Saddleback Church Pastor Andy Wood defends church’s stance on women pastors

(From L-R) Stacie Wood, Rick Warren, Andy Wood and Kay Warren.
(From L-R) Stacie Wood, Rick Warren, Andy Wood and Kay Warren. | A. Larry Ross Communications

A month after the Southern Baptist Convention cut ties with Saddleback Church for elevating Stacie Wood to the office of teaching pastor, the church's lead pastor, Andy Wood, has defended the church's position on women serving as pastors.

"It is the authoritative word of God that teaches us how to live, and it gives us instruction for our beliefs," Wood says in a video released this week. 

He said one of the Bible passages that often comes up in the discussion of women serving as pastors is 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

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Wood said conservative, Bible-believing theologians interpret this passage of Scripture from different angles. Some believe Apostle Paul is saying that only men can teach in the local church.

But Wood argues that is not how Paul led in the local church.

He points to Romans 16, where paul commends Pheobe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. He also praised Greet Priscilla and Aquila, who Paul calls his "co-workers in Christ Jesus" who "risked their lives" and "all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." Wood also points to Romans 16:7, where Paul praises a woman named Junia, who he says was an apostle and developed faith in Christ before he did. 

"Whenever there is a tension, or seemingly two things [in the Bible] that are true, we have to hold them together to gain a deeper understanding and acknowledge ... that our interpretation — although the Bible is authoritative an inerrant — our interpretation is not," Wood said. 

"We hold our interpretation through the lens of our humanity and understand that we are humans that are flawed. We are doing our very best to understand the Bible. That is why things like church history play into our perspective. That is why learning from other churches and other teachers is so helpful." 

The pastor said it's clear throughout the Bible that God intended to have two genders, assuring that men and women are very different from one another by design. While there is much focus in mainstream culture today on "gender transitions," Wood assured that Saddleback is not "caving to the culture."  

"We're trying to get back to God's design. What did God intend when you go to Genesis and you see God making Adam and Eve? What was God's intention?" he asked. "There's a danger in this conversation with what is called a trajectory hermeneutic. A trajectory hermeneutic says, 'Well, Jesus got the ball down the field this far, and now culture's taken things further, and we're trying to catch up to culture. We are not trying to catch up to culture in this conversation." 

He said that in the New Testament, there are concepts called "spiritual offices" and "spiritual gifts," adding that there are five spiritual gifts that Paul talks about in Ephesians: prophets, apostles, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Wood said these gifts are discussed throughout both Jesus and Paul's teachings. 

"The question to wrestle through in the New Testament is were there both men and women who had the apostleship gift, the pastoral gift, the evangelist, shepherd, teacher?" he asked. "Undoubtedly, when you study the New Testament, almost every theologian would argue, 'Yes, there are men who are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers.' The question that is oftentimes in controversy is do women have those spiritual gifts or were they commissioned by God to be functioning in those particular areas of the local church."

"What we would say to that is all throughout the New Testament, both in Paul's teaching and in Jesus' teaching, we see apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers."

"In 1 Corinthians 16-19, we see very clearly that Aquilla and Priscilla were shepherds in a local church and were shepherding people. When it comes to teachers, in Romans 16: 1-2, Paul commends, in particular, a woman by the name of Pheobe as a teacher," he added. "This is important for us to recognize from a descriptive angle that the New Testament shows us women in apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher roles."

"When you think of those five functions, there are also offices in the local church. There are two offices, in particular, that we see in the New Testament. ... [They] include the office of elder and the office of deacon. The question here is, are both men and women supposed to serve in those two offices." 

"We can see very clearly there is a description of deaconesses. ... Most theologians would argue there are women who served as deacon. The question is in terms of leadership. Our interpretation of the New Testament is that the role of eldership, according to God's design, is that is a role reserved for men, that men serve in the role of overseer."

He said the way God designed the authority structure of the home and the local church was that men would serve as an elder.

"A man who is an elder can empower women and utilize women to use their spiritual gifts in the local church," Wood said. "We see this from a descriptive angle all throughout the course of the New Testament." 

In reconciling Paul's prohibition on women teaching or having authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12, Wood asks whether the verbs "teach" and "assume authority" are mutually exclusive.

"Paul is using two … verbs to communicate one idea. And as he says it, 'I do not permit a woman' to take, usurp — the word literally means to usurp or seize — authority," Wood says, explaining that Paul didn't "permit a woman to seize authority to teach and seize authority over a man."

It's about the behavior of a woman as she exercises the spiritual gifts, as she exercises her functions in the church, Wood stresses.

"So just like Paul gives order in a home with a husband being the head of a household, he's saying, 'I don't permit a woman to come and seize that role.' And so when a woman teaches in a local church, she's teaching in conjunction with the authority of the Church," Wood said. "She's not trying to overtake that authority. When she uses that spiritual gift, she's using it under the authority of the eldership or the leadership of that local church."

At Saddleback, the pastor shares, "we have a group of elders who are all men."

"We have women who will teach on our stage," he said. "All the men elders in our church are in full buy-in to women teaching and exercising their spiritual gift here at Saddleback."

Last month, the SBC Executive Committee approved a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee to label five churches as "not in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention" over decisions to allow women to hold the office of pastor.

Along with Saddleback, other churches that were disfellowshipped include: New Faith Mission Ministry in Griffin, Georgia; St. Timothy's Christian Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland; Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi; and Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

The churches will be able to appeal their expulsion at SBC's Annual Meeting, scheduled to occur in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 13-14.

SBC's Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman said in a statement to Baptist Press that the disaffiliations came because of "the churches continuing to have a female functioning in the office of pastor."

"As stated in the Baptist Faith and Message Article VI, the SBC holds to the belief that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture," stated Wellman. "These churches have been valued, cooperating churches for many years, and this decision was not made lightly. However, we remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintaining unity among its cooperating churches."

Launched in 1980 by pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren in California, Saddleback had grown to become the second-largest Southern Baptist church in the U.S., planting numerous churches in the U.S. and four campuses overseas. Before Warren retired last year, he hand-picked Andy Wood as the successor. His wife, Stacie, is identified as a teaching pastor at Saddleback.

Saddleback initially garnered controversy in May 2021 when it ordained three women — Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards — to be pastors.

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