As Southern Baptists prepare for their annual meeting in June, four men are set to be nominated as candidates for President of the convention:
-Randy Adams, Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention
-Ed Litton, Pastor of Redemption Church (Saraland, AL)
-Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)
-Mike Stone, Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (Blackshear, GA)
Among many important challenges facing Southern Baptists, recent events have raised questions about the hard-won complementarian consensus of the denomination. That consensus was settled twenty-one years ago in the SBC’s doctrinal standard, The Baptist Faith & Message.
With this in mind, CBMW has invited all four men to participate in a candidate forum in which they will answer a short list of written questions related to complementarianism and the SBC. Our hope and prayer are to provide a forum for candidates to express their views in a way that will serve and inform Southern Baptists and perhaps even wider evangelicalism.
The candidates’ answers speak only for themselves and have not been edited. The order in which we received the answers is the order in which they will be published.
1. The issue of women in ministry was one of the defining issues of the “conservative resurgence” within the SBC. Do you think it was important for the issue to occupy such a central place in the controversy? Is it right for it to occupy so much of our attention today?
Yes. The complementarian debate was and still remains at the center of theological controversy because of what it represents. Among other things, it touches on discussions of Scriptural authority and congregational autonomy, two issues at the heart of Southern Baptist distinctives.
As to Scriptural authority, inerrancy was the primary cry of the Conservative Resurgence. Yet then, as now, we often find ourselves working with different definitions of the same term. For example, the claim of “inerrancy” meant very little where there was not practical agreement on the definition of the word. A seminary leader, convention employee, or church leader could claim to be an inerrantist while denying the historicity of the opening of the book of Genesis, thereby distorting any reasonable definition of the inerrantist label.
Similarly, a person may label themselves a complementarian but if the practice of the professed complementarian varies little, if any, from the professed egalitarian, then the words themselves have precious little meaning. In such cases, a person may claim a Biblical position while denying the beliefs and practices that Scriptural authority would require.
The current debate also touches on the principle of autonomy. When questions arise as to whether a church is in friendly cooperation with the SBC, some argue that removing a church violates the church’s autonomy. But it is worth noting that inquiries, recommendations, and the ultimate removal of a church from our convention does not violate the autonomy of the local church. The Convention does not grant autonomy to local churches and cannot take that autonomy away. We merely recognize that autonomy.
But while each church is autonomous, each other general Baptist body is also autonomous in its own sphere. That is, the church is autonomous but so is the local association. Likewise, the state or regional convention is autonomous as is the national SBC. This understanding is at the very center of what it means to be an autonomous Baptist church working in voluntary cooperation with other churches of like faith and practice in the SBC.
Determining who can be and cannot be considered in friendly cooperation with the SBC is not a violation of autonomy. Rather, it is literally an exercise of the autonomy the SBC itself has to determine its own parameters of cooperation. And any issues that touch on Scriptural authority and Baptist autonomy are surely to be hot topics for Southern Baptists.
2. The Baptist Faith & Message says that God has gifted both men and women for ministry within the local church. Can you describe some of the valuable ministries that women are to have within Southern Baptist Churches?
There is hardly a way to make an exhaustive list of the many ways women can and do serve our Lord within the local church. I will begin by taking this discussion in a slightly different direction. While women are gifted to serve Christ in many ways, serving their family is one of the primary ways Christian service is realized. This is clearly taught in 1 Timothy 2:15 and is modeled by the virtuous wife and mother of Proverbs 31.
The Godly mature women addressed in Titus 2:3-5 were to exercise their influence with younger, less mature women. And again, the focus of their ministry was to be in discipling the younger women to be Godly wives and mothers. Cultural rejection of this pattern does not override or overrule the authority of the sacred text.
With that said, all ministry in the local church should be open to women except in such cases in which the service would violate Biblical commands. I believe the Bible is clear that women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man in the Lord’s church. And the Scriptural prohibition has nothing to do with the woman’s job title in the church’s organizational chart. Therefore, the office and its functions go hand in hand.
3. The Baptist Faith & Message also says that the office of “pastor” is limited to men as qualified by scripture. Do you think Southern Baptists were right to include this as part of their confessional identity?
In November of 2019, I presented an exposition of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to the church I’ve served almost 25 years. The sermon was prompted by the growing controversy in the SBC over complementarianism. My message was titled, “Women in Ministry and the Authority of Scripture.” Because this issue ultimately comes down to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, I believe its inclusion in our Baptist Faith and Message is appropriate.
Because of more recent questions, I would not be surprised by another motion to study the Baptist Faith and Message to consider, in part, specifically stating that the office “and function” of the pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. Such a motion was presented to the SBC in recent years. But that was prior to a heightened level of question on this matter.
