A Mid-Nineteenth Century Baptist View Of The Ministry

Founders Journal · Winter 2001 · pp. 11-23

A Mid-Nineteenth Century Baptist View Of The Ministry

William G. Moore

One of the most divisive debates among Baptists at the beginning of the twenty-first century concerns the office of pastor in the local church. The debate over the pastor’s calling, gender, and authority creates opinions and parties, with all sides claiming not only the support of Scripture but, also, the precedence of history. One should not think that the debate, however, is merely between those who might be characterized as conservatives and moderates. While conservatives may not debate among themselves whether women are to be pastors, they do often discuss and debate the role of the pastor in the contemporary Baptist church. Although an examination of Scripture is foundational and essential in order to comprehend who are to be ministers of the gospel and what they are to do, a consideration of the views of another generation can help focus our energies on pertinent ideas and their biblical origins.

Mid-nineteenth century Baptists in America used the terms pastor, minister, and elder to designate the officer commonly called pastor in Baptist churches of our day. They regarded New Testament terms such as elder, overseer, bishop, pastor, and shepherd as signifying the same officer in the local church, and they held that such an office was the only ministerial office in the church.[1] These Baptists had quite definite and, almost without exception, uniform views concerning the gospel ministry, views which they saw as based upon direct commands and principles of the Scriptures. An examination of these views concerning the ministry in general and the pastorate in particular may indeed help return Baptists not only to their historical roots but to biblical principles as well.

The Call to the Ministry

What qualifications are necessary for the ministry? Baptists viewed a man’s piety and doctrinal soundness as the chief areas of concern.[2] Neither a man’s station in life nor his educational attainments were matters of preeminent concern. Francis Wayland, who served as President of Brown University from 1827-1855, examined 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9 and maintained, “It would seem from these passages that any disciple of Christ, of blameless character, meek, forbearing, temperate, sober, just, holy, thoroughly attached to the doctrines of the gospel, having a natural gift for teaching, and having had some experience in the Christian life–not a novice–has the qualifications for the ministry which the New Testament requires.”[3] One’s godliness and gifts determined one’s qualification.

Other denominations might complain that limiting the qualifications to these, without requiring a requisite amount of education as well, would so reduce the prestige of the ministry that the literate would be driven from it. Only the illiterate would be in the ministry. Wayland, however, would countenance no other qualifications than those set forth in the Scriptures:

The apostolic qualifications for the ministry are confined to the illiterate, or they are not. If they are, then it would be safer, after all, to adhere to the apostle’s rule, for grace is before gifts in the view of the Master. But if these qualifications are equally distributed through every range of culture, by adhering to the rule we shall have a large variety of gifts adapted to every situation, and after all, have such men as every Christian must say are best suited to the work of saving souls. Our rule would then seem to be, to require, in all cases, the apostolic qualifications, and consider every man a suitable candidate for the ministry who possesses them, whatever may be his attainments or position in society. If he be apt to teach, he will be neither an imbecile nor a pedant.[4]

Similarly, theologian John L. Dagg saw the qualifications for the ministry as gifts endowed by the Holy Spirit which, in themselves, constitute a call to the ministry of the gospel. Dagg elaborated, “The special qualifications which the Holy Spirit bestows, bind him on whom they are bestowed to use them in the service of Christ. They are given to fit him for this service, and they constitute a divine call for him to engage in it. They are not given to confer a privilege merely, but they are a solemn call to duty–a call demanding the service of the whole life.”[5] Consequently, the one gifted for the ministry could do nothing other than the work of the ministry and remain contented.

