Rick Warren and Saddleback have done us the service of showing their hand. They want to persuade us to abandon what the Bible teaches and follow them in another direction. How will we respond in New Orleans?
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced earlier this year that Saddleback church had been removed from the SBC over Saddleback’s calling female pastors. Just yesterday, the news broke that Saddleback has appealed that decision, which means that the matter will come before the messengers to the annual meeting in June in New Orleans. Rick Warren cites five reasons for Saddleback’s appeal.
First, Warren claims that “we’re challenging the ruling on behalf of millions of SBC women” who are forced to sit on the bench and cannot participate in the Great Commission. This is a false claim. Southern Baptists believe that God calls and gifts women for ministry. It’s written in our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), and it’s the longstanding practice of our churches—including my own! We need and rely upon the ministries of women in our churches, and all of us—both men and women—are called to carry out the Great Commission. Our beliefs about the office of pastor don’t diminish God’s call on women’s lives one iota, and it’s a distortion to claim that it does. (See this really helpful thread from Jonathan Akin.)
Second, Warren claims that they are challenging the ruling not for their own church but for the “over 300 concerned pastors who have female pastors serving on their staff.” Warren is clear that he wishes to make the SBC a place where women can serve in the pastoral office. He knows that practice contradicts the BF&M, but he wants to lead the entire convention to abandon the BF&M on this point. Nevermind the fact that Southern Baptists have long settled this issue. Warren and Saddleback are going to bring this controversy again. I can hardly imagine a more divisive action on their part.
Third, Warren claims that the BF&M’s teaching about qualified male pastors has caused our missionary force to decline over the last 20 years. This one is a howler. Southern Baptists have never embraced females serving as pastors. Even before the controversy that led to the conservative resurgence in the 20th century, you would have been hard-pressed to find a female pastor anywhere in the convention. It was always a marginal position at best. Even the so-called moderate SBC churches by and large had male pastors. Even though the all-male pastorate wasn’t written into the BF&M until 2000, Southern Baptist practice on this matter has been really consistent. That has never changed. Trying to tie this issue to the number of missionaries currently serving is tendentious and absurd.