Southern Baptists are a great-commission people. As a result, Southern Baptists are a church-planting people.
Southern Baptist are also a confessional people who, as a result, have real clarity on what the important terms “church” and “pastor” mean according to Scripture. This clarity allows Southern Baptists to accomplish what they intend in church planting, namely to plant Southern Baptist churches.
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. 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.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
As Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin recently articulated, there is no ambiguity in what Southern Baptists confess. Scripture knows of no office of pastor available to women, regardless of what other adjectives and qualifications might be attempted.
Thankfully, Southern Baptists have an excellent mechanism for planting Biblically-faithful Baptist Faith and Message 2000 churches in the North American Mission Board. However, the last two weeks have revealed that the blessings of Southern Baptist churches planting Biblical Baptist Faith and Message 2000 churches through the North American Mission Board is experiencing a disruption that has to be addressed.
January 26th, 2020 brought to light the first sign of the breakdown: A North American Mission Board church plant, 1 Name Church of Planation, FL, was found to be using the title “Pastor” in unbiblical fashion, applying it to a woman within the church.
When this breakdown in healthy practice – most importantly, by breaking with Scripture’s clear teaching but secondarily also by breaking faith with the Southern Baptist donors who sponsored the church in good faith with the North American Mission Board under the assumption that NAMB would plant churches keeping with our confession of faith – came to light 1 Name promptly ended their relationship with the SBC and asked to be left alone.
Ultimately the decision of a local church to cooperate or not with the Southern Baptist Convention is that church’s decision. What remains is for the North American Mission Board to account for (a) how much money they were tasked with stewarding on behalf of Southern Baptists has been sunk into a church that was clearly not of like faith and practice and (b) what safeguards failed to prevent this from happening.
There was an initial indication that Dr. Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, was willing to address the seriousness of the problem directly.
What appeared to be an invitation to engage directly with Dr. Ezell via email resulted for those of us who reached out in a form-letter response from someone other than Dr. Ezell that amounted to a shutdown in further communication (the last I personally received directed me back to Dr. Ezell’s tweets, for instance).
Unfortunately, the intervening days have revealed the problem is more pronounced than just one church. In fact, – in the most distressing fashion possible – it is now clear that the situation with 1 Name Church is far from an isolated incident. As Nate Scholman has demonstrated here on CR Voices – and please read the whole thing – there are a disturbing number of churches receiving sponsorship from the NAMB who are in open contradiction to The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, indicating a breakdown in the partnership/stewardship relationship of Southern Baptist donors and the NAMB, doctrinal fidelity to our confessional statement, and faithfulness to Scripture’s clear teaching.
Since the problem is now seen to be worse than indicated on January 26th and the opportunity to engage with Dr. Ezell resulted in no additional way forward to address these breakdowns in Southern Baptist cooperative ministry it is now time to call on the trustees of the North American Mission Board to fulfill their responsibilities to Southern Baptists. The trustees of Southern Baptist entities work on behalf of Southern Baptists (rather than on behalf of the entities themselves) to supervise the work of these entities in such a way that the entities fulfill the mandate given them by Southern Baptists.