There are fights worth fighting, times when taking a stand is necessary. When the gospel is at stake or when the reliability and perfection of God’s word are challenged, we must stand and be counted. The world hates us because we hold to the biblical ideal that marriage is between one man and one woman. If the SBC abandons that I will abandon the SBC. If the SBC walks away from the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, or a number of other essential doctrines, I will walk away from the SBC.
But we must stop tearing the SBC apart unnecessarily by demanding that our interpretations of certain doctrines be given the same authority as Scripture itself.
Let me be perfectly clear as to what I believe. This current brouhaha over complementarianism is an unnecessary war fueled by aggressive behavior on all sides. For the sake of the gospel, the kingdom, and our convention, it needs to be checked before real damage is done.
We need to take a deep breath, check our spirits, and find a way out of this increasingly ridiculous fight
Where Are We?
1. The debate is important. Gender roles are a key area in which we have chosen as a denomination to be guided by Scripture instead of culture. In a world that claims gender is a social construct, in which people claim there are dozens of fluid genders instead of two, in which gender is chosen instead of assigned at birth, we believe in God’s design and this will never be popular. We believe God created us male and female and we are not the same.
The SBC is a complementarian denomination.
We need to continue to study this and discuss it, to hone our views and sharpen our responses to a world that sees our views as evil and outdated.
2. Recently, we’ve turned our weapons on one another and the social media firestorm is threatening to become denominationally destructive. While these views have always been simmering in the background, the recent conflagration rose up after a few churches decided to invite women to speak at their Mother’s Day services.
The rhetoric has become harsh.
The hard complementarians have freely questioned the biblical commitment and fidelity of those who would have a woman stand in the pulpit. Dr. Mohler engaged in unnecessary hyperbole when he warned of open calls to return to pre-CR days and undo our conservative stands. Many who hold hard complementarian views paint anyone who does not agree with them as egalitarians.
Dr. Mohler’s tweet was an unfortunate case in point. It is both ill-advised and factually wrong.
We have reached a critical moment in the Southern Baptist Convention when there are now open calls to retreat from our biblical convictions on complementarianism and embrace the very error that the SBC repudiated over 30 years ago. Honestly, I never thought I would see this day.
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) May 31, 2019
He engaged in divisiveness here – and false accusation. This was not his finest hour.
The soft complementarians have freely thrown out terms such as misogyny and questioned the motives of those who advocate harder positions on this issue. They are not, it is said, motivated by theology and Bible study, but by a hatred of women and a desire to oppress them.
Permit me to label myself. My views are closer to the first group than to the second. I would not have a woman preach from the pulpit of my church. But I have been horrified at the attitudes and words of many of the hard complementarians in this kerfuffle.
3. Everyone says the other side started it. Some maintain that Beth Moore started it by promoting Mother’s Day preaching. Others say it was Owen Strachan with his article. Honestly, is there ever a less productive discussion than “who started it.” That’s nursery school stuff. The question should be who is going to honor Christ and walk in the fruit of the Spirit and finish it.
Who will be a peacemaker?
4. As this debate has progressed, I am convinced there are fewer heroes. We have all tended to engage in ad hominem more than biblical exegesis, we’ve tended to see the worst in the other side instead of obeying the commands of 1 Corinthians 13, and we’ve called names instead of blessing one another.
We can do better. We must!
The Key to a Unified SBC
Ever find the Baptist Faith & Message frustrating because it doesn’t settle all our issues? It is amazing how many of the issues we fight about in the SBC are not settled in the BF&M.
Guess what? That is on purpose!
There were certain things that were supposed to be settled in the BF&M. Inerrancy. The nature of God, of Christ, and of the atonement, even issues of baptistic practice. But those who crafted the document did not want us to be a dispensational pre-trib denomination or a covenant amillennial convention. So, the section on last things is designed for a variety of views to agree. They wrote it so both Calvinists and non-Calvinists could be Southern Baptists. Intentionally.
Some things we agree on as Southern Baptists and other things are left to the local church. That’s what autonomy is all about!
Dr. Akin, Jimmy Scroggins, and several others had tweets recently that spoke powerfully to this.
When it comes to complementarianism, the BF&M 2000 & the Danvers Statement, the hard, non-negotiable line is draw at the office the pastor/elder. It is a male only office. Here there is no debate. Beyond this there will be differences. Let’s discuss them with grace & conviction.
