Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Biblical Primer on Women in Christian Ministry

With permission from the original author, I am reproducing here a paper sent to me by my father and written by a 2007 graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The paper will be presented on this blog throughout this Passion Week in seven parts. Proponents from both sides of the women in ministry issue are often guilty of using it as a “litmus test” of conservative Christianity. Differences of interpretation in this matter ought never be a cause for separation in Christian fellowship as some have sought to make it. The author of this paper believes that "Southern Baptist individuals or groups have perfect freedom, under the lordship of Christ and their liberty to interpret Scripture, to favor or oppose the ordination of women as they feel the Scipture warrants. However, such individuals and groups have no freedom to impose their views and practices upon all Southern Baptists or to announce their preference as “the” Southern Baptist position." Ordainers and nonordainers can and should be in full fellowship." History may not treat the SBC in a favorable light if we do not come to terms with the fact that Scripture does not outright prohibit women in ministry just as Scripture did not outright prohibit slavery. One must infer in order to arrive at a position, as this paper will illustrate. The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message states that a 'woman' may not serve as a 'Senior Pastor,' but the 2000 BFM committee made it clear they were not opposing the ordination of women, nor women serving in other ministry vocations. Even then, a confession of faith is not an official creed. In no way does it replace the authority of the Bible, nor was it intended to do so. The seventh and final segment of this paper will contain information about the author.

A Biblical and Historical Primer on Women in Southern Baptist Ministry Based On a Conservative View of Holy Scripture - Part 1.

It must first be stated that there is no uniform doctrine of ordination in Scripture. The word, cheirotonein, “to appoint,” is used in Acts 14:23 of the choice of elders. In 2 Cor. 8:19, Titus is appointed by the churches to travel with Paul and others. The original meaning of cheirotonein, “to choose, to elect by raising hands,” is seldom seen in the literature of the first few centuries. Cheirotovein is used of election in Josephus, but it is divine election: Saul is said to be king by the appointment of God.

Josephus also employs it in speaking of appointments to the priesthood. Philo uses cheirotonein of the election of jurymen, and of Pharaoh’s appointment of Joseph as a governor. The religious use of Cheirotobein prepared the word for its use in Christianity; the association with the divine choice was an important factor in the gradual replacement in ecclesiastical literature of xathistemi with cheirotoneo. Thus we read in the Didache: “Appoint [cheirotone] therefore for yourselves bishops and deacons. …” Ignatius used the cheirotoneio of the selection of officials to go on a mission to Antioch. There is no suggestion in any of these texts that the laying on of hands occurred in connection with these appointments.

Epititheio tas cheiras, to lay hands on, occurs five times in Acts in constructions that might be construed as indicating induction into ecclesiastical office through the laying on of hands: 6:1-6 (the Seven); 8:14-25 (the Samaritans); 9:10-18 (the conversion of Saul); 13:1-3 (Paul and Barnabas); and 19:1-7 (the Ephesian Twelve).”

When taken as proof-texts for formulating theological positions on baptism, confirmation, ordination, or the reception of spiritual gifts, these verses have proved to be manageable only if treated selectively, that is, only if some are ignored completely or are dismissed as not pertinent to the doctrine in question. Confusion over the teaching of Acts 19:1-7 is evident in the writings of Tertullian. By the third century, baptism and confirmation were becoming separate rights based on the interpretation of Acts 8:14-25; 9:10-18; and 19:1-7, as teaching two phases to Christian initiation. Acts 8:17 and 19:1-7 are still cited in support of confirmation, ordination, and the “second blessing” doctrine of Pentecostalism.
In defending or explaining their ordination rites, denominations generally quote one or two texts at the most. Baptists generally cite Acts 13:1-3, ignoring other texts in which the laying on of hands occurs. Those who favor a Presbyterian form of church government stress 1 Tim. 4:14; they may acknowledge Acts 6:6; 13:3; and 1 Tim. 5:22, but usually ignore 1 Tim. 1:6 or conflate it with 1 Tim. 4:14.

In traditional ecclesiastical thought, the ordained ministry serves a representative role within the church, summing up and presenting that ministry which comes from Christ through the church by the gift and power of the Spirit. It consists of “leaders” of the people of God who have received a special call and who have been given a special gift from the Holy Spirit to help the rest carry on the work of the Church more effectively.

It must be noted that the Bible gives no specific instructions as to whether women should or should not be ordained. Indeed, there is no clear mandate in the New Testament for the ordination of anyone. The writers of the New Testament simply did not view ordination as we do today. Basically what we see in the Bible is the recognition that a person possessed certain spiritual gifts that were necessary to do a specific needed job. The church then commissioned that person by the laying on of hands, at that time, for that specific task. A specific task could be anything from distributing food to widows to accompaniment on a missionary journey to a life time of service in a church office. In its simplest form, ordination could be defined as the church’s symbolic recognition of what the Holy Spirit has done or is doing. More on this later.

History and Confessions

At this time it is appropriate that we delve into the history of ordination as it specifically concerns Baptists in general and women in particular. It is helpful to understand our current positions in light of our past positions. The bulk of the material covered comes from McBeth’s Women in Baptist Life and Lumpkin’s Baptist Confessions of Faith.

The contrast between Baptist life today and in our past is striking. In 1885 women were excluded from the Southern Baptist Convention. For nearly a hundred years, women were not permitted to serve as messengers to the meetings of the conventions. For many more years they were not allowed to serve as trustees of the agencies or officers of the convention. In 1963 a woman was elected vice-president of the SBC, and in 1978 women composed 42 percent of its messengers. In 1901 a few women were allowed to sit in the back of the classroom at Southern Baptists’ only seminary, but they could not raise questions or write exams, and they could not receive degrees. In 1977 our six seminaries had more than sixteen hundred women students, plus women trustees, and women faculty, including at least two ordained ministers. It has been reported that about 1,300 Southern Baptist women today are ordained ministers.

