Few questions can be so vitally important to any Church, whether as relates to its own peace and prosperity, or to the success of the work it is appointed to do, as that of the kind of ministry which shall serve and lead it.
No greater blessing can be granted of Heaven to a Church than a capable, judicious, pious pastor; and no greater calamity can befall one than to have an incompetent, unfaithful, secularized, and worldly minded minister. The people naturally contemplate the office with feelings of reverence, and consequently regard the incumbent with very great deference, to say the least. The young, in a special manner, consider what he says as true, and what he, does as right. The position commands high regard, for the minister is looked upon not only as a teacher, but as an example. He is, therefore, accepted as the one who is to illustrate, by his private walk and public deportment, the doctrines and morals which he inculcates from the pulpit.
The old prophet’s declaration, “like people, like priest,” is as true now as when Hosea uttered it. For where the people have freedom of choice, and select their own pastors, they will choose them on the plane of their own religious thinking and acting. Moreover, there is a constant tendency, on the part of the preacher, to keep somewhere near the standard of the people. It requires a heroic effort for the pulpit to rise far above the level of the pews, as to Christian teaching and consecration, and he who long sustains himself in that position may expect, sooner or later, to hear the mutterings of discontent. But then, contradictory as it may seem to be, the converse of the prophet’s epigram is equally true: “like priest, like people.” Indeed, this is the form in which the proverb is usually quoted by the laity, as a salient thrust at an unfaithful or incompetent pastor, supposing they are quoting Scripture. The implication is, that if the Church is not right, it is the fault of the pastor. To a large extent this may be true, and the censure just. For, to a large extent, by faithful, judicious, and persistent endeavor, a godly pastor can mould and win the Church to a higher standard. To that extent will the spirit of all-powerful grace work with him and for him, while an unworthy and carnally minded man in the pulpit will surely degrade and lower the ‘standard of piety among his people to somewhere near his own.
The old prophets—notably Jeremiah—represented the people of Israel under the similitude of a flock, led, and fed, and guarded by shepherds, called pastors. It was a promise of peculiar favor by Jehovah, that He would give them pastors after His own heart; while the lamentation over some of their heaviest calamities was, that the shepherds destroyed the flock, and fed themselves instead. The same figure Jesus used when He declared Himself to be tile Good Shepherd that gave His life for the sheep. The relationship between pastor and people is intimate, vital, and sacred. Woe to the churches and the cause of Christian truth, when they have not a faithful, capable, and spiritual ministry!
Christian congregations under the control of State-churchism, or subject to ecclesiastical domination, cannot choose their own pastors, but receive such as are sent them. All the currents of religious life stagnate under such a system. It is one of the first and most important fruits of religious liberty and Church independency, that congregations of Christian worshipers can elect their own religious teachers. They may make mistakes, but they insist on the right, and they will not willingly submit to the dictation or control of others in this regard, either from civil or ecclesiastical authority. This is a point Baptists have always emphasized, maintaining this as well as other expressions of religious freedom for the individual Church.
The ministry is of divine appointment, and its purpose is to instruct and edify the Church, and to bear the knowledge of salvation abroad to the world. As a means and medium of spiritual good to men, the Gospel ministry stands preeminent; it is without a parallel among beneficent agencies. Every true disciple is under obligation to preach the Gospel according to his ability and opportunity; but the economy of grace anticipated the need of special leaders and teachers for the congregations of the saints, and the Spirit of God moves on and fits certain men for the work, while the providence of God develops and calls forth their ministry. It is all under the direction of the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls, who sends among His people the under-shepherds.
This work He began while among men. He “ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach.”—Mark 3:14. Also, “After these things, the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before His face into every city and place, whither He Himself would come.”—Luke 10:1. And His final instructions, as He was about leaving them, were: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”—Matt. 28:19,20.
I. How the Ministry Originates.
Does the ministry grow out of the churches, or the churches out of the ministry? These are questions which require thoughtful care to answer correctly. Which is first in the order of time, and according to the genius of the Gospel?
Where the Gospel is proclaimed, converts will be made and churches will arise. Converts will associate, will assimilate, will aggregate, and so become churches. These are the sheaves brought together on the harvest field, and bound in bundles for the Master’s use; the fruit of the seed-sowing. Also, where there are churches a ministry will be developed. Jesus preached the Gospel of the kingdom, and disciples were gathered—gathered and assimilated, and held together as a band by the attraction of His personal presence and influence. A Church, we may say, inchoate and unorganized; but still, to all intents and purposes, an ekklesia, called out from the world and concentred about Himself. The centripetal force of their fellowship did not die with His removal from among them. They kept together after His death, and especially after His resurrection. At the Pentecost the number of converts increased, under the preaching of Peter, by the power of the Spirit; the Church became more clearly developed, and more definitely organized. With the increase of the Church the ministers increased, until, not very long after, on the breaking out of persecution, they went everywhere, preaching Christ. Heralds of the glad tidings were multiplied; they were begotten of the Spirit and born of the Church in such abundance as the occasion required.
