Note: In all likelihood, this page will receive additional updates. In the days ahead, more questions may be addressed, or existing questions will be addressed more precisely.
Q 1. What is the proposed amendment?
The proposed amendment would clarify that the SBC only cooperates with churches that do not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind. It would be added to the SBC constitution under Article 3, Paragraph 1 concerning “Composition.” The underlined item below shows the additional amendment in its proposed context.
Article III. Composition: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of Baptist churches in cooperation with the Convention. The following subparagraphs describe the Convention’s current standards and method of determining the maximum number of messengers the Convention will recognize from each cooperating church to attend the Convention’s annual meeting.
- The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:
- Has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)
- Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. (By way of example, the regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention would be one indication of such cooperation.)
- Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.
- Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse.
- Does not act to affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.
- Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.
Q 2. Why is this amendment being proposed?
As of June 2023, there are currently over 1000 SBC churches with female pastors in direct contradiction to both God’s Word (i.e. 1 Tim 2:12–13; 1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9) and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 ( Section VI. “The Church”). These churches are confused in thinking that embracing God’s word on this issue will lead to institutional decline. Many of these churches don’t understand that the same interpretive method that leads to female pastors also leads to practicing homosexual pastors.
Dozens of SBC churches have already left or stopped contributing to the Cooperative Program due to the toleration of female pastors within the convention on this issue and more. Generally speaking, history shows that once a denomination has female pastors, it’s usually just a matter of time until they ordain homosexual pastors. The American Baptist Churches USA allowed female pastors in 1985 and then homosexual pastors in 1999. The Episcopal Church USA went from having female pastors in 1976 to homosexual pastors in 1996. For the ELCA, it was 1988 to 2009. For the PCUSA, it was 1956 to 2011. And after the United Methodists allowed female pastors in 1956, they are now hemorrhaging over homosexual ordination, and it’s the conservatives who are leaving.
The reality is, this issue has been a canary in the coalmine for many denominations. If we cannot be clear and unashamed about what the Bible says a pastor is now, then there is little hope that we will stand firm on other teachings of God’s Word that are out of step with the standards of the world. We must believe what the Bible teaches and go wherever it leads regardless of cost or consequences.
Q 3. Who is this amendment coming from and why?
From Mike Law, Arlington Baptist Church, and from some friends.
From me (Mike Law). As I wrote to the members of the Executive Committee, my goal is to secure our unity as Southern Baptists. I wanted to make a clear, collegial, and biblically convictional appeal for the Executive Committee to allow the Constitutional Amendment to come before the messengers in New Orleans. I wanted to make a loving request as a churchman that cares deeply about our Convention.
I want to see our Convention stand united in the truth, because I love the SBC. My parents took me to hear the gospel in a Southern Baptist church within weeks of my birth. I was born again in a Southern Baptist church (Marshall Road Baptist Church in Jacksonville, AR). I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church (Foothill Baptist Church in Los Altos, CA). My parents were Southern Baptist missionaries in Central Asia with the International Mission Board. I was married in a Southern Baptist church. I began my formal theological education in a Southern Baptist seminary. I have served Southern Baptists on the Nominations Committee. I received my pastoral training in a Southern Baptist church (Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC). I planted a Southern Baptist church (Grace Baptist Church of Arlington), and I brought together two Southern Baptist churches in a merger (Grace Baptist Church of Arlington and Arlington Baptist Church).
I wrote, because I see this issue as a pressing challenge to our future unity and faithfulness as a Convention. For a long time, contrary to our Convention’s statement of faith, women have served as pastors in our Convention. For example, before my coming to Arlington Baptist Church in 2014, the church had a history of women serving in the pastorate. From November 2006 to March 2008, a woman served as the Sr. Pastor of Arlington Baptist Church. And then, a sister in Christ took over as the Interim Pastor and preached until the church could find a new and permanent pastor. Thankfully, the saints at Arlington Baptist have returned to faithfulness on this issue, and unity with Southern Baptists.
The problem is clear. The Bible is clear. Our Confession is clear. Now it is time for our Constitution to be clear, which will help secure our unity in the truth as a Convention.
This also comes from Arlington Baptist Church (ABC). ABC is an average Southern Baptist church. We have around 100 members and average 3-4 baptisms per year. ABC has been part of the Southern Baptist Convention since 1928, regularly contributes to Lottie Moon, and sends Messengers to the Convention. Additionally, ABC supports 5 missionaries, several other ministries and parachurch groups, and our members are active in local evangelism.