From our earliest history Baptists had women deacons and deaconesses. Perhaps the earliest recorded comment on the role of Baptist women was by John Smyth, founder of the first identifiable Baptist church of modern history. In a 1609 work entitled Parallels, Censures, Observations, Smyth wrote that “the Church hath powre to Elect, approve & ordeyne her owne Elders, also: to elect, approve, & ordeine her owne Deacons both men & woemen.” The context shows that Smyth’s emphasis was on the power of a local congregation to ordain elders (pastors) and deacons. Ordination did not require the authority of a bishop. However, he clearly acknowledged the place of women deacons as well as men deacons. As early as 1607, before he led his church to adopt believer’s baptism, Smyth has expressed similar views. In a work entitled Principles and Inferences Concerning the Visible Church, he described the officers of a church and their duties: “The Deacons are officers occupied about works of mercy respecting the body or outward man … The Deacons are 1. men 2. women deacons or widowes. Act. 6, 2. Rom. 16,1 … Weomen deacons or widowes are of 60 yeeres of age, qualified according to the Apostles rule. 1 Tim. 5.9, releeving the bodily infirmities of the Saints with cheerfulness.” In The Short Confession of Faith In XX Articles By John Smyth, we see, interestingly, that the document was signed by forty-two individuals, 18 of which were women.
The earliest Baptists accepted women deacons. Apparently these women deacons were equal with the men deacons, with the same election, ordination, and duties. The respected Presbyterian minister Thomas Edwards described Baptist growth in England as a form of “spiritual gangrene.” One of his major accusations is that Baptists allow women to preach.

From this evidence, it is clear that Baptist women did preach in England in the early days of the denomination. It is also clear that most English churchmen found the practice appalling (along with Believer’s Baptism). Nevertheless Baptists opened the way for women preaching. For their views on the ministry, the English Baptists went directly to the Bible for their authority. Those women who preached and those men who allowed it thought they found adequate scriptural teaching and precedent.

In the earliest Baptist confessions, women were recognized as deacons, not deaconesses. For some people these were apparently convenient designations for men and women who performed the same task. This designation is entirely appropriate, as we shall see later. The Anabaptist Waterland Confession of 1580 is the first “Baptist” Confession to refer to ordination. The Confession speaks of the ministries to be exercised in the church, the order which is to be observed in the church about ministries, how the election to those ministries is accomplished, and the confirmation to the ministries. But the document does not take gender into consideration when assigning roles. Likewise the Baptist True Gospel-Faith of 1654 and the Baptist Standard Confession of 1660. Interestingly, 40 signatures are assigned to The Standard Confession, none of which were women. Likewise with the Second London Confession of 1677. The Mennonite Dordredcht Confession of 1632 gives a similar statement of belief but acknowledges the ministries of deaconesses and widows. Likewise with the English Declaration At Amsterdam of 1611. The Pioneer English Separatist-Baptist True Confession of 1596 is interesting in that it holds the 1 Timothy prohibition of “usurping authority” as applying to all but those called by the Church for ministry. Similarly, the ability to minister is given both to men and women.

Dan Taylor of the New Connection churches said:
“When a church undertakes anything of peculiar importance or difficulty in which the women may have occasion to be concerned; or to the expense of which the women may have occasion to be concerned; or to the expense of which they may have a call to contribute; or in the good, or bad effects of which they may be, at least, as much interested as the men are; it is right they should give their voice in it, and their advice concerning it; and it appears to be intolerant not to allow them this privilege.”

In early America some Baptist churches had deaconesses and elderesses. Morgan Edwards, who in the 1760’s served as pastor of First Baptist, Philadelphia, made several tours of the American colonies and reported on the progress and customs of Baptist churches. His book, Customs of Primitive Churches in 1774, shows that many of the Baptist churches had both deaconesses and elderesses; he also sought to defend the practice from the Bible. The work of elderesses he says: “consists in praying, and teaching in their separate assemblies … consulting with sisters about matters of the church which concern them, and representing their sense thereof to the elders; attending at the unction of sick sisters, and at the baptism of women, that all may be done orderly.” Apparently some of the American churches made the distinction between elderesses (“elder women” of 1 Tim. 5:2) and deaconesses (Rom. 16:1) and widows (1 Tim. 5:9). Edwards went to great lengths to defend the biblical authority for elderesses and deaconesses. Their election and ordination, he says, is much like that of deacons and elders. “The office of deaconess,” he said, “is of divine original and perpetual continuance in the church. It is the same in general with the office of deacon.

The Separate Baptists of the South, who formed the spiritual, theological, evangelical, and organizational basis for the Southern Baptist Convention. However, in one area Southern Baptists have generally not followed the Separates, and that is in the role of women in church. Separate Baptist women assumed a larger church role. The Separate churches regularly ordained deaconesses and elderesses. The most notorious aspect of Separate life, however, was not the deaconesses but the popularity of women preachers among them.

The Regular Baptists of the South allowed none of these privileges to women and looked askance at the Separates for doing so. Robert A. Baker in his The Southern Baptist Convention and its People 1672-1972 cites as major obstacle to the union of Baptists in the South, “the extensive ministry of women in the services” of Separates.
After the merger of Regular and Separates, certain traits of each survived. Unfortunately, Separate Baptist tradition concerning the role of women did not survive in the new group. After about 1800, one reads no more about Baptist women preachers in the South, though more often of deaconesses .Women generally did not speak out or testify in church, and in some churches women were not allowed to vote.

