior, big dog pastor, Rick Warren. Saddleback’s website calls Warren “our pastor,” not “one of our pastors.”
3. In a way not admitted by anyone besides myself, the clergy Housing Allowance and Internal Revenue Service are more important to SBC clergy in regard to ordination than any theological doctrine about it.
Should a motion be offered at the SBC Annual Meeting, I will not be voting to exclude Saddleback church for their action. I don’t see a violation of the BFM. Strange indeed, if assembled Southern Baptists wax indignant in Nashville about Saddleback’s action while ignoring the fact that one may find every kind of male miscreant with a valid ordination certificate from a Southern Baptist church. In two score years I participated in a single de-ordination action. I am unaware of any church excluded from an association because of an ordination matter, same for state conventions and the national SBC.
Ordination has a weak biblical basis, seems to me. You can take your best shot at convincing me otherwise. We do many things by tradition, not scripture. We would secretly like to be Catholics in regard to ordination, I think, without the authority flowing from the Bishop of Rome.
As a thought exercise, fill in what precedes “…and he’s an ordained Southern Baptist minister!”