Several days ago, Bart Barber, our current SBC president, declared that he would “defrock” (unordain) Johnny Hunt if he had the power to do so. His emphatic declaration seems to have prompted Baptist News Global to publish two articles on ordination, more specifically revoking ordination. The articles, written by Marv Knox, Curtis Freeman, and Mark Wingfield, are certainly thought-provoking. (They inspired me to write this post.) This post is not meant to be a poll on Johnny Hunt; rather, I want us to focus on revoking ordination. How is that done? What would justify revoking a pastor’s ordination?
Probably, we should review how Southern Baptists ordain ministers. In the Southern Baptist Convention, ordination is performed by a local church. The local Baptist association may assist with convening an ordination council of pastors and deacons, but the authority to ordain rests with the congregation. The church votes to convene the ordination council, and the church votes to approve the recommendation of the ordination council and proceed with the ordination service. The church also provides the candidate with a certificate of ordination. In other countries, often ordination is overseen by the local association or convention, but we’re focusing on the SBC in this post.
Personally (54 years in the ministry), I am not aware of a case in which a church revoked a minister’s ordination. I have known of two or three cases in which a Baptist pastor joined another denomination and voluntarily surrendered his ordination certificate. So, a church can ordain a person, and that same church could vote to revoke that ordination. What would justify revoking ordination? I believe preaching or teaching heresy would justify revocation. How serious that heretical teaching/preaching would need to be must surely be somewhat subjective. (Note: I have known of missionaries who were fired or asked to resign for teaching false doctrine.) If a pastor denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, that would serve as justification for me. Another justification would be a pastor who leaves the ministry and declares himself an atheist or agnostic. What do you think about a pastor who accepts new members who have not been immersed in their baptisms? For me, that would be a justification for revocation.
In their articles, Knox, Freeman, and Wingfield discuss sexual abuse. When would that justify revocation? Should sexual abuse always result in revocation? Personally, I believe that the sexual abuse of a minor disqualifies a person from ministry forever. In a case like that, the ordaining church should revoke the person’s ordination. Do you agree? Well, what about a pastor who engages in adultery—consensual sexual activity with an adult? Almost always, committing adultery prompts the church to terminate the pastor. Could that pastor be restored to ministry? There seems to be a wide range of opinion about that. Some emphasize God’s grace and forgiveness. Others point out that it is one thing to be forgiven; it is another thing to be qualified for ministry. They cite 1 Timothy 3:2, which says that an overseer (pastor) “must be above reproach” (ESV).
The process to revoke a person’s ordination is simple. The church would simply vote to do so. Of course, that action should be based on careful investigation. When the church has voted to revoke a person’s ordination, that action should be communicated to the person, the association, and the state convention. In recent years, it has been mentioned several times that the SBC has no database of ordained ministers.
I’ve raised several questions in this post. What do you think, dear readers?