Complementarianism,  SBC,  Theology/Bible

A Word about Spurgeon and Female Pastors

Earlier this week, it was announced that Rick Warren had been installed as the honorary Chancellor of Spurgeon’s College in London. After his installation, Warren took the opportunity to double-down on his support for female pastors and to claim that “my views on ordination are identical to Spurgeon’s.”

I am no expert on Spurgeon, but I am reasonably certain that Warren’s views on ordination are not identical to Spurgeon’s—at least insofar as it relates to the ordination of female pastors. In his book Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon devotes an entire chapter to “The Call to the Ministry.”* In that chapter, I can see at least three differences between Spurgeon’s and Warren’s views on this point.

1. The Gender of “Pastor”

Warren claims that the Bible permits women to serve as pastors in the church and that they should be afforded the opportunity to lead and teach as pastors. Spurgeon does not agree with this. Spurgeon says that the primary “work” of the pastor is “teaching and bearing rule in the church,” both of which are prohibited to women. Spurgeon writes,

Any Christian has a right to disseminate the gospel who has the ability to do so; and more, he not only has the right, but it is his duty so to do as long as he lives. Rev. xxii. 17. The propagation of the gospel is left, not to a few, but to all the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ: according to the measure of grace entrusted to him by the Holy Spirit, each man is bound to minister in his day and generation, both to the church and among unbelievers. Indeed, this question goes beyond men, and even includes the whole of the other sex; whether believers are male or female, they are all bound, when enabled by divine grace, to exert themselves to the utmost to extend the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our service, however, need not take the particular form of preaching certainly, in some cases it must not, as for instance in the case of females, whose public teaching is expressly prohibited: 1 Tim. ii. 12; 1 Cor. xiv. 34. But yet if we have the ability to preach, we are bound to exercise it. I do not, however, in this lecture allude to occasional preaching, or any other form of ministry common to all the saints, but to the work and office of the bishopric, in which is included both teaching and bearing rule in the church, which requires the dedication of a man’s entire life to spiritual work, and separation from every secular calling, 2 Tim. ii. 4; and entitles the man to cast himself for temporal supplies upon the church of God, since he gives up all his time, energies, and endeavours, for the good of those over whom he presides. 1 Cor. ix. 11; 1 Tim. v. 18. (p. 22)

Notice that even though Spurgeon sees only qualified men filling the office of pastor, he still affirms the vital ministry of women within the church. This is precisely what the Baptist Faith & Message teaches, which says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

It is mystifying why Warren would claim that the Great Commission requires women serving as pastors. This would suggest that only pastors can truly carry out the Great Commision. That is not at all what the Bible teaches, as Spurgeon points out. The Great Commission is given to all disciples, both men and women, while only qualified men are called to be pastors. Both of those things are true at once, and they are in no way contradictory.

2. The Office of “Pastor”

Rick Warren claims that “pastor” is a gift, not an office. Spurgeon, however, recognizes that the pastor holds an office of teaching and leadership in the church.

His own personal salvation being secure, he must investigate as to the further matter of his call to office; the first is vital to himself as a Christian, the second equally vital to him as a pastor. As well be a professor without conversion, as a pastor without calling. In both cases there is a name and nothing more. (p. 26)

If in following such guidance the brethren see not in us the qualifications, and do not elect us to office, it is plain enough that however well we may evangelise, the office of the pastor is not for us. (p. 32)

Spurgeon holds the “work and office” of a pastor together and does not read some specious separation between them (p. 22).

3. The Meaning of “Pastor”

Warren has claimed that the word pastor does not refer to the office of elder/bishop. Spurgeon, however, uses all three terms (pastor/elder/overseer) to refer to the one office of leadership in the church. There are numerous examples of this in “The Call to the Ministry.”

We believe that the Holy Ghost appoints in the church of God some to act as overseers [bishops], while others are made willing to be watched over for their good. All are not called to labour in word and doctrine, or to be elders, or to exercise the office of a bishop; nor should all aspire to such works, since the gifts necessary are nowhere promised to all; but those should addict themselves to such important engagements who feel, like the apostle, that they have “received this ministry.” 2 Cor. iv. 1. No man may intrude into the sheepfold as an under-shepherd [pastor]…” (p. 22)

There must evidently be authority ere a man can legally become a bishop, “the steward of God”… To whom would the Spirit write in the church as its representative, but to some one in a position analogous to that of the presiding elder? (p. 24)

He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. iv. 11); from which it is evident that certain individuals are, as the result of our Lord’s ascension, bestowed upon the churches as pastors; they are given of God, and consequently not self-elevated to their position. Brethren, I trust you may be able one day to speak of the flock over whom” the Holy Ghost has made you overseers” (Acts xx. 28), and I pray that every one of you may be able to say with the apostle of the Gentiles, that your ministry is not of man, neither by man, but that you have received it of the Lord. Gal. i. 1. In you may that ancient promise be fulfilled, “I will give them pastors according to mine heart.” Jer. iii. 15. “I will set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them.” Jer. xxiii. 4. (p. 25)

There must be other talents to complete the pastoral character… Read carefully the qualifications of a bishop, given in 1 Tim. iii. 2—7, and in Titus i. 6—9. (p. 31)

The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church… The signs and marks of a true bishop are laid down in the Word for the guidance of the church; and if in following such guidance the brethren see not in us the qualifications, and do not elect us to office, it is plain enough that however well we may evangelise, the office of the pastor is not for us. (p. 32)

While Spurgeon and Warren are not in agreement on this point, Spurgeon’s usage is in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message, which over its three iterations has used all three terms (pastor/elder/bishop) to refer to the one office of leadership in the church.


*C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Complete & Unabridged (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 22-41.