Yet, in 1846, one year after the Southern Baptist Convention was formed, R. B. C. Howell published an important book on The Deaconship, Its Nature, Qualifications, Relations, and Duties. Howell was a leading Southern Baptist, an architect of the Convention, and a writer of note whose influence among Southern Baptists was vast. Howell shows from the New Testament that early churches had deaconesses, citing Scripture from Romans 16:1, 1 Timothy 5:9-10, 1 Timothy 3:11, and others. Howell concludes: “Take all these passages together, and I think it will be difficult for us to resist the conclusion that the word of God authorizes, and in some sense, certainly by implication, enjoins the appointment of deaconesses in churches of Christ. …. Deaconesses, therefore, are everywhere, as necessary as they were in the days of the apostles.” As to the role of deaconesses, Howell argued that they were “female assistants to the deacons. … and their duty required them to minister to females, under circumstances in which it would have been manifestly improper that the other sex should have been employed.” While their moral qualifications were the same as for deacons, the deaconesses did have a different status in Howell’s mind, for “deaconesses were not, as deacons are, formally ordained.”

J. R, Graves, sometimes called “the most influential Southern Baptist who ever lived” was the primary founder of the Landmark movement, an ultraconservative movement among Southern Baptists in the nineteenth century. In an article on “Woman’s Work in the Church,” Graves said: “There is no doubt in the minds of Biblical and ecclesiastical scholars, that in the apostolic churches women occupied the office of the deaconship … Phoebe was a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea.” Graves concludes that “There is no good reason why saintly women should not fill the office of deaconess to-day in most churches. In fact, they often perform the duties of the office without the name.

B.H. Carroll was the long-time pastor of the First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, where he had women deacons. In his discussion of 1 Timothy 2:8 to 3:13, he questioned that the word we usually translate “wives” (meaning wives of deacons) meant that at all. The context, according to Carroll, “required the rendering: ‘women deacons’.” He also said, “The Waco church of which I was pastor for so many years, had, by my suggestion and approval, a corps of spiritually minded, judicious female deacons who were very helpful, and in some delicate cases indispensable.
The evidence suggests that while women did not officially serve as minsisters in the nineteenth century, many Southern Baptists approved of deaconesses and regarded the offices as biblical.

Charles DeWeese points out that in the early years of Baptist life the deacon and deaconess ministered directly to people’s needs, but with the coming of the industrial revolution, gradually the work of the Baptist deacon shifted from ministry to management. He says “the diaconal function began to be viewed more and more in administrative, business, and management categories to the neglect of the more caring and supporting ministries.” Since women in America were not generally involved in secular business management, the churches were unwilling to put them into this role. The office of deaconess declined therefore because the office of deacon changed from ministry to management. MacBeth argues that part of the recent revival of deaconesses and women deacons may be “a result of a shift back toward the ministering concept of deacons.”

There are many reasons for the shift toward women ministers. Many Southern Baptists are unaware that women once exercised more church roles that they have in the past hundred years. Today’s resurgence of women to places of leadership in Southern Baptist churches and in the SBC may look more radical than actually is. It is one thing to discuss theoretically the leadership roles of the women in ministry when few women are prepared for the roles and fewer still desire them. However, when churches have an abundance of women eager and able to effectively serve, the question ceases to be theoretical.

McBeth makes the brilliant observation that the other reason for the increased role of Southern Baptist women is our expanded concept of ministry. There was a time when in Southern Baptist life “ministry” meant either becoming a preacher or a missionary. Those were the only roles available for a minister. Today roles for ministry have vastly expanded. Our churches today have ministers of education, ministers of music, ministers to youth, ministers to the aged, ministers of administration and finance. Other ministers serve as counselors or chaplains in hospitals, industry, retirement homes, the military, or schools. Most Southern Baptist women who are now engaged in the ministry are in nonpreaching and nonpastoral roles. Without the expansion in our concept of ministry, it is doubtful whether there would be as many Southern Baptist women in the ministry.

That the expansion of ministry roles has led to the expansion of roles for women has not gone unnoticed by those unaware of the history of Baptists. Many “traditionalists” (though not complementarians) have attempted to push back the recent work of women in the ministry. On January 16, 1983, the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City voted 232 to 167 to allow women to become deacons. According to Baptist tradition, which had always gloried in the local church autonomy, the decision should have been nobody’s business but that of First Baptist Church. That was not the case, for its actions set off a controversy in the Capital Baptist Association. Bailey Smith, immediate past president of the SBC, was among those who condemned First Baptist Church for ordaining women as deacons. In 1994, the First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, North Carolina, was expelled from the Ashe Baptist Association for ordaining a woman deacon. In 2001, the ordination of a woman minister of education and students at Parkview Baptist Church in Gainsville, FL sparked a dispute within the Santa Fe River Baptist Association. Three churches alleged that the Gainesville congregation is out of fellowship with the Association and called for its removal. The churches say that the ordination goes against the new Baptist Faith and Message statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention the year before. The faith statement reads in part, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." While members of the committee drafting the new language said it was intended to address only women as senior pastors, some are reading it as applying to all ordained ministers.
Regardless of our confessions and creeds, we must first understand what the Scriptures teach before we begin to break fellowship.


Anonymous said...

