Well-meaning pastors have recently criticized the decision by The Southern Baptist Convention to disfellowship Saddleback Church and other churches on the issue of female pastors. Notably, Pastor Kelly Williams revisited a question issued from the floor: “What does it say when we are slow on the take addressing the sexual abuses of women and then fast on the draw to disqualify them from associate pastor roles?”
What does it say? These two issues are fundamentally unrelated. The first requires an enormous amount of investigation and work by SBC leaders. The task of addressing the sexual abuses of women, and sorting out the true from the false, is a gargantuan task. The Bible does not contain a mandated timetable for these difficult problems in our fallen world. Reviewing the convention’s resolutions back to 2002 demonstrates a continual commitment to address the matter.
The question of whether women can be pastors, however, does not require committees, task forces or legal action by anyone involved. All it requires is an afternoon Bible study of the relevant passages.
What wins the argument all day, every day is biblical fidelity and sound arguments from the biblical text.
If there is an appeal from Scripture on this issue by SBC pastors, it is typically an appeal to specific women mentioned in the Bible. Not one of these women served in the office of pastor as it is defined in the New Testament. Regarding Deborah (the usual suspect), the office of pastor in the New Testament is not comparable to a judge in ancient Israel, nor is the time of the judges a model to emulate. The exegetically responsible position on the subject of women pastors is the recognition that the New Testament does not provide an example of women in authority over men in the local church.
To park on Pastor Williams’ comments a moment longer, he notes why the SBC is so reluctant to ordain women. He says the SBC is afraid of the dreaded mudslide of progressivism since most mainline churches have gone that way. What he fails to mention is that it is not most mainline denominations that have traveled this trajectory, but all of them.
Of course, we’re thankful Williams and other SBC leaders do not support the ordination of homosexuals, but they’ve departed from the only foundation capable of supporting the position long-term. When we reject the God-ordained roles for men and women in the Church, we relinquish the necessary biblical boundaries which protect the roles in all spheres, including marriage, family and church. Why? Because when you depart from the creation order, which is the reason given for the Church order (I Tim. 2:13-14), the foundation for these institutions is removed. The removal of creational boundaries leads to chaos.
The problem is not that Southern Baptists have ignored the gifts of women; rather, it has too long endured biblical infidelity on the matter. Women have myriad opportunities to teach and make disciples and to use their gifts to build the Kingdom of God. Instead of focusing on all that God allows, they demonstrate the nature of their first mother by continuing to demand the single role they have not been given. God’s chosen instrument, the Apostle Paul, settled the matter via the superintendence of the Holy Spirit around 59 AD.
In our day, as the world clamors to deny the very existence of the male/female complementarity as God’s created it, the sacredness of marriage, and the proper ordering of the family — Southern Baptists have the privilege of putting truth on display in our churches. We serve as living witnesses to the truth of both testaments by submitting to God-ordained roles. Though the Word of God has closed the office of pastor/elder to women in the context of the assembled church, innumerable ministry opportunities are ripe for the contributions of more women.
As a female theologian and apologist, and a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I congratulate the SBC on casting aside weak, emotionally-laden appeals to elevate women to the pastorate, and I pray they continue to champion the Truth of the Lord’s teaching until He comes.
Scarlett Clay lives with her husband and two children in Central Texas and is the Chapter Director of Ratio Christi Christian apologetics club at the University of Texas. She loves using the arts to point people to Christ and does so through her website, Art Is Medicine.