Thus has it ever been, and thus must it ever be. Our ascended Christ furnishes for the churches, and from the churches, the only true Gospel ministry. They are not by natural descent of one appointed lineage, as was the Aaronic priesthood, from the loins of Levi—born with a prescriptive right to the sacred office. They are not to be assigned by either civil or ecclesiastical establishments to the “cure of souls,” with only a perfunctory knowledge of, and fitness for, the place. “When He ascended on high He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”—Eph. 4:8,11. These were Christ’s “ascension gifts” to His churches, and these He continues to bestow, in one form or another, on the churches and the world.
II. Clergy and Laity not Primitive.
It is well to bear in mind that the distinction which has for ages prevailed in Christian society between clergy and laity is not primitive; was not known in the apostolic age. There was an apostleship and a discipleship, but no clerical caste, separated by a wide gulf of sacramental ordination from the common people. The Holy Spirit working in each believer developed those gracious qualities which were profitable to the edifying of the body of Christ. All alike constituted a holy and a royal priesthood, “ordained to offer spiritual sacrifices unto God.” The churches chose for their pastors and teachers such of their own members as exhibited the needed qualities which fitted them for the positions.
Dr. Bloomfield says:
“But when, in the next generation [after the first], it was thought expedient that presbyters should be confined to their sacred duties, and kept apart from all secular occupations—which, by the way, occasioned the two classes of clergy and laity—then ordination would become a much more solemn affair.”—Com. on Acts, 14:23.
Dean Stanley says:
“In the first beginnings of Christianity there was no such institution as the clergy; and it is conceivable there may be a time when they shall cease to be.”—Christian Institutions, p. 175. N. Y., ed. 1881.
Dr. Coleman says:
“There was then no such distinction between clergymen and laymen.” “They were all equally the priests of God.” “The first instance of the distinction of the clergy and laity, as separate orders of men in the Christian Church, occurs in Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century.”—Ancient Christ. Ex., pp. 93-107.
“There was yet [in the apostolic age] no distinct order of clergy, for the whole society of Christians was a royal priesthood.”—Ch. Hist., Vol. I., p. 38.
“The Jewish and the Catholic antithesis of clergy and laity has no place in the apostolic age.”—Hist. Christ. Ch., Vol. I., p. 131.
“The basis of ecclesiastical organization was the fraternal equality of believers. ‘All ye are brethren.’ Instead of a sacerdotal order, there was a universal priesthood.”—Hist. Ch. Church, p. 35.
Rigaltius, Salmasius, Selden, and others, assert the same as cited by Bingham, who finds the earliest historical evidence of the distinction of clergy and laity in the third century after Christ.—Ancient Christ. Ch., B. I., chap. 5.
III. The Purpose of the Ministry.
The general purpose contemplated by the appointment and sustenance of an official ministry in the churches is clearly enough defined in the popular mind, and well enough understood by the prevailing customs of religious society: to shepherd the flock, to instruct congregations in religious truth, and guide the churches as to internal order and the practical activities of Christian life. But, to be more specific, it may be said the ministerial purpose is twofold: the edification of saints and the conversion of sinners. Or, to reverse, and perhaps make more natural the order, the conversion of men, and then their instruction and upbuilding in the faith of the Gospel. Thus did Jesus, in His farewell injunction, command His disciples to go forth, preach the Gospel, disciple men, baptize them, and then teach them to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them.
Not infrequently extremists are heard to say that there is nothing comparable to the conversion of souls; that is the one great object of preaching. It is allowed to be one great object, but not the only one to the exclusion of the other. Both should be constantly sought, and devotion to one does not exclude the other. It is quite supposable that God may be as much glorified and the world as much blessed by the development of character, the enlargement of graces, and the increase of good works on the part of believers, as by the addition of converts. Read the epistles to the churches, and see how much is said about edifying the body of Christ; about growth in grace; about perfecting the saints in holiness; about being filled with the Spirit. The truth is, when Christians are living in the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel, and exhibiting the life of Christ, sinners will be converted. The ministry will be crowned with divine success.
There is a passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians on this subject, the force and comprehensiveness of which is only equaled by the beauty of its diction, and the vivid imagery employed. After saying that Christ gave gifts, some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, he states for what purpose these gifts were bestowed; namely, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”—Eph. 4:12, 13. How grand the conception of an advancing Christian growth, under the culture of pastors and teachers, even to the attainment of a “perfect man;” not a perfect angel, but a perfected humanity in Christ! How sublime the upward sweep of Christian development, from the inchoate believer in the infancy of his new life, along all the planes of development, until finally the full purpose is realized in the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!”
IV. A Call to the Ministry.
If the spiritual life of the churches is to be maintained, and the power of godliness to be preserved, a divine call to the work of the ministry must be insisted on by the Churches.
It is not enough that a man young or old has piety, and ability, and education; that he possesses a facility in the use of language, and can address a congregation with ease and interest, both to himself and to them. Nor is it enough that he has an earnest desire to do good. All this may be, and yet he may not be called to the sacred office. All these are important, but not of themselves sufficient. It must not be the mere choice of a profession; nor the dictate of an ambition which looks to the pulpit as a desirable arena for achieving distinction, nor even as the best field for usefulness. Nor must it be a yielding to the opinions or persuasions of over- partial, but, it may be, injudicious friends. A true call to the work of the ministry must rest on more solid ground than any or all of these evidences.
“No man taketh this honor unto himself; but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”—Heb. 5:4. He that would lawfully enter upon this work must do it from a deep, abiding and unalterable conviction, wrought into his soul by the Holy Spirit, that such is the will of God concerning him; and that nothing else is, or can be, the work of his life, whether it may bring joy or sorrow, prosperity or adversity. He that can follow any other pursuit or profession with a peaceful mind, and a conscience void of offense, should never enter the ministry. This inward movement and monition of the Spirit does not cease with a single impression, nor subside with a single occasion; but it continues usually through weeks and months, and perhaps years, holding the mind to this one conviction; not always continuously, but from time to time, calling it back from all other purposes and plans to this conviction of duty.
As this conviction of duty is slowly working its way into the soul, various emotions are excited. Not unfrequently the mind revolts at what seems the inevitable conclusion, and sometimes violently rebels against it. The thoughts of unfitness for the work; the apparent impossibility of being able to secure the proper qualifications; the fact that many cherished plans for life, which seem to promise more of pleasure and of profit, must be abandoned; and, what to some minds with noble instincts is most of all humiliating and painful, that if one enters the ministry he must become dependent on others, in a certain sense, for his living, and subject to their caprices in many ways for his comfort, the temptation to sink his personal independence, so as not to antagonize the opinions of his hearers, and to modify messages of truth, rather than offend the ignorance or the prejudices of those on whom he is dependent, to an over-sensitive nature become difficulties of no ordinary magnitude. But through it all the Spirit holds the mind true to its destiny, until at length it submits, silences every objection, sacrifices every consideration, accepts every condition, and yields implicit obedience to the divine call. Then a new peace fills the soul, and light from a new horizon irradiates all its sphere.
The evidences of this divine call are various. The most convincing is that just named, where the Spirit works the ever-deepening conviction into the soul, that it must be so. Another sign is that the mind is being led into a fruitful contemplation of the Scriptures, whose spirit and meaning, whose deep and rich treasures of truth are unfolded and made plain to an unusual degree. An increasing facility of utterance in addressing religious meetings, especially when attempting to explain and enforce particular portions of the word, is another evidence. This, however, is not uniform, owing to many causes. For sometimes, instead of joyous liberty, every thing seems dark and confined. Particular cases, either on the one side or the other, are not so much to influence the judgment as the general trend and current of these tokens. Still more, if one has been divinely called to this work, there will soon rise a conviction of the fact in the minds of pious and prayerful people. All truly spiritual saints are, in a sense, prophets to discern spiritual things. If they be interested in, and profited by, the exercise of such gifts, that fact itself goes far to establish the call.
And further: if one be divinely called to preach the Gospel, Providence will open such ways of needed preparation for the work, as may be best in the circumstances. Precisely what that fitting preparation may be, it is impossible here to tell. It should be the best that can be secured. But there is a great variety of fields, and of conditions of work, and an equal variety of ability, and of intellectual preparation is needed to fill them. There may be difficulties in the way; but let not the young man who believes himself called to this service, be impatient, nor too hasty. Let him “wait on the Lord,” observe the indications of Providence, and not run before he is sent. Our Lord Himself waited in patient preparation till He was thirty years of age, before entering upon His public ministry; and that, too, when He was to have but three short years of active service afterward. Let the young man improve his gifts as occasion offers, and wait; sooner or later he will become satisfied, as will also his brethren, whether or not he is called to preach.
Note 1.—It is not an evidence of a call to the ministry, that the heart sets itself in persistent rebellion against the monitions of the Spirit. So commonly is this resistance to the gracious movement felt, that some seem to think they lack good evidence of such a call, unless they stoutly fight against God. On the other hand, some of the most devout and useful men in the ministry did most earnestly desire the sacred office, though feeling themselves unworthy of it, and unfitted for it. Paul said, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
Note 2.—Any man whom God has not called to that work, will find the pulpit the most difficult and disastrous of all positions, and the work of the ministry the most irksome and uncongenial. No hope of gratifying a carnal ambition, no expectation of praise for learning or eloquence can mitigate the uncongenial burden of a service in which the heart is not enlisted.
Note 3.—Young men exercised on this point, as to the choice of the ministry, should not attach too much importance to the flattering encouragements of ardent, and over-partial friends, whose judgments may not be as sound as their impulses are generous. Nor, on the other hand, should they be too much discouraged, if any throw stumbling blocks in their way. Let them carefully weigh all things, pray for divine direction, and decide the question according to their best light.
V. The Perpetuity of its Obligations.
Is the obligation involved in a divine call of perpetual force? Or may a man called to that work leave it for some other profession or calling at his option? Is a man “once a priest, always a priest”? Or may there be a demission of sacerdotal functions?
This is a question in which our churches have not so much interest as men already in, and candidates for, the office most naturally have. It is, however, admitted almost universally by evangelical Christians, that such a call is of perpetual obligation. It is manifest that if divine authority puts a man into the ministry, the same authority is requisite to direct, or give permission for him to leave it and enter upon some other work. There are, no doubt, men in the ministry who never ought to have entered it, and who would confer the greatest possible benefit on the churches and the cause by leaving it. There are doubtless many instances in which men are incapacitated by sickness, or other causes, for a discharge of its duties. Providence clearly indicates that such should seek some other sphere of service, where they can still be useful, and yet secure support for a dependent family. In such cases of manifest necessity, temporary diversion from exclusive ministerial labor would be not only permissible but commendable, and perhaps even imperative.
But young men, looking to this calling, should regard it as a life-long service, and not consider a change to a more lucrative or less laborious pursuit as a possible contingency. Providential causes may arise where temporarily the active duties of the ministry—especially of the pastorate—may be remitted to be resumed when the obstacles are removed. But how one, who believes himself called of God to preach the Gospel, can quietly and conscientiously devote himself to other callings, secular or semi-secular, without such providential compulsion, it is difficult to understand. And there are many of our ministers, men of sound health, and ability for usefulness, who have abandoned pastoral service for these side issues; positions for which laymen would be quite as competent, and often better fitted. It is not a sufficient answer to say that these posts are important and useful spheres of service. All that may be true, and they may have peculiar qualifications for the places, but it was not for these, or such as these, they professed to have been called, and to which they were ordained and set apart. If they were mistaken in their original purpose, it is well, they have made a change.
Note 4.—The question may arise, How far is it allowable for a minister to engage in outside work for the sake of added gain, while holding a pastorate and receiving a salary from the people? Though no general answer can be given that would meet every case, yet it is safe to say that no outside work should be engaged in that will in any way interfere with a full and faithful discharge of his duties to the Church and congregation of his charge. If they give him a respectable support he should devote his best energies to them.
Note 5.—But it often happens in small and feeble congregations, especially in frontier settlements and rural districts, that congregations cannot —or think they cannot—support a pastor, and he is obliged to supplement a scanty salary from other sources. This is right not only, but most commendable in such cases. It should, however, be done not for gain, but for godliness, that he may be the better enabled to preach the Gospel, and give his family the comforts of life. Paul worked at his trade of tent-making, that he might the better able to preach Christ.
VI. The Sphere of Ministerial Labour.
A minister is not necessarily a pastor. If a minister have not a pastoral charge, to whatever field he may be designated, there lies his first and chief obligation for service. If he be a pastor, his Church, and congregation, and the community about him constitute his principal sphere of ministerial labor. To neglect them would be disloyalty to his Church, and to his Lord. Unless that be cultivated with fidelity, zeal, and a good degree of devotion, he need not expect any great amount of success. Nor yet need he expect that his work will be greatly appreciated, or widely demanded. He should, however, countenance and aid, to the extent of his ability, every good word and work, consistently with his duties to his own people. His nature should vibrate in sympathy with all endeavors made to ameliorate the sufferings of humanity, to suppress vice, and elevate virtue everywhere. He should stand the friend and abettor of missions, temperance, and of every virtue which the Gospel inculcates and promotes. He would be unfaithful to his holy trust, should he stand quietly by, without a hand to help in giving the means of salvation to the world, for which Christ died; should he remain unmoved amidst the ravages of sin, and not strive to withstand them; should he be indifferent to the ignorance of a world lying in wickedness, and not labor for its enlightenment.
It sometimes happens that pastors can, in special emergencies, render needed and valuable aid to other pastors in times of great discouragement or of special religious interest. Other occasions will arise when incidental aid can be rendered a good cause outside the limits of his ordinary duties, without injury to other interests. And yet the apostolic injunction must continue to be the pastor’s guide: “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers; to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.”—Acts 20:28.
VII. The Source of Ministerial Authority.
Whence does the minister derive his authority for the exercise of ministerial functions? For preaching, administering the ordinances, and other prerogatives? “For no man taketh this honor unto himself.”—Heb. 5:4.
Whence is it then? Not from the Church, for no Church holds in itself any such authority to bestow. Not from a Council, since councils possess no ecclesiastical authority. Not from the State, for the State has no right of interference in matters of faith and conscience, and possesses no control over, or authority in, ecclesiastical affairs. The minister, therefore, derives his credentials as a preacher of righteousness, and the right to minister as a priest in spiritual services from no human source, but directly from Christ, the great Head of the Church, by the witness and endowment of the Holy Spirit; He who calls, endows and authorizes. He sends forth His heralds with authority to preach the Gospel to the end of the age.
All that a Church or a Council can properly do is to recognize, and express approval of a man’s entering the ministry. The force of ordination is simply a recognition and sanction, in a public and impressive manner, of what is believed to be the divine appointment of the candidate to the sacred office. The object of Church and Council action is not to impart either ability or authority to preach the Gospel, for these they cannot give; but to ascertain if such ability and authority have been divinely given, and if so, to approve their public exercise. If not in so remarkable a manner, yet probably just as really is every true minister called and invested as was Paul: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen;—immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.”—Gal.1:15,16.
Note 6.—Any one who believes himself called and authorized of God to preach the Gospel, as one under law to Christ, and ultimately accountable to Him alone, has a right to preach the Gospel, though churches and councils should oppose his course. But he would not have the right to preach in any congregation without their consent.
Note 7.—The right of any man to be the minister and pastor of any particular Church is derived from that Church itself. No man, no body of men can make him a minister to them without their consent. While on the other hand, if they so determine and choose him, he is a minister to them though councils and churches should forbid it. Others are not obliged to recognize or fellowship them or him, but they cannot interfere with them. A man’s right to preach the Gospel, and administer the ordinances comes from God alone; a man’s right to do this in any particular Church comes from that Church alone.
Note 8.—But suppose a man believes himself called to preach, and insists on the exercise of that right, while the Church of which he is a member, after long and careful consideration, is convinced that he is mistaken in his convictions, and that he ought not to undertake the work. The Church has its authority, as well as the individual his rights. In such a case, while the Church should be careful not to infringe on the individual’s rights of conscience, or freedom of action, they may, in the exercise of their lawful and legitimate authority, labor with, admonish, and, if need be, rebuke such a one, he being a member in covenant relations with them; and if he will not hear them, and they judge the occasion calls for it, discipline, and even withdraw fellowship from him. They possess that right.
VIII. Qualifications for the Ministry.
It is not to be expected that of all men the minister alone will be perfect. And yet in no other man is a near approach to perfection so imperative as in him. Of all men, he should prayerfully strive to have as few faults and as many excellencies as possible. For in no other man do they count for so much, either for or against truth and righteousness as in him.
He should be a man of good physical health. This counts for vastly more, even in a spiritual point of view, than is usually supposed. And if, by hereditary taint, or for any other reason, he may lack physical vigor, he should, by careful self-training in regard to diet, exercise, and otherwise, strive to reinvigorate his energies. This is a duty as sacred and imperative as prayer, the study of the Bible, or other spiritual exercise. He will find that an enfeebled body impairs his best endeavors. He should also avoid all of those habits which tend to enervate and undermine his health. Irregularity of life, late hours, heavy suppers, and the like; while the use of tobacco, opium and alcohol should be regarded as an abomination, not to be tolerated by one who preaches a gospel of purity, and who himself should be pure.
It must not, however, be understood as saying that a man manifestly called of God to the work, should not undertake it because he does not enjoy robust health, and has not been favored with a vigorous constitution. Some of the most godly and useful ministers who have ever blessed the world and the churches, have been lifelong invalids and sufferers. And sometimes the active and varied duties of the pastorate, especially in rural fields, have been highly conducive to physical health and longevity. Still, “a sound mind in a sound body” must be insisted on as of the greatest importance, for the possession of which no prudent or persistent effort is too great a price to pay.
