SBC seminary passes resolution affirming pastoral roles should be limited to men

Saddleback Church
Saddleback Church ordains its first three female pastors: Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards, on Thursday, May 6, 2021. |

A Southern Baptist Convention seminary passed a resolution affirming its president's stance that only men can be pastors, an indirect response to Rick Warren's Saddleback Church ordaining three women pastors last year.

At their fall meeting last week, the trustees at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the seminary's administration to continue theologically training both men and women, "but with men alone reserved for the office and function, and thereby title of pastor."

"It is further resolved that this Board encourages The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administration and faculty to continue its theological training with this stated conviction —graduating both men and women for service to the church, but with men alone reserved for the office and function, and thereby title of pastor," stated the resolution, in part.

The resolution commended the stance of SBTS President Albert Mohler, who helped revise the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the official statement of faith for the SBC.

Shortly after the SBC's Annual Meeting last June, Mohler was joined by Chuck Kelley and Richard Land, who also were members of the revision committee, in publishing a statement clarifying the meaning of the word "pastor," titled, "A Statement Concerning the Baptist Faith & Message and the Word' Pastor.'" 

Mohler has served as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1993, Kelley served as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for 23 years, and Land served as president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from 1988-2013 and is president emeritus of Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina. The Confession Revision Committee assigned the three men to write a study guide for the new 2000 Baptist Faith & Message Confession. 

Al Mohler
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, speaks at the Family Research Council's Pray Vote Stand Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sept. 14, 2022. |

Mohler took to his official Twitter to post his support on Tuesday for the trustees' resolution, saying he is "thankful" for their work.

"Our @SBTS trustees made an important statement last week, passing a unanimous resolution defining pastor as both function and office and limited to men by Scripture as confessed by Southern Baptists in the Baptist Faith & Message," tweeted Mohler.

In May 2021, Saddleback Church garnered controversy in SBC circles by ordaining three women — Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards — despite the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 stating the "office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Mohler penned a column denouncing Saddleback's ordinations as "contrary to Scripture" and "an attempt to redefine and reformulate the convictional foundation of Southern Baptist faith and cooperative ministry."

"The theological issues have not changed since the year 2000 when Southern Baptists spoke clearly and precisely in the Baptist Faith & Message. More importantly, the Holy Scriptures have not changed and cannot change," wrote Mohler at the time.

Some within the SBC pushed for Saddleback to be disfellowshiped from the nation's largest Protestant denomination. 

However, the SBC Credentials Committee, which handles issues regarding whether member churches are abiding by the SBC standards, announced at the SBC Annual Meeting in June that it would delay a decision on Saddleback.

Committee Chair Linda Cooper told the messengers at the annual meeting that "we have concluded that we are not yet prepared to make a recommendation regarding Saddleback Church, recognizing there are differing opinions regarding the intent of the office of pastor as stated in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000."

"We feel it is very important for you to know that it is the unanimous opinion of the Credentials Committee that the majority of Southern Baptists hold to the belief that the function of lead pastor, elder, bishop or overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture," she added.

"[However, we have] found little information evidencing convention beliefs regarding the use of the title of pastor, for staff positions with different responsibilities and authority than that of lead pastor role."

The Credentials Committee initially recommended that the SBC messengers vote to create a study committee that would report at next year's annual meeting a "recommendation to provide clarity regarding the office of pastor." However, Mohler voiced opposition to the idea.

"If we eventually have to form a study committee over every word of our confession of faith, then we are doomed and we are no longer a confessional people," Mohler said to applause from the crowd. 

The Credentials Committee rescinded its recommendation for a study committee. 

On July 29, Mohler joined New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley and Richard Land, the president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from 1988-2013, in issuing a statement clarifying the Southern Baptist understanding of the word "pastor." The three men were previously tasked with writing a study guide for the new 2000 Baptist Faith & Message Confession. 

"[I]t is important to understand that the word pastor was chosen precisely because of its clarity among Southern Baptists. The statement carefully affirms that both men and women are gifted for service in the church, but the role of pastor is biblically defined and is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture," the men stressed in the statement. 

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