Andy Stanley criticizes SBC for ousting Rick Warren's Saddleback Church over female pastor

Pastor Andy Stanley preaches a sermon at North Point Community Church of Alpharetta, Georgia, on Sunday, June 30, 2024.
Pastor Andy Stanley preaches a sermon at North Point Community Church of Alpharetta, Georgia, on Sunday, June 30, 2024. | YouTube/Andy Stanley

Georgia megachurch Pastor Andy Stanley has criticized the Southern Baptist Convention for disfellowshipping Rick Warren's Saddleback Church for having a female teaching pastor. 

In a sermon Sunday at North Point Community Church of Alpharetta, Stanley, the son of late Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist Charles Stanley, spoke about the need to "remove obstacles" for people trying to follow Jesus Christ.

Identifying himself as "theologically conservative," Stanley said that the "progress" many churches were making to reach the lost "is being undermined and reversed like crazy."

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"With all the political nonsense in the last few years, it has picked up speed like crazy," Stanley said. "This whole thing has been fueled by conservative fearful fundamentalist … academics and pastors."

"Church leaders are resurrecting old barriers that we spent years tearing down. And they're adding new barriers," he added.

Stanley cited Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life, as an example, crediting him with having done a great deal of work successfully reaching nonbelievers.

"Last year, his denomination kicked him out of the denomination," Stanley explained. "For something immoral? No. Something illegal? No. Something that had to do with money? No. Because he had some addiction? No."

"They kicked him out because he had the nerve to ordain three female staff members, who were functioning as pastors … and they kicked him out of the church."

Stanley declared that "you don't get anymore insider focused than that," arguing that too many Evangelical leaders "are prioritizing politics over mission," calling it "just sick."

In February 2023, the SBC Executive Committee deemed Saddleback not in "friendly cooperation" with the convention. At issue is Pastor Andy Wood, who succeeded Saddleback founder Rick Warren as lead pastor, listing his wife, Stacie, as the church's teaching pastor. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the convention's official statement of beliefs, says that the "office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Although the church had previously ordained three female pastors in May 2021, the convention cited Stacie Wood's naming as teaching pastor as the reason for the expulsion. 

At the SBC Annual Meeting last year, messengers voted 9,437 to 1,212 to uphold Saddleback's expulsion after hearing arguments from both Warren and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler. At the SBC Annual Meeting this June, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have permanently banned churches from allowing women to serve as pastors "as qualified by Scripture" failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed for passage. 

Stanley received criticism on social media for his sermon comments, including a brief response from Andrew T. Walker, a theology professor at the SBTS and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

"A megachurch pastor criticizes the Southern Baptist Convention for separating from an egalitarian church. We would do well to use that as an opportunity to be mugged by reality," tweeted Walker.

"When Southern megachurch pastors can't even be counted on for biblical faithfulness, it is not the time for us to be hyper focused on the good opinion of unbelievers. The 'world is watching' is no standard of faithfulness. Biblical truth is."

At last year's SBC Annual Meeting, Warren argued that Southern Baptists could agree to disagree on the issue, comparing it to the SBC's decision to not disfellowship churches that adhered to Calvinist theology.

"We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sins, racial sin, financial sin, leadership sin, sins that harm the testimony of our convention," Warren said. "But the 1,129 churches with women on pastoral staff have not sinned."

Mohler spoke against Saddleback's appeal, warning that the California-based megachurch was threatening the SBC's unity and that the issue was important. 

"It's not just a matter of church polity; it's not just a matter of hermeneutics," Mohler stressed. "It's a matter of biblical commitment, a commitment to the Scripture that unequivocally we believe limits the office of pastor to men."

"Here we face the unusual situation in which Dr. Warren himself has made repeated statements, and the church has taken repeated actions that make very clear it rejects the confessional understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention on this issue."

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