How could one know if one was called to the ministry? Was a call simply a personal feeling which was attributed to God and against which no one could stand? In a letter “addressed to the churches,” a writer to the Western Recorder in 1858 provided the answer which appears to have been accepted practice in Baptist churches. Noting that only those whom God has called should enter the ministry, he asked the inevitable question, “How is the call of God to be ascertained? That a miraculous intimation of his will is to be expected, no rational man, at the present day, believes.” The writer proceeded to answer the question which he raised, “Two things are necessary to prove a call to the ministry to be from God. The first is, that the individual possesses a sincere desire to be thus employed. He must feel a strong concern for the glory of God, and for the salvation of men. His heart must be moved with desires to proclaim the love of Christ to dying sinners, and to persuade them to be reconciled to God.” The call to the gospel ministry, though, was not to rest only upon a man’s testimony that he felt that God had called him and that he had a great desire to follow that call. The writer continued, “But another necessary thing is, that he possess suitable gifts. … By suitable gifts we mean a sound understanding, a capacity and a desire to learn, an aptitude to teach, a reasonable degree of ability to be useful to his fellow men as a minister, when his mind shall have been cultivated as much as his circumstances may allow.” Did this mean that the believer’s personal testimony that he possessed such gifts and that he sincerely desired to enter the ministry constitute proof that he was indeed called by God? The writer answered, “Of these points, the individual is not a competent judge. His brethren must judge for him.”[6]

Wayland provided like-minded counsel. While one evidence of the call to the ministry was the conviction within a man has that he must preach the gospel, Wayland warned that more was needed: “We may frequently mistake our motives. We may overrate our capacity. We may thus run before we are sent. Hence we frequently see men in the ministry who have manifestly mistaken their calling, who are useless as preachers, while they might have been very useful in some other situation.”[7] What else was needed?

I answer, he in the next place lays his convictions before his brethren, who know his walk and conversation. He asks them to tell him, in the fear of God, whether or not their convictions correspond with his own, whether or not they in truth believe that he is called to undertake this work. They are bound to take up this subject with solemn deliberation. They do wrong, if they do not employ all the means in their power to come to a right decision.[8]

Only when a man’s fellow believers could confirm his call could that man with confidence claim to be called into the ministry.

The Preparation for the Ministry

Baptists were quick to respond to the charge that, historically, they had cared little for an educated ministry. For instance, D. C. Haynes gave this retort:

We have said that Baptists have ever been the fast friends of missions: the same remark is true of general and ministerial education. Nothing is more unjust than the charge, still reiterated, that the regular Baptists have ever been indifferent to education for the ministry. In illustration of the injustice of our opponents, the American translators of the church history of Professor Hase, Messrs. Blumenthal and Wing, among other singular mistakes of Baptists in this country say: “Of late years some portions of this denomination have done much to redeem their order from the reproach of indifference to education.” Baptists have ever been more or less active in this work, and have had learned men in their ranks, from the time of Luke the evangelist, and Paul the apostle.

They do not, indeed, deem education essential to the ministry; but desirable, as is amply proved by their entire history.[9]

Many earlier American Baptists, however, did appear to put little weight upon a formal education. Wayland noted that Baptists forty or fifty years after Jonathan Edwards discounted the importance of education. Most of them had left a “mechanical” occupation in order to enter the ministry. Piety, not learning, was seen as the prerequisite for ordination:

They saw that education, rather than piety, was in many denominations the test of ministerial qualification; and, instead of assigning to it its proper and subordinate place, they abjured it altogether. This was, doubtless, an error. Are not we now liable to the very error against which they contended? Be this as it may, there was, undoubtedly, in most parts of our country, a prejudice against men who were “college learned.”[10]

A formal education was not seen by even its supporters, however, as the qualifying element of the gospel ministry. Jesse Mercer, always ready to support the cause of an educated ministry, wrote that “education is not, in the least, designed, so far as we know, among Baptists, by any who are engaged to promote it in the ministry, to usurp the place or take the power of any of those gifts, talents, or mental endowments which God by his holy Spirit imparts, and without which no man has any right to pretend to be a minister of God.”[11] Mercer compared education for the minister with clothes for the minister: “They [clothes] have no power in them to make the man, yet they are very necessary both to his comfort, and to render him acceptable to his fellow men. So education is very necessary to the happiness and acceptance of a minister in the course of his ministry.”[12] Mercer also compared words for the minister with tools for the mechanic:

