Disciples of Christ consider removing MDiv as requirement for ordination

Written by Joel on July 12th, 2009


READ THIS FIRST for some of my revisions after sleeping on it for a while.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has published a list of proposed resolutions which will be considered at this year’s General Assembly. One resolution, 0922, recommends the establishment of an apprentice track to ordination which does not include a MDiv (Masters of Divinity), i.e. a seminary education.

“The proposed policy…creat[es] an Apprentice Track of preparation leading to Ordination without a Master of Divinity degree.”

What the proposal does.

Each region establishes its own rules for ordination and examines their own candidates. Once ordained in one region, a minister is recognized in all regions without the need for any “missing” requirements. For example: the Pacific South West Region does not require CPE for ordination; the Captial Area does require CPE. The Capital Area would accept ordained ministers from the PSWR without requiring CPE first.

This is not so for regions which have an apprentice track to ordination. As it stands now, ordained ministers via apprenticeship are not necessarily recognized everywhere. This resolution would make this track recognized throughout the denomination. Meaning that a minister in Region-A who was ordained via apprenticeship without seminary would be recognized in Region-B, which requires an MDiv for ordination.

Why I oppose this resolution.

I oppose apprentice tracks to ordination in any region. An MDiv should be required for ordination.

Seminary education has proven invaluable to me over the past four years. I have completed all of my coursework, and only have CPE remaining. I simply could not have received this same level of education on my own, through “on-the-job-training,” or any apprentice track. The seminary is a center of spiritual and academic giants, all in one place. I have been challenged academically in ways not possible outside of the seminary. At seminary I was able to interact with many highly educated mentors, and found great benefit in the larger community which was also preparing for Christian ministry.

1) It is NOT ecumenical.

One of the arguments presented in the resolution itself is that it “is crucial for conversations with our ecumenical partners in the Body of Christ.” I read this as implying that our ecumenical partners do not require a seminary education for ordination. However, the vast majority of Christian denominations do require an MDiv (and quite a bit more theological education). For example the Roman Catholic Church (by far the largest Christian group), Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Eastern Orthodox all require an MDiv. It would decidedly harm ecumenical relations if DOC clergy had significantly lower credentials than the ordained clergy from each of these groups.

2) Not all are called to ordained ministry – and that’s okay.

We need licensed ministers to carry on specific ministries of the church. The Church is one body with many members. We can’t all be feet. We can’t all be hands. We can’t all be ordained ministers. We can’t all be licensed ministers.

Licensed ministry is not a lower call than ordained ministry. It is only different. This is not a question of equality, and no one wants to minimize the important ministry of licensed ministers.

3) Ordained ministers are expected to be educated.

One role of the ordained clergy is to properly discern scripture and accurately present the faith. This is extremely difficult without formal training in the seminary, where one studies Greek, Hebrew, biblical exegesis, systematic theology, and church history.

Parishioners expect their ministers to be well educated. Christian clergy owe it to the church to be highly trained and educated.

It is not about just doing a job well. Intense study is in and of itself beneficial to clergy and for the good of the church.

4) “Seminary costs too much, is too far way, and takes too long” is not an excuse.

Seminaries are greatly available and so is funding. If this is the concern, perhaps we should seek ways to make seminary more accessible to people who are called to this particular ministry. Christian ministry is not easy, and it demands sacrifice.

5) An apprentice track would discourage candidates from attending seminary at all.

If a minister can become ordained without the expense, intensity, and academic rigor of a seminary education why would anyone go that route?

What if all of our ministers stopped seeking formal education? It is my assumption that education is a good thing. Lets not be foolish and discourage higher education for our clergy.

The lack of education can lead to either fundamentalism or heresy.

6) Seminary provides additional time for discernment.

A bachelors degree and the MDiv, under favorable conditions, can take eight years. This helps to provide time, experience, ministry, and the ability to discern one’s particular call to the ministry.

In conclusion

Education is of utmost importance, and Christian ministers must be highly educated. In the modern era, on-the-job-training is not sufficient to properly discern the scriptures and express the faith. Adoption of this resolution will harm the quality of our ordained ministers, and will cause our clergy to lose credibility in ecumenical dialog. A masters of divinity ought to be required for ordination.

What do you think? Please use the comment feature to share your thoughts. I’d also encourage you to participate in the discussion at the CC(DOC) website.


7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Rev. Jared Trullinger says:

    “A bachelors degree and the MDiv, under favorable conditions, can take eight years. This helps to provide time, experience, ministry, and the ability to discern one’s particular call to the ministry.”

    I thought that the traditional track was seven years:



    Have some seminaries changed their traditional educational plans to eight? It’s a shame, in my mind, if they have. Options for extending the study to more than three years in seminary always should be available, but I don’t think that people should be “encouraged” to take more time if they don’t want to do so.

    Under favorable conditions, it can take much less time. Not everyone spends a full 4 years as an undergraduate student, and some go to school year round both as undergrads and grad students. Many M.Div. students also have aspirations beyond the M.Div., whether it’s a 2nd masters or a doctorate. Thus, extending the timeline of seminary only delays one’s ability to move to the next phase of education.

    • Joel says:

      Seminary can be done in 3 years if you go year round. I found this impossible in my case. I got married one summer, had army training the next, etc. I did my undergrad in 3 which helped. Add a job to the mix and its a bit more difficult.

      Thanks for the input Rev. Jared.

  2. Rev. Jared Trullinger says:

    I believe that a few of us now have graduated from Brite Divinity School in 2 1/2 years with the M.Div. Given the right circumstances and Fall(15)-Spring(15)-Summer(12) full-time enrollment (transfer coursework/online coursework, if necessary), I think that the M.Div. might be possible to do in 2 years at some schools.

  3. warren C Marglin Layperson says:

    Why not a hybrid approach combining seminary and practical parish work. The reolution only leaves off the requirement ofMDiv for ordination

  4. Warren C marglin layperson says:

    In the church of England a Bachelor of Theology (or Divinity) is sufficient for ordination. Course work includes studying Greek or Hebrew (I would add Aramaic also)systematic theology’ethics ‘homiletics and christian ministry. After all some students may not want to go to graduate school and be professional students

  5. Mike says:

    United Methodists do not necessarily require an M.Div. for ordination. For second-career ministers, they offer what is called the Five-Year Course of Study, which covers most of the areas of knowledge deemed necessary for the UMC minister. After completion of either the M.Div. or the COS, they enter into the associate phase prior to full ordination.

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