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PragNAMBtism: Dr. Ezell’s position on Women Pastors in SBC Church Plants

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*At the time of this posting Echo Church is still listed as a NAMB church plant with a female teaching pastor. 

If the Southern Baptist Convention is going to see true reformation, the 11th Commandment has to end. For those unfamiliar with this rule, it is an unwritten agreement that you don’t talk publicly about anything negative in the SBC, particularly with any of the main entities.

Conservative Resurgence Voices is not a polemics site. But we are willing to speak publicly about what’s going on in the SBC because we truly long for a conservative resurgence. Part of the battle has been convincing some that there is even a need for a conservative resurgence. After all, the SBC is a “conservative” organization. Right?

Hopefully, last week’s piece on NAMB churches utilizing women as pastors has brought more awareness to some of what is going on in our convention. The reality is, this is not the worst of it. Dr. Ezell, and apparently NAMB Trustees, know this is happening. As a result, I’m forced to wonder if they either do not care or perhaps are pushing it.

Bad as the ’80s?

I’ve had several phone conversations since the NAMB piece last week. In most of them, folks were concerned about the direction of the SBC. But in one of them, with a NAMB employee, the topic was brought up by the other party that “This is nowhere near as bad as 1985-1986.”

Well, I was born in 1986 so I cannot speak to that. But this would be similar to me telling you that I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer and you responding with “Oh yeah? I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and beat it.” Praise the Lord you beat cancer! But this does not take away from the seriousness of my own diagnosis even if it appears to be at an earlier stage. If left untreated it will kill me.

Maybe people are not publicly denying the inerrancy of the Bible – yet. But the situation we are currently in is that people are saying one thing with their mouths and doing another in their actions. This is a terrible direction. It is pragmatism at its worst.

Dr. Ezell’s Position

It’s never been my desire or hope to get to a point in SBC life where we need to publish an entity head’s emails. But this is where we are. The doublespeak has to end. The political maneuvering has to end. Transparency is what we want.

Let me state a few things up front. First, a lot of what I am publishing from Dr. Ezell has been said similarly by him on social media or in the public arena. Secondly, at least one other SBC pastor received what I received verbatim (his was on 1/12-1/13/2021). So, these answers seem to be pretty public for anyone who wants them.

Still, to be as charitable as possible I’m only publishing what I think needs published. I will leave out the rest. After the fiasco with the Florida Church Plant that had a woman lead pastor, I reached out to NAMB. I got a form letter in reply but asked to speak to Dr. Ezell directly. He did email and said he was willing to answer questions so I sent him this on January 29, 2021:

Dr. Ezell kindly and promptly replied on January 30, 2021. Again, this information has been emailed to more than just me. Understandably, I’m sure Dr. Ezell got a lot of the same questions, so it seems there were some who received basically the same information. So again, this information isn’t really hidden for any who would care to write Dr. Ezell. Here is his 1/30/21 response:

The yellow highlighted portion was done by either Dr. Ezell, or someone else. And I have to be honest, it was very encouraging to read that. It says a few things very clearly:

  1. Only biblically qualified men are approved in the role of pastor which are endorsed and funded by NAMB
  2. SBC Plants are required to whole-heartedly embrace the BFM 2000 and
  3. specifically the role of women. Which just to remind us here the BFM says this: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

So, again, quite encouraging. Shouldn’t, then, we reasonably assume that what this means is that NAMB will not support churches that intentionally violate the BFM 2000 by having women serve as pastors? That’s what I assumed when I read it.

I was even tempted to leave it there and basically say in my mind, “Whatever is going on with NAMB it must be that Dr. Ezell does not know and things must fall through the cracks at times.”

I think this is probably what a lot of Southern Baptists believe. And when they see reports about church plants with women pastors they think, “Sure, but we trust Dr. Ezell. We know that he’s not allowing this to happen intentionally.”

Thus, I decided not to let it go and on 1/31/21 I wrote this back to Dr. Ezell:

And here is what I think Southern Baptists need to know. I think it is what they deserve to know. On Monday, February 1, Dr. Ezell replied:

Here is what is frustrating as a Southern Baptist. In one email Dr. Ezell assured me that SBC Plants are required to whole-heartedly embrace the BFM 2000 and specifically the role of women. That is, the Southern Baptist Convention has unequivocally stated in its statement of faith that only qualified men can serve in the role of pastor.

Yet, when pressed on this, the real story is: “We don’t look at staff rosters.” That is, “We don’t really care if women are serving as pastors or not.” Now, which is it? Because these two emails are contradictory. A church cannot be whole-heartedly embracing the BFM 2000 and have women serving in the role of a pastor.

