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City: Bronte, TX
As a BMA pastor, I am seeking your feedback on some issues. Please let me explain some background. Once after a young man was led to the Lord, I was unable to perform the church approved baptism due to an injury. I asked our youth and music minister, a licensed preacher, to stand in for me. Secondly, when one of our older gentleman members, a minister, Gideon speaker, but not ordained, was instrumental in leading a couple of boys to Christ, the two boys requested that he perform the church authorized baptism. I, the pastor, consented to this. I have been in churches where the dads were permitted to baptize their children after they were saved and the baptisms were approved by the church. Thirdly, before we performed a deacon ordination, I suggested that our ordain men only be allowed to vote to elect officers and the speaker of the service, and then invite the visiting ordained men to join the presbytery. To me, the issues are this: 1. Baptism is not an ordinance of the ordained. It is an ordinance given to the church, and once the church approves and authorizes the baptism, it is only necessary that the baptizer be a faithful member in good standing. 2. Ordination of deacons and pastors is under the authority of the local church, and having visiting presbyters electing officers and the speaker at a service smells of viewing the ordination of men as under the authority of the ordained. Inviting other ordained men to participate is simply a courtesy. To me, as I said, these are important because they are undermining the authority of the local church. They are also exalting the position of the ordained above that of servanthood and service to that of administration, authority and Presbyterianism. Baptists have always emphasized local church autonomy under the headship of Christ, and anything that erodes this should be challenged. A church member of mine has referred to Cobb Church Manual, which is no longer in print. It was presented to be the BMA way and that we were bound by it. Now, for your part, I am asking for your practices and opinions.

Dear Brother in Christ:

First let me make a few comments about J. E. Cobb’s Baptist Church Manual. It is still listed on the Baptist Publishing House’s website as being available from them at a cost of $3.95 a copy. As a manual designed to offer suggestions on how churches should conduct their affairs it is excellent, but it should be noted that while most of what Bro. Cobb wrote is in agreement with most of the churches in the BMA there are some issues that some BMA churches will find they are not in total agreement with him. While a department of the BMA publishes the book it should not be assumed that it is equal to the doctrinal statement of the BMA as defining what the churches of the BMA believe. I will also note that I do not see were the Baptist Church Manual gives guidelines for how an ordination service should be conducted.

Concerning your question about our practices, our church conducts ordination services in very much the same way that many other BMA churches conduct ordination services. Ordained men from other churches of like faith and order are allowed to sit on the council. These men while meeting as this council are allowed to vote on anything that comes before their body. The man being considered for ordination is questioned by one or more of these men and a recommendation is made to the church. As you mentioned, it is often the practice of such councils to vote for certain positions such as who should direct the questioning, who should give the charge, who should present the Bible, etc. While this has been the tradition in even some of the strictest local associations within the BMA, the true BMA way is to say that ultimately if your church does not feel that this practice is appropriate then your church has the authority to conduct an ordination service without this practice. The autonomy of the local church is a very important issue among BMA churches.

That being said let me present a view that favors both the autonomy of the local church and the traditional practice of the ordination council. As you mentioned, no one except the local church has the authority to ordain a pastor or a deacon. This is true to the extent that if a man moves from one church to another the church accepting him as a member is under no obligation to accept his ordination as valid within their own fellowship. So, we have to ask ourselves why ordained members of other churches are traditionally allowed to sit on the ordination council or why there is an ordination council at all. Is it really a just a courtesy, as you have suggested, or do these gentlemen serve a higher purpose?

Proverbs 11:14 states, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” The men who make of the ordination council are not required for a church to ordain a man, but they provide a very useful service to the local church. The men that come from other churches to sit on the council are all respected leaders within their churches. As a body these men consider the man that the local church has presented. After questioning the man, these well respected men make a recommendation to the local church. There are cases where a church has presented an unsuitable man for consideration and the council has recommended that the church not ordain the man in question. Because of the respect that these men have within their own churches, a church should not take their recommendation lightly, but the local church remains free to ordain a man in spite of the recommendation to the contrary.

Because the council can do nothing but make recommendations to the local church, the local church is not bound by any of its actions. Often a local church will have some individuals already selected to do some of the things that are done at ordination services. In some cases this has not been done and the council may elect members of its own body which it in turn recommends to the church. Generally, the church just approves these recommendations as a whole when a motion such as “I move we accept the minutes of the council,” is made, seconded and voted on to the affirmative by the members of the local church. In some cases the church may have more specific motions, but without some kind of motion approved by the church the recommendations of the council fall dead. If it is the case that the church failed to communicate what actions had already been taken to the council then the council might make unneeded recommendations about who should do certain things. In such a case the church would probably ignore these recommendations and the people they selected previously would perform the assigned task.

Rather than looking at the ordination council as a body that is conducting the business of your church, I recommend that you look at it as a separate group of advisers who are gathered at the request of your church. Just as you are free to look at the words I have written here and either agree or disagree with what I have recommended, your church remains free to accept or reject any recommendation made by that body of ordained men.