Finally, this effort comes from friends. Contributors to this effort have been limited to me (Mike), my congregation (ABC), and a few other pastors/friends that have been sounding boards and offered some feedback, or practical help along the way. There’s been no money exchanging hands, friends have simply contributed and covered costs when the needs arose. There’s been no parachurch ministry direction, or organized outside team, etc. This website is owned, paid for, and administered by me (Mike). This effort is just a group of concerned Southern Baptist friends who care about the Convention’s future.
Q 4. How can I learn more about this issue?
This website is full of more information than you’d expect. Start here with the paper submitted to the Executive Committee for their February 2023 meeting that explains the purpose and argument for the amendment. The home page can likely direct you to most information you’re seeking. Relevant updates are also posted on the resources page.
To see what those who oppose the amendment are arguing, you can read this article by David Schrock, and then this article by Trent Hunter to see how faithful Southern Baptists are responding. Finally, this article by Megan Basham can bring you up to speed on the SBC conversation over this issue in the last few years. The amendment was overwhelming supported by over two-thirds of the messengers during the 2023 Convention in New Orleans, and in order for the amendment to be passed it must receive a two-thirds vote from the messengers at June 11–12, 2024 Indianapolis convention.
Q 5. Was the Executive Committee given the task of discussing an “underlying” or “precipitating” question of women as pastors?
No. This Amendment is the only “question” the Executive Committee was given at the 2022 Convention concerning women in the pastorate.
The timeline of events is important. During the 2021 Convention in Nashville, a motion to “break fellowship” with Saddleback Church was referred to the Credentials Committee (CC). When the CC reported back to the 2022 Convention in Anaheim, they did not bring any action on Saddleback, but instead proposed a study committee on what a pastor is. This was followed by a proposed friendly amendment to change the focus of the proposed study committee to what “closely identifies with the BF&M” means. This amendment to the original CC proposal was rejected by the Messengers. Then, after overwhelming pushback from the Messengers, the CC withdrew its own proposal, but still took no action on the question of Saddleback. The Messengers at the 2022 Convention where not offered any action on Saddleback, and so the original motion remained with the CC as business carried over from 2021.
Separate to the CC’s inaction on the question of Saddleback, Pastor Mike submitted his motion to amend the Convention’s Constitution, Article III.1 to ensure that the definition of cooperation followed the BF&M’s Article VI, restricting the pastorate to qualified men only. The 2022 Convention’s Committee on Order of Business referred this motion to the Executive Committee. The Amendment was the only question of business related to women pastors that was referred to the EC by the 2022 Convention.
However, some have made a connection between the motion for the Amendment and the Messengers’ rejection of both the CC’s proposed study committee and a study of “closely identifies.” The Messengers at Anaheim in 2022 were not allowed to vote on Saddleback. This was due to the CC’s failure to act on Saddleback at all. The Messengers in 2022 did not want a vote on any “underlying” or “precipitating” question, or on “closely identifies.” They wanted a vote on Saddleback.
The EC was not referred any motion on having a “conversation” about “women serving as pastors,” or on “closely identifies.” The Messengers in 2022 were not denied a vote on a “conversation about women pastors” or “closely identifies” — they were denied a vote on Saddleback. But there are some who continue to act as though the CC’s 2022 proposal of a study committee (withdrawn by the CC) is somehow the actual question before the EC. In fact, the only actual question referred to the EC on this subject is the question of the Amendment.
As of the end of the EC’s February 2023 meeting, the question of Saddleback was finally acted on by means of disfellowshipping by the CC and EC, an action which according to Bylaw 8 is final unless appealed by Saddleback. However, the only other question referred to the EC, the Amendment, was still left undecided and put off for a second time. At this point, the earliest any decision by the EC will be made and released to the Messengers to the 2023 Convention in New Orleans will be at the final meeting of the EC, scheduled one day prior to the Convention’s opening.
In 2021, the CC was given the question of bringing to the 2022 Convention a decision about the status of Saddleback’s cooperation with the SBC. Instead, they substituted their own “question” in place of acting on the motion actually referred to them.
In 2022, the EC was referred the question of bringing to the 2023 Convention an Amendment to the Constitution to uphold the BF&M’s restriction of the office of pastor to qualified men only. The EC should not attempt a repeat of the treatment of the Saddleback question by ignoring the Amendment and bringing forward their own proposal in place of it.
