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?
1. Although Christ Over All is not limited to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), many of us serve in Southern Baptist contexts. For that reason, we have a personal interest in what happens in the SBC. Likewise, because the SBC is the largest Protestant “denomination” in America, all Christians should care about what happens in the SBC, because the SBC both impacts and reveals the health of evangelicals at large.
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.
2. Previously, Moore had argued for the importance of men’s and women’s roles in the church (See his “After Patriarchy, What?“).
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.”
3. The “we” includes Mike Law, Robert Lyon, and myself. In this article, I am writing with the help and research of these two brothers.
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).
4. For an explanation of “thin” and “narrow” vs. “thick” or “broad” complementarianism, see “Complementarianism: a Moment of Reckoning” by Jonathan Leeman.
(A larger version of the graphic may be found here.)
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. However, as feminism gained ground in the wider western culture in the last two centuries, it also gained ground in churches. In the 1980s, evangelical feminists (or egalitarians) were making inroads in places like the SBC and across a wide swath of Evangelicalism. In response to the rise of this egalitarianism, a couple dozen pastors and scholars set out to articulate the biblical position of men leading in the home and the church and women serving alongside them—not as inferiors, but as helpmates to their husbands and fellow heirs of God in the household of God. This position was called complementarianism, and it stood over against the evangelical feminism of egalitarians that saw role distinctions between men and women as products of a fallen world.
Biblical complementarians argued for distinct roles in the home and the household of God even as they affirmed the full dignity of men and women made in God’s image. In particular, only qualified men could serve the church as elders, or pastors, or overseers (three words referring to the same office) in accordance with 1 Timothy 3:1–7. Women were not to teach or hold authority over men in the household of God as a pastor, elder, or overseer, just as Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:12.
Accordingly, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) began in 1987, Crossway released the “blue book” (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) in 1991, and over the course of four decades, CBMW has published newsletters, journals, monographs, and other multi-author volumes in order to explain and apply what Scripture teaches about men and women.
Put all of this together, and there is no need to write new arguments for the plain teachings of Scripture. Yet, because Christians in a new generation are facing a freshly unwrapped Egalitarian Beachball, it is important to make the same arguments in fresh and faithful ways. Moreover, because once stalwart defenders of biblical complementarianism are now deconstructing their previous convictions and following their sisters into egalitarianism, it is time to once again unsheathe the sword of the Spirit, to show how limiting the office of pastor to qualified men is not the product of a “John Wayne Christianity”; it is instead the very wisdom of God.
The Southern Baptist Convention is Out of Step With Its Confession
Because Truth with a capital ‘T’ never goes out of fashion, it is worth reflecting on the biblical, theological, and practical ways that men and women serve God in the church. But there is also a need to address contemporary problems that plague the church—and one current problem is the way churches in the Southern Baptist Convention are calling women “pastor,” celebrating women preaching, and supporting them with arguments from the Egalitarian Beachball.
As noted above, the source of this Beachball comes from the labors of Mike Law, a faithful pastor in Arlington, Virginia. Over the last year, he has uncovered 170 female pastors serving in various roles in SBC churches. In his research, which includes 219 pages of screenshots documenting his evidence, he has found women serving in various roles—senior pastors (50), assistant pastors (20), children and youth pastors (47), worship pastors (11), other pastors (35), and elders (12). Incredibly, this short sample shows that scores of SBC-affiliated churches are quite comfortable using the title “pastor” for women (directly against the Baptist Faith & Message ), which means they are equally comfortable violating the plain reading of 1 Timothy 2:12.
While each church will have its own reasons for naming a woman as a pastor, we can clearly see that female pastors are found throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. Most notably, Saddleback Church—one of the largest SBC churches—installed a couple to pastor their church, and it was Rick Warren and this church he planted that were at the center of the SBC convention debate in Anaheim in June 2022. His unprecedented speech on the floor of the convention also spoke to this issue. And while the SBC recently removed Saddleback from “friendly cooperation” with the convention, the larger issue of female pastors in the SBC remains.