— Daniel Akin (@DannyAkin) May 31, 2019
I am a BF&M2000 guy. I pastor a BF&M2000 church. I am fired up to partner with churches that hold to it. It makes the boundaries tight enough & keeps the tent big enough. Everything beyond that is a local church issue. Let’s go! #SBC2019
— Jimmy Scroggins (@JimmyScroggins) May 31, 2019
Jimmy has a well-crafted thread on the topic as well.
Here are the two keys to peace to peace in the SBC on the complementarian issue.
- We must let the dictates of the BF&M be our standard for fellowship – and not any person’s opinion!
- We must grant churches the right to operate according to their conscience, within the boundaries of the BF&M, on this issue.
The source of the conflict, almost entirely, is the fact that people want to make everyone else conform to their opinions and are not willing to allow others to hold interpretations and opinions that differ from their own. Many hard complementarians are not satisfied with living out their convictions in their churches but must seek to make every church in the SBC conform to their views. Some soft complementarians are unwilling to accept that hard complementarians operate according to biblical conviction, not misogyny.
But the solution is simple. We have agreed to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as our confessional document. A church that operates within that is a fully cooperative Southern Baptist Church and no other church or SBC entity has the right to demand more. We need to honor confessionalism and autonomy.
It is not complicated.
What Does the BF&M Say?
What does the BF&M actually say?
Article VI, on The Church, 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.
Article XVIII on The Family, adds,
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.
The Baptist Faith & Message requires two things.
- That the office of pastor be reserved for men. (It doesn’t say whether it is Senior Pastor or all pastors – that is a point of discussion for many.)
- That differentiation of roles in marriage is maintained.
For our purposes in this discussion, only point 1 pertains. The BF&M says nothing about whether a woman can preach on Mother’s Day (or give a missionary presentation, or lead in prayer, or sing a solo, or anything else). It just says that the role of pastor is reserved for men.
- If you are unwilling to agree to that provision, you probably are not Southern Baptist. We’ve agreed that the Bible limits the role of pastor to men.
- Beyond that limitation, Southern Baptists churches have the authority to do what they believe is right. One church can do one thing and another can do something else.
- If you are unwilling to respect autonomy of other churches that observe the BF&M, you are also probably outside the boundaries of Southern Baptist Fellowship.
Southern Baptist churches operate within the boundaries of the BF&M and respect the autonomy of other SBC churches to do the same. If we observed these dual concepts of confessionalism and respect for autonomy, this conflict would disappear.
Some Simple Suggestions
1. Obey God’s Word
It says that we should honor one another, believe the best about one another, and encourage one another. We have to stop treating those who disagree with us on this issue as the enemy.
2. Stop the name-calling.
Really, should I have to say that? Stop calling complementarians with different views than yours egalitarians. Stop calling those who interpret the Bible differently than you do misogynists. Reserve that term for people who actually mistreat women, not just for people who interpret Scripture differently.
3. If we are going to discuss this, let’s do it expositionally and exegetically, not execrationally.
Okay, that may or may not be a word. But execration is the uttering of curses and we need to get into the Bible together and stop cursing one another.
4. Remember Baptist polity.
I was bothered when I saw an entity leader, a man I deeply respect, asserting that all of the entity heads agreed on this issue, as if that somehow settled the issue. Our entity heads are not a magisterium deciding right and wrong. We do not have an elder board ruling over us. We have the Bible and we’ve agreed to the BF&M. Beyond that, no elected or appointed Baptist leader holds authority over the local church. They can speak their minds but if every entity leader says something is wrong, they hold no authority over the local church.
5. Peacemakers are the real winners.
This is a tough one for me, because some of the people in this fight infuriate me with their attitudes – often people whose views are not far from my own.
But the true winners, if Jesus is to be believed, are not those who win the battle over the issue of whether a woman can speak at a church on Mother’s Day, but those who seek to make peace.
I close with this.
- I am convinced this is not a battle between those who honor God’s word and those who don’t.
- This is an increasingly ridiculous kerfuffle between different complementarian stripes who agree on the BF&M but disagree on application.
- Extremist warnings about the reversal of the CR or an organized attack on women are not helpful. We can expect those from outsiders, but within the family of those confessing the BF&M, we should honor one another.
- The concept of local church autonomy, a cherished Baptist principle, is our solution here. Under the Lordship of Christ, the authority of God’s word, and our common confession of the BF&M 2000, we let each church decide how it will apply those principles.
How hard is that?