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Please see the Becoming Southern Baptist portion of our website for more information about the Convention and action steps your church can take to become a cooperating Southern Baptist church.
Actually, there is no standard process or policy concerning ordination in the SBC. The SBC is not a church; as such, it neither ordains nor “recognizes” ordination. Both initial ordination and recognition of previous ordination are addressed strictly on a local church level. Every cooperating Southern Baptist church is autonomous and decides individually whether or not to ordain an individual, or whether to require ordination of its pastor or ministry staff. When a church senses that God has led a person into pastoral ministry, it is a common practice to have a council (usually of pastors) review his testimony of salvation, his pastoral calling from the Lord, and his qualifications (including theological preparation and scriptural qualifications according to 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:7–9) for pastoral ministry. Based upon that interview the church typically decides whether or not ordination would be appropriate.
Some cooperating churches may require seminary training from an SBC seminary prior to ordination, while others may not; such a requirement is entirely up to the church.
Of course, every cooperating church is free to approach ordination in the manner it deems best.
If you are a member of a cooperating Southern Baptist church and sense the Lord may be leading you into ministry, you may want to speak to your pastor and ask for his assistance.
The question of whether or not one is qualified to serve as a pastor or deacon if he has been divorced generally stems from the teaching in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that the bishop/elder or deacon is to be “the husband of one wife.” There are three dominant interpretations of this phrase.
First, there seems to be universal agreement that the phrase forbids the practice of polygamy; a polygamist is not qualified to be a pastor/elder or deacon.
Second, some interpret the phrase to mean that a man who has been divorced is disqualified from serving as a pastor/elder or deacon. This was the dominant interpretation by Baptists in the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. According to this interpretation, if a man has a living wife from a previous marriage, he has failed to exercise consistent covenant love and family oversight during his adult life. Many Baptists who embrace this interpretation would find it difficult to accept the leadership of a man who, in their minds, is disqualified to serve in an ordained role. Those who hold to this interpretation point to God’s high standard for leadership in both the Old and New Testament as the norm for leadership roles in the local church.
Third, in the latter part of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, an interpretation that has gained broader acceptance is that the text affirms the essential character of a man—that he is a “one-woman kind of man.” In this interpretation, what is important is not a man’s past relationships, but his current track record of covenant love. Given that divorce has become so widespread in our modern culture, an increasing number of Baptists are willing to consider the circumstances of divorce, the timing of divorce (before or after salvation), and the track record of covenant love since one’s divorce and remarriage when evaluating a man’s suitability for ordained leadership. Those who embrace this interpretation point to the “exception clause” in Jesus’ teaching on divorce as foundational to their understanding of divorce and remarriage. This remains a point of continued debate in the Body of Christ.
Church leaders are highly visible in the church and the community as role models of godliness and holiness. Since ordination is a function of the local church, each Baptist church decides for itself how it will interpret and practice the qualifications of divorce and remarriage for its ordained leaders. Thus, there is no single “Baptist” position on this issue. Each local church determines for itself its interpretation of Scripture to this issue.
Since each local Baptist church is autonomous, the Convention has no authority to monitor or investigate the actions within that church or allegations against its pastor or any member of the church. The proper governing body to exercise discipline over any Southern Baptist is the congregation of which that Southern Baptist is a member, whether the person is the pastor of the church or any other member of the church. The SBC is not a church and has no authority to renounce, censure, investigate, or otherwise attempt to discipline members of any local church.
When a church chooses to cooperate with the SBC, it does not surrender any of its local autonomy. The SBC merely exists to serve as a collaborative ministry partner with all cooperating Baptist churches for the fulfillment of specific ministry initiatives. These ministries are outlined in forty-two ministry statements assigned to eleven convention entities, the SBC Executive Committee, and Woman’s Missionary Union. When a church indicates its agreement with the mission and purposes and of the Convention, it does not lose its autonomous character. It retains its full governance over all its affairs—selection of staff; compensation of staff; adoption of personnel policies; adoption of business and financial plans; and participation in all ministries it chooses.
The SBC has no voice in any of these matters. It cannot and does not lay claim to or take any steps of involvement in the internal matters of any local church. It has no oversight. It cannot and does not keep records of complaints or document the inner workings of any church. It is not privy to the membership records of any local church. Simply put, any local Southern Baptist church is fully autonomous in all its affairs.
What recourse, then, does one have if someone is dissatisfied with a pastor or the inner workings of a local church in regard to its pastor? We suggest you contact the individual directly in accordance with Matthew 18:15–17, or you contact the proper supervisory authority within the church over this individual.
We recognize that in the New Testament there was no centralized ecclesiastical authority over the churches that forced the churches into any form of compliance. There was encouragement, exhortation, and admonition, but there was never enforcement. We strongly adhere to that principle. Jesus Christ is the head of the local church—we are not. Each church is responsible before God for the policies it sets and decisions it makes.
