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Religion Library: Baptist


Written by: David Buschart

Once the candidate has prepared and submitted their paper, had an initial interview, and received preliminary affirmation, the home church of the candidate then invites representatives of other Baptist churches to participate in an ordination council.This council consists of both clergy and laypersons.Having received the candidate's paper in advance, on the appointed date the council convenes to examine the candidate.Members of the congregation of the candidate's home church are usually welcome to attend the session.The session gives the candidate the opportunity to address the council on the matters set forth in the paper, and allows council members to examine the candidate with appropriate questions.It culminates with the deliberation and decision of the council as to whether or not to commend the candidate for ordination, which decision is then communicated to the candidate's home church.Ordinarily, churches accept the council's decision, but in keeping with the Baptist principle of the autonomy of the local church, the decision is, strictly speaking, a recommendation, with which the candidate's home church may or may not concur.

In accord with the Baptist emphasis on the supreme authority of the Bible, with particular emphasis on the New Testament, the qualifications by which candidates are evaluated are drawn from the New Testament, with 1 Timothy 3:1--4:16 being foundational.These qualifications include such matters as integrity of life and conduct, both internally and externally, within the church, in society, and in one's home; holding to sound doctrinal beliefs; and above all, submission to God's will.

If a candidate is approved for ordination, a ceremony is conducted at the candidate's home church on a subsequent date.These ceremonies often include the reading of the council's decision as well as that of the local church, a sermon on aspects of vocational ministry preached by a member of the clergy, and a "charge" (or exhortation) to the person being ordained (the ordinand) and to the local church congregation.The ceremony culminates with the leaders of the local church and ordained clergy who are present laying hands on the ordinand, as indicated in scripture (1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22).This symbolizes the bestowment of authority, the continuity of the faith, and enablement for ministry.Once ordained a person may serve in the local church that ordained them, or, through a recognition of this ordination, another Baptist church of like theology and character.

Baptist ministers are most often referred to as "pastor."In many African American Baptist churches, the minister has the title of "Bishop," but his formally designated authority remains, nonetheless, limited to the local congregation of which he is a part.In either case, the minster's role is envisioned primarily in terms of leadership.They are responsible to guide, teach, and spiritually care for the members of the local congregation.They are not regarded as mediators.As noted above, Baptists have a high view of the priesthood of all believers and of individual soul competency, and, in accord with this, each individual should and can engage God in Christ directly.This is to be done in the context of the fellowship of a local church, often informed by a local church covenant, but ultimately the individual church member stands directly before God.

Study Questions:
     1.    What does a congregational form of church government imply?
     2.    Why does the Baptist tradition employ both a congregational model of leadership and ordained clergy?
     3.    Describe the process of ordination within the Baptist tradition. What qualifications are necessary within the candidate?
     4.    What are the duties of the Baptist pastor?


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