Complementarianism Gender Scripture

The Moderate Position on ‘Women Pastors’ in the Southern Baptist Convention

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, 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 became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

The passage above is often at the center of discussion and debate regarding the roles of men and women in the church. Southern Baptists have collectively decided that the aforementioned passage (cited as 1 Timothy 2:9-14 in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, VI: The Church) teaches, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” This use of 1 Timothy 2:12 as pertaining to the office of pastor implies that the title of pastor follows the function (teaching/authority) of pastor in the local church. Insofar as the BFM2000 cites 1 Timothy 2:12 as a proof text for limiting the office of pastor to men, the confessional statement ties the title of pastor back to the function of pastor. A woman should not teach or exercise authority over a man. It follows that a woman cannot be a pastor. Unfortunately, some within the Southern Baptist Church are calling this confessional claim into question.

No small number of those with egalitarian theology outside the SBC argue that this passage is not as clear as the BFM2000 makes it out to be. Egalitarians interpret the passage so as to allow for women to teach or to exercise authority over men. Much could be said regarding the exegesis of this passage and its place in the canon of Scripture, but that debate is not the point of this post. Rather, those who disagree to such a large extent with the confessional statement of the SBC regarding the roles of men and women and the office of pastor have no place in the SBC under the BFM2000. They would be better off to work with churches or denominations more in line with their doctrinal convictions. Doing otherwise sows division.

However, the SBC has a much more significant problem because of those who disavow egalitarianism while affirming it in practice. Some have called this move ‘functional egalitarianism.’ Functional egalitarianism is at work in the home, church, and society. The focus of this post is functional egalitarianism in the church. We can call it the moderate position on women in ministry. The moderate position on women in ministry as it manifests itself in the SBC states that the lead pastor (traditionally called ‘Senior Pastor’) must be a man to fit with the BFM2000. So far, so good. However, this position goes on to state that women can serve in all other pastoral roles.

For example, a church might call a man its ‘Pastor,’ and his wife the ‘Co-Pastor.’ Or a church might have a man as its ‘Pastor,’ and a woman as ‘Associate Pastor.’ This moderate theology works best with extra-biblical titles like those mentioned above. However, in essence the theology rests on an unbiblical distinction between the office of pastor and elder (or overseer) in order to justify ‘women pastors.’ More importantly, as relates to the cooperative unity found under the BFM2000, the moderate position on women in ministry within the SBC is clearly outside our confessional standards.

Coddling those individuals and churches that promote the moderate position outlined above only furthers a culture in which our confession becomes meaningless. Complementarianism, insofar as it is enshrined in our confessional statement regarding this specific point of doctrine, does not admit of acceptable differences of practice pertaining to women functioning as or holding the office of pastor. Further, although the autonomous nature of our local churches does not allow for some sort of top-down approach to this topic, the nature and application of the BFM2000 at a cooperative level concerning our institutions and entities absolutely does allow for that, from which it follows that the rhetoric of SBC entity heads and employees should comport with our confession on this point in opposition to the moderates, and in affirmation of conservatives who consistently apply this principle of the male-only pastorate and its underlying biblical warrant in their churches.

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