The Egalitarian Beachball is a Church Wrecking Ball
Did God actually say, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man?” Or is this verse the invention of a man, trying to deceive women? When Paul disallowed women from teaching or exercising oversight in the house of God, and he grounded his argument in the Garden of Eden, what part is he playing? Is Paul deceived like Eve, trying to win one for Adam? Or, is Paul the serpent, deceiving the female pastor, telling her that the fruit she wants is not good? Or is Paul speaking for the Lord when he tells the woman to put down the pulpit?
This month at Christ Over All, we will consider these questions as they relate to the church in the twenty-first century. And more, we will put these questions to the test, as they relate to the rise of female pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Why the SBC? Keep reading, and you’ll find out.
Trouble in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination
In the 1980s, a “Conservative Resurgence” swept through the SBC. And if we boiled that movement down into two theological issues, they were the inerrancy of Scripture and egalitarianism, an idea that includes women serving as pastors. In those days, Bible-believing Baptists stood up to say that God’s Word is inspired, authoritative, and inerrant. This movement followed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and galvanized the SBC to stand on God’s written revelation—all of it, including the parts that spoke about women and preaching. Returning to its biblical roots, the SBC moved away from being a denomination that accepted women as pastors and preachers to a denomination that believed that Paul spoke for God when he wrote, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).
This recovery of biblical orthodoxy and Baptist ecclesiology took place more than two decades ago, and yet in recent years, the debate about women serving as pastors has returned. Presumably, the questions about the inerrancy of the Word of God have not returned, but the question of the hour is this: Has God really said that women cannot preach or be pastors?
Infamously, Beth Moore, before departing for the Anglican Church, celebrated her preaching in Southern Baptist pulpits. Likewise, another Moore, former ERLC President Russell Moore, renounced his previous patriarchal convictions when he wrote for Christianity Today. More to the point, in response to recent events in the SBC, SBC President Bart Barber has promised to bring this question of women pastors to the 2023 SBC Convention. And accordingly, Christ Over All wants to return to the Bible to see what it says about men and women serving in the church.
Most specifically, we will consider the arguments in favor of women preaching and pastoring in local churches—arguments that have come to us from dozens of SBC pastors. These Southern Baptist pastors, both men and women, have voiced their opposition to a proposed amendment to the SBC Constitution that disallows women from preaching or pastoring in accordance with 1 Timothy 2–3. That amendment will be introduced below, but first let me get to the data, and also to the “Egalitarian Beachball.”
The Egalitarian Beachball
Mike Law, an SBC pastor in Virginia, is the author of this constitutional amendment. And in response to his amendment, over thirty ministry leaders of SBC-affiliated churches sent him emails condemning his proposal and arguing in various ways why women should be pastors and preachers. And by sifting through these negative responses, we saw seven different arguments for women in the pulpit, as you’ll see in a graphic further below. Keep in mind, since the year 2000 the SBC has held to a view that states, “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
This view is found in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (BFM2000), which is the document revised and ratified in 2000 that outlines the doctrinal beliefs of the SBC. While this document affirms the myriad of ways women can and do serve in the church, it also made the clear statement above about who may serve in the office of pastor. Yet, as becomes the plasticity of our postmodern world, it is not surprising that the egalitarian spirit of our age has formed the hearts and minds of many in and around the SBC. As a result, this new amendment has driven out into the open many who are abiding by egalitarian principles, even as they inhabit an SBC, which affirms biblical complementarianism. Complementarianism is the view that men and women share the same dignity, value, and worth before God, but that God has created men and women with distinct and complementary roles in the church and home. For the church, this means that only qualified men may serve as pastor/elders. In the home, this looks like men leading their families in a Christ-like way while women graciously follow their husband’s leadership.
Now, were the issue of egalitarianism a tertiary matter (e.g., taking the Lord’s supper once a month or once a week, or preaching topical sermons instead of expository) it would not be a matter for breaking fellowship. Certainly, the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and the style of sermon are matters related to Scripture and church health, but they are not matters that rise to the level of denominational agreement in the SBC. The qualifications for the pastoral office, however, are explicated in the BFM2000 as a necessary marker for the churches who are in “friendly cooperation” within the SBC. With that in mind, Christ Over All is looking to call Southern Baptists—and all Bible-believing Christians—to abide by the Scriptures, and to exercise integrity with respect to their ministerial allegiances.
To this end, we put forward the Egalitarian Beachball as a graphic that captures seven of the main arguments in favor of female pastors made by SBC-affiliated church leaders. While this is not an exhaustive catalogue of arguments and is anecdotal in nature, it represents a cross-section of popular reasoning used to advocate for women pastors. Many advocates of this position use more than one argument to advance their reasoning, as reflected below. The first six arguments often come from those who self-identify as egalitarian, while the seventh argument usually comes from those who self-identify as “thin” or “narrow” complementarians (which is a type of functional egalitarianism).
Over the course of this month, we will be addressing these points and more. Indeed, these are arguments swimming in the larger culture today and in churches throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond. Because it’s important to give biblical arguments, not just hasty tweets, we will go back to Scripture and see what it says.
In truth, we will go back to ground already tilled by faithful pastors and teachers in previous generations. But as Paul says in Philippians 3:1, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” Indeed, if the church needs to find a safe space, it is found in God’s Word. And so, with Mike Law, we are calling the church back to the Bible. And what follows is a bit of recent history to explain why this is necessary.
The Need of the Hour
Recently, I attended an Evangelical conference in sunny Florida, and as I walked outside beside the conference bookstore, two young seminarians bounced a conversation in front of me. At the conference, Crossway had given more than 2000 copies of their book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to registered guests, and these two young men were quite impressed. Here’s a summary of their conversation:
Student #1: Hey, did you see this giveaway book? It’s called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Ever heard of it?
Student #2: No, never heard of it. Is it new? It must be.
Student #1: Yeah, I think so.
Student #2: I bet it is a response to the SBC debate about women preaching.
Me: Well, actually, let me tell you about the 1980s and something called the Danvers Statement . . .
As Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and this was especially true on that sunny day in January, when the beachball of egalitarianism was at issue.
As readers of this website may know already, the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is not new, nor is it a response to the recent questions about women preaching in pulpits or serving as pastors in the SBC. Rather, this is the book which defined biblical complementarianism in the 1980s after a group of pastors and scholars penned the Danver’s Statement in 1987.
Indeed, for most of church history, there was no question that the office of pastor—whatever it was called (bishop, elder, overseer)—was for qualified men only.