Christianity,  Complementarianism,  SBC

Rick Warren Knows Exactly What He Is Doing

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced earlier this year that Saddleback church had been removed from the SBC over Saddleback’s calling female pastors. Just yesterday, the news broke that Saddleback has appealed that decision, which means that the matter will come before the messengers to the annual meeting in June in New Orleans. Rick Warren cites five reasons for Saddleback’s appeal.

First, Warren claims that “we’re challenging the ruling on behalf of millions of SBC women” who are forced to sit on the bench and cannot participate in the Great Commission. This is a false claim. Southern Baptists believe that God calls and gifts women for ministry. It’s written in our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), and it’s the longstanding practice of our churches—including my own! We need and rely upon the ministries of women in our churches, and all of us—both men and women—are called to carry out the Great Commission. Our beliefs about the office of pastor don’t diminish God’s call on women’s lives one iota, and it’s a distortion to claim that it does. (See this really helpful thread from Jonathan Akin.)

Second, Warren claims that they are challenging the ruling not for their own church but for the “over 300 concerned pastors who have female pastors serving on their staff.” Warren is clear that he wishes to make the SBC a place where women can serve in the pastoral office. He knows that practice contradicts the BF&M, but he wants to lead the entire convention to abandon the BF&M on this point. Nevermind the fact that Southern Baptists have long settled this issue. Warren and Saddleback are going to bring this controversy again. I can hardly imagine a more divisive action on their part.

Third, Warren claims that the BF&M’s teaching about qualified male pastors has caused our missionary force to decline over the last 20 years. This one is a howler. Southern Baptists have never embraced females serving as pastors. Even before the controversy that led to the conservative resurgence in the 20th century, you would have been hard-pressed to find a female pastor anywhere in the convention. It was always a marginal position at best. Even the so-called moderate SBC churches by and large had male pastors. Even though the all-male pastorate wasn’t written into the BF&M until 2000, Southern Baptist practice on this matter has been really consistent. That has never changed. Trying to tie this issue to the number of missionaries currently serving is tendentious and absurd.

Fourth, Warren says that “we believe a decision this critical to the SBC’s identity and future should be decided by the Messengers, not a committee.” I agree with him about that. The Messengers of the SBC are the ones who voted to approve the very structure that led to Saddleback’s removal. To act as if SBC messengers had nothing to do with this is simply not true. Moreover, messengers made a provision for an appeal to come before the messengers. Again, the messengers have never not been involved in this process. They approved the process and will give the final word on the appeal in June.

Fifth, Warren says that “our goal is to spark the thinking of messengers regarding the direction of the SBC, regardless of the outcome of the vote.” In short, Warren and Saddleback want to change the SBC to affirm what the Bible forbids—the appointing of female pastors (contra 1 Tim. 2:12, 3:1 and many other texts of Scripture).

With every statement that he makes, Rick Warren reveals that he knows exactly what he is doing. He understands that the Southern Baptist Convention has a statement of faith that calls for qualified male pastors. He understands that he led Saddleback to defy that teaching. He understands that ordaining female pastors contradicts the BF&M, and he has stated very plainly and publicly that he intends to try and reshape the SBC into the image of his unbiblical views. None of these facts are in dispute because they are all matters that he has stated publicly.

Warren knows what he is doing. The only question that remains to be answered is what Southern Baptists will do. We need to be careful here. There are a lot of people trying to make this into a complicated question, but it really isn’t complicated at all. Southern Baptists have long believed that the office of pastor is reserved for qualified men. Rick Warren and Saddleback deny that the office of pastor is reserved for qualified men. Will the SBC follow the Bible? Or will the SBC follow Rick Warren? In this case, we won’t be able to do both. We have to choose.

We all understand that this is a secondary issue. There is no dispute about that. Our denomination is based on cooperation among churches that have unity around a host of secondary issues (e.g., baptism, the Lord Supper, congregationalism, etc.), and this is one of those issues. We cannot do the Great Commission and plant churches together without unity on such matters. We don’t deny that genuine Christians can have differences over these issues. But we do deny that our cooperation as a convention can continue as it has without unity on such secondary issues.

Rick Warren and Saddleback have done us the service of showing their hand. They adopted a faith and practice that are directly at odds with the BF&M. Instead of walking away amicably and without rancor, they have decided to introduce division and controversy into our convention. They want to persuade us to abandon what the Bible teaches on these things and follow them in another direction. How will we respond in New Orleans? I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I suspect that Southern Baptists are prepared to take their stand with the Bible. I know I am. I am hoping and praying that my fellow messengers will be too.