A mechanic, to do good work, must have a variety, and a knowledge of the use of tools. So a minister, to do good work in preaching for God, must have a fund, and be acquainted with the right use of words. But how shall he attain to this right use of words, unless he studies it? Does God give the knowledge of language now? It would seem that many think the less a man is educated, the more plain, forcible and useful he is as a preacher; but the fact is exactly the reverse. It ought to be apparent to every one, that the less a man knows, the poorer must be his stock of words, and the less his capacity to use them advantageously. … The learned minister of God, under the influence of a right spirit, will use his knowledge to present truth, not floridly, but clearly; not in the eloquence of human wisdom, but in the simplicity of demonstration, commending himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.[13]

The concept of an educated ministry did not necessarily mean, though, that the minister had acquired a formal education. A writer in the Western Recorder noted that knowledge of language and philosophy did not constitute necessary learning for a minister but rather “a knowledge of divinity of the Bible.” Competence in this calling consisted of an “aptness to teach and apply that divinity–the truths of the Bible–to the hearts and consciences of men.” He should be able to

bring the law of God home to the consciences of men; the man who can administer the heavenly balm of the gospel to the diseased soul, the man who can snatch from the armory of God the winged arrow, that shall pierce the innerest soul of the obdurate and rebellious; the man, whose burning zeal and love, under God’s blessings, leads hundreds from darkness to light–that is the able, the learned divine; for “he,” says the Almighty, “that winneth souls is wise.”[14]

During the nineteenth century Baptists did often debate the best and most efficient way to train ministers. The one thing on which they usually agreed was the need for more ministers and better ministers.[15] While this meant for some a formal education, for others there would be a different type of training. Wayland counseled that one of the most profitable things which an established minister could do for younger believers called to the ministry “but who are, for various reasons, unable to pursue a protracted course of study” was to mentor them. The minister could provide them with books, teach them how to study the Word of God, take them to hear sermons and then discuss the delivery and content of the sermons with them, and take them to funerals, conferences, on visits to the sick. “No one can tell the advantage of such a course as this to a young man who has a talent for the ministry, and can avail himself of no other resources. If our ministers had always two or three young men in this sort of training, our ministry would be immeasurably increased in number, and improved in quality.”[16] A ministerial candidate who had been provided in the providence of God with the ability and opportunity to attain a more formal education must take advantage of that opportunity. If not, “he must have a reason which will justify himself at the bar of God. But let him remember that these can not make him a minister of Jesus Christ. … They are merely accessories which may give increased efficiency to the essential qualifications.”[17]

One of the hindrances which prevented many men from getting a formal theological education was their lack of the requisite classical training. In his “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” James P. Boyce saw this as an unnecessary barrier:

In His Word and in His providence, God seems to have plainly indicated the principle upon which the instruction of the ministry should be based. It is not that every man should be made a scholar, an adept in philology, an able interpreter of the Bible in the original languages, acquainted with all the sciences upon the various facts and theories of which God’s Word is attacked and must be defended, and versed in all the systems of true and false philosophy. Indeed, some must understand these in order to encounter the enemies which attack the very foundations of religion.[18]

Those who did not have the ability to obtain a classical education should nevertheless have the opportunity to obtain a theological education. Boyce proposed:

Let such a change be made in the theological department as shall provide an English course of study for those who have only been able to attain a plain English education. Let that course comprise the evidences of Christianity, systematic and polemic theology, the rules of interpretation applied to the English version; some knowledge of the principles of rhetoric, extensive practice in the development from texts of subjects and skeletons of sermons, whatever amount of composition may be expedient, and full instruction in the nature of pastoral duties–let the studies of this course be so pursued as to train the mind to habits of reflection and analysis, to awaken it to conceptions of the truths of Scripture, to fill it with arguments from the Word of God in support of its doctrines, and to give it facility in constructing and presenting such arguments–and the work will be accomplished.[19]

Boyce’s proposal would come to fruition with the opening of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, in the fall of 1859. While theological education of the highest caliber would be provided to those who had acquired a pre-seminary course of study, a challenging education suitable for those who had been unable to receive that course of study would also be provided.