Each local Southern Baptist church determines for itself its own specific interpretation of how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility intersect. According to recent surveys, the majority of churches that cooperate in the mission and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention are not Calvinistic. However, the Convention has always had as part of its ministry a large number of churches that do embrace the doctrines associated with Calvinism. Article V of The Baptist Faith and Message was carefully worded to allow churches and individuals which differ on this important biblical topic to cooperate together for numerous ministry purposes.
Most Southern Baptists desire to see a spirit of unity prevail despite our differences over this important theological matter. The messengers to the 2012 annual meeting of the Convention approved a resolution calling for Southern Baptists to cooperate together in obedience to the Great Commission as we find common points of consensus on the doctrine of salvation.
Following this action by Convention messengers, Executive Committee President Frank Page designated an advisory team to “help him craft a strategic plan to bring together various groups within the convention who hold different opinions on the issue of Calvinism.” The “Calvinism Advisory Team” issued its report in the summer of 2013. While acknowledging that Southern Baptists “have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension,” the report urges Southern Baptists not to let these tensions “threaten our Great Commission cooperation.” You may read the report in its entirety here.
Southern Baptists have long valued the priceless contribution of women as they have ministered to advance God's Kingdom. The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) affirms the vital role of women serving in the church (see Article VI: “The Church”). The Convention recognizes the biblical language concerning the office of pastor. The BF&M statement says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The passages that assign the office of pastor to men do not negate the essential equality of men and women before God, but rather focus on the assignment of roles.
The Southern Baptist Convention also passed a resolution in the early 1980s recognizing that offices requiring ordination are rightly addressed to men. However, the BF&M and resolutions are not binding upon local churches. Each church is responsible to prayerfully search the Scriptures and establish its own policy.
We expounded upon this topic in an article in SBC LIFE several years ago that may be helpful for further study.
The Southern Baptist Convention has not compiled a list of all the available avenues through which a woman may serve. The opportunities for women to serve in vocational ministry within the SBC are indeed vast.
Because of its autonomy, each cooperating Southern Baptist church determines such policies for itself—there is no denominational requirement in this regard. However, Southern Baptists have historically held that believer's baptism by immersion is the mode that is the most consistent with the Bible. When Jesus gave His command in Matthew 28:18–20 to make disciples, the directive was to baptize those new believers/disciples. The word for baptism literally means “to immerse.” It was a practice reserved for those who had decided to follow Him.
Baptizing a believer by immersion conveys the picture of a person dying with Christ, being buried with Him, and being raised with Him in a new life (Romans 6:3, 4). This act is a voluntary declaration to all witnesses that the person has openly and unreservedly placed his/her faith in the Lord and will follow Him.
When a person is baptized as a baby, he/she has no knowledge of the Lord, repentance, salvation, discipleship, or any of the essentials related to following Him. This baptism may be meaningful to the family and may convey their deepest desire to dedicate that baby fully to the Lord, but because a baby cannot make such choices, such baptism does not convey these essential truths directly associated with a believer's baptism.
Moreover, many non-Baptist denominations hold to a sacramental understanding of baptism—that the act of baptism itself confers come measure of grace upon the recipient. Baptists, on the other hand, view baptism as an ordinance that symbolizes that God's grace is only conferred upon us through faith in Jesus Christ as we identify with his death, burial, and resurrection. Though it may seem counterintuitive when Baptists ask someone who received a sacramental baptism to be baptized into their membership, they are actually asking that person to be baptized to clarify that it is faith in Christ—not the act of baptism—that bestows all the grace necessary for their salvation.
When a Southern Baptist church requires baptism by immersion for membership, it is not inferring that a person who has been baptized by sprinkling is in any way inferior or unsaved. It is not an attempt to insult anyone; it is merely striving to be faithful to the Lord and His command, and asking those who wish to be members to do the same.
The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention does not administer any scholarship funds.
At the national level (SBC), Cooperative Program funds are very specifically distributed according to the annual budget adopted by the Convention each June. The current distribution can be found here. Since the six SBC seminaries receive such a significant portion of CP funds, this reduces the amount of tuition they charge to all Southern Baptist students. This is, in effect, an “invisible” scholarship enjoyed by every student enrolled at an SBC seminary since it keeps the tuition rates markedly lower than the majority of other graduate theological institutions in the United States.
At the state level, cooperating state Baptist conventions administer their individual budgets, adopted by messengers to each respective state convention. You can check with your Baptist state convention to see if there are any scholarship funds administered through either the state convention budget or, if the state has a Foundation (an organization that holds various funds in “trust”), through the state convention foundation. A list of state foundations can be found here.