"Basically what we see in the Bible is the recognition that a person possessed certain spiritual gifts that were necessary to do a specific needed job. The church then commissioned that person by the laying on of hands, at that time, for that specific task. "

Basically? They commissioned a person? Is there one example of a woman in the New Testament where the Church laid hands on or comissioned a female? One?

When obvious spin is noted in an article, it makes all of the research about historical documents etc in question.

Bart Barber said...

B.H. Carroll did not have "women deacons" at FBC Waco; the church had deaconnesses. Their ministry was limited strictly to other women. They couldn't even vote in business meeting.

The most fundamentalist church in the SBC today offers greater liberty to women than did FBC Waco under B. H. Carroll

Bart Barber said...

Re-reading, I see that the context of the section allows for precisely what I have noted—that Carroll's version of "women deacons" existed within a strict system of male headship.

Steve said...

What are you challenging here? Why, next, you're gonna tell Southerners it's okay to drive a Toyota pick-up or something. If it never happened since our grandpappies were in charge, that means it never should happen. This all started when they took the Lord's caffeine out of coffee.
If women could minister to people, why, that would mean they could become the leading trainer of religion in the h - oh, uh,... never mind.

Jamie said...

I'm in no way qualified to enter this discussion, but I will try nonetheless.

Whereas it may have been the consensus view of the Anabaptists, they and Baptists are vastly different creatures. I would say it's questionable whether it is even justifiable to say Southern Baptists directly come from the Anabaptist tradition. Even if we were to make the connection between these earlier traditions and modern Baptists, then we must take into account the plethora of groups which fell into the Anabaptist tradition. Outside of holding to believer's baptism, there are few doctrines (both orthodox and heterodox) that cannot be found to be held by some strand of Anabaptists at some point in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Furthermore, using Smythe to justify whether or not a view should be accepted by Baptists is somewhat dangerous. Smythe's doctrines, despite being uniquely baptistic, would not have been acceptable to those who founded the Southern Baptist Convention, and not merely in regards to the ordination of women. If we are to be honest with the past, Smythe was more of a baptistic Mennonite than a Baptist.

Even those who followed more in Smythe's line of Baptist history (General Baptists) were clear in this regard. Consider the General Baptist Confession of 1660 (which you incorrectly said does not use gender specific language in this regard), which says clearly "through the free and voluntary help of the Deacons, (called Overseers of the poor) being faithful men, chosen by the Church, and ordained by Prayer and Laying on of Hands."

Other documents are just as clear. For instance, the First London Confession of 1646 which states that those able to administer baptism are disciples "being men who are able to preach the gospel."

But what of the confessions such as the London Baptist Confession of 1689 or the New Hampshire Confession which are not so masculine in nature? They put the qualifications simply to be those whom the church deems qualified to lead, according to the word of God. I believe that the lack of masculine terminology in these confessions does not arise out of an acceptance for ordained women in ministry, but instead out of an accepted belief among the churches that the role of pastor and deacon was clearly outlined in Scripture as being for men. My reasoning is simply that if the lack of masculine wording was due to an acceptance of ordained women serving in these roles, then there would have been historical occurrences among the English Separatist Baptists from which our modern Baptists do have a direct lineage.

As a side note, I do not believe it is fair historically to pin the Southern Separates against the Regulars and suggest that more of our spiritual heritage as Southern Baptists came from the Separates, for as you know, we are a strong mix of both, and most of us would be uncomfortable describing ourselves as part of either distinct group, for they both have good and bad.

My last thing to mention is that there is a huge difference between a deacon and a deaconess and that distinction is not clear in your article. Throughout much of the history of Baptists, including the modern era, there have been women who have been called out to work specifically with other women in a leadership capacity. These women serve, teach and minister to the needs of other women. In many of the early Baptist documents that refer to deaconesses, this is what is in mind. Not preaching, not leading a church, not serving as an ordained deacon, but as a deaconess. If this role of deaconess is what you are arguing for, then I will argue alongside you because our churches need more women in leadership positions willing to serve other women. If you mean something more than this, and thus something more than many of the documents and leaders (such as B.H. Carroll) that you quoted, then I cannot stand alongside you, due to my convictions based on history and Scripture.

Only By His Grace said...

Jamie, Oops Ranger, but I changed nothing,

You really need to get on eBay to purchase, "The Anabaptist Story" by William Estep who taught Church History at Southwestern Baptist Th. Seminary for years. Until you read that remarkable work, you have not really read anything on Anabaptist and Baptist.

Anabaptist mutated when they went to England. Our whole theology of Separation of Church and State, baptism by immersion comes from men such as Balthasar Hubmier, Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock, Meno Simmons, John Hutter and others.

The Puritan and Calvinist never mixed up Baptist on Separation of Church and State until the Revolutionary War which is the first war sanctioned by the pacifist Baptist. The other denominations (Presbyterians, Congregationalist, Lutherans and Roman Catholics) malign the Anabaptist because they murdered about four hindered to six hundred thousand of them in a hundred year period. It is another church history story that no one cares to read about, but it is our story.

The United States and Canada have been the only countries with a history older than two hundred years that have not killed murdered the Amish, Mennonites, Swiss Brethren and Hutterites along with Jews. They love to call them radical reformers because of the connotations just as Roman Catholics called the Reformers radicals. They love to take the small minor groups and make out as if they are the typical of Anabaptist, they are not: such men and groups as the Munsterites, the Zwickau Prophets, John Lieden and Thomas Munster. The above founders mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph rejected these men and groups having nothing to do with them.

