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Culture, not Bible or Baptists, changed, leaders say of men in senior pastor roles

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“The one thing you can’t accuse Southern Baptists of doing is coming up with something new about the Bible,” Michael Whitehead, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s interim president, said in joining an array of Southern Baptists reflecting on the recommendations from the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee.

“The committee’s report does not announce any new beliefs,” Whitehead noted, “it just clarifies what most Baptists have always believed the Bible teaches. It is the culture that has changed, not the Bible, and not most Baptists.”

The recommendations of the committee for a new edition of the historic document incorporate portions of the 1925 and 1963 editions, with some revisions but no new articles.

Included in the 2000 edition is an addition to Article VI: The Church which the committee said speaks “clearly [the convention’s] conviction that while both men and women are gifted and called for ministry, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

While some moderate Baptists affiliated with the disgruntled network of churches known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship decried the document’s revision, other Baptists applauded the