The Licensing and Ordination to the Ministry

Ministers were often licensed to the ministry before being ordained. This license provided the ministerial candidate the opportunity to preach so that fellow believers would have the opportunity to determine if the candidate was indeed equipped by God to be a gospel minister. The license was usually for a stated period of time and often renewable each year.[20]

Baptists would admit that the Scriptures were silent concerning the licensing of potential ministers. Nevertheless, because the ultimate supervision of gifts, according to 1 Corinthians, lay with the church, churches were believed to be within their rights to license candidates for the ministry.[21]

Who was to license candidates? Wayland contended that the local church alone possessed that authority. While other denominations might question the ability of “common, uneducated brethren [to] know about the fitness of a man to preach the gospel,”[22] Wayland contended that an examination of other denominations revealed their methods inferior to the Baptists. The local church would be in the best position to determine if a ministerial candidate is apt to teach or is of a godly character. The method for licensing, however, did not ensure that only qualified men would be admitted to the ministry: “If … we are false to ourselves, and treat this subject as a matter of form, to be acted upon without thought or consideration, it is not our principles but ourselves that are in fault.”[23] Churches must be diligent in examining candidates.

While licensing was for a limited time, ordination was considered a permanent action. As with licensing, the church was seen as the only body approved by Scripture with the authority to ordain. After examining New Testament texts dealing with the matter of ordination in general and with the appointment of Matthias in particular, W. B. Johnson lays down the following principles:

  1. That under the present dispensation, a church of Christ has the authority to appoint or ordain to ministerial offices.
  2. That in the exercise of this authority, after seeking in prayer for special direction of the Lord, the appointment or ordination, should be by casting of votes by the members.
  3. That there is no privileged order of men, whose action is required to give validity to appointments or ordinations to ministerial offices, because the churches are clothed with the appointing or ordaining power.[24]

The ordination of a man to the ministry, while performed by a church, was seen as so important that it was recommended that other churches assist and advise the ordaining church. The Charleston Association, in 1808, answered a query concerning the need for such a council: “It is recommended to the Churches, that on calling out a person to preach, they be careful ordinarily to obtain the assistance of neighboring ministers and churches, in forming their judgment of his qualification, before he be licensed to go out publicly as a minister.”[25] In response to a similar query, the Bowdoinham Association in Maine gave this response in 1815:

The ordaining of an Elder, or setting apart of one to the work of the gospel ministry, is the transaction so solemn in its nature, and so important in its consequences, that it would be highly improper for a church belonging to this Association to proceed to the business without the concurrence of a suitable number of sister churches, furnished with Elders, whom, among other things, have received the solemn charge, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.”[26]

The ministerial candidate would have been carefully observed for a period of time and then, on the appointed day, examined as to his fitness to serve as a minister of the gospel. Jesse Mercer, however, decried the quality of ministers of local churches. He believed that too often unqualified men were ordained into the gospel ministry: “Have not many Presbyteries ordained men to the gospel ministry, purely on their own and the responsibility of the churches to which they belonged, with very little, if any inquiry into their qualifications for the sacred office; or the obligations they felt for the honor of God, or the ministry into which they were being put?”[27] Wayland, too, lamented the laxness with which the ordination of ministers too often was carried out:

I fear, however, that these important considerations are frequently neglected. The council convenes on the day that has been publicly announced for the ordination. They have no time for any such inquiries as I have suggested, and they are, therefore, never made. It frequently happens that not a member of the council has ever heard the candidate preach, or has the means of knowing any thing of importance respecting his qualifications. The statement of the candidate’s call to the ministry, and of his views of doctrine, have almost passed into a stereotype form. An ordination, in short, is in danger of being considered merely a pleasant meeting of ministers–the private brethren in attendance being very few–to transact a matter of form, to be kindly entertained, and attend the ordination service in the afternoon.[28]