Moreover, the minister should be a Christian gentleman in the best sense of that term. Not a technical gentleman, flippant and finical, according to the standard of so-called genteel society, but far better and higher than this—a true gentleman at heart, courteous, considerate, gentle, generous, and kind to all. There is no excuse for a minister’s being rude, boorish, inconsiderate of the proprieties of society, and indifferent to the feelings or comfort of others. He who is such, no matter what amount of talent he may possess, will drive people from him, and his life will be largely unfruitful of good. Some ministers seem to think it a mark of superiority to be rude and supercilious toward others. It is simply a mark of superior boorishness, and a disgrace to the profession.
But those special qualifications named by the Apostle, and detailed in the epistles to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. chap. 3; Titus, chap, 1), should be insisted on by both churches and ordaining councils. They are such as all who aspire to that sacred office can possess, and such as, if possessed, may give assurance to the most humble and timid that their work and labor of love will not be in vain in the Lord. According to these inspired specifications, the bishop or pastor should be “blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to much wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection; not a novice, having a good report of them that are without, not self-willed, not soon angry.” Such qualifications, quickened and sanctified by the Spirit, could not fail to make good ministers of Jesus Christ. There is no impossible endowment enjoined, and the morality of the Gospel, so largely prominent in these qualities, should be conspicuous in a religious teacher and leader of the people.
Note 7.—As to those qualifications which are purely scholastic, whether literary or theological, as a preparation for the work of the ministry, no certain amount or given standard can be fixed. The importance and difficulties of the profession make it necessary that the divinity student should avail himself of the largest and most liberal culture possible in the circumstances. The indications of Providence, his own convictions of duty, and the advice of wise and judicious friends must decide that question.
Note 8.—The wide field over which our churches are scattered, the vast variety of social conditions which mark the different congregations, not only make possible, but demand all types and varieties of ministerial gifts. Certain it is, that many a field would welcome the man without the culture of the schools, but with a knowledge of men and a deep insight into the Gospel, much more readily, and find him much more useful, than the scholar from the seminary, thoroughly versed in books, but ignorant of men and practical life.
Note 9.—It is desirable that every young man preparing for the ministry should, if possible, be able to read intelligently the Scriptures in the original Greek and Hebrew. This, and all other linguistic knowledge, will be to him of great value, if rightly used. But of all “book knowledge” that can be named, none can compare with a deep, thorough knowledge of the English Bible. The importance of this to the minister of Christ outranks all others, and does more than any other literary attainment to make a man an able minister of the New Testament. And this qualification is within the reach of all—even the plainest and the poorest.
Note 10.—It is of great practical advantage to the student that, during his preparatory studies, he should not unfrequently exercise his gifts in preaching, as occasion offers. It will give him opportunity for developing his capabilities, testing his theories and correcting his faults under the most favorable circumstances. But this should be done with caution, and not to any such extent as seriously to interfere with his studies, which for the time constitute his principal business.
Note 11.—Let no young man deem the time wasted that confines him to the classroom in mental training, and the acquisition of knowledge preparatory to the great work. He serves his Master best who patiently and faithfully prepares best to serve Him. That foolish enthusiasm for the work which hurries one into the field only half fitted, when a better preparation was possible, will always after be deeply regretted.
IX. The Licensing of Ministers.
It is one of the prevailing customs of our churches to grant a license to young men believing themselves, and believed by others, to have been called to preach the Gospel, but not yet prepared to enter upon the work of the ministry. This is simply an approval by the Church of the course which the candidate is pursuing. It confers no rights and imparts no authority, but expresses the conviction that the bearer possesses gifts and capabilities which indicate a call to the ministry, and a promise of usefulness in it. The giving of licenses is not universal in such cases. Theological schools usually require them of students entering, as an evidence that they have the approval and confidence of their churches. Churches should be very careful not to grant licenses without sufficient evidence of a divine call, and not till they have had sufficient opportunity to judge wisely in the case. And where there is good evidence of a call, the Church should be as ready as they are careful to encourage the candidate in his chosen course.
Note 12.—Ordination does not necessarily follow the granting of a license, though usually it does. The Church may have occasion to change their opinion of the case, and may, for sufficient cause, revoke the license.
Note 13.—A license should never be granted simply because it is sought, nor to gratify the candidate or his friends, nor because they dislike to refuse. It is a serious and an important matter, and should be acted on with kindly feeling, but with conscientious care.
Note 14.—A letter of commendation is sometimes given a young man, approving of his entering upon a course of study, with the ministry in view, but deferring a license until better opportunities are offered to judge of his gifts and calling.
Note 15.—It is, of course, understood that the practice of licensing is merely a cautionary measure, a custom not essential and not uniform, but salutary, and tending to good order,
X. The Ordination of Ministers.
The importance of selecting and placing over the churches the right kind of men as pastors and teachers cannot be overestimated. But the high regard, the almost sanctity, in which our churches hold the ceremony of setting apart, of the inauguration of the clergy, finds no parallel and no sanction in the New Testament, and is derived directly from sacramentarian communions, remotely from the Romish Church, which holds ordination as one of the seven sacraments.
