You do not have to be Southern Baptist to be a Baptist. You do not have to be Baptist to be a Christian. But there are some things you have to believe and do to be Southern Baptist. The seemingly eternal question is what that is. What is a Southern Baptist? I asked that question once in a blog post and basically no one knew the answer.
The simple, legal answer is found in our bylaws. A church in friendly cooperation with the SBC is defined as one that gives a certain amount to the SBC and doesn’t approve of homosexuality. But I think we all know that it goes a little deeper than that.
The question reared its head again when the Surry Baptist Association removed fellowship from the Flat Rock Baptist Church of Mt. Airy, NC. Two of our regular contributors here have published similar posts calling into question the action of the association. Both of them, men who believe that the role of pastor in the church is biblically restricted to men, nonetheless called into question the actions of the association. Both also recognized the autonomy of the Surry Association and its right to act as it feels is right.
Howell Scott, in his article, “Female Pastors and Graceless Responses in Mayberry,” primarily calls the association to task for the lack of grace they demonstrated. Within a week of Bailey Edwards Nelson beginning her ministry, the process was in motion and was completed without even meeting with the church (though the association did try to schedule a meeting).
The SBC Plodder has also weighed in on this one. He went a step farther than Howell, who did not (at least in my reading) make it clear whether he would be comfortable remaining in fellowship in an association with a church that has a woman pastor. William left no doubt. His post is titled, “No, I wouldn’t vote to kick a church with a woman pastor out.” He disagrees with having women in ministry but does not see it as an issue worth taking the action Surry Association took.
I have never met Howell or William, but I consider both of them as friends through blogging and I respect their opinions. I think they’ve made reasonable cases in their posts. However, I have a slightly different perspective, at least from William’s. I do not really know how much grace was put into this process. Howell may very well be right that a lack of grace was demonstrated in the process by Surry Association. I simply do not have the information I need to determine whether grace was displayed or not. Perhaps, as William argues, time could have been taken to make the process more smooth.
But, my blogging Plodding friend, I may have to disagree with your position that you would not vote to disfellowship over this. I opened with a statement I believe. There are a lot of Baptist churches that are not Southern. And there are a lot of good Christian churches that are not Baptist (apologies to my BI brethren). But there are some things that we as Southern Baptists believe that set us apart. We have pretty much determined that we are a denomination that holds to the biblical teaching on roles for men and women at home and in the church (now, apologies to my egalitarian brethren and sistren). When a church a church hires a woman pastor, they are pretty much saying that they are not a part of who we are, aren’t they? I would classify this as a picket fence issue – we can bless each other but ministry fellowship is probably not going to happen here.
If you are going to have a woman pastor in your church, why would you even want to be Southern Baptist? We do not believe that is biblical. We think it is wrong. Your pastor will have a hard time fellowshipping with the pastors of the denomination (apologies to those who don’t like that term). I would ask a church why it wants to remain part of the SBC or the SBC (Surrey Baptist Association). I would guess that hiring a woman as pastor would be only one of many differences of doctrine and approach between Flat Rock and the other churches of that association.
So, here’s what I think:
1) Howell is absolutely right that anything like this should be handled with grace. It probably didn’t need to be done as quickly as it was. Everything we should do should be seasoned with grace.
2) There may well be more to this than meets the eye. I am guessing this was not a card-carrying CR church that suddenly decided to hire a Bailey Nelson out of the blue. I’m guessing no one in the association had a heart attack from surprise when this happened. This may be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just a conjecture here.
3) The statement written by Dr. Joel Stephens of Westfield Baptist Church and his associate Rev. Jim Richland on behalf of the association is a well written and in this pastor’s opinion, clearly biblical defense of not permitting women in the pastorate. William called it sterile, and it is not emotional or passionate, but it is clear and in my opinion, well-stated. I would encourage you to read it. It explains the process pretty well and gives the association’s side of things.
4) I do think this may be an issue that necessitates friendly division. We do not have to consign churches with female pastors to the flaming pits of hell, or even call them unfaithful. But if we really believe that the Bible teaches that pastors should be male, if that is official SBC doctrine (as the BF&M seems to state), then this is probably a picket fence issue. I think some have gone way too far in condemning those with women pastors. This is a disagreement like baptism. People who see this issue differently may well be good Christians (with what I believe is a doctrinal error), but they may not be Southern Baptist.
5) I raised this issue above. Someone explain to me why a church that hires a woman pastor would WANT to be Southern Baptist.
You do not have to be Southern Baptist to be a Baptist. You do not have to be Baptist to be a Christian. But there are some things you have to believe and do to be Southern Baptist. I think that maybe one of those things you might have to do is NOT hire a woman as a pastor.