Q 6. Did the Executive Committee interact with the supporting materials sent?
A few of the Executive Committee members have interacted with the submitted materials, which included:
- A document containing churches with a total of over 170 female pastors in Southern Baptist Churches, as found on the SBC Churches website (Available here).
- A document addressing key Issues related to the proposed constitutional amendment from humble members of Arlington Baptist Church (Available here). Note: Updated mostly to fix some typos.
- Pastor Mike’s letter to the Executive Committee, signed by more than 2000 pastors (Available here).
- Pastor Mike’s email to Dr. McLaurin on Tue, Nov 22, 2022. Note, a nearly identical email was sent to each member of the Executive Committee (Available here).
In addition, the Executive Committee staff was to provide their own supporting materials related to the amendment to Executive Committee members, but what that document contained was not disclosed. At the meeting itself, only a 5 minute statement, including interaction, with the subcommittee was allowed (Available here).
There was a period of discussion by the subcommittee for some 10-20 minutes. Pastor Mike was in the room, but he was not permitted to engage the Committee members’ comments or concerns during that time. Pastor Mike has offered to be available for any questions members of the subcommittee may have.
Q 7. What is a pastor?
We as Southern Baptists know what a pastor is and who should be a pastor. A pastor/elder/overseer/bishop is a man called by God and a local church to shepherd the flock. Among other things, men holding the office preach, pray, provide oversight, and exercise authority in the church (see Acts 20:17-38; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus, 1:5-9, Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Southern Baptists have always agreed on this.
As an example of this natural understanding, at the 2022 Convention, “Recommendation 2” was passed, which included a “process for maintaining a record of pastors…who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse.” When that recommendation was discussed and decided upon, we (the SBC) did not need to describe or define who and what a pastor is because we knew. And we knew that we weren’t just talking about a Senior Pastor, but a pastor “of any kind.”
We’ve been clear in the past, and we need to be clear in the present, so that Southern Baptists remain clear in the future. The Constitutional Amendment is a necessary step toward accomplishing that goal of clarity, and thus maintaining our unity in the truth.
Q 8. Doesn’t the SBC already prohibit women from being pastors?
Yes, our statement of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message (2000), says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” (Article VI, Paragraph 1).
But beyond our statement of faith, the Bible says very clearly in 1 Timothy 2:12–14 (CSB), “12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.” While some people claim that this command was only for the first-century Christians in Ephesus and is thus no longer relevant for us today, in verse 13 Paul supports his prohibition from God’s creation order. He is saying, in essence: ‘I am prohibiting women from teaching and having authority over men because God created role distinctions from creation that transcend every culture. These role distinctions prohibit women from teaching or having authority over men.’ This verse does not deny the equality in worth between men and women or the giftedness for ministry of men and women, but it does exclude women from the role of pastor and preacher. Soon after this passage, Paul gives the qualifications for pastors—those who are able to teach—as being a “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2) which further supports that the pastoral office is for qualified men only.
As our culture seeks to erase the distinctions between men and women, many churches in our convention are openly rejecting this part of our statement of faith and the Bible. Sadly, this number has been increasing. This is why the amendment is so important. Amending the constitution–which carries a greater binding authority than the Baptist Faith & Message (2000)–would clearly define who is and is not part of the SBC. Such an amendment could add stability to our convention for decades, and guard us from the drift toward liberalism.
Q 9. Does the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M) talk only about a “Senior” pastor?
No. The language of the BF&M Article VI with respect to church officers cannot be mistaken as referring to “one (senior/lead) pastor” only. The language is (emphases added):
“Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
First, notice the plurals in the first sentence. There are two offices, and each office itself is referred to as plural—there may be multiple holders of each office. If it is true that “pastors” means that each church may only have one “Senior” pastor, then the language “deacons” would also demand that each church can only have one deacon (a “senior” deacon?). But this is clearly not the case.
Much is made of the addition to the BF&M where “the office” of pastor is singular. But this is obviously because this one office, out of the two, is restricted by the further qualification that only qualified men may hold this office. In no sense can the language of Article VI be construed as to limit the number of office holders.
Next, nowhere does the word or concept “Senior” appear in BF&M Article VI. If such an understanding were present, then it would need to be announced in the text of the BF&M itself. We cannot read into the text an idea, let alone a word, that is not present in the text. The absence of an idea cannot indicate its presence.
