Emotion takes a back seat to revelation

When Southern Baptists adopted a revised confession of faith in June 2000, the debate was almost entirely centered on article one: the Scriptures. This is proper. Our interpretations of God’s Word make up our doctrinal distinctives. Our view of Scriptures is foundational to all other matters of faith and practice.

In an extension of that original debate other matters have been added to the debate, most notably the issue of the role of women in our families and churches. The divide is along the same lines as the debate on Scripture. Those who believe that portions of the Bible are more authoritative than others will naturally have a different opinion on church and family order than those who consider all Scripture inspired by God. One commentator maintains that his speculation on what Jesus might say on family order should trump what Paul actually said under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Former Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter, then president, was more direct in saying that Paul (under inspiration of the Holy Spirit) was just wrong. Alrighty then. Everything comes back to your view of Scripture. A lower view will naturally put other standards in a higher place of authority.

The role of women at church and at home is an emotional issue. We are tempted to respond as we feel rather than according to what we know. Objections to the BF&M’s statement on male senior pastors may draw a question like, “What do you say to a young woman who believes she is called to pastor?” It’s supposed to be a difficult question because it calls to mind a bright, enthusiastic young person whose dreams we might crush. Difficulty and emotion should never obscure revealed truth, though. That is why we were given an objective standard (the Bible) to judge our feelings and impressions. The BF&M statements on women are carefully worded and tightly focused. The emotional nature of the debate is heightened by those who do not know what the statement does and does not say. Let’s look at that.

Two articles in the BF&M address the role of women and are sometimes questioned by those who reject our confession. Article six addresses the doctrine of the church. It includes the following statement: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” Just that. Based on I Tim. 2:11-15, 3:1-7, and other passages, the article maintains that God has spoken clearly to this office. Note that not all men are qualified to pastor. The scriptural qualifications seem stringent and exclusive in our day. There are arguments from logic and emotion that might draw us for or against the notion of woman pastors. History, including New Testament history, underscores this understanding of Scripture. The bottom line, though, is the authority of God’s Word. He, not Paul is the ultimate source of Scripture. Some find it disappointing or insensitive but in reality even moderate churches have limited their commitment to woman pastors to talk. Very few have called a woman as senior pastor.

Article eighteen on the family says in part: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ,” and, “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image.” This language is based on Eph. 5:22-33 and I Pt. 3:1-7, to name only two passages. Again, our own instincts may find this order puzzling but our own tendencies often lead us astray.

Notice what the BF&M does not say on these subjects. The articles do not specifically address any position of church leadership except senior pastor. We are not told for example, that women should not be deacons, education ministers, seminary professors, seminary presidents, missionaries, journalists, evangelists, preachers, or Sunday School teachers. We can argue about that as we wish but the convention did not include such interpretation in our statement of faith. Our seminaries do and should encourage women to prepare themselves for an expanding number of ministries. This preparation is bearing fruit around the world. As can be seen elsewhere in the Texan, a wide range of Christian service is open to and occupied by our God-called sisters.

No one has suggested that men are smarter, more gifted, or more spiritual than women. Not even experience or instinct would suggest such a thing. In fact, the confession does not claim any spiritual difference in rank or nature. Those who infer a claim to essential superiority of men over women from our statement of faith are hearing something not said.

Our confession does not even say that men are right more often than women. If men are leading the church and the home, right or wrong, they will answer to God for their stewardship. Those under their authority will answer for their own submission to God and those placed in roles of authority.

Why so much attention on this subject? Obviously it is timely. If earlier ages had faced the confusion and contradictions regarding male-female relationships that our generation faces, earlier confessions would have addressed these problems. Our day sees staggering failures of marriages and families as a legacy of this confusion. Many, including some in the church question the need or superiority of two-parent (male-female) families for the nurture of children. Some today suggest that five (don’t even ask) separate sexual identities should be recognized in our society. Our churches are affected by this civil war. We are pressured to conform to prevailing opinions rather than to revealed truth. Conformity is no more a righteous option now than it was in the days of earlier persecution.

For now we’ve done what we should.  We have clearly stated our commitment to revealed rather than consensus truth.  We have prayerfully and carefully applied biblical precepts to contemporary issues.  In doing so, we have clearly affirmed the significant gifts of each member of God’s kingdom–women no less than men.  Those who still hate our message are not attacking a man-made document so much as inconvenient revelation.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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