Licensed or Ordained

Please explain the difference between a licensed preacher & an ordained preacher. Can a licensed preacher do weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc? The man I am referring to is an ordained deacon, but has only been licensed to preach.

The authority of licensing and ordination depends much on the group you are with. Licensing is entirely a human invention and Bible students have long argued over the exact meaning and purpose of ordination. To ordain is to give order to; to establish in a position with the authority to fulfill the requirements of that position. Paul and Barnabas went to the churches where they had established a community of believers and "ordained them elders in every church" (Acts 14:23). As you can see, they were ordained to a particular position.

However, we see this today in another light as well. Ordination is seen to approve a man for the work of the ministry in whatever capacity God places him. This is not an unscriptural idea. Paul told Timothy, "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). Paul saw the ordination of Timothy (compare 1 Timothy 4:14) as the giving of a gift that needed to be exercised. This gift may have been a supernatural gift exclusive to the time of the apostles. But no matter what the gift was, it points to ordination as the giving of authority and potential that can be stirred up for the work of the Lord. Ordination, therefore, is a very serious matter. It should not be done hastily. Paul warns Timothy, "Lay hands suddenly on no man" (1Timothy 5:22). Ordination sets a man apart from the congregation as one who is especially called to be a man of God.

Because of the seriousness of ordination and the biblical warnings against moving too soon in this area, many Baptists established the practice of licensing preachers. A license is formal permission to do something. A preaching license is a permission to preach. I have read in some of the old Baptist church minutes of a license being very specific. I remember one case where a young preacher was given permission to preach in his home church and one other church. If he proved himself there, then he could be given a license to preach wherever God opened the door. The purpose of the license was to give someone time to prove that they were worthy of ordination. Some preachers never went further than getting a license. This is all some wanted. They wanted a chance to preach in different places but they did not care for the position of a pastor.

Preaching licenses have almost disappeared. Most young preachers do not want to be under the authority of a local church. On one hand, this may come from an elevated opinion of the authority of God. If God calls a man, who has the authority to tell him to wait until he gets a license? I know of several great preachers who refused to be ordained, much less licensed, because they felt that the only authority they needed was God. Yet, is it not possible that God works through the authority of the local church? And there is another hand. I am convinced that many would refuse licensing (and ordination) because of their elevated opinion of themselves. They are not about to let anyone else tell them what to do.

Yet, I have to think that the old way was better. Today, someone comes up front in a service and announces his call to preach. Everyone takes him at his word and he begins to look for chances to ply his trade, so to speak. But who declared him qualified? How does the church in another community know he has the spiritual qualifications? Does he have the gift of preaching or will it develop over a period of time? A license was given to earnest men who felt the call to preach and who at least had the spiritual qualifications to stand behind the pulpit and proclaim the word. If they proved themselves, they could one day be ordained to a larger ministry.

As to your particular question, a license is permission to do a particular thing--in this case, to preach. It is not permission to do the other work of a pastor. You mention weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The answer is slightly different for each of these. The State of Tennessee requires a man who performs a wedding ceremony to be ordained or the equivalent. You will need to check the laws of your state. However, generally, a license to preach does not qualify one to perform a marriage. A funeral is another thing. It is only a memorial service and any preacher (or even non-preacher) can hold a funeral service. As to baptisms, I believe the authority to baptize comes through the church. Therefore, anyone the church authorizes to baptize can do so. I hope this will be a help to you.

David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 31:5

Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.