Finally, a common argument in defense of women pastors is that a church may have one “Senior” pastor, or even a group of male-only elders, along side a group of non-Senior “pastors” which can include women. However, this is actually creating a third office in a local church, contrary to both the BF&M and Scripture.
It should be noted then that there is a three-fold twisting of the clear text and meaning of the BF&M’s Article VI by those advocating women pastors.
1) the plurals “pastors” is changed to singular
2) the word “senior” is inserted despite its absence
3) a third office of the local church is invented despite only two defined.
In conclusion, it is simply not an honest interpretation of Article VI to assert that it means the office of pastor is held by only one, single, “senior” pastor. For more information on the historic teaching of the SBC on the number of pastors, see the paper submitted to the Executive Committee.
Q 10. How does the Amendment’s use of “Pastor of any kind” provide clarity on title, role, and function of the pastoral office?
Adrian Rogers, who chaired the BF&M 2000 study committee, famously said that “pastor” is the one word that we as Southern Baptists best understand for the role and functions of a church’s spiritual shepherds. The New Testament describes the functions of this pastoral office with a range of titles such as elder, overseer/bishop, and shepherd/pastor. The SBC has long understood and taught just what the New Testament does – these are all titles that refer to the same office, the office of pastor. As Dr. Mohler said at our 2022 Convention, we as Southern Baptists know what the word “pastor” refers to.
The various titles used by the New Testament match the functions, the work of a pastor. A pastor is a spiritual overseer of a church, keeping watchful care of the work and faith and practice of a church. A pastor is an elder with experience and sanctification, not a recent convert, but one who has proven himself faithful in doctrine and service. A pastor is to preach and teach the word, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. A pastor is to maintain sound doctrine and practice in a church. Our Convention has always understood and taught what a pastor is, and that the role of pastor can be covered by a limited range of titles. But it is the work, the role, the functions that God has defined for the servant-leaders of his Churches that determine whom we call and honor to be pastors. And as Southern Baptists we know that God has called only men as qualified by Scripture to fill this pastoral role. So, this one word “pastor” carries with it the understanding, from both the Biblical and Southern Baptist witness, to everything that this office intends.
Q 11. How does this amendment provide more clarity and conviction to the Convention?
By drawing a clear and bright line of Cooperation for our churches.
The history of Christian doctrine and practice, including ours as Southern Baptists, has been about drawing clear lines about what we believe the Bible teaches. We cause confusion and complications when we don’t boldly say and guard what are those clear lines of doctrine and practice that make us Southern Baptists. One of those doctrines that makes us distinctly Baptist is how we order our churches. We are congregational ruled, and pastor led.
We follow the Bible and its qualifications for pastor, elder, or overseer. At this time in our Convention’s history, we have an even greater focus on this with respect to sins such as racism or sexual abuse. But we cannot relax or ignore some of the qualifications for pastors with the excuse that the culture does not like them, or in order to confront other issues. And one of the qualifications to be a pastor is to be a man, and not a woman.
But our Convention has caused a number of complications because we have ignored God’s order of a male-only pastorate. There are many churches who desire to be faithful, but who have not been applying the title and role of pastor as the Bible tells us. There are many other churches who simply do not want to follow God’s order for pastors. But how to tell these two kinds of churches apart? The answer is, as it always has been in Christian history, is the drawing and guarding of a clear line.
Clear lines of doctrine do not cause confusion and complications, they clear them up. This amendment draws a clear, bright line for our churches. It solves any complications by giving our faithful churches the guidance and advice they need to conform their practice to the Bible’s teaching, while making it clear who are the unfaithful churches with no intention of changing their practices. We have sadly allowed too many complications and confusions to arise in our Convention by ignoring the issue of women in the pastorate. But there is nothing complicated about the Bible’s teaching, and there is nothing complicated about this amendment’s adherence to God’s order.
Q 12. Why an Amendment and not a Bylaw change or something else?
The SBC defines “friendly cooperation” and who qualifies as Messengers in the Constitution’s Article III.
Some have said “we agree with you in principle, we just don’t want an amendment.” They want some other solution. They’ve asked about blue-ribbon commissions, bylaws, resolutions, interpretations, or policies. But the SBC has consistently decided that the Constitution is the most appropriate place for answering questions concerning our composition.