After these emails and talking with a NAMB employee, I can tell you definitively and beyond any shadow of a doubt that NAMB’s position is that female pastors are fine as long as they are not the “lead” pastor.

I do not understand the strategy in this. It seems that Dr. Ezell and the leadership at NAMB, without informing the Convention, have reinterpreted the BFM 2000 to mean something its writers never intended it to mean: that women are only barred from serving as “senior” pastors. This is an absolute butchering of the BFM 2000. And what’s more concerning is that this is a classic liberal tactic: To say you affirm a statement when you just redefine the terms. This is not me calling Dr. Ezell a liberal. This is me saying he is undeniably using a liberal tactic.

How can an SBC entity adopt a policy that is in contrast to the clear doctrinal parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000)? Without asking or informing the convention, an entity that is under the authority of the churches in the convention has usurped the authority of these churches and carved its own path. And then, at best, they have been very political in their wording, and at worst they have bold faced lied to Southern Baptists about their strategy.

Since last week’s posting there has been some shuffling around with NAMB’s website. It appears some churches with female “non-lead” pastors have been removed? Is this being done silently?

What about the Trustees?

In a Baptist Press Article that posted February 4, 2021, NAMB Trustee board chairman, Danny de Armas, said this:

“Several trustees related being frustrated by the notion that some are putting forth that the NAMB trustees are not doing our job and that we don’t know what is going on at NAMB. Not only do we know what is going on, in most cases we initiated and, in every case, we affirm the strategies and changes that are being implemented.

This is not a comforting statement. I’m trying to be fair to this statement but it seems rather reasonable that I could plug this in: “Not only do NAMB trustees know that women are serving as pastors in NAMB plants in most cases they also initiated it, and in every case, they affirmed it.”

So, not only are NAMB employees “in” on this. Apparently, so are the trustees? And this is not with the consent of the Convention. How is this happening if the SBC really is under the authority of the local churches?

Does NAMB work for the local churches in the SBC or not? If so, why does it get to do what it wants in terms of disregarding the Baptist Faith and Message? And if it doesn’t work for the churches of the SBC, why are we giving them money under the guise that they do work for us?

I did email Danny de Armas, Chair of the Board of Trustees for NAMB and wrote, “Please brother, we must hold NAMB accountable to planting churches that are in true agreement with the BFM 2000.” He did email me back thanking me for reaching out but did not respond to the comment about the Baptist Faith and Message. Perhaps it was an oversight. But it is hard for me to continually pursue these avenues as a Southern Baptist Pastor only to time and again have my questions ignored, overlooked, or answered deceptively.

Brothers and sisters, this is beyond heartbreaking. It is well past time to contact our NAMB trustees and reiterate to them that our standard of cooperation is the BF&M 2000. Maybe other trustees will listen. As Denny Burk wrote last week, “Our ability to cooperate is materially compromised when a cooperating church ignores what we have all agreed upon as the doctrinal basis for our work together—the BF&M.”

We should believe more than what is in the BF&M, but we cannot believe less (see Why the SBC Needs a Tent Revival).

Does this Really Matter?

Absolutely. The SBC is sick. She has a cancer that is spreading through her churches that if left unchecked will eventually be terminal. One may think “Oh we are just arguing about words here.” No. We are arguing over whether or not we actually believe and practice that the Word of God is our highest authority and wholly sufficient for how we understand the leadership of the church.

Consider what Dr. Mohler said in a 2019 9Marks Panel at the Southern Baptist Convention:

“A lot of younger Southern Baptists…understand that complementarian or the gender relations, that’s a second-order issue. But what they’re missing is second-order issues are also constitutive of the Southern Baptist Convention. And so just understand we had a 30 year battle over 1st and 2nd order issues. One secondary issue we were fighting over was should women be pastors. The convention has declared itself so emphatically on that it’s in the confession of faith. Our confession of faith that constitutes the basis of our cooperation is inherently complementarian…

The Baptist Faith and Message requires an understanding that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture and that there are distinct roles for men and women in the home and in the church…But this is where I think a lot of younger Southern Baptists are acting as if Southern Baptist can embrace a pluralism on this that would include egalitarianism. No! We spent 30 years struggling with Scripture and each other to define the fact that this fellowship is established upon Complementarianism.”

And on January 28, 2021, Danny Akin tweeted out:

“[W]omen cannot serve as a pastor. Pastors are always men in the Bible. To call a woman a pastor in any capacity is not faithful to the biblical revelation. She can serve in many capacities but it is theologically in error to call her a pastor.”

