Last week I posted an essay on women pastors, and I want to share some additional thoughts and information. I believe many critics of the complementarian position on women pastors miss a key point. Those of us who oppose women pastors are not claiming that women are incapable of serving as pastors. No, obviously women could (and do) serve as pastors. Women work in all the professions—law, medicine, counseling, etc. They serve wonderfully well. In my life, I’ve had two female family physicians, and they were both great. I followed their instructions and was the better for doing that. We’re also aware that women serve as pastors in several denominations. The United Methodist Church and the Assembly of God come to mind. So, the issue for Southern Baptists is not COULD women serve as pastors, but SHOULD they serve.
I just finished teaching a class on hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). I taught my students the “hermeneutical questions” that Bible interpreters must answer—What did the passage mean originally, and what does it mean today? In my research on women in ministry I found some help. In his commentary on 1 Timothy in the New American Commentary, the late Dr. Tommy Lea, Professor of New Testament and Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Seminary, includes an excursus on women in ministry (pages 103-105). Dr. Lea makes these points: (1) Paul’s words (in 1 Timothy) make little specific contribution to the question of female ordination. He notes that our Baptist practice of ordination has more to do with Baptist tradition than biblical teaching. (2) “The Pastoral Epistles and the entire New Testament envision a broad role for women in ministry.” And, (3) “The teaching of 1 Tim 2:12 appears to limit the role of women in ministry. Paul prohibited women from teaching in an authoritative position in 2:12 and supported the prohibition with reasons of vv.13-14. It is difficult to support the view which holds that Paul’s reasons for limiting female involvement in ministry applied only in his own day.” In conclusion, Lea writes, “The position of an authoritative teacher relates most closely to the modern office of the pastor in Protestant churches. Paul’s advice would limit that office to men.”
Now, everyone agrees that Paul prohibited female overseers (pastors) in his day (what it meant originally), but there is much debate about what I Tim 2:12 and 3:2 mean for us today. As you’ve just read, Dr. Lea concludes that Paul’s prohibition still applies today. Those who reject that position say those who agree with Dr. Lea are ignorant of contemporary exegeses of these passages, misogynistic (hate women), and insensitive to the changed cultural landscape in North America. To those criticisms I respond in this way. One can be aware of differing biblical interpretations but disagree with them. To want God’s best for female church members is loving not hateful. And, the vast majority of Southern Baptists are more concerned about being biblically correct than culturally correct. We do not intend or wish to offend anyone, especially women, but like Martin Luther we are “held captive by the Word of God.” That is, our ultimate devotion is to God and His inerrant Word.
Let me conclude with some random thoughts on this issue. First, we should emphasize what women can and should do in the church rather than what they cannot. Second, Baptist churches are autonomous, so they can do as they please. They can call whomever they wish to serve as pastor or staff members. For example, Podunk Baptist Church could call a Mormon to serve as their pastor. The local association, state convention, and Southern Baptist Convention could not prevent this. Still, if this happened, eventually all three would disfellowship (expel) the church from membership. At this year’s annual meeting Southern Baptists will decide how to respond to this issue. Third, my personal conviction is that the only staff members called “pastor” should perform pastoral functions. For example, for several years I served as the Teaching Pastor at Central Baptist Church in Crandall, Texas. I preached several times each year, taught the Bible on Sundays and Wednesdays, performed funerals, led the Lord’s Supper, made pastoral visits, counseled folks, directed the missions program, and led the Ordination Committee. So, I believe the title “pastor” was appropriate for me. I believe it would be better to give most staff members the title of “minister” or “director.”