This is because the Constitution comes first; the other documents can’t add new membership rules. The Constitution defines them.
The Constitution is firm. It can only be changed with two years’ notice. Resolutions, bylaws and policies are fluid; they can change at EACH annual meeting.
The Constitution is fair. Amendments aren’t ugly; they are the path to peace, as it was in 1992 when the SBC addressed homosexuality. An amendment is a clear, practical decision that will help us as Southern Baptists organize ourselves for cooperative missions.
The Baptist Faith and Message is already clear. We need no “interpretation” or study of the issue. What we need is a practical means to follow through on who is Scripturally qualified to be a pastor.
Grand restructuring of the Convention, the “proper role” of the Executive Committee, and the Credentials process should not swamp this clear fix. The Constitution is the right place for clarifying our Composition, it has been in the past, and it is today.
Q 13. What is the timing for the amendment to take effect?
There has been a lot of concern that voting for this amendment in June 2024 will amount to a sudden “Great Ejection,” a kicking out, a mass expulsion of hundreds of churches. But that is just not how the process of updating our Constitution works. To be clear, this amendment updates Article III of the SBC’s Constitution, which is the article that defines what we call the composition of our Convention. In particular, composition refers to what kind of churches are qualified to send Messengers to a Convention, and whether or not those Messengers are certified and allowed to attend and participate in Convention business.
According to our Bylaws, to make updates to our Constitution requires a two-thirds vote by the Messengers at two successive Conventions. That means that in order for this amendment to be added to our Constitution, the Messengers in Indianapolis in 2024 must give a two-thirds approval to it (since the messengers at the 2023 New Orleans convention already gave their two-thirds approval to it). Furthermore, since the amendment would become part of defining the seating of Messengers, it will not fully impact until the 2025 Convention in Dallas.
There is a process in place for the handling of questions of cooperation. The Credentials Committee can engage in a period of conversation with any church in question. Our process for any church to address any issue that leads to a finding of non-cooperation. There is the opportunity for open communication between churches and the Credentials Committee between Conventions to resolve questions about doctrine and practice with the goal of seating Messengers at the next Convention.
We should continue to expect as we have for nearly 180 years the good faith behavior of churches that cooperate with our Convention. Those churches who share our doctrine, but are confused on practice, will have ample opportunity to bring their practice in line with Scripture and our Statement of Faith. And we can hope for the above-board and honorable voluntary departure of those churches who simply do not share our doctrine and practice. Any church that believes its practice is faithful with our doctrine may appeal to the Convention directly at any annual meeting. In short, the process itself is intentionally drawn out so that we may be deliberate and fair. The timing of this Amendment rushes no one and serves everyone.
Q 14. Is this the same amendment that tried to bar women from the pastorate in 1993?
No, the language of the current amendment is better able to provide long-term stability to the Convention than the amendment in 1993.
In 1993 a Messenger to that year’s convention made a motion requesting an update to the Constitution’s article III.1.1, which would declare “churches which have ordained women” not to be in cooperation with the Convention (pgs. 89-90, item 88). This proposed amendment was referred to the Executive Committee (EC). At the following year’s Convention, the EC reported back that “it declines to recommend amending Article III of the SBC Constitution to exclude churches that have ordained women” (pg. 136, item 8).
First, the language of “ordained” (ordination) was insufficient. Though the act of ordination is commonly done when appointing pastors to a church, such a ceremony is not required or mentioned in any iteration of the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M). (The word “ordained” is only used in reference to God’s ordaining of government and the family, and “ordinances” referring to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Furthermore, since all iterations of the BF&M are silent on the practice of ordination for church officers, such ceremonies are often performed for other forms of work, such as Deacons, Missionaries, etc. Therefore, merely to have been “ordained” to any particular office or work is incidental to whether or not someone is Scriptural qualified for that office or work.
Second, the Scriptures do clearly limit the role of pastor to qualified men only. If the 1993 motion had sought to amend the Constitution to exclude churches ordaining, affirming, employing, or appointing women as pastors of any kind, then it would have been right for the EC to recommend this amendment, regardless of the language of the BF&M at that time. Between 1992 and 1993, the SBC approved an amendment to article III.1 to exclude churches affirming homosexual behavior. This was done on a purely Biblical basis as there was no corresponding language in the BF&M. It would have been consistent then if the Convention had, on the same Biblical basis, made a further updating excluding churches with women as pastors.
