This post is written by Kevin L. Howard
Should Southern Baptist women use the Scriptures to teach or train men in Sunday school or other settings? It’s a simple thesis with many implications, so let’s get into it.
The Baptist Faith & Message of 2000 and Scripture
Article 6, The Church, of the BF&M 2000, 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.”
I agree with this BF&M statement. I just wished it went further. Scripture doesn’t say, “Women can’t pastor or hold the office of pastor.” It actually says more. First Timothy 2:11-12, says, “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (NASV). In similar fashion, the ESV says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” For those who argue that this is just instruction Paul gave to the church of Ephesus only for their situation, then I’d ask them if we should interpret the rest of 1 Timothy in this manner, too? Perhaps what we know about the office of pastor from 1 Timothy 3 is also cultural. How do we know that 1 Timothy 6:10–“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (ESV)–isn’t also cultural for only that era? (For a detailed analysis of the many Old Testament and New Testament texts relevant for this discussion, see my articlesWomen in the Teaching Ministry of the Church (1 Timothy 2:11-15) and Examining Bilezikian’s Book, “Beyond Sex Roles”).
If I’m right in my assumptions that women are limited beyond pastoring a group with men in it, the implications go much further than, “…the office of pastor is limited to men….” Rather, the Bible says women can’t teach men the Scripture, nor can they exercise authority over a man. Although I think there could be a lot of value in a denomination-wide discussion on women not ruling over men, in this article I’ll focus on women teaching Scripture to men.
While Article 18 of the BF&M 2000 doesn’t have as much bearing on my thesis, I’ve listed it here because it talks about a woman’s relationship to her husband and the home. It says, “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
For married SBC women, I’m not sure how a wife can serve as a helper to her husband to whom she’s supposed to submit, while at the same time teaching him Scripture in a Sunday school class or on the mission field. Any role where she has authority over a man seems to violate the biblical standard. (This is not to say that a husband can’t learn something biblical from his wife in the course of their daily lives. He can be a learner without her functioning as a teacher.)
Conforming to Scripture
I’m thankful for our denomination’s stand on this sex-gender issue with the BF&M of 2000. It was definitely a counter-cultural move. By God’s grace the BF&M of 2000 marked that our denomination had been (mostly) purified from the moderate and liberal streams that previously polluted it. And we’ve been spared, again by God’s grace, the battle of over homosexuality that threatens most mainline denominations.
I hope our churches will reflect the true spirit of 1 Timothy 2 and the other passages in Scripture about women serving in their proper roles. My prayer is that every aspect of our SBC church and mission field structure reflects conformity to Scripture. Here are a few examples that reflect the biblical model:
- Male Sunday school teachers (for adults with men in the mix),
- Male bosses at every level of the church (except for where women are leading only other women or children),
- Men training adults (with men in the mix on the mission field), whether that involves training IMB personnel or nationals.
The simple fact is, our methodology says what we really think about the Bible and God. My suggestion is that Southern Baptists soon modify the current BF&M to reflect a more accurate picture of what Scripture says on the sex-gender issue.
- Can a woman pastor? Yes, as long as she pastors only women or children. Ministry is something that all believers enter into once Christ brings them into the kingdom. Thus, God may grant some women the gift of shepherding, but it must be used in the right context that Scripture outlines.
- Can a woman serve in such a way at a church where she’s leading men or ruling over them? Scripture says no.
- What about on the mission field where workers are few and the harvest is great, and men seem less likely to sign up in the number that women do? I’m grateful to the many godly women who’ve served our Lord faithfully through the years in a variety of ways, but we’ll always stand on safe ground when we honor all that Scripture teaches rather than trying a plan that God didn’t set up.
The Issues at Stake
1. The furtherance of the gospel matters. By gospel, I don’t mean merely the simple plan of salvation. Rather, the complete gospel is about the joy that the triune God has in being God. It’s about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit bringing fallen humans into fellowship with him so they too can taste and see the goodness of God–and thus glorify him forever. God has ordained that men teach men (and where appropriate, men may teach women and children) and that older women teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5), and, presumably children. If a man isn’t available to teach a man or a group of men, like in a Sunday school class or on the mission field, perhaps we’re sometimes too ready to allow women to teach rather than to wait for God to raise up the right man for the task. Getting the gospel to the lost and discipling the saved are important, but methodology matters, too. Reproduction in church planting needs the right methodology to be scriptural. We can’t talk about the importance of accurate doctrine, as with, say, the Trinity and the trustworthiness of the Bible, but ignore Scripture’s methodology for how the gospel spreads and how discipleship takes place.
2. The integrity of our witness is on the line. Integrity means standing where Scripture stands. No one except God can truly say that the growing feministic influences in the evangelical church will always lead to liberalism regarding the cardinal doctrines like reliability of Scripture, divinity of Christ, the Trinity, etc., but we should avoid blatantly ignoring the teachings laid down for us in Scripture on the sex-gender issue, even if such obedience flies in the face of our culture.
3. The generations to come need our help. The present and future generations need the biblical picture modeled. Without following the biblical model, we’ll end up with an abundance of weak men and a plethora of strong-willed women in our churches and on the mission field. Such isn’t what Christ wants for his church and we shouldn’t want it either.
My suggestion to modify the BF&M is controversial, but we’re Southern Baptists, no strangers to controversy. We should avoid unnecessary controversy when we can but not at the expense of Scripture. By God’s grace, we can navigate through more discussion on these issues, and stay focused on the main thing–savoring the glory of God and taking that joyous delight to those who haven’t heard.