The New Testament meaning of the word ordination is choosing, electing, appointing a man to the office of bishop or pastor, and has no reference to a ceremonial setting apart, or investiture with the functions of the office. A president is elected—that is, ordained—to the presidency by the votes of the people; but the ceremony of his inauguration is quite a different thing; very proper, becoming and impressive, but not essential. He is as really president without it as with it: president by virtue of his election, not of his inauguration. [As the question of ordination holds an important place among the usages of our Church life, and as not a little misapprehension and perplexity often arise from the diversity of views entertained by our people respecting it, and its relation to primitive Church practice, it has seemed wise to devote a separate chapter in this work to a somewhat full discussion of the subject. See Chapter 14.] Our churches, unfortunately, have come to apply the term “ordination” exclusively to the ceremonial induction, and not to the election, which was its primitive and is its proper meaning. Thus laying all the stress on the ceremony, they have come to insist on certain ritual observances as essential to its validity. All the more notable is this since Baptists contend so earnestly for following the New Testament in all things. And however appropriate such forms of induction may be, they find no warrant for them in the Scriptures. Therefore they should be urged, if urged at all, as matters of order, and not matters of authority; as appropriate and becoming, but not essential.
No reasonable objection can be made to our usual forms of ordination service, providing these forms be rightly understood and held at their right value. But no instance can be found in the New Testament where any man was set apart to the work of the Gospel ministry, at his first entrance upon it, by any ceremony whatever. The seven deacons were ceremonially inducted into their office, but not the preachers of the Gospel—or if they were, we do not know it.
The Order of Proceedings:
The usual course of proceedings in ordinations is as follows:
The Church which calls for the ordination—and of which Church the candidate should be a member—invites a Council, by sending letters to such other churches (and individuals) as they may desire to have present, requesting them to send their pastor and brethren (usually two) to consider and advise them as to the propriety of setting apart the candidate to the work of the Gospel ministry. In some parts, particularly at the South, a Presbytery is called instead of a Council; that is, a number of ministers personally invited without the presence of laymen. So far as the validity of the action is concerned there is no choice in the methods.
The Council, when convened and organized, listens to a statement from the Church calling them, through a committee appointed for the purpose, and then proceeds to the examination of the candidate. This examination usually traverses three principal lines of inquiry, but may go beyond them, viz.:
1. His Christian experience.
2. His call to the ministry.
3. His views of Christian doctrine.
Other topics than these may appropriately be made subjects for inquiry, providing they be germane to the occasion, but remote subjects and profitless discussion should be avoided; especially such subjects as those on which members of the Council themselves may be divided.
When the Council is satisfied with the examination, the candidate is allowed to retire, while the body proceeds to discuss the matter, and the action to be taken. If there be any particular dissatisfaction in the case, such matters are considered; and if desired, the candidate can be recalled to give his views more fully on doubtful points. If not, on motion duly made, the Council votes its satisfaction on each of the above three distinct topics of inquiry. Then a final vote to this effect is passed: “Resolved: that being satisfied with the result of our examination, we approve the setting apart of the candidate, and recommend the Church to proceed to the public services of ordination.” As the Council was called to advise the Church, this is the advice they give. The committee of the Church acting for them, request the Council to take charge of the services, and assign the several parts, with the concurrence of the candidate, as they may think desirable.
What these various parts shall be, and who shall perform them, is a matter of no importance beyond the wishes of the candidate, and the Church. Usually they are as follows:
1. Preliminary services, consisting of music, reading the Scriptures, and an introductory prayer.
2. Sermon: preached usually by some one previously selected by the candidate.
3. The ordaining prayer: during which the candidate kneels, and near the close of which he who offers the prayer, and some others, lay their hands on his head.
4. The hand of fellowship: in a short address welcoming the candidate to the fellowship and fraternity of the ministry, and to all the pleasures and toils of the sacred service.
5 A charge to the candidate: in an address, usually by some older minister, reminding him of the various duties and responsibilities the ministry imposes.
6. A charge to the Church: in an address enjoining on them their reciprocal duties and responsibilities, in consequence of his settlement among them; duties to him, to themselves, and to the community.
7. This closes the service, and the benediction is usually pronounced by the candidate; before which the minutes of the proceedings are read and approved, and a copy voted for the candidate, as his certificate of ordination—and perhaps notices ordered sent to the papers.
Note 16.—The Church which calls the Council usually appoints a committee to represent it before the Council in giving information, answering questions, or making suggestions, but such a committee is no part of the Council, and cannot vote on any question.