Third, the Convention in 2000 updated its confessional standard, the BF&M, to better reflect the Biblical teaching on both of these issues. In addition, since 2015, a closer identification with the BF&M is required by churches for cooperation with the SBC. With a confessional standard in place, it is even more appropriate to enable the Convention and its entities (in particular the Credentials Committee) to be faithful with respect to the office of pastor by including this amendment 6 to the Constitution III.1.
Q 15. Don’t women pastor and preach in the Bible?
Women do indeed teach in Scripture, and even correct a man’s preaching in private (Acts 18:26). They share the good news of Christ’s resurrection with a group of men, including apostles (Matt 28:8). But do these stories of Priscilla and Mary Magdalene authorize women to preach and teach with authority when the church gathers corporately or to take up the pastoral office? Simply put: no. The apostle Paul, who was commissioned by Jesus as an expert builder of the church (1 Cor 3:10) and who regularly praises women who support and partner with his ministry (Rom 16), plainly states that he does not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12). Paul provides this instruction within the context of proper decorum when the church gathers for worship. He grounds his instruction not in the cultural context of Ephesus but in creation (1 Tim 2:13-14). This teaches us that God’s design for men and women, both in creation and redemption, includes male headship, and one application of this reality is that the Bible assigns the role of pastor to godly, biblically qualified men.
Q 16. Isn’t this Amendment just about power?
This Amendment is not about power, it is about Biblical fidelity in our Convention. Christ gave the responsibility to His church to be faithful in its doctrine and practice (Matthew 16:19; Acts 20:29; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9). The world around us is confused and unclear about this issue, but the SBC’s doctrine is not. As the Preamble to the BF&M 2000 says, “faced with a culture hostile to the very notion of truth” it was meant to answer “cultural confusion with the clear teachings of Scripture.”
Our practice must match our doctrine, lest the SBC itself become confused before the world. Those who reduce a desire to faithfully pursue this Biblical responsibility down to a lust for power evidence the world’s confusion. The SBC must confront this confusion with a bold commitment to practice our doctrine without embarrassment, in full confidence that God’s order for His church is the best way to serve His Gospel, holding fast to our doctrinal commitments as a Convention, and thus “keep[ing] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians. 4:3, CSB).
Q 17. Isn’t this amendment about the oppression of women?
No. Sadly, while men can and have oppressed women in some contexts throughout history, not all male headship is wrong. In fact, godly male headship is woven into the fabric of created order. It is affirmed in the New Testament as normative for leadership in the local church (1 Tim 2:12-15; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
What is more, the solution for churches where men have failed to protect women and children is not for sisters in Christ to assume the role assigned to men. Rather, the solution is for both men and women to live faithfully and fulfill God’s calling for their lives. Just as it would be wrong for a woman to try to become a husband to make up for her husband’s failed leadership, it is likewise wrong for a sister in Christ to serve as a pastor in order to make up for the failed leadership of the men in the church.
The office of pastor is reserved for men, not for them to preserve and protect oppression, but because it is God’s design, and we ought not think that we are wiser than God. The way to protect women and children from oppression and ensure their flourishing in the local church, is for men to be Christlike men, and for qualified men to lead and shepherd the church (1 Tim 3:1-7; 1 Pet 5:1-4).
Q 18. Won’t this amendment fracture the SBC?
For his glory, God has given men and women differing roles in the life of HIS church. As Martin Luther once argued, we are to pursue peace if possible, and truth at all costs. If “unity” is embraced at the expense of sound doctrine, then we are accepting a lie for the sake of peace. Unity then has become an idol. Those who insist that there is NO difference between men and women in role and function cut against the grain of the created order and God’s complementary design for those made in his image.
In the Old Testament, when the Israelites “followed worthless idols they themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do’ (2 Kings 17:15). Southern Baptists must not follow the path of the world and the mainline denominations. If we do, we will likewise become worthless. Rather than embracing a delusion for the sake of unity, we must stand firm on the word of God and do as God says (Is 26:3). Unity, blessed unity, is found when we embrace and exalt the truth, and that is what this amendment does.
Q 19. Why should we prohibit women from pastoral ministry when the Bible doesn’t?
