Yesterday I received an email from a friend and denominational leader asking me a few questions about my views on "women in ministry." I took the time to respond to his questions with the following email. The person, who shall remain unnamed, had three questions in his email. (1). Could you give me your views on "women" pastors? (2). What are the reasons you are troubled by the proposed "disfellowship" of a church that has called a woman pastor? (3). Where can I learn more about this issue? My response, in full, is below.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I hope you are staying warm and safe in this horrid cold and icy weather. I had every intention of driving to OKC to attend the Evangelism Conference Monday, but made the decision to stay in Enid and drive my wife to OKC Monday afternoon for her Master’s classes at the University of Oklahoma Nursing School. She is about a year away from graduating with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nursing, and I did not want her to drive on the icy roads. I’m glad I made the decision to stay in Enid because it must have become really icy in OKC because OU called off school at noon and we ended up not coming down at all. I have not heard about the Evangelism Conference, but I do hope that things were able to be rescheduled.
I'm glad to hear you enjoyed my post on Union Mission. My research on Epaphras Chapman (1788-1825) and the first mission team to the Osage Indians gives me a deeper appreciation for the Osage tribe in Oklahoma. There is some great history among the people, even a great Christian history, and their story is not well known. Thanks for your prayers for the young man I mention in the blog post who is sick. So far it seems that doctors are optimistic about a full recovery.
I realize that Dr. Bob White (Executive Director of the Georgia Baptist Convention) may be a friend of yours, and I do apologize if my post has been an inconvenience to you in any way. Frankly, the last three years have tempered me. I no longer can remain silent when I see people, churches or missionaries publicly humiliated, as I believe FBC Decatur is now being shamed in the press. I well remember the vote in the Capital Association long ago over "disfellowshipping" a church because the church ordained a few "women" deacons. At the time, I was opposed to the Associaton's motion to "disfellowship" First Baptist Church, but since I was not a member of the Capital Association, I did not make my opposition to the motion known. I do appreciate the fact that you voted against excluding the church from fellowship, and I even more appreciate your reason for doing so – you did not see forbidding women serving as deacons as a “clear” truth. I would concur. In fact, when I read of deaconess Phoebe and other women who “served” the church in Scripture, I find it hard to wriggle out of the New Testament concept of women deacons.
I also appreciate that the issue of women pastors is not as “foggy” for you. Frankly, up until about five years ago, I would have said the same thing about women pastors. I was quite dogmatic myself. I felt that “liberals” and those who denied the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word were the only ones advocating women pastors. I have since learned that there are many solid conservative evangelicals who believe that the Bible, under no circumstances, prohibits a female from pastoring a church, and there are even a growing number of solid, conservative evangelical theologians who believe the sacred text advocates women are gifted to serve in all capacities within the church, even pastors. Some of these conservative Christians who believe women can serve as pastors, and who also hold to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God, are men like John Zens (Are the Sisters Free to Function), theologian Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian (Beyond Sex Roles), and the ongoing ministry of Christians for Biblical Equality. CBE’s statement of faith on their website states the following about their belief in the Word of God:
We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.
You observe about me in your email, “I sense an openness to a woman senior pastor in your comments.” I think that what you may be actually observing in my writing is an openness to listen to Christian people who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but who also argue, from the Scripture, that women can be serve the church as pastors. I personally hold to the complementarian approach at this time, but I am seeking to demonstrate, as you did years ago, that Christian people can disagree on issues that may not be as clear as some suggest.
More pointedly, I would like to make a prediction. History will one day look back on this issue of “women” pastors in the SBC as we now look back on slavery within our Convention. The equality of gender in terms of the pastorate is something that I believe can be competently argued for from Scripture, just it was argued by some Southern Baptists in the 1845’s that the Bible teaches racial equality, even though most Southern Baptists at the time believed slavery was condoned, even advocated in the Bible. There are many verses that speak of gender and racial equality within the New Covenant, and for some to argue that the pastor’s office should be barred from women, just as some Southern Baptists once argued that blacks should be barred from citizenship, church membership and church offices, seems to me to be a denial of the overall spirit of the New Covenant. Though I would not personally lead my church to call a woman senior pastor for cultural reasons, I do not see it as a “moral” issue, or a “liberal” issue as I once did. Thus, there should be no “disfellowship” from churches who choose to call a female pastor.
