This post is a follow up of my last post on the issue of First Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia being ‘disfellowshipped’ from the Georgia Baptist Convention. Wade Burleson has written again on the topic, this post is my response.
First of all, my post is not going to be nearly as long as Wade’s, but I encourage you to go and read his own post. He is a great writer and I believe he deeply loves the Southern Baptist Convention. Wade and I disagree on this issue, but I greatly respect his opinion and I also thinks he makes a lot of great points. Wade’s main thesis is that it is absurd to think that a church must affirm every single tenet of the BFM to remain Southern Baptist and I agree 100%. The SBC should never ask a church to put there theological convictions to the side in order to affirm the BFM.
Here is where I disagree with Burleson. He seems to think that the issue of female pastors is a ‘third tier issue.’ In no way am I advocating that churches must adhere to every tenet of the BFM. I know that Burleson would quickly and happily “disfellowship” with any church that denied the trinity, resurrection of Jesus, and our view of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Now, one could argue that the gender issue is not an issue that is worthy of ‘disfellowship.’ This is where the disagreement comes down to.
Burleson says that gender roles is a third tier issue. Since he believes it is a third tier issue it makes complete sense that he disagrees with the GBC’s decision. I would never “disfellowship” with a church because of a third tier issue, but the gender issue is not a third tier issue. Calvinism is a third tier issue. End times is a third tier issue. The issue of women serving as pastors is not a third tier issue.
Here is what Albert Mohler says in his A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,
“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue. Again, a church or denomination either will ordain women to the pastorate, or it will not. Second-order issues resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach. Many of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-order level, for these issues frame our understanding of the church and its ordering by the Word of God.”
Mohler is right when he says that second tier issues ‘frame our understanding of the church and its ordering of the Word of God.’ The issue of female pastors certainly falls under the category of ‘frame our understanding of the church.’
I cannot get off this because it is the heart of the argument. How important is this issue? If it is a third tier issue then Burleson is right, it is wrong to “disfellowship” with FBC. If it is a second tier issue, then I am right and it is better for the GBC to “disfellowship.” Burleson keeps going on and on about how great of injustice is taking place. There is no injustice going on. There is a convention that feels the gender issue is an important enough issue to “disfellowship” with a church.
Burleson would do the same thing on other second tier issues. Would that be injustice? Of course not, it just makes sense. If a church came out and publicly changed their view of the Lord’s Supper to the Catholic understanding then they would quickly be “disfellowshipped.” If a church came out and said Baptism was necessary for salvation then they would quickly be “disfellowshipped.” Dissent is allowed in the SBC, but in third tier issues. This, I say again, is not a third tier issue.
Here is a quote by Burleson that proves my point:
“FBC Decatur is not being accused of refusing denying believers baptism by immersion. FBC Decatur is being hammered for calling a pastor who is female.”
Burleson makes the distinction between believers baptism by immersion and female pastors. Here is another quote:
“It is evident that some wish First Baptist Church, Decatur to be disfellowshipped because the church has called a pastor who is female, in violation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. So what. There are thousands of churches that violate the BFM 2000, including mine, in other areas. Why are you singling out FBC, Decatur?”
FBC Decatur is being singled out because they are breaking a theological boundary of a second tier issue. Other churches, probably including yours, that violate the BFM only violate it on third tier issues. We as Southern Baptists are proud to unite together in missions and evangelism. We can unite even when there are disagreements on third tier issues. As you will agree, there must be a doctrinal basis. The line of theological unity must me drawn somewhere. That line is between second and third tier issues. When a church disagrees with the BFM on third tier issues we are proud to unite for missions and evangelism, but once that line is crossed and we now disagree on issues that ‘frame our understanding of the church’ it is time to “disfellowship.”