Actually, the Bible DOES prohibit women from pastoring and preaching. And it does so very clearly. Not only does the apostle Paul explicitly prohibit sisters from preaching in 1 Timothy 2:12, in the next chapter he is clear that an overseer—which we Baptists believe is an interchangeable term with that of pastor—is to be a “one woman man” who is known as a faithful husband and father. Simply put, a sister in Christ is no more qualified to be a pastor or preacher than she is qualified to be a husband or father. And if she is not qualified for these roles in the home, then she cannot be recognized as a pastor in the church, the household of God. The Scriptures require qualified brothers, not sisters, to take up the duties and demands of the noble office of pastor, for the sake of the church’s health and flourishing.
Q 20. Doesn’t God give all spiritual gifts equally to men and women?
The Holy Spirit distributes gifts according to his will for the edification of the body (1 Cor 12:7-11). Nowhere does the Bible say that God gives all spiritual gifts to men and women equally. Instead, we are taught that the same Spirit gives different gifts to various members of the body. Moreover, the Holy Spirit will not give gifts to church members that lead or tempt them to disobey God’s design for them. In other words, God does not give a spiritual gift of pastoring to a sister, when she cannot fulfill the office according to his Word.
Let’s not miss what truly qualifies someone for pastoral ministry. Remember that Paul instructs the church to appoint men who are competent and exemplary in character, not giftedness, as pastors (Titus 1:5-9). We must not evaluate giftedness or worth in the church by worldly standards of equality, rather we ought to rejoice in the myriad of gifts God does give sisters in our congregations. Paul teaches that when older and younger women faithfully fulfill their calling it prevents “the word of God from being reviled” (Titus 2:5). While sisters in Christ are not called or gifted for the pastoral office, for the glory of Christ, they are called to use the gifts that God does give them to promote the word of God in many valuable and important ways. We should treasure them, encourage them, and give thanks to God for them. Their gifts are essential for the health and vitality of the church.
Are only “Senior” pastors restricted to men?
Q 21. What about those women who are gifted and capable of pastoral ministry?
Personal experience is not the foundation of the church. The Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as our cornerstone (Eph 2:20). If something seems validated by personal experience while also being patently against the plain teaching of Scripture, is it truly valid? I hope every Christian would answer with a swift and firm “no.” No matter the fruit resulting from the ministry of a female pastor or preacher, that dear sister is sinning against God by claiming this role and function. God has, can, and will use less than ideal or even sinful circumstances for his people’s good and his glory, but we ought not make those situations our normal practice. We should praise God for the salvation and sanctification he has accomplished, and we should practice the pattern he has assigned in the Scriptures.
Q 22. Can’t women preach as long as it is under the authority of male pastors?
No. God has designed the church to sit under the preaching of qualified male pastors. Male pastors should not authorize a sister to violate the clear teaching of Scripture, namely, that women are not to exercise authority over a man by preaching and teaching (1 Tim 2:12).
We may not disconnect the function of the office from the office itself. In other words, the function of teaching and preaching is part of what establishes a pastor’s authority. The authority is exercised in teaching according to God’s Word, which is ironically being subverted by any sister who preaches, meaning that when a sister preaches she is disqualified by the very book she is expositing. Churches who have male pastors wrongly permitting sisters to preach under their “authority” misunderstand and cut against the grain of God’s design for his church.
Q 23. Can’t a female pastor just change her title to “minister” to sidestep this amendment?
The title of pastor has a biblical meaning. We cannot treat words as though we can separate them from the content of their meaning. It is not a title you can apply to any one or any activity. The title “pastor” is indelibly linked to the role and functions of a pastor as outlined in the Bible.
If churches simply change their staff titles, then they need to be honest with themselves before the Lord about what they are doing. Is that title really describing what they are doing? Those churches who simply change their titles also need to be honest with those they are cooperating with about their titles. We need to deal plainly and forthrightly with one another. We need to be a people who mean what we say, and say what we mean. Do their titles really describe their convictions and commitments? If those churches really believe in women pastors, then they should own up to it, and join a denomination that agrees with them on that issue.
But more importantly for those who agree with the Baptist Faith and Message, adopting this amendment would clearly show that we as a convention love and obey God’s word even in culturally controversial issues. We love and obey God’s Word, because we love and obey him.
Q 24. Does “closely identifying” mean strict subscription to the Baptist Faith & Message?
To closely identify with the Baptist Faith & Message means to clearly and convincingly associate with its beliefs. The faith and practice of each local church should be congruent WITH, but not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message.