Let me be clear though. I am not advocating that a church should call a woman as pastor. Nor am I advocating that a church should always and only call a male pastor. I am simply open to the arguments on both sides. I see my brothers and sisters in Christ on the opposite spectrum of this issue being both Bible-believing followers of Christ who have simply reached different conclusions on this issue. Could I change my mind about women pastors? Yes. Will I change my mind about women pastors? I don’t now. Maybe. Maybe not. But what I am advocating is that we don’t automatically assume that people are “liberal” simply because they believe the Bible places no prohibition on women pastors are liberal. I will also pointedly oppose any action by any of our Southern Baptist state conventions or the national convention, to disfellowship from a church that has chosen to call a woman as a pastor.
Frankly, I want my name on the books on this one. I will not stand by and be silent. A few years ago I might have been silent because I was unaware of the biblical arguments from the other side. In fact, I thought that some were “denying” the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, and the end result was “women” pastors. I no longer think that way. I haven’t changed my mind on the issue, I just simply see evangelical, conservative Christians who disagree, and do not believe we should separate. There are good, godly men and women are on both sides of this issue. And I think that we should learn to cooperate.
The middle ground is to let churches be autonomous. Let those churches who wish to have a female as their pastor call one, and don’t make a move to disfellowship from them. Let those churches that wish to believe that the “office” of pastor is reserved for the male only, call only male pastors. But let’s learn how to cooperate as a Convention because we believe in the same Christ, the same gospel, the same Bible. I really think if we focused on evangelism and missions and all the things we had in common, we would have very little time to point our fingers at others and accuse them of “liberalism” or “heresy.”
Finally, you mention in your email -
“I realize your point is not so much the fact that Julie Pennington-Russell is the woman pastor but that if they [the Georgia Baptist Convention] are going to disfellowship the church then integrity for you would be to separate period.”
You are absolutely correct. Disfellowship is to undo the “koinonia.” It is to say, “We have nothing in common.” Yet, Dr. White privately told Pennington-Russell that he would come to her church and help them when the Holy Spirit moved on the church and people were being “saved.” If you are going to say that FBC has nothing in common with the Georgia Baptist Convention, then the leader of the Georgia Baptist Convention had better make no such private, personal promise unless he intends to stand by it – which means then that he should FIGHT against the disfellowship because he believes he has something in common with FBC Decatur.
Bottom line, Southern Baptists too often pronounce judgment and condemnation before we dialogue, reflect and consider the consequences of our anathemas. I am simply asking for dialogue, patience and Christian grace. Let’s cooperate, not separate. We unite because of Christ and the glorious gospel, and we fund our kingdom work through the Cooperative Program. If we keep moving down the line toward of disfellowshipping from churches that interpret the Bible different than we do, then we ought to change the Cooperative Program’s name to the Conformity Program. If we don’t stop the nonsense of narrower and narrower parameters of fellowship and cooperation, then pretty soon the SBC will be the size of a mega church and not the largest Protestant denomination in the western world.
I, too, am sad about having to report on the sad state of a sister Southern Baptist Church. However, it is necessary. Nobody would ever grasp the inconsistencies of a Convention disfellowshipping from a church over who is called as their pastor unless I was specific. A Baptist convention can’t “disfellowship” churches for calling a pastor who doesn’t meet one of our interpretative qualifications for pastors (male) without “disfellowshipping” from other churches who call pastors who don’t meet even clearer biblical qualifications for pastors (gentleness, self-discipline, etc . . . ), or we display an extraordinary inconsistency. Of course, the answer to the dilemma is to be consistent in letting autonomous churches practice their autonomy and quit interfering. That’s the Baptist way.
I hope this email clarifies what I am thinking. I am hopeful that you will see the value of not ending up on the wrong side of this issue of women pastors. The wrong side is not complementarian or egalitarian. The wrong side is demanding that churches, of which you and I are not members, be either one or the other.
In His Grace,