Note 17.—Should the Council decide against the propriety of ordaining the candidate, still the Church can have him as their minister if they choose to do so, and none can prevent. The independence of churches cannot be questioned. This, however, in ordinary circumstances would be highly inexpedient. Neither the Church nor candidate would be likely to command the approval or confidence of other churches, or of the community, should they utterly ignore the judgment and advice of a Council of their own calling.
Note 18.—A call to the ministry does not necessarily involve an immediate entrance upon its duties. Hence a Church or a Council may agree that a man is called, but on account of his inexperience, ignorance of doctrines or of duties, or for other reason, may decide against immediate ordination, and advise to defer that step until he shall be better qualified, and more thoroughly instructed in the ways of the Lord. Quite often, no doubt, this would be a wise course to take.
Note 19.—Since the peace and prosperity of a Church so vitally depend on the knowledge, discretion, and experience of a pastor, and his ability to guide its affairs, as well as his gift in preaching the Gospel, therefore the utmost caution and prudence should be used on the part of the churches in calling men to ordination. The Council that examines the candidate, also, should give a wide range to their investigations, and thoroughly ascertain the candidate’s general competency for the work.
Note 20.—It will be clearly inferred from statements already made, that the right of ordination inheres in the Church, and not in the Council. This must be so, if, as is universally conceded in our churches, all ecclesiastical authority resides in a Church. And also since the Church is of divine appointment and authority, while the Council is not.
Note 21.—The practice of “laying on of hands,” is an Oriental custom of immemorial usage, as a form of blessing conferred by the old upon the young, and by superiors upon inferiors. In the ritualism of the Mosaic economy it was a symbolical act. Jesus laid His hands on the sick to heal them, and on little children to bless them. With the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit, miraculous effects followed the laying on of the Apostles’ hands. Some of the Baptist fathers laid hands on the head of each candidate baptized, pronouncing a brief blessing; a few continue the practice. Since the original significancy of the act is no longer realized, and since no gifts, either common or extraordinary, are pretended to be conferred, the act should no longer be deemed essential as a part of ordination services, nor as affecting the completeness of ministerial character, of the validity of ministerial acts.
XI. Recognition, Installation Reordination.
Services bearing these designations are sometimes, though with no considerable degree of uniformity, resorted to. Nor does any considerable importance attach to them, except that reordination from time to time becomes a question of perplexity and of controversy among our people.
Recognition. When a pastor changes his field, and takes a new one, he is at times welcomed by some special services to celebrate the event, and introduce him to the community. Neighboring clergymen and others, are invited in; a sermon is preached by some personal friend of the pastor, or by some other one selected, or several addresses are made instead; attractive music is had; the pastor is congratulated on his field, the Church on its pastor, and a pleasant time is enjoyed. There can be no objection to such a service—and it is difficult to see how any marked benefit can arise from it, especially as the pastor may change his field again in a year, and some one else take his place when the service will be repeated.
Installation. This term has no proper use in the customs of Baptists; though it is sometimes used by accommodation to indicate a recognition service, where a minister takes possession of a new pastorate. The word is properly used to designate the service by which a minister is placed over a new charge, with appropriate ceremonies by his ecclesiastical superiors. To install is to place in a stall or “pat, indicative of official duties and functions, by which the incumbent is invested with official authority. The term is appropriate only where a minister is placed in a charge by superior ecclesiastical functionaries, acquiring new rights and prerogatives thereby.
Reordination. The question of reordination arises when a minister of some other denomination unites with US, and wishes to become a pastor among us. He has professed conformity to our denominational views, and has been baptized into our fellowship. But that gives him only the standing of a private member and not that of a minister. He was, however, an accredited minister in an evangelical denomination before, regularly set apart to the sacred office. Now, the question is, in order to become a Baptist minister, will his previous ordination suffice, or should he be ordained again as though he had never been a clergyman? On this point opinions somewhat differ.
Some answer in the affirmative and some in the negative. But really it makes very little difference which course is pursued. Either would be valid, and neither is essential. Considering what ordination is, and what use it is intended to serve, in the case supposed, a recognition would be as good as an ordination; and the reverse would be true. In case of a minister coming from some other communion, before he should be admitted to ministerial functions among our churches, it would be every way desirable that a Council or a Presbytery should be called by the Church which proposes to have him as pastor, to examine and ascertain his views as to Baptist doctrine and Church order. If satisfied, some public services would be proper and desirable. Call it a recognition or a reordination; the difference is slight. Indeed, the only difference in ceremony is, that in the latter the laying on of hands is practised, but omitted in the former. Let the wish of the candidate, or the Church, or the Council—if they have a preference—be gratified. A man is a minister none the more with the imposition of hands, and none the less without it.
Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).