The negative consequences resulting from the ordaining of unqualified men were seen as creating definite problems for both the ministry and the churches. The ordaining of unqualified men could bring reproach upon the ministry. In addition, the ordaining of unqualified men could create divisions among Baptists. The unqualified minister would probably not be asked to officiate at an important associational event and would consequently gather others who would sympathize with him concerning this perceived slight. An even greater evil would be providing unqualified ministers with an opportunity to bring into the church untried methods and untrue doctrines. Furthermore, the ordaining of unqualified ministers would turn the ministry into a profession in which one was paid while doing little or no labor. Churches were warned by these considerations against ordaining men prematurely: “When a brother shall be recommended for ordination, judge of his case in view of a future state. Ask yourselves: have we the proper testimonials, justifying us to set apart to the sacred ministry this brother: Will this act, or will it not, advance the cause of our blessed Savior?”[29]

The Call to a Church

The officers of Baptist churches consisted of pastors and deacons. Each church required a pastor to take care of its spiritual needs and a body of deacons to take care of material needs. W. B. Johnson, though, offered an alternate view: “It is worthy of particular attention, that each [apostolic] church had a plurality of elders, and that although there was a difference in their respective departments of service, there was a perfect equality of rank among them.”[30]

S. W. Lynd, editor of the Western Recorder, made this distinction between the ordination of an elder and the conferring of the office of elder: “When men are chosen to the office by the vote of the church, the office is conferred upon them. The part which the presbytery takes does not confer office. It recognizes them as elders, and solemnly sets them before the churches and the world as ministers of Christ, by prayer and imposition of hands. This is their ordination.”[31]

Baptists recognized the value of long pastorates in one place of service. Short pastorates of only a couple of years were often deplored. A writer to the New York Chronicle maintained that

ministers and churches brought together as a mere matter of temporary convenience are almost as much out of place as temporary marriages. … The incumbent of the office must stay among his people long enough to marry their children and bury their dead, to share in their joys and sorrows, to endear himself to them as a friend and brother, and to create so many ties of affection between him and them that the hold which his eloquence and brilliancy give upon them shall be lost sight of in the higher regards of a brother, a friend, and a spiritual adviser.[32]

Short pastorates were seen as an evil, being deplored as “the migratory character of the ministry of the present day,” often the result of too many pastors looking for more attractive places of service: “There is a sense, in which all Christians are pilgrims on the earth, but these pilgrimages from church to church, from one field of labor to another, on the part of ministers, ‘ought not so to be.'”[33]

The responsibility for maintaining a long pastorate rested not only upon the pastors themselves but also upon the churches. Their failure to provide their pastors with adequate support, both financially and in intangible ways, caused many pastors to feel that they had no choice but seek other places of service.[34]

The Responsibilities of the Minister and of the Church

The primary responsibility of the minister was to preach the gospel. This preaching was to be thoroughly scriptural and doctrinal in its content. Popular preaching which appealed to the unregenerate or the spiritually immature was seen as being inherently harmful. One Baptist wrote: “We have at times heard the opinion expressed that the people would no longer endure doctrinal preaching; that the prevailing taste required sermons of a practical character, fitted to move the feelings and fire the soul with ardent desires.” The writer maintained that a lack of doctrinal preaching leads to spiritual starvation, while “a faithful, affectionate, and intelligent exhibition of the cardinal truths of the Bible is essential both to the edification of believers and the conversion of sinners. … Doctrinal preaching has never been popular. Never yet has the unbelieving heart shown any relish for the doctrines of grace.”[35]

The second major duty of pastors was visiting the members and attenders of their churches in their homes. Some pastors, however, refused to perform pastoral visitation and often encouraged candidates for ordination not to do it and for churches not to expect it. Wayland gave their argument:

If he [the minister] does not visit them, they must take it for granted that he is on his knees, studying the word of God, and holding communion with his Saviour on their behalf. He is so much engaged in this holy work that they must not disturb him even by calling upon him. I have heard it triumphantly asked, How can they expect their minister to compose sermons like Massillon’s, if he do [sic] not consume his whole time in solitary study?[36]

Such reasoning received more than a hint of sarcasm from Wayland’s pen: “All this is solemnly said, by grave and reverend divines, as if there were really any danger that the candidate would ever preach like Massilon, and as if the people would not know whether their minister had time enough for general reading and social visiting, though he had none to employ in testifying from house to house repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”[37]

This pastoral visitation, as Wayland intimated, was no mere social call. Indeed, it was seen as a type of preaching, in this case “from house to house” instead of from a pulpit. Inquiries were to be made concerning “the subject of personal religion.” If possible, each member of family was to be visited individually, but when this was not possible, the “duty of repentance and faith in Christ” was to be presented before them all. Not only could the impenitent be converted as a result of such visitation, but believers could be encouraged and strengthened. The bereaved could be comforted, the tempted could be warned and strengthened, and the young Christians could be discipled. Pastoral visitation, however, was not restricted to the homes. Men could be found at their places of business and a few words could be shared with them.[38]

Haynes saw the responsibilities of the pastor as comprising single-minded devotion:

It is his right and duty to devote himself exclusively to his spiritual work; and of necessity he must be supported in it. His first duty is to preach the gospel, in the fear of God, and not of man, in the pulpit, and from house to house. He is subject to removal by the church, but not to dictation and neglect. He should have particular regard, as he goes from house to house, to the sick and suffering. He is none the less a citizen for being a pastor, except so far as the one office is necessarily modified by the other. In the nature of things, he cannot be extensively engaged in worldly matters of a business or political nature; but is nevertheless a citizen, having his responsibilities to such matters like others.[39]

The pastor was to give himself completely to his work.

The pastor, like all ministers, needed to realize the necessity of personal holiness for the effectiveness of his ministry. Those who failed in their personal living would do no better in their public ministry:

Can you do it [lead the church to greater heights] without the strength of a piety beyond that of the age which is passing away? If ye are carnal, will your churches be spiritual?–If ye are contentious, will your churches be gentle and peaceful? If ye are sordid, will the people that you fashion learn to trample the world under their feet? If your hearts are the seats of narrow and frozen affections, will those bosoms in which they throb catch the sentiments of burning, boundless benevolence?[40]

Pastors could not lead others to where they themselves had not been.

Responsibility was not seen as being only from the pastor to the church–the church also had responsibilities to its pastor. P. F. Rainwater charged that churches had three basic duties to their pastors. First, the church was “to respect and guard sacredly the character of their pastor, for his character is an invaluable part of his power.” Second, the members should exhibit a proper respect for the pastor’s ministry, particularly during the delivery of the sermon. Rainwater charged that “professed Christians instead of listening to the sermon, are seen gazing around the house, whispering and laughing, and making remarks on the appearance of others, while some doze themselves to sleep. To such we say, you are disgracing yourselves, while truly you embarrass the pastor, reproach religion, and dishonor God.” Third, the church is to provide proper compensatory support for the pastor–not “a bare pittance, which may just keep him from starving, but a remuneration for his labor–such an one as will relieve him from worldly care, and the support of a helpless family, and as will enable him to provide himself with suitable books for his mission.” The pastor was to be paid adequately and punctually, with the deacons being charged with the responsibility of making sure that it was properly done.[41]

The failure of church members to carry out their duties to their pastors was seen as one of the chief reasons for pervasive spiritual dullness. Rainwater explained:

Brethren, there is a lack somewhere. Coldness and baseness pervade the churches. But few are on the walls of Zion, and they are mostly men who have to labor for a temporal support, while all their time and talents should be devoted to religious services. Is it not time for us to covenant together as churches and as Christians, that we will pray for our pastor, and that a succession of ministers may be given us? Let us love and respect them for their work’s sake. Let us guard and protect their character from all undue reproach. Let us meet them at the sanctuary and attend to their ministrations. Let us help them in building up the Church and preaching the Gospel to lost sinners.[42]