To be clear, NO Southern Baptist church has to fully adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message. We don’t ask for strict subscription in the Southern Baptist Convention, but in order to be a cooperating church, you must at least closely identify with the Baptist Faith and Message.
That means a church cannot have a faith and practice that is obviously in contradiction to the Convention’s statement of faith. In other words, a church’s faith and practice can’t be running against the grain or undermining the Baptist Faith and Message. A church that has women pastors, obviously has a faith and practice that is in contradiction and incongruent with the Baptist Faith and Message.
Again, closely identifying with the Baptist Faith & Message means that the faith and practice of each local church should be congruent with, but not contrary to the Baptist Faith & Message. This will ensure that we are united and walking in love as we carry out the Great Commission.
Q 25. Doesn’t this constitutional amendment infringe on the autonomy of the local church?
No. Though I wouldn’t recommend it, in its autonomy, any church may continue in its sinful disobedience to God’s Word on this issue. This amendment would not fire any female pastor or take away a church’s self-governance or assets. Every Southern Baptist church would remain autonomous.
We should continue to expect as we have for nearly 180 years the good faith behavior of churches that cooperate with our Convention. Those churches who share our doctrine, but are confused on practice, will have ample opportunity to bring their practice in line with Scripture and our Statement of Faith. And we can hope for the above-board and honorable voluntary departure of those churches who simply do not share our doctrine and practice. Any church that believes its practice is faithful with our doctrine may appeal to the Convention directly at any annual meeting.
Q 26. Isn’t the Great Commission given to all believers, both men and women?
Absolutely! The main verbal command in Matthew 28:18–20 is to “make disciples,” and when we look at how courageous women obeyed our Lord’s commission in the book of Acts and beyond, they are serving in so many essential and significant ways. As you read the New Testament you’ll notice that they ways they serve do not involve preaching or pastoring in a single instance. The Great Commission calls both men and women to help others follow Jesus in the ways that God’s Word describes and defines. And when we gladly obey God’s word, we find that he so often blesses our efforts in disciple making.
Q 27. Why can’t women pastor other women or children or be a “worship pastor”?
A sister in Christ can and should TEACH other women and children. Older women are commanded to teach and train younger women (Titus 2:3). Solomon is quite clear that a mother’s teaching is not to be forsaken, but rather displayed like a crown and necklace in the lives and conduct of her children (Prov 1:8-9). A sister in Christ can even correct a man and his preaching in private (Acts 18:26).
We want to be clear that sisters in Christ are to teach in various ways in the context of the home and church, but to call a sister in Christ a children’s/women’s/worship “pastor” undermines the office of pastor, which is reserved for biblically qualified men. We all intuitively know that there is authority behind the designation of “pastor,” as this word carries with it connotations of shepherding and guiding others. Which is why the Baptist Faith and Message unequivocally states: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
To refer to a sister in Christ serving in any capacity in the local church as a “pastor” is to subvert the clear teaching of Scripture and to disregard the plain teaching of the Baptist Faith and Message. This increasingly common practice of referring to a sister in Christ as the children’s/women’s/worship pastor confuses God’s people regarding his good design for the pastoral office and is a slippery slope into egalitarianism. As we disciple and teach the people of God, we don’t want to be confusing, we want to be clear, and we want to please the Lord by ordering our churches according to his good and glorious design.
Q 28. Hasn’t the debate over women pastors largely become a matter of semantics over substance?
The Bible does not speak of senior/staff/lay pastors. God’s word only knows of a plurality of qualified pastors in the local church. And only scripturally qualified men are to be pastors. To have a “senior” pastor be a man with women alongside him as pastors is not merely a divergence semantically from the Bible or the Baptist Faith and Message on the part of a church; it is a rejection of the Bible’s teaching. Denominations are actually are formed over unity on secondary matters, and if we are not unified on the biblical qualifications for the office of pastor we cease to be a denomination in any meaningful sense.
The office of pastor is the teaching office in the life of the local church. And if we cannot agree on what a pastor is and WHO a pastor is, then that means we can’t agree on who should be leading our churches. This impacts our church planting efforts nationally and internationally, which is at the core of what we do as Southern Baptists. This issue is critical for our cooperation. So, the purpose of this amendment is not to wrangle over words but to reaffirm our commitment to God’s Word and God’s Work in God’s Way.