For those not keeping up with the Southern Baptist Convention, let me highlight the situation, and bring it back to the Egalitarian Beachball and what Christ Over All is doing this month.
A Denominational Matter That Reflects A Wider Movement
In the Spring of 2022, Mike Law reported five SBC churches to the Credentials Committee. In the SBC, the Credentials Committee has the task of making sure SBC churches comply with the standards of the SBC, including the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). These five churches were all within five miles of where his church gathers and well outside the SBC’s stance that only qualified men can be pastors. Because he cares for the integrity of the Convention, Mike sought the help of the Credentials Committee to address this major disjunction. But after receiving little to no help from the Credentials Committee, he brought a motion to amend the constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention.
For a full summary of his arguments, complete with biblical foundations, and historical precedents, you can read this thirty-one-page document. Focusing here on the amendment, Mike proposed to add a short statement to Article III, Composition, Section 1:
The SBC “does not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”
The motivation behind this addition was to codify what the BFM2000 had already made clear, when it declared about ‘The Church” that:
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 (BF&M2000, §6).
Since 2000, this has been the doctrinal commitment of SBC churches, and Mike’s amendment is simply asking the messengers of the SBC to ensure that this biblical doctrine remains the practice of SBC churches. If you are interested in hearing his rationale, you can watch this fifteen-minute video or read his well-formulated guide to his amendment.
Long story short, Mike is not trying to do anything radical. He’s simply calling the church, and specifically Southern Baptist churches, to do what Scripture says and to keep its commitment to the biblical foundations that are espoused in the BFM2000. Along the way, he has written a letter asking the SBC Executive Committee to honor Scripture and the biblical desires of the Convention. To that letter, he has appended 2100+ signatures. If you are a elder/pastor or professor within the SBC, you can read and sign that letter here. Mike has done an invaluable service for all those who are willing to see what many are denying—the large and growing acceptance of female pastors in the SBC.
An Unintentional Survey
What started as a letter requesting the SBC to maintain biblical fidelity—both in honoring God’s design for the church and for keeping the commitment to its confessional heritage—quickly became an unintentional and highly-illuminating survey. That is, in response to the emails that he sent to SBC pastors asking for their support for his letter, he received dozens of responses.
Some of these responses expressed great affirmation. Many others revealed that their church had already left the SBC, citing similar concerns to those Mike was raising. And yet, others proceeded to castigate the letter, the amendment, and the idea that anyone would stand in the way of a woman preaching or pastoring in an SBC church.
For Christ Over All, it is this last category of emails that we will be addressing this month in the Egalitarian Beachball. By making a biblical case for qualified men to be pastors and not women, we will seek to show the errors of the seven arguments set against the proposed amendment. And more, we will revisit the ancient paths that show the wisdom and beauty of a church ordered by God’s Word.
The proponents for these arguments are made by those inside and outside of the SBC. Below, we’ve included a prominent advocate who has publicly given the particular rationale. Sadly, we know that many draw their doctrine from personal experience and reactions to sinful misappropriations of Scripture (see #6 and #2). At the same time, others make errant arguments from the Bible (see #1 and #4). Still others will deny one biblical doctrine on the basis of another (see #3 and #5), and always the church is ripe to change doctrines based upon cultural pressure or personal pragmatism (see #2 and #7).
5. However, many of these individuals listed would cite more than one argument in favor of female pastors, so these advocates are not limited to or necessarily defined by that one representative line of reasoning.
Seven Arguments Made in Favor of Female Pastors
1. The Bible Supports Female Pastors (Michael Bird, Sharron Hodde Miller)
The Bible positively teaches that women can pastor and preach.
2. Down With Patriarchal Oppression (Beth Allison Barr, Beth Moore, SBC Voices)
The time has come for churches in the SBC to stop protecting male hierarchies that oppress women and restricting them from pastoring/preaching.
3. Unity Requires Female Pastors (Dwight McKissic)
The unity of the SBC demands inclusion of women pastors and preachers, so we ought allow women to pastor/preach.
4. The Bible Doesn’t Oppose Female Pastors (Sam Storms)
The Bible doesn’t prohibit women from pastoring and preaching, so why should we?
5. Female Giftedness Warrants (Rick Warren, Andy Wood, Harold Hoehner)
All spiritual gifts are given equally to men and women. Giftedness is what matters, thus women who are gifted to teach ought preach/pastor.
6. Church Experience Justifies (Aimee Byrd)
Personal experience shows that women are called, gifted, and capable of these pastoring and preaching.
7. Permissible Under Male Authority (Andrew Wilson, John Dickson, Joel Rainey*)
As long as women are preaching under the authority of male elders, it is acceptable for women to preach/pastor.
In all of this, we know that the church is healthiest and strongest when it abides by the whole counsel of God. Four decades ago, the brothers and sisters who began CBMW took a stand to defend Scripture from the evangelical feminism that encroached upon the church. So too, the SBC stood strong for the Word of God when it returned biblical inerrancy to the seminaries and biblical complementarity to the Baptist Faith and Message.
A generation later, however, it is clear that their work needs further elucidation and proclamation. Therefore, it is time again to address the issues of men and women preaching in the church. Accordingly, Christ Over All will address this matter this month, joining our voices with the strong but steady chorus of CBMW and other biblical complementarians.
We are grateful for the time and effort Mike Law has put into Amendment 6, and we are prayerful that this month, our labors might assist his desire to maintain biblical fidelity when the SBC gathers in New Orleans in June.
If the SBC is not your thing, please pray for truth to prevail. But, if the SBC is your home, please do not sit this out. Pray for those involved, sign the letter, speak to your state representative from the Executive Committee, and if possible, come to New Orleans to make it plain that God’s Word is clear on the matter of men and women in the church. And since God’s Word is clear, we should be clear too.
The Egalitarian Beachball is a Wrecking Ball
Let me sign off with this. A beachball is a light and colorful toy that boys and girls can play with when the skies are blue and the sun is warm. But when hurricane forces rip through the trees, like they did in the place I was standing on that sunny day in Florida, then everyone, both men and women, need to take refuge in a house that has walls strong enough to save (cf. Prov. 18:10).
Sadly, too many men and women treat the church like a pavilion for a play, instead of an encampment of the Lord’s army, a refuge from the onslaught of the enemy. In such a playful setting, it makes absolute sense for men and women to be pastors and preachers. Why? Because the office of a pastor is a light and colorful toy—something akin to a beachball. Who wouldn’t want to put a Hawaiian shirt on and talk eloquently on the purposes of life?
Yet, we must ask: What does Scripture say? If the Word of God is only a strong refuge for the people of God, then we must trust that the foundations and footers and walls and ceilings are put in place the way they are because God has arranged it so. In America, we love to innovate, and in postmodern America, we love to invent new ways of expressing ourselves. Yet, God’s Word is fixed—and so are his instructions about who can teach God’s Word in God’s house.
Today, we have many treating God’s Word as a beachball. They are trying to toss it around, as they widen the circle for more people to play. But God’s Word is not a beachball. It is a rock, on which the church is built. And when the Word is painted like a beachball, and used in ways it is not designed, it becomes a wrecking ball. And as is the case with a wrecking ball, a building is destroyed not in one swing, but in many. And today, we see the Egalitarian Beachball swinging, smashing, and demolishing. Unless it is stopped, it will bring about the downfall of many churches, one hit at a time. As the church goes, so go the children of God, their families, and their nation. God’s Word cannot be mocked. It can only be obeyed. And when it is obeyed, it brings security and blessing to everyone in the house.
Do not be deceived. The light and colorful arguments for women to be preachers and pastors are not actually a beachball. They are a wrecking ball in disguise. And this month, it is our aim to examine them by the truth of God’s Word, and to show why God’s ways are better for everyone in the household of God.
*Editor’s Note: Joel Rainey’s view was corrected from view 6 to view 7 due to his feedback.