According to Scripture, there is only One head of the Church or local churches and all authority is His, given to Him by God the Father. For a man or woman in the church to possess any authority, it must come from Christ directly. Christ's authority is not dispensed by the church's bestowal of any office, but by the Spirit who dispenses spiritual gifts that empower the believer to serve others in the power of Christ. In short, the authority of Christ in the world is always evidenced by service, for He said, The greatest among you shall be your servant (Matthew 23:11).
When the church recognizes the gifts of the Spirit in a person that enables and compels them to serve the body of Christ or the world in general, then the church sets that person aside for particular service by the laying on of hands. This setting aside for the purpose of service or ministry within the church (teaching, shepherding, serving), or sometimes in the world (evangelizing, missions, etc . . . ) is simply the Body's recognition that Christ's power has already been bestowed through the dispensing of unique spiritual gifts.
Unfortunately, many in the evangelical church have succombed to the error of the Roman Catholic Church by calling this setting aside of God's servants 'ordination' and assume that 'ordination' bestows some magical power or authority. This so called power, according to those Southern Baptists who hold to this belief, is always assigned to an 'office' that has been reached via the ordination. Accordingly, only those set aside by the church to this office have the authority they need to minister or serve others. So, according to this very unbiblical and narrow ecclesiological thinking of some in the Southern Baptist Convention, only ordained pastors have the authority to do pastoral ministry. To me, the problem in the Southern Baptist Convention is not the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message prohibition that women cannot hold the 'office' of Senior Pastor, but rather, the underlying problem in our Convention is that those who pushed for the prohibition have the belief that the only people who have 'authority' to minister or serve are those who have been given an 'office' of authority by the church. Thus, any woman who even begins to even approach ministry or service that looks like the ministry of one who holds 'the office of pastor' is being removed.
No missionary has the 'authority' to baptize but those who occupy the 'office.'
No believer has the 'authority' to dispense the Lord's Supper but those who occupy the 'office.'
No professor has the 'authority' to teach the Bible, but those who occupy the 'office.'
No chaplain has the 'authority' to minister to people but those who occupy the 'office.'
Nowhere in Scripture is this idea of a mystical 'office' of authority taught. Let me repeat. Nowhere in the inspired, infallible, sufficient Word of God is the idea taught that the power or authority to minister or serve is associated with an office that is received through ordination. The perogative to bestow authority is Christ's alone; the Church's responsibility is to recognize that authority which Christ has bestowed by observing the unique gifts, service and calling to minister that is being exhibited in the believer.
The Biblical Teaching Regarding Authority and Service
If a man or woman within a local church were to ever assume authority because of his or her position granted by the church then Christ's authority is being usurped (Ephesians 4:5,15). A believer should concern himself with serving, and never be concerned with 'authority.' Likewise, if a church or convention were to ever begin believing that a person automatically possessed authority because of a position that the church bestowed, then there is the danger of missing out on thrills and joys of seeing God's kingdom expanded on earth because we begin to exclude or discount the ministries of God-called and Spirit-gifted women from serving or ministering to people because they don't hold 'the office' (i.e. 'they haven't been ordained'). Let me show you how the New Testament never put an emphasis on any mystical 'office,' but called the church to recognize the gifts, callings and ministries of people that God had added to the church.
The New Covenant people of God are particularly bound to the New Covenant (Testament) writings since the Old Covenant has been fulfilled by Christ and done away with (Hebrews 1:2, Acts 18:28). For those who struggle with the phrase 'done away with,' the New Testament uses even sharper language like 'abolished.' This is why we do not offer sacrifices, celebrate the seven Jewish festivals, follow the Jewish dietary laws, etc . . . Whereas in the Old Covenant you had it made if you were an old, Jewish male holding the office of priest or king (which was a legimitate office), in the New Covenant, all believers in Christ - both male and female, young and old, rich and poor, Greek and Jew - are priests and kings (co-heirs with Christ). Christ, our Head, is the King of kings; we are His Body.
