I was privileged to attend an ordination council today in Smithville, Ohio. Kevin Fath is to be commended for acquitting himself well in the face of sustained fire from the council members. I wish that every church member could attend a few of these councils to get an idea what a Regular Baptist pastor goes through on the way to ordination to the ministry.
The council consists of pastors and representatives from churches of "like faith and practice." The ordaining church can also invite special guests like former pastors, pastoral friends, professors, or fellowship representatives. Some - most will be fairly friendly - some not so friendly - and there will always be people with particular pet theological questions.
The candidate starts with an account of his conversion and call to ministry. Then the council begins to question him on this subject. What is a call to ministry? What is your personal devotional regimen? How does your life compare to 1Timothy 3? What is your most important qualification for ministry?
Typically the candidate has prepared a theological paper of his views on all the major topics of systematic theology. The doctrine of Scripture, God, Christ, The Holy Spirit, Angels, Man, Sin, Salvation, The Church, and Last Things. The council asks the candidate about the things he has written and about things he left out. They ask about his use of specific verses and about his view on verses he didn't use.
Pretty much everything is fair game - but of course the object is to thoroughly examine the man to see if we should recommend that the church proceed with his ordination.
Then there are the questions that are practical scenarios. Would you pastor a church that was set up in this way instead of our traditional Baptist way? Would you perform a marriage for someone who was divorced from their previous wife? How would you counsel someone who claims to be saved but doesn't give up their sinful lifestyle? How would you handle the funeral of someone you don't believe was saved?
Today's council meeting - the question and answer part - took from 10:00 a.m. to just after 1:00 p.m. (with one ten minute break at about noon.) Lots of questions and lots of answering. But there is a lot to be considered. Is this guy really called to ministry? Is he spiritually qualified? Is he adequately trained? Can he think theologically? Is he really a Baptist? How does he handle the pressure of a situation like this? What kind of spirit does he display? Are there any glaring theological errors that we should be concerned about?
These things are no picnic - they are serious business because pastoring a church is serious business. Ultimately ordination is the decision of the individual church, but "in the multitude of counselors there is safety."