Baptists in other parts of the world require pastors to receive theological education before they can serve churches. This seems to trump the Baptist distinctive of local-church autonomy. What do you think?
Your question goes to the second of two precious Baptist freedoms. The first of those freedoms is the priesthood of every believer. As believers, we treasure our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We worship God without the assistance or permission of a priest. The second distinctive of Baptist freedoms is local-church autonomy. Local-church autonomy celebrates the freedom of every congregation to determine its own missions, ministries, budget and staff, etc.
One aspect of local-church autonomy is the choice of partnership. Baptist churches have the opportunity to choose the associations, conventions and nonprofits that match their doctrinal and ministry priorities. If a church chooses to partner with a convention that places a priority on the education of clergy, then the education requirement is not a conflict for the church.
A church chooses its priorities
The church has the opportunity to accept the priorities of the convention or to reject the priorities of the convention. The church chooses its priorities. It is not a violation of local-church autonomy if the church chooses to share the priorities.
Now that we have put a portion of the question to rest, let’s consider the blessing an educated pastor can be to a church. The following is a sad observation, but we are living in times when few people think theologically. Back in the days of Training Union, Baptists taught the entire church to tackle life in light of Scripture and theology. Today, we think pragmatically. We look for the easy answer, the magic program or the gimmick that “works.”
For instance, some equate generating attendance with “worship.” We choose music with a good beat rather than music that reflects the nature of God. We want sermons that promise happiness rather than faithfulness. Jesus’ words and the example of the apostles advocate faithfulness over happiness. Theological thinking helps us separate the temporary from the eternal.
Theological tools sharpened by education
It is a gift to a church to be led by a pastor who is able to apply theological tools sharpened by education. For instance, pastors are trained to examine ideas with the tools of systematic theology rather than the popular notions. A pastor who has spent time considering the words of Jesus as they relate to ethical issues is a help to the church.
Please do not equate the educated pastor to be the most important person in the church. What I am suggesting is an educated pastor is a resource that can be a blessing to any church.
If a local church affirms the clergy educational policies of a particular convention, the policy does not trump local-church autonomy. It is a shared belief between the church and the convention that educated clergy—who have been trained to consider Scripture, the nature of the church and the church’s role in the world—can be an asset to the local congregation.
Stacy Conner, pastor
First Baptist Church
Right or Wrong? is co-sponsored by the Texas Baptist theological education office and Christian Life Commission. Send your questions about how to apply your faith to email@example.com.