I am generally opposed to revising our confessional statement too frequently or over a single issue. The SBC has wisely revised the Baptist Faith and Message on only a few occasions. But I believe that clarity of doctrine leads ultimately to unity. And given the current climate and conversation, I believe the time has come for that matter to be reconsidered.
Confessions of faith are beneficial in that they provide clarity on the theological questions relevant to the time. Just as it was not sufficient to merely say, “I am an inerrantist” while teaching and believing doctrines which defied the term, it is not sufficient to say, “I am a complementarian” if there is not a practical way to measure and define what the term means.
There are already leading voices who suggest that Southern Baptists should avoid this debate and merely unite around the essentials. But denominations and, in our case, conventions of churches exist because we have agreed to agree on far more than the mere fundamentals of the Christian faith. We are not a group of ecumenists. We are Southern Baptists.
4. Recently, there have been some publicized instances of women serving as the Sunday morning preacher in Southern Baptist churches. Do you think the Bible allows for women to serve in this role? Explain.
No, I do not. In giving these limitations, Paul cites his rationale. And the reasons are not personal or incidental. They are Scriptural. In 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11 he connects the prohibition to the order of creation. In 1 Timothy 2:14 he references the fall. There is no circumstance or situation in which these Divinely-inspired reasons are not still true.
When this subject is discussed, some will point to prominent women in times past who have been the main speaker in Sunday services at Southern Baptist churches. While that is helpful information, we should be informed by precedent but not governed by it. Southern Baptist history is not the standard for our faith and practice.
I also contend that the actions of some of our Southern Baptist leaders have led to confusion in the present discussion. When Saddleback publicly announced it had ordained female pastors, some of the understandable criticisms came from prominent Southern Baptists who, merely weeks earlier, were quick to defend a woman preaching in chapel services at a Baptist Bible college.
To be sure, a Bible college is not a church. But it is at the very least an uncertain sound for professed complementarian leaders to applaud the placement of women preachers before a co-ed audience. It is inconsistent to practice an egalitarian model before young men preparing for local church ministry while simultaneously criticizing egalitarianism in the local church.
And it is confusing when SBC leaders lament female preachers while providing national convention platforms to pastors who have females preach in their churches. If this is an unbiblical practice for local churches, we should not promote pastors who engage in it.
Those who have pushed a “soft complementarianism” in recent years may well be the cause of the seeming increase of egalitarianism among our churches. When women are allowed to have authoritative teaching and preaching functions and are limited only insofar as they do not hold the title of “senior pastor,” we should not be at all surprised when our congregations grow more comfortable with female preachers and pastors.
5. Do you believe that the Bible allows for both men and women to serve in the office of “pastor”?
No, the pastoral office is limited to Scripturally-qualified men. And that limitation is not based on the Baptist Faith and Message. It is based on the Bible, modeled through the overwhelming majority of church history, and affirmed in the Baptist Faith and Message.
6. Does support for female pastors suggest an erosion in the doctrine of inerrancy? Are these issues related? If so, how?
Yes. One of the issues Southern Baptists have faced in the past is the question of plenary inspiration. Is all of the Bible inspired or just the “red letter” words of the Savior? A liberal view on this has been often humorously described as embracing a “Dalmatian Bible,” one that is only inspired in spots.
A couple of years ago, this was put on graphic display on social media. A prominent teacher was discussing the complementarian question and tweeted, “We (have) put limitations on women that exceeded what Christ demonstrated. We did it instead of wrestling with the tension between the gospels and the epistles.”
But is there actually “tension” between what Christ demonstrated and what Paul wrote? Or is there absolute harmony between the two? Are the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 equally as inspired as words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount? Or did the Lord allow Paul to take a brief written diversion to record his personal, non-inspired, non-binding opinion?
This question strikes at the very heart of the question of verbal, plenary inspiration. Particularly when Paul gives both the restriction and the reason fare given in the text. It seems inconsistent to claim belief in the inerrancy of Scripture while practically denying the inspiration of the stated reasons for this restriction.
As I have written elsewhere, these gender distinctions and role assignments were not a consequence of sin. Paul connects the prohibition against women teaching men and having authority over men in the church to the order of creation. That’s a Genesis 2 issue. It was not a part of the curse and it has not been negated by the cross.
Further, if you read Genesis 3 and the details of the curse, it is the opposition to and abuse of this creation order that is a consequence of our depraved nature. And for Christ followers, it is our opposition to these distinct role assignments and our abuse of them that should be reversed by the gracious act of regeneration.
For the last several decades Southern Baptists have proven themselves to be a people of the book. I believe the messengers to our annual meetings will be able to prayerfully chart a path forward on this doctrinal issue. And I trust that position will be saturated with grace and steeped in our belief in the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Word of God.