Over the past several weeks, there’s been much ado about the brouhaha with the Southern Baptist Convention voting out two churches whose offense was having a woman in a pastoral role. You can read more about it in the links at the bottom of the article. Although I’m not a Southern Baptist, I feel a need to say something about it for two reasons. First, I’m a pastor in a Baptist church in the South, so it would be understandable for those who don’t know me to assume I’m part of the SBC and it’d be a good thing to clear that up. Second, this story has grown far beyond the usual clerical circles and into the wider news coverage. There could be some folks out there who want to know what a local Baptist pastor has to say for a national news story about Baptists.
I’ll not bury the lead. The SBC is wrong.
The SBC offered up the president of Southern Seminary, Al Mohler, to voice their reasons. In Mohler’s words, the issue of women answering their call of God to ministry and serving as pastors is “a matter of biblical commitment, a commitment that unequivocally we believe limits the office of pastor to men. It is an issue of biblical authority.” Mohler is claiming that the Scriptures are unambiguously clear that only men should be pastors. A few epistle texts do sound out clearly against women leading in churches – most notably 1 Corinthians 11 & 14, and 1 Timothy 2 & 3.
These, however, are not all of the Scriptures. In fact, the Scriptures testify throughout to women of faith who have lead and held offices of spiritual leadership and authority with and over men repeatedly. I wrote one draft of this article that I had to edit down because it was boring. Do you see what I’m saying? There are so many instances of women leading that it was long enough to be boring! Instead, have this list and you can find out all the roles these women had according to the Bible, to which I’m also committed.
- Deborah & Jael (Judges 4-5)
- Huldah (2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 34)
- Esther (you know, that whole book of the Bible)
- Elizabeth (Luke 1)
- Anna (Luke 2)
- Mary, mother of Jesus (John 2)
- Unnamed Samaritan (John 4)
- Mary Magdalene, Mary (mother of James), Salome, and possibly other women (Matthew 18, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20)
- Rhoda (Acts 12)
- Priscilla (Acts 18)
- Phoebe, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa (Romans 16)
- Euodia & Synteche (Philippians 4)
- Eunice & Lois (2 Timothy 1)
In this list, women are prophets like Samuel or Nathan. A woman is a Judge like Gideon or Samson. Women speak under the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, like Amos or Jeremiah. Women preach and bring people to Jesus like Philip or Andrew. Women teach and correct like Peter or Paul. Women are deacons like Stephen. Women are declared as foremost among the apostles.
Yes, there are Scriptures that command women to be silent in church or not have authority over men. And at the same time, there are Scriptures where women called of God clearly do not keep silent and they absolutely have authority over men.
The SBC is wrong. I am very comfortable claiming that the SBC is wrong in the stance that it has taken on forbidding women to live out their calling of God. But they are also wrong in trying to claim that the Scriptures are “unequivocal” on women as pastors, when the Scriptures are simply not. At best they can claim that their Scriptures supersede the others. Even then, one would be using a handful of letters to silence a litany of women in the Scriptures who are living out their callings.
First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge has a long history of supporting women called of God into the ministry. We’ve ordained men and women to serve as deacons and they serve together. We have ordained women to the Gospel ministry, same as the men we’ve ordained. As someone who has the honor of serving in such a church, I have three words for the Southern Baptist Convention: you’re missing out!
<This post was adapted from an article published in the church newsletter in June, 2023>