What does this mean? It means we can argue about whether or not churches that have women pastors are true churches or not. But what we cannot argue about is if they are Southern Baptist churches, because they are not – not if we “wholeheartedly embrace the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

11 replies on “PragNAMBtism: Dr. Ezell’s position on Women Pastors in SBC Church Plants”

Wow. Thank you for this report. It is eye opening. I’ve had contact with NAMB officers over these same matters. The question now goes even deeper than NAMB. Why are local associations, state conventions, and the credentials committee of the EC not dealing with these churches? Why are they still a part of the SBC?

Thanks for reading D.E. I don’t have answer to all those questions. But I know we need to keep asking these questions and have those who are supposed to be serving our convention according to the BFM 2000 held accountable.

Thanks for this report. Eye-opening and sad. Going down the road to women pastors always leads to accepting other false doctrines and positions. I believe the denominations that accept homosexuality always started accepting gender roles that are unscriptural.

Sadly, fewer and fewer SBC pastors agree with us on this. And I’ve come to believe it’s because they fear the culture more than they fear God.

My take away from this is…”Maybe being Presbyterian isn’t so bad after all.‍♂️” I say that light-heartedly but in all seriousness…do you see what I’m saying? I’m a member of an SBC church myself and although I’d agree that there are no perfect systems, this has always been my qualm with the Southern Baptist model. The SBC takes a lot of pride (which is kind of odd) in autonomy but when issues like this arise you want church government and accountability when the truth is, you don’t have those in any meaningful form. The BF&M is an anemic confession that is held by an association of churches that have no meaningful form of accountability or recourse about what is considered “Southern Baptist”. I’m not getting on a 1689 rant, but what is so bad about having a robust confession that guides the pulpit and church conduct and a real form of government, that while giving local churches autonomy in their daily undertakings, can pull the plug on situations like this or rather bar them from ever happening by having a minimum theological prerequisite to extend endorsement, funding, and affirmation?

First of all, thanks so much for reading!

Now a few things to mention:

1. Presbyterianism is not immune to liberalism as J. Gresham Machen and the PCUSA!

2. Messengers of the SBC in 1845 originally came from churches that held to the 1742 Philadelphia Confession. This is the 1689 LBC with two additions: One on hymn singing and the other on laying on of hands. So, holding to that confession doesn’t necessarily mean a fool proof plan of never drifting!

3. The BFM stems from the New Hampshire Confession of 1833. I think the idea is to create a confession that embraces both Calvinism and Non-Calvinism.

But, personally, I do agree with you. I think we could use a more robust confession. Though, I’m happy to cooperate around the BFM as long as it is actually being held to. But if even the BFM isn’t being adhered to, then that’s very bad, IMO!

Agreed for the most part. I think the BFM2K is simply a minimal doctrinal position on which SBC churches agree in order to cooperate for the purpose of missions.
The problem is no one is policing the minimal standard and we’ve strayed from the agreed upon mission.
The tools are in place to dis-fellowship churches who are out of compliance, but what good is a tool no one has the courage to use.

I have had several phone conversations with Mike Ebert and one with Kevin Ezell. I barely skimmed the surface of the water in my queries and I’m grateful for your follow-up article to some of my greatest concerns with the NAMB.

One thing I suggested to Mike was that our trustee meetings be made public, and not the same way they are now. I can’t drive to ATL for every meeting so making them available utilizing technology would be a great way to be transparent and accountable. Mike assured me that he would bring this recommendation to Kevin.

I asked Kevin if the NAMB would make any public statements regarding the situation in FL and was he said that it wasn’t normal to handle personnel matters publicly.

My take away from all multiple phone calls and many emails is that as long as a lady isn’t listed as a “pastor” then all was well. In other words, if the church would simply change her title then they would be in agreement with Scripture.

Sorry for the lengthy reply but wanted to add my thoughts here. Thanks again Allen for the article and would love to chat some time about course of action.

It seems to work both ways for women when it comes to NAMB. It’s okay to have the title “Pastor” as long as you aren’t really carrying out the duties of a pastor and it’s okay to carry out the duties of a Pastor as long as you don’t bear the title.
Both are scripturally unacceptable.

I appreciate the work involved in this article and the transparency in its information. Unfortunately, double-talk seems to be common among national leaders these days.

One thing that is of even more concern to me is the privacy and opaqueness of national employee salaries and wages.

I just can’t believe that we’re barred from knowing how much of our individual CP giving goes to individual salaries.

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