New Covenant believers are responsible to the Head individually, but we also have a responsibility to fulfill in terms of each other (Rom. 14:4, Eph. 5:21). All believers, not just men, are priests and servants of God. All believers, not just men, are gifted by God. All believers, not just men, are under the authority of the Head of the Body, Jesus Christ. Therefore we must all take our place among the Body to minister according to the gifts He has given us for the good of us all (1 Corinthians 12-14). It is God who gives us believers spiritual gifts to minister, and it is Christ the Head to whom we answer in the use of those gifts.
There are certain members of the body, both men and women, who become a gift to the body of Christ in unique ways. God has gifted and given these people to the body for the purpose of equipping all the members of the church for ministry (Ephians 4:11-12). When the New Testament describes these individuals, no emphasis is placed on any "authority" they possess that is derived from any "office" they hold. Rather, the people of God in the church have observed the Kingdom advanced through the servant leadership of those gifted individuals. It is not the 'office' that bestows any power, but Christ who empowers the servant leadership.
Part of the confusion in the minds of some Southern Baptists over this issue may arise from the King James Version translating the word 'diakonia' in Romans 11:13 with the word 'office.' Unfortunately, the KJV translation is a poor one, simply because 'diakonia' means "service or ministry."
This is important. So, let me show you again the difference between a service and an office, and why authority arises from service and not an office. When Paul, a Jew, desired for the Gentiles to listen to his teaching, he reminds them of his ministry or service to them - not any imagined office of authority. The King James Version of Romans 11:13 reads:
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office
Some Southern Baptists read this and think that there is something about this mystical office Paul holds that gives him authority - and they ought to listen. For this reason, many Southern Baptist pastors put the emphasis on the 'office' of pastor, and tell their congregations that they must listen to them because of the office their pastor, which gives him 'authority' over them.
But that is NOT what Paul is saying in the text. Paul is reminding the Gentiles that his message ought to be heeded because of his ministry and service among them. Under great persecution, with nothing to personally gain, this Jewish man named Paul put his life on the line at the hands of his own people (the Jews) in order to serve and minister to the Gentiles. The English Standard Version translates Romans 11:13 this way:
I am speaking to you Gentiles, inasmuch as (I have been sent) to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (to you).
While it is true that in the Old Covenant, the concept of 'the office' of the priest is a position of authority, in the New Covenant Scriptures, the words that would imply some kind of offical "office" are never used. For instance, in Romans 12:4 the King James poorly translates the Greek word "praxis" this way:
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office.
The Greek word praxis nowhere means 'office,' but rather speaks of or one's action or function. The English Standard Version correctly translates this same verse, Romans 12:4, this way: "For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function." In other words, we do not all minister in the same way. We do not all serve in the same manner. It has nothing to do with office.
In 1 Timothy 3:1 the word office is nowhere in the text at all. Let me say that again. The word 'office' in the following verse is not in the original:
If anyone aspires to the (office) of overseer, he desires a noble task.
The original literally says, "if anyone aspires to oversight (epikope), he desires a noble task" The sacred text speaks of a task or a a ministry of service - not any mystical 'office.'
Authority is to be experienced in the assembly because of the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit obvious in the believers. In one sense, the entire body shares authority (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5), but in another sense, there are times when we recognize one another's gifts, knowledge, or experiences in the Lord and we choose to serve under, or submit to another believer's servant leadership because the Holy Spirit has empowered them with special gifts and has annointed their ministry or service through the functioning of those gifts. My father, Paul Burleson, clearly articulates that this is the key to understanding the authority of anyone who ministers in the local church or is sent by the church to minister to others. He writes:
No one has authority BECAUSE they have a stronger personality, knows more Bible, or they hold an office. That is foreign to the New Testament. Paul the Apostle had to defend his Apostleship by virtue of it being the work of the Spirit setting him aside for it. 1 Timothy 5:17 speaks of those elders that "give oversight well" and "are worthy of double honor." It is that "giving (of)oversight well" that is the source of their authority. They defined it as Holy Spirit anointing. In other words, the anointing of the Spirit makes clear the authority that rests on a ministry done well, not the office holder.
An Illustration of Female Ministry Through Anointing
Servanthood is the badge of genuine Christian living and is to be the overriding characterstic of whether or not someone is a true minister. Josephine Scaggs was a female missionary to Africa working under the auspices of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. She was the first white woman to actually go to the jungles of Nigeria and establish a Christian church. She also founded a pastors school and a medical clinic. Jo had to get permission from both the British government and the Foreign Mission Board to go to Nigera. When the Foreign Mission Board initally refused, she said she was going to resign and go anyway because her ultimate authority, Jesus Christ, had told her to go. The Board relented, and it was a good thing. This Southern Baptist woman led thousands of people to Christ, baptized them, and then taught and trained them herself. All told, Josephine Skaggs led 1700 of her converts to become Christian pastors.
During one of our Southern Baptist Conventions in the 1950's, Josephine stood before before the Convention during the Foreign Mission Board report and preached to the messengers on their sin of racism. She asked why they would send her and other missionaries to Africa to share the Good News with black men and women but Southern Baptist Pastors would not allow them in their churches. This was the same year that W.A. Criswell, who occupied the 'office' of pastor at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, delivered a message praising segregation and calling anyone who proposed desegregation 'heretics.' Dr. Criswell later repented and confessed his sin by saying "Never have I been so blind." This anecdote illustrates the difference between the authority of ministry and the authority of an office.
Besides Josephine Skaggs, Southern Baptists have had women like Lottie Moon and Bertha Smith, women whom leaders of the Conservative Resurgence claim as some of their heroes. These women constantly ministered among men, taught men in seminary classes, preached behind the pulpits of some of our greatest Southern Baptist Churches, and led thousands of people to faith in Christ. These women, were they alive today, would be faced with the horrible possibility of not even being recognized as true, gifted and powerful servants of God.
Could it be that the Southern Baptist Convention is in danger of losing sight of real Christianity and the ministry of God-called, Spirit-gifted, Christ-honoring women because we have fallen into the trap of believing there is something sacred and authoritative about an 'office?' Have we lost sight of the teaching of the infallible Word of God that real authority in the church comes from service as the people of God, both men and women, are empowered by Jesus Christ?
Let me be both emphatic and clear. I was not personally bothered by the BFM 2000 prohibition on women serving as 'Senior Pastors,' nor am I interested in amending the BFM 2000. I thought the prohibition should never have been included in the Confession, and I said so at the time and continue to say it. If a local church, either in the states or overseas, identifies a woman with spiritual gifts and the empowerment of the Spirit to serve and minister to their congregation, then the decision to call that women to 'oversee' their flock is the autonomous decision of that particular congregation. To issue an edict about prohibiting a particular action of a local church in a doctrinal confession no less, seems to me to establish both a heirarchial authority within the convention and negates the cherished and historic Baptist doctrine of the autonomy of the local church. That being said, my interest today lies in waking up Southern Baptists to the problem that is the undercurrent of why some felt the need to push that particular prohibition - a faulty view of 'authority' and from whence it rises.
Implications for Us Today
I will introduce you in my next post to a female Southern Baptist Chaplain at West Point Military academy. She was certified as a chaplain by the North American Mission Board and has risen through the ranks of military chaplaincy. However, in 2004, the North American Mission Board stopped certifying 'female' chaplains out of fear that they were 'serving' and 'ministering' to people too much like those who hold the "office" of pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Ironically, the pastor who served as the Chairman of the Board and announced this decision to not recognize females anymore was would later resign from his 'office' in a cloud of moral failure, all going one while he led the effort to remove the recognition of Southern Baptist a female ministering among our United States troops.
We are in danger as a Conventon of having men hold the 'office' of pastor, bestowed on them by a congregations who lack any understanding of biblical authority. These pastors are then allowed by their congregations to exert absolute authority. They will often call for blind submission to their every decision - even though these pastors have not exhibited servanthood which is the very evidence of real, biblical authority. Even worse, we are in danger of losing some of our most gifted, God-called, Christ-honoring Southern Baptist women from our seminaries, colleges, churches, agencies, mission fields, and other places of service because we are refusing to follow the clear teaching of Scripture and acknowledge that real authority flows from gifted service as empowered by Christ - and is not gender or office based.
In His Grace,