Baptists of the mid-nineteenth century saw the gospel ministry as a noble endeavor which none dared enter without an assurance of the call of God. This assurance came neither from pietistic feelings nor from educational attainment. While a desire to enter the ministry and a determination that God had laid that desire upon one’s heart were important, the confirmation by fellow Christians was essential. Baptists realized that a man could be deceived into thinking he was called when, in reality, he was not. Consequently, licensing and ordination were seen as the necessary involvement of fellow believers required to ensure that the ministry would have, as much as possible, only qualified men.

While there was an increasing realization of the importance of a formal, theological education, Baptists realized that such training was not essential. Education could enhance the qualifications for ministry which God had given, but education could not replace or supercede those qualifications.

Baptists saw the pastorate as involving responsibilities on the part of both the pastor and the church. While the pastor was to give himself primarily to the preaching of the Word, whether in the pulpit or “from house to house,” the members of the church were to respect their pastors, obey the Word preached, and provide the necessary compensation for the pastor.

What can Baptists at the beginning of the twenty-first century learn from their predecessors who lived a century and a half ago? Surely, one of the greatest and most necessary lessons concerns the divine call to the ministry. In the present era of radical individualism, too many Baptists believe that the only prerequisite to ordination is that one be personally convinced of his calling. For the church to question a man’s assertion that God has called him is seen as the height of arrogance and the rejection of Baptist principles. Consequently, to deny a woman the right to pastor a church, a denial based upon 1 Timothy 2:12, is to reject her as an equal to whom God can speak and call into His work. After all, who are others to reject the call which she is certain that she received?

In addition, the ordination of too many men today is little more than mere formality. Again, if a man claims to have been called into the ministry, who can argue against that? Ordination councils are often satisfied with little more than the candidate’s testimony of personal salvation and his declaration that he feels that God has called him into the ministry. The candidate’s doctrinal awareness is unexamined, his personal lifestyle is unknown, and his preaching ability is undetermined. His ordination, therefore, is unjustifiable. Nineteenth-century Baptists, however, looked to the objective nature of scriptural qualifications in order to verify the candidate’s call.

Modern Baptists could also learn a lesson about the importance of a theological education. In too many seminaries the Bible is viewed as little more than a significant book in the historical development of Christianity. The Bible’s authority is negligible at best, with its being referenced almost as an afterthought to provide support for pre-conceived, culturally-acceptable ideas. In addition, even in seminaries where the authority of Scripture is affirmed without reservation, courses which stress the practice of the faith are seen as having greater importance than courses which stress the content of the faith. Too often “doing” is more important than “being”–relevancy is more important than fidelity. Nineteenth-century Baptists, though, teach us that right beliefs were foundational to right practices.

A third lesson concerns the minister’s sense of devotion to his call to pastor a local church of believers. Pastors too often look for the more attractive pastorates, convinced that their success in the ministry is tied to the size of their congregation and the amount of their compensation. Few pastors, as well as few churches, are committed to long-term pastorates. Therefore, the spiritual growth of both pastor and church is stunted because the relationship seldom has time to be developed and nurtured. Both pastors and churches are continually in the process of beginning instead of being in the process of building. Once again, our nineteenth-century forebears show us that pastors must be motivated by godly principles and devoted to scriptural duties if they are to lead healthy, God-centered congregations.


1 For instance, see John James, “Officers of the Church,” Western Recorder, 15 October 1856, 2; “Names and Titles of the Ministry,” Texas Baptist, 1 April 1856, 2; and D. C. Haynes, The Baptist Denomination: Its History, Doctrines and Ordinances (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, & Co.; Richmond, VA: Charles Wortham, 1856), 234.

