To be in friendly cooperation, a church must have a faith and practice that is in step with the BF&M [The Baptist Faith & Message]. Contradicting what the BF&M says about female pastors is by definition not “closely identifying” with the BF&M. Indeed, it’s a direct contradiction of the BF&M.
I have seen a variety of responses to the news yesterday that the SBC has found Saddleback Church to be out of step with “the Convention’s adopted statement of faith” and now no longer recognizes them as a “cooperating” church (Art. 3, SBC Constitution). As many of you know, the presenting issue is Saddleback’s recognition of a variety of female pastors, including one of their new lead teaching pastors. Having female pastors contradicts our statement of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), which says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
As you can imagine, many of the public responses have been negative. On social media, some of the commentary has been incendiary and dismissive and therefore not worthy of serious engagement. Other critics simply do not like what Southern Baptists believe. Still, there are two objections that I thought it might be worth the effort to answer.
The first objection appears in a social media thread that Rick Warren himself “liked” on Twitter. The author shares a series of quotations from around the time that the BF&M was adopted in 2000 and observes how many SBC leaders at the time said that the BF&M would never be used to “coerce” Baptist churches. He quotes from one 2000 Baptist Press article which has compelling comments from both Albert Mohler and Adrian Rogers:
“We don’t have the right, the authority or the power to limit anybody,” Rogers noted. “We would resist that. What we are stating is what we believe mainstream Baptists believe…It is not a creed. It is a statement of what most of us believe.”
Other media questions focused on the new BFM’s stance against women serving as senior pastors.
“We would never presume to tell another church whom they may call as a pastor or tell another person whether or not they may serve as pastor,” Mohler said. “We’re not trying to force our beliefs on someone else.”
The author highlights these remarks and others like them to show that the BF&M was never meant to be “binding on individual SBC congregations” (source). He concludes from this that the BF&M was never intended to be a “parameter for cooperation” (source). Both of these observations are wrong and represent a serious misunderstanding of our polity.
Right now in 2023, I heartily affirm what both Adrian Rogers and Albert Mohler said 23 years ago. The SBC does not have the right or authority to tell any church whom they may call as pastor. The SBC has zero authority to tell a church what they can or cannot do or what they must or must not believe. How a church governs itself or chooses its pastors is not what this dispute is about.
This discussion is about whether the SBC has a right to recognize which churches are in friendly cooperation with the convention. Our polity says that the SBC does have that right. Furthermore, the SBC Constitution defines some parameters for determining which churches are in friendly cooperation. The Constitution says it this way: