It has been the contention of some for the last year, including me, that certain leaders of our Southern Baptist Convention are taking us down a dangerous course of doctrinal conformity that far exceeds the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. The attempt to exclude Southern Baptists with a private prayer language from missionary service has been well documented. The attempt to force others to believe that the only legitimate Christian baptism is one that takes place in a Southern Baptist church or a church that believes in 'eternal security' has also been well documented. The refusal to hire professors because they are 'reformed' in their soteriology has not been as well documented but is very real. In addition, just as in the 70's some conservative Southern Baptists suspected all amillinialists as being liberals, there is a resurging belief among some strategically placed trustees that no Southern Baptist is a 'true conservative' unless he holds to a dispensational eschatology. Each of these examples is not necessarily cause for alarm in and of itself, but taken together there is a pattern that is developing in the Southern Baptist Convention that goes like this:
"If you have an opinion on an issue that is not addressed by the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, but it is a different opinion than 'the powers that be,' you must not be a true, conservative Southern Baptist."
The vast majority of Southern Baptists don't believe the above statement, and realize that our convention is built upon cooperation of diverse people and churches, but because most Christians in the SBC are quiet and humble followers, they allow leadership to direct the convention without any challenges. So even though most Southern Baptists may not believe the above statement, they choose to remain silent during the narrowing process, exhibit an unwillingness to defend those persons being excluded, and in general trust leadership to do 'the right thing.' Many followers take this particular course of action out of a belief that leadership is 'smarter than me,' and a few in leadership have no problems reminding the laity of that belief's validity. There has been within the culture of Southern Baptists, since the turn of the century, 'a hermanuetic of silence.' In other words, in the last five years institutional dogma that exceeds the BFM 2000, and the resulting exclusion of those who may disagree, is being met with little opposition.
The tide, however, may be turning. Men and women of the Southern Baptist Convention are beginning to wake up and realize where the intentional narrowing of parameters of cooperation and ministry is leading. Dr. Sheri Klouda's removal from Southwestern Theological Seminary, against her will and in violation of SWBTS faculty policy and procedures - which lay out clearly and precisely the reasons for a denial of tenure for tenure track faculty positions - is the most recent example of the damage caused by this narrowing. We must not lose sight that real people, including professors, God-called missionaries, pastors, and trustees are all being unnecesarily hurt by those who say, "you can't be one of us, because you don't believe like us." The view of some within our convention is that 'women should not teach men the Bible' and that 'women should not be in a position of authority over a man.' This view of women is not found in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, is contrary to the interpretation of the Bible that many of us in the Southern Baptist Convention hold, and is by its very nature exclusionary. At least two God-called, God-gifted, God-appointed (and trustee approved) female professors (not pastors) have been removed for gender. The story of Dr. Karen Bullock has not yet been publicly told, but very well soon may be. In addition, a God-called, God-gifted, God-appointed woman administrator at one of our agencies was removed from her position because of gender. Her removal came at the insistence of strategically placed male trustees, many of whom share an opinion regarding women consistent with what is being displayed at Southwestern. This action was in opposition to the agency's administration, but forced upon them by the trustee leadership. A coule of years ago a a very public white paper was distributed to trustees of the International Mission Board, with a cover letter by Paige Patterson, that denounced women 'strategic coordinators' and expressed concern in general about the role of women in missionary work overseas. People are beginning to connect the dots.
There are some who might say, "All that Paige Patterson and those who wish to determine the dogma of our convention are simply doing is upholding the inerrant, Word of God. To oppose them is to oppose God's Word." In other words, there are some who say, "The Bible contains eternal truths! It never changes! We should NEVER compromise our convictions or beliefs!" I agree -- if you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that something in the Bible is a principle for all time. I suspect that we may find one's interpretation of non-essential, disputable passages may change over time. Let me give you some examples.
SLAVERY AND THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION
The Southern Baptist Convention began in 1845 over a disagreement with the Northern Baptists whether or not slave-owners could be appointed missionaries. To justify the split with the north, Southern Baptist leaders noted that Paul and Barnabas had disagreed over the use of John Mark in mission service, and "two lines of service were opened for the benefit of the churches." These leaders hoped that "with no sharpness of contention, with no bitterness of spirit, . . . we may part asunder and open two lines of service to the heathen and the destitute."
It is also interesting to note that Southern Baptist leaders, at the time, defended slavery based upon their interpretation of the Bible. Southern delegates to the 1841 Triennial Convention of the Board "protested the abolitionist agitation and argued that, slavery . . . was not a sin according to the Bible." (J.G. Melton, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions," Volume I, Triumph Books, (1991), Volume II, Page 5)
One hundred and fifty years later, in 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention officially apologized, by resolution, for her previous views on the subject of slavery. The resolution declared that messengers, "unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin" and "lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest." It offered an apology to all African-Americans for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime" and repentance for "racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously."
THE SABBATH AND THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION
There were dozens of books written by Southern Baptists in the late 1800's and early 1900's chastising Southern Baptists for activities of amusement participated in on Sundays. The inviolable law of God, said these Southern Baptist leaders, forbad anything but worship and rest on Sundays. Their views were based on an interpretation of the Word of God that the acts permitted by the Bible on the Sabbath, and those acts barred by the Bible on the Sabbath, were to be immutable and unchangeable. SBC Vice-President Dr. James Taylor wrote, "The fourth commandment does not institute a Sabbath, nor does it sanctify a day; it simply writes the Sabbath among the immutable things of God." (Joseph Judson Taylor, The Sabbatic Question, 1914, pp. 22, 24)
These deep convictions, based on a very specific interpretation of the Word of God, led Southern Baptists to adopt the following two statements as the 'offical' views of the Lord's Day in 1925 and 1963 respectively.
The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message and the Lord's Day
"The first day of the week is the Lord's day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only excepted."
The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message and the Lord's Day
"The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted."
Nearly forty years after the adoption of the 1963 BFM, the 2000 BFM was adopted by the conventon, and the interpretation of the Bible regarding the Lord's Day drastically changed. As you read the following statements regarding the Lord's Day, notice that what was once interpreted as an 'inviolate command of God's Word' has now become a matter of 'individual conscience.'
The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the Lord's Day
"The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ."
Again, just like the interpretation of slavery once held by Southern Baptists, the official 'interpretation' and application of the Lord's Day has changed.
WOMEN AND THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION
The BFM 2000 forbids women from serving as pastors. The current issue in the SBC, as well as the subject of this post, has nothing to do with the advocation of women pastors. The problem is that certain leaders in our convention are attempting to press the issue beyond the BFM 2000 and the prohibition of women serving in the 'office of pastor' and are now saying that no woman shall ever teach a man the Bible, or should be able to hold a 'position of authority' over a man - period. This view goes FAR beyond the BFM 2000 and its application to the local church, and is forced upon our convention's agencies to include a prohibition of female professors, female administrators, and other 'positions of authority' that have absolutely nothing to do with the 'office of pastor.'
What really makes me sad is that not ALL Southern Baptists hold this interpretation. In fact, I would go further and say that not even a majority of Southern Baptists would hold this view. Unfortunately, unless the past 'hermenuetic of silence' is broken, and pastors and laymen throughout the Southern Baptist Convention wake up and realize that what started out simply as a prohibition of women pastors is now being pressed to include women in all places of society, we may one day, again, have to issue an apology to the world for our unjust treatment of a class of people (women) that God tells us in His Word are equal to men.
Some argue that the 'eternal, inerrant Word of God forbids a woman from teaching a man, or holding a position of authority over a man - period. It has nothing to do with the 'church.' It should be an inviolable principle for culture.' Unfortunately, this defense of a Biblical interpretation regarding women sounds very familiar to the former SBC interpretation regarding slaves and the Lord's Day. Thank goodness Basil Manley, Jr. spoke out against slavery. Thank goodness the BFM 2000 Committee spoke out against mandatory prohibitions regarding the Lord's Day. Thank goodness Southern Baptist people are speaking out regarding this very narrow view of women.
I close with some very wise words from a Southern Baptist who has preached over five decades in the Southern Baptist Convention, and whose wisdom regarding what the Paul says to Timothy regarding a woman in I Timothy 2:12 ("I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence") is needed by us all within the Southern Baptist Convention.
"'If'…Paul was speaking to a specific woman [v11 “the woman”] who was involved in leading her husband by hook or crook into false doctrine, thus the reminder of Adam and Eve, after having herself come out of the worship of Diana, where women, in their false theology, were believed to have been created first and superior to men, [again, Adam and Eve set this straight] then he [Paul] is saying “the woman” [v12] is not to teach her “husband” [v12] this false theology, but is to learn under him in “quietness.” In fact, it would make sense of v15 where the “she” could refer back to the “woman ” of v11 and Paul is recommending that being a godly mom would be good for her and help both if “they” [husband and wife] continue in their faith love, and holiness of balanced living. Boy were they a messed up couple…”if” in fact, this is a correct interpretation.
It is that..”if”..along with the other references where women taught and led as did, it seems perhaps, Phebe in Romans 16:1-2 where the word “succourer” is translated in other places “rule” or “give direction” when used of men [see Titus] and Paul says Phebe did this to him, [you don’t suppose Phebe actually gave some helping leadership and direction to Paul the Apostle] that keeps me from being dogmatic about this being a principle for men and women for all time. I, too, am open to further understanding." Paul Burleson
I am hopeful that will not allow a narrow interpretation of women, that goes FAR beyond the BFM 2000 become dogma in our convention. We must not be afraid to let our voices be heard -- no matter who may see things differently.
In His Grace,