2The issue of gender and the ministry was rarely considered. That men alone were to be ministers of the gospel was usually taken for granted. J. M. Stifler, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Haven, Connecticut, wrote, “The relation of female ministry is definitely set forth [in Scripture]. If a man desire the office of a bishop. And the emphasis is not in the word, for in the original it is indefinite–any one–but most strikingly in the context, which goes on to give the bishop’s qualifications entirely in the masculine gender. He must be the husband of one wife, having his children in subjection. There are no qualifications for a female bishop anywhere. This is the more striking, when we remember that, a female deaconship being allowed …. The New Testament knows no such office as a female pastorate, and in express terms forbids it. The work of teaching is pointedly limited to men. For [support] see I. Cor. xiv. 34 and I. Tim. ii. 12.” J. M. Stifler, “The Gospel Ministry,” in Baptist Doctrines; Being an Exposition, in a Series of Essays by Representative Baptist Ministers, of the Distinctive Points of Baptist Faith and Practice, ed. Charles A. Jenkens (St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885), 257-58.


Francis Wayland, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1857), 50. “S,” writing in the Texas Baptist elaborated upon three qualifications for the ministry: “true, ardent piety,” “talent” required for the tasks of the ministry, and “an intelligent, strong and unconquerable conviction of duty.” “The Christian Ministry,” Texas Baptist, 2 May 1855, 2.

4Wayland, Principles and Practices, 52.

5John L. Dagg, A Treatise on Church Order. Manual of Theology, Second Part (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858; Harrisonburg, VA: Gano, 1982), 242-43.

6“Ministerial Gifts to Be Sought Out and Encouraged,” Western Recorder, 10 March 1858, 2.

7Wayland, Principles and Practices, 107.


9Haynes, The Baptist Denomination, 323.

10Wayland, Principles and Practices, 22.

11Charles D. Mallary, Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer (New York: John Gray, 1844; reprint Paris, AR: Baptist Standard Bearer, n.d.), 185.

12Ibid., 186.

13Ibid., 186-87.

14“An Educated Ministry,” Western Recorder, 15 November 1854, 2.

15See “Ministerial Education,” Western Recorder, 8 April 1857, 2.

16Wayland, Principles and Practices, 74-75.

17Ibid., 75-76.

18James Petigru Boyce, “Three Changes in Theological Education,” James Petigru Boyce: Selected Writings, ed. Timothy George (Nashville: Broadman, 1989), 35.

19Ibid., 39.

20Wayland, Principles and Practices, 114.

21E. B. Teague, “Licensing Ministers,” Christian Index, 8 April 1857, 2.

22Wayland, Principles and Practices, 100.

23Ibid., 102-3.

24William Bullein Johnson, The Gospel Developed through the Government and Order of the Churches of Jesus Christ (Richmond, VA: H. K. Ellyson, 1846), 133.

25Cited in William Henry Allison, Baptist Councils in America (Chicago: George K. Hazlitt, 1906), 63. It is understood that “licensed to go out publicly as a minister” is the act of ordination to the ministry, not the licensing for the trial period.

26Cited in Allison, Baptist Councils, 63.

27Mallary, Jesse Mercer, 267.

28Wayland, Principles and Practices, 117.

29“Premature Ordinations and Their Evil Consequences,” Texas Baptist, 3 November 1859, 1.

30Johnson, The Gospel Developed, 80-81.

31S. W. Lynd, “The Church and Her Membership,” Western Recorder, 10 January 1855, 2.

32“Accepting a Pastorate,” Texas Baptist, 19 August 1856, 1.

33“The Permanency of the Ministerial Office,” Texas Baptist, 28 January 1857, 1.

34“Accepting a Pastorate,” 1.

35“Doctrinal Preaching,” Western Recorder, 15 November 1854, 2.

36Francis Wayland, Letters on the Ministry of the Gospel (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1864), 140.


38Ibid., 145-48.

39Haynes, The Baptist Denomination, 238.

40“Soul Prosperity.-Number lv.,” Christian Index, 2 March 1854, 2.

41P. F. Rainwater, “Duties of Churches to Their Pastors,” Christian Index, 8 July 1857, 1.