The Anabaptist have fled this country en mass at times because we were putting them in prison due to the fact they would not pay taxes during war time, but kept their taxes in escrow until the war was over and then given to the government. Thousands fled to Canada during WW I.

Fleeing Amsterdam to England then to France and back to England the "Ana" dropped off, but theology changed very little except the Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites tried to freeze the sixteenth century much like the Muslims have tried to freeze the eighth century.

Just as there is an Armenian tilt with Baptist as in the old General Baptist through Meno Simmons, there is a Calvinist tilt toward Calvin and Zwingli through Hubmeir and the Swiss Brethren as seen in the old Particular Baptist.

I think Estep's work should be a mandatory study by every Baptist minister before ordination. We might have a lot less secular politicians in the pulpit parading as pastors, and lot less of them acting like they are second coming of Oliver Cromwell.

One DM or Th.D. dissertation I would like to read is when Baptist owned the first slaves, I know the founders of Southern Seminary did, but when is it recorded that it was okay for Baptist to own a human being. That would be a profitable and profound study. Maybe someone can point me to someone or that a no for our doctrinal students?

Phil in Norman.

Lin said...

"I think Estep's work should be a mandatory study by every Baptist minister before ordination. We might have a lot less secular politicians in the pulpit parading as pastors, and lot less of them acting like they are second coming of Oliver Cromwell."

I agree. Another book should be "Step Children of the Reformation" by Leonard Verduin.

Alyce Faulkner said...

Churches don't offer liberty-God does.
I live and thrive in the liberty of Christ.
I move in my calling by the liberty of Christ.
i must be the most naive 60-year old in the SBC, but I still don't understand what is so frightening about a women serving as a deacon, leader, teacher.
And I don't vote in business meetings. Neither does my husband. Oh how I long to see Jesus lifted up as Head of the Church.
Thanks again Wade, for stirring the pot.
Wait,... stirring the pot, isn't that something my gender should be doing?

Rex Ray said...

Cardinal Hosius (Catholic, 1524), President of the Council of Trent: "Were it not that the Baptists have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in greater number than all the Reformers." (Hosius, Letters, Apud Opera, pp. 112, 113.)

Sir Isaac Newton: "The Baptists are the only body of known Christians that have never symbolized with Rome."

Mosheim (Lutheran): "Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay secreted in almost all the countries of Europe persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of modern Dutch Baptists."

Edinburg Cyclopedia (Presbyterian): "It must have already occurred to our readers that the Baptists are the same sect of Christians that were formerly described as Ana-Baptists. Indeed this seems to have been their leading principle from the time of Tertullian to the present time."
Tertullian was born just fifty years after the death of the Apostle John.

“Baptists do not believe in Apostolic Succession. The Apostolic office ceased with the death of the Apostles. It is to His churches that He promised a continual existence from the time He organized the first one during His earthly ministry until He comes again. He promised-- "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)” (Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll)

Through the eyes of Jesus, from beginning to end, women cannot be seen as unsuited, unworthy, or incapable of accomplishing anything God calls them to do, and that included teaching the Apostles.
Who are we to tell God what he cannot do?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post being shared. It is frustrating that we humans get so caught up in the muck and mud over these types of issues rather than the good news of Jesus Christ, but I suppose that is part of our groaning until His return.

I understand that you have an audience who does base some of their beliefs on baptist history, and that this is a scholarly work in a baptist seminary, but from my perspective it seems silly - especially when the title of the post is a "biblical" primer. It would be like saying that polygamy or slavery was good enough for X or Y and they were good Christian brothers so therefore it's good enough for me.

It makes for great distractions for many commenters here, apparently. Those who simply want to disagree with you have lots of history to argue with, as though the history is key to the post. If any of the history is wrong, then, voila, I've proved the wwhole post wrong and therefore need not really seek the Lord about what has been written.

I do think history and context matters in reading the scripture, although the most important aspect is the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of the character and nature of God. I think that knowing some of the human context can help us understand what is normative versus what is not. Most importantly, however, as to what is normative is the character and nature of God. If our interpretation of scripture does not comport with the character and nature of God then we need to reinterpret. Those who argued for slavery based on scripture are an excellent example of how this works.

I look forward to future installments.

Anonymous said...

I was not priveleged to have Dr. Estep whenever I was at Southwestern as he had already retired. I was priveleged to take some of my history classes under Dr. Leon McBeth, who also argued for our Anabaptist origins.

I will freely admit my biases. I am a Calvinist and as such, more easily align theologically with the English and Colonial Particular Baptists. As such, I have read much of my Baptist history through Particular Baptist eyes. I think it would be fair to say that the founding leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention would have aligned theologically more with their Particular Baptist forefathers than they would have with Shubal Stearns and Sandy Creek. But reading the works of the leadership alone by no means gives a clear or complete picture of the early convention, and I freely admit that the early convention had many, many churches coming from the Sandy Creek tradition. It is also because of these biases and my readings of those in this strand of Baptist history that I see a clearer connection between the English Separatists and Particular Baptists with the Southern Baptist Convention.

As I said in my previous post, I'm not qualified to discuss these things as I have only studied Baptist history in formal settings for the past nine years and many, if not most of you, have studied it much longer and have the degrees to prove it. Therefore, I am very thankful to be given suggestions for further study and reading. Thanks so much for the Estep suggestion, and if I can find a way to get it shipped to where I live then I will gladly have it shipped over!

I think that Bryan Riley also makes a fine point in his response. Ultimately, history is full of humans who have made sinful errors and wrong interpretations. As such, may we all submit to the Spirit's guidance and the word of God, and lead our churches to do the same in these matters. said...


You, my friend, are the kind of complementarian that our convention needs. Thanks for your spirit.

Anonymous said...

"History may not treat the SBC in a favorable light if we do not come to terms with the fact that Scripture does not outright prohibit women in ministry just as Scripture did not outright prohibit slavery."

I don't think we should worry much about how history treats the SBC, as much as we should fear how the Lord will treat us if we continue to drift from his Word.

"The author of this paper believes that "Southern Baptist individuals or groups have perfect freedom, under the lordship of Christ and their liberty to interpret Scripture, to favor or oppose the ordination of women as they feel the Scipture warrants. However, such individuals and groups have no freedom to impose their views and practices upon all Southern Baptists or to announce their preference as “the” Southern Baptist position."

The writer of this blog entry believes that the messengers of the SBC get to make those decisions... and have. Thus they are the "official" SBC positions... like it or not.

Joe W.

Unknown said...

One thing that really jumped out at me in the post was this quote, about the role of deaconnesses:
"their duty required them to minister to females, under circumstances in which it would have been manifestly improper that the other sex should have been employed.”

Women like to go talk to people who we know have sound biblical knowledge, too. In a time when, according to some statistics, as much as 14% of all Baptist pastors have admitted to some sort of improper sexual behavior with female congregants, (but if there has been such a study done on deacons, I don't know it) it seems to make sense for there to be women in ministry posititons for women to go to!

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I served in a community that had two baptist churches, one of which I was the pastor. There were also several other churches fo varius denominations in the community. They were all a part of a ministerial alliance of churches. On September 11 (the evening of)I was contacted by the woman pastor of one of our community's churches about a community prayer service planned for that evening. She was upset about the fact that the pastor of the other Baptist church (where the meeting would be held) would not allow her to take part because she was a woman pastor because he did'nt believe in that. So I went over with her to see him and ask if we could work something out. He informed us that we could not and she would not be welcome to sit on the platform as a pastor.I encouraged her to have a meeting at her church and I would bring my church over and the other churches as well. So that's what we did. This kind of thinking is ecactly why a dialouge such as the one Wade is encouraging is needed.

Tom Parker said...

Joe W.

My prayer is that the SBC position on women will change someday soon.

Lin said...

"I don't think we should worry much about how history treats the SBC, as much as we should fear how the Lord will treat us if we continue to drift from his Word."

My fear is that women are not telling men about the saving Grace of Jesus Christ because they fear they will be in sin if they do because of what they have been taught.

Anonymous said...

Whether men or churches ordain women or not, God has ordained women to do a great number of things throughout all of time. In some ways it seems amazing that there is still argument on this issue; in other ways it continues to show our humanity and God's greatness.

Big Daddy Weave said...


I'm actually writing a rearch paper that addresses Estep's thesis. However, Estep's arguments are largely ignored by most Baptist historians (and maybe rightfully so). Why do you think that is the case, Phil?


You need to re-read McBeth. His view of Baptist Beginning is quite different from Estep. He definitely does not play up Anabaptist influence like Estep. Here's from page 21 of The Baptist Heritage:

"The modern Baptist denomination oiginated in England and Holland in the early 17th century. Baptists emerged out of intense reform movements, shaped by such radical dissent as Puritanism, Separatism, and POSSIBLY Anabaptism."

Estep would never use the word POSSIBLY to describe Anabaptist influence/origins.

Unknown said...

Tom Parker,

I agree with you. I too pray that the SBC position on women will change soon. I get the feeling that both the 1998 addition to the BF&M about wives submitting to husbands and the line in the 2000 BF&M about women pastors was politically motivated.

Rex Ray said...

Joe W.
You said, “The writer of this blog believes that the messengers of the SBC get to make those decisions…and have. Thus they are the ‘official’ SBC positions…like it or not.”

I didn’t know you were the official spokesman for Wade. We all know the messengers of the SBC make the decisions of the SBC.

1. Why did the committee for the BFM meet behind closed doors?
2. Why was the BFM kept secret from SBC churches and its messengers?
3. Why was the committee such a small number?
4. Why was the committee hand picked by Patterson instead of presidents of the state conventions? (With his view of women, it’s a wonder the BFM doesn’t require women to wear hats in church.)

Just as you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, the large conventions of Texas and Virginia will not accept the BFM 2000…like it or not.

Only By His Grace said...


Thank you so much for your most gracious response. I fear I have a tendency to speak or write in hyperbole, and for that I apologize.

I was fortunate to have two wonderful history professors at OBU (Oklahoma OBU) from 61-65 in Dr. Alan Johnson and Dr. John Eighmy and three wonderful ones at SWBTS from 66-70 in Dr. Will Estep, Dr. Robert Baker and Dr. Leon McBeth.

Of all the wonderful professors I had at OBU and at SWTS, I place Dr. Estep (Hist.) in the top seven with Dr. Johnson (Hist), Mr. Gregory Prichard (Phil. the greatest teacher I ever had in my life and the most brilliant of all), Dr. Curtis Vaughan (Gr. and NT), Dr. Katherine Rader (Eng. Lit), Mr. William Mitchell (Eng. Lit), and Ms Quanita Kidd (HS Eng.). I will never be able to describe nor repay what they taught me about life and the love for learning. I hope I remember their first names correctly.

Wade, Thank you for this web and thanks for this excellent subject.

Phil in Norman.

Only By His Grace said...


Leonard Verduin's book is an excellent recomendation which I still enjoy reading.

Phil in Norman

Only By His Grace said...

Big Daddy,

I have no idea. I know the man was both godly and wonderfully prepared for every lecture I sat under. The answer is not whether the he is looked on as a great authority for as he contradicts many of the reformer and RCC historians, but does he back up his work with research and footnotes them correctly? I ask you to read the book to search and see for yourself.

I know he took a year off (sabbatical) to spend at Wittenberg working most of the museums and great libraries in Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and England.

I am a sixty-seven year old student and make no claims to being a scholar.

Sorry to get back so late.


WatchingHISstory said...

I was raised a Pentecostal, Wesleyan Holiness type. My mom and dad were a type of Mary and Joseph, cept dad is still living.(83 yo)
Dad was a hard working man quite and uneducated. He worked in the shoe factory. He never can overcome the temptation to fall asleep in Church. I hold him in the highest esteem, head and sholders above any man I know.

My mon is the 'spiritual one' in the family. Embarrassed as I was by her spirituality, my memories of her, she is still living, are her rising to her feet in a worship service speaking in tongues and then crying and trembling she would utter something like "listen people, get right with God, Jesus is comming and you need to get right with God." It would go on week after week, year after year during my growing years. Uncle Sam took that away from me in 1966.

But when mom did that folks would rush to the altar and get right. Pastors recognized the move of God and followed her lead. Nobody barked like a dog, at least when I was there, and I didn't hear everything. (My Baptist pastor said people in those churches are slain to the floor and bark like dogs. I haven't asked him for documentation on that, yet)

People got saved, healed and ministered to in embarrassing ways. Countless marriages were saved. Hatred turned to love, confusion turned to tranquility, young men surrendered their lust and desires, Church crises were resolved and her son became a Calvinist!

Yes, bold, Spirit Filled and evangelistic! Now by the providence of God I attend a Baptist Church. What a leap! From a Pentecostal, Wesleyan, to a Baptist and they don't know Calvinism nor Pentecostalism. (strangely, they seem to understand Wesleyanism - I haven't understood that yet)

I occasionally get to see my mom and tell her about my church and she just smiles and says "I hope they are filled with the Spirit." I tell her I am Calvinist and she smiles and says "God loves Catholics too." She can't hear too well and I say louder, "mom, I'm a Calvinist." She just smiles. What a woman!

WatchingHISstory said...

My post about my Dad and Mom are om my blog with pictures of them.

They are dear to me.

Charles Page
Collierville, Tennessee

Anonymous said...

Rex Rey,

Actually I said... "The writer of this blog ENTRY..." Perhaps I should have said... blog comment. I felt is pretty obvious I was speaking for myself and not Wade, but here is the clarification you need.

As far as the Texas and Virginia conventions go... it really does not matter if they accept it or not. The messengers have spoken, and the BFM of 2000 is the official SBC positions as a whole.

Funny thing... some people argue till they are blue in the face about the "Will" of the convention on motions they like (i.e. Garner)... but reject the "Will" of the convention on others.

At least I find it funny...
Joe W.

Bill said...

I don't want to hijack the thread, but since we're on the BFM 2000, does anyone find it odd or troubling that the BFM lists the biblical office as Pastors and Deacons and not Elders and Deacons? Do you think the controversy over women and authority in general would be different if most congregations were elder-led rather than pastor ruled?

WatchingHISstory said...


Go over to

Read our exchange. Join in the fun!

your friend

Lin said...

"The messengers have spoken, and the BFM of 2000 is the official SBC positions as a whole."

Joe, Do you interpret the BF&M as saying a women cannot teach men in a seminary or a para church organization?

Lin said...

Do you think the controversy over women and authority in general would be different if most congregations were elder-led rather than pastor ruled?

17 March, 2008

Funny you should say that. I have seen quite a few 'elder RULED' churches in my time. :o)

Anonymous said...


Here is what the BF&M says concerning women preachers. I think it is clear... "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Here is what the BF&M says concerning Christian Education. I do not think it is as clear, but I can see where that interpretation comes from... "The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists."

Joe W.

Bill said...


Point taken. Honestly I'm not too hung up on the word "rule", but I think many of the problems churches have with pastoral authority is because we tend to think of the office of pastor as singular, and so all authority is vested in that person. And so even if a church is elder-ruled rather than elder-led, it is a better situation than the singular office of pastor. I believe the scripture teaches that churches should be led by a plurality of elders. I believe at least one of those elders should have the spiritual gift of being a pastor. I don't think scripture teaches that the words elder and pastor are synonymous. Now I have no idea if the role of women in ministry is affected by such a difference but it is interesting to think about. I think that many churches that have an elder system are more prone to have deacons and deaconesses, as does my church, but I'm not sure there is cause and effect there.

Lin said...

"While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

So there is a difference between a pastor, preacher, teacher and evangelist?


Lin said...

"I believe the scripture teaches that churches should be led by a plurality of elders. I believe at least one of those elders should have the spiritual gift of being a pastor. I don't think scripture teaches that the words elder and pastor are synonymous."

Hi Bill, I am not trying to be argumentative but I think you would agree that churches should be led by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we assume they are because of a title.

I think we put way too much stock in earthly titles and not enough on the function and being Spirit led. We end up debating organizational 'structure' as if we are talking about a non profit organization and not a spiritual organism.

In my experience (which is not real limited) I have seen the eldership become a club that is not much different that the cult of personality around one pastor we see quite a bit of these days. The abuses are the same even with rotations and elections (if your church is lucky enough to have elections for elders)

Give me congregational polity and spiritally mature believers who care for our souls that we happen to call elders. :O)

Bill said...

Lin: Of course. But there is no denying that God ordained that churches have a certain structure and offices. He hope and pray that these people are led by the Spirit but don't we hope and pray that for all believers? I agree that congregational polity is best. But I also think the elder system is best (as well as true to scripture). This is what happens in most SBC churches: They are led by a single pastor. Usually someone from who came from outside the congregation. It takes time to get to know him. To trust him. Why not place him with two or three trusted members of the congregation as elders? While I agree that any situation can be abused, I think there is far less opportunity for authority abuse in an elder system rather than a singular pastor system. Also so many churches collapse in chaos and confusion when the pastor leaves. I think this is tempered greatly by an elder system.

Lin said...

"But there is no denying that God ordained that churches have a certain structure and offices. "

Here are some interesting articles on this subject by Jon Zens who, like me, believes there are no clergy/laity distinctions:

From the article:

"I think it is proper to make the general observation that the post-Reformation tradition, with its almost exclusive emphasis on 'officers,' had the practical effect of stifling a functioning priesthood of believers. It is important for us to realize, therefore, that we have been heavily influenced by this 'officer'-oriented tradition, and that the N.T. data calls for a close scrutiny of that tradition."

I agree and wonder sometimes about the word 'officer' when it is really a funtion and not an office as the OT would desribe a Levite Priest. Many translations do not use that word.

In any event, it does not replace the Holy Priesthood... it is an extension of it and elders should be the spiritually mature who also teach and preach.

I fear we have brought in OT practices.

How many elders do you know who preach besides the pastor? ;o)

Bill said...

Lin: I don't find much to disagree with. I think the clergy / laity distinction is vastly over-emphasized. I do think that a singular pastor situation greatly exacerbates that problem. I have no problem thinking of elders / deacons in terms of function rather than office although I do think that elders and deacons are in some sense "officially" recognized by the congregation, if for nothing but practicality and order.

Rex Ray said...

Joe W.
I guess that is true about us getting all blue in the face, but what I really would like know is why you didn’t answer my questions. I don’t know if you pay more attention to people’s facial expression or what they are actually saying. Are you a little intimidated by my questions? I’m not saying I’m all high and mighty, but a straight answer would be nice. I’d like to add one more comment. Is it proper to say “the messengers have spoken” or were the messengers bamboozled?

I asked a person to read our comments to each other, and to make a reply to you while playing like he was me. He wrote the first paragraph. His name is Sam and was born in Jerusalem. He spent his first six years with four brothers playing with Muslim kids. He is now twelve. The words were his, but I believe he was quoting his granddad telling him the messengers were bamboozled.

We are keeping the two younger brothers as his 14 year-old brother is in Children’s Hospital fighting a disease that is trying to paralyze him.

Sorry I did not understand that you were referring to yourself in your comment. Today, you said, “As far as the Texas and Virginia conventions go…it really does not matter if they accept it (BFM 2000) or not.”

“Does not matter”? I guess with that attitude, ‘it does not matter that over one hundred long time missionaries were forced off the field because “the messengers have spoken.”

In a court of law, I believe the BFM 2000 could be proven to be illegal just as the IMB could be sued for the way they treated Wade as told to them by the Executive Committee of the SBC.

It’s a shame when civil law has to teach religious leaders how to behave.

BTW, would you be kind enough to answer my four original question for my grandson?

Anonymous said...

big daddy weave,
Let me be honest, your comment initially bothered me. I've always disliked the "well if they are so cool, why does nobody else think they are cool" attitude. Therefore, your comments to Phil in regards to Dr. William Estep came across as very arrogant to me, although you most likely didn't intend that. I'm no scholar, but I do know that Estep is well respected by scholars in Baptist history.

I'm glad you're writing a research paper on Baptist origins. More research needs to be done. As I've clearly stated above, I hold to Baptists becoming a distinct group in England in the 17th century, and you obviously do as well. I also know from sitting under Baptist History classes with Dr. McBeth, and also having read his Baptist Heritage in its entirety that he believed that without the Anabaptists, there would be no Baptists today. My statement was that he also held to "Anabaptist origins." I think he would argue that Particular Baptists had little or no ties to Anabaptists, but that the General Baptists were highly influenced by Anabaptists, and often intermingled with Dutch Mennonites in the 17th century both in terms of congregations as well as theology. Maybe he has changed his views later in life. I know for a fact that as of the late 90s he held that Anabaptist influence was essential to Baptists becoming the denomination that they are today.

Rex Ray said...

If Baptists were influenced by Anabaptist, where did Anabaptist start?

1. “But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5 Holman)

1. Would you agree there is a possibility the “party of the Pharisees” increased in number and after the death of the Apostles, they became ‘ruling leaders’ of the Church?
2. Do you agree some Christian Gentiles believed Peter saying: “All are saved the same way, by the free gift of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11 Living), and did not believe as Christian Jews: “…they are all zealous for the law.” (Acts 20:21 Holman), and had a problem with: “Someone may say, ‘I am on my way to heaven; I belong to Christ.’ But if he doesn’t do what Christ tells him to, [obey as the ‘party’ dictates?] he is a liar.” (1 John 2:4 Living)
3. Do you agree a ‘growing separation attitude’ could have been shown by: “These ‘against-Christ’ people used to be members of our churches, but they never really belonged with us or else they would have stayed. When they left us it proved that they were not of us at all.” (1 John 2:19 Living)
4. Do you agree that history records the majority of Christians started baptizing babies for salvation around 251 AD?
5. Do you agree this action caused a small group to separate fellowship from the majority, and this small group was called the ‘hated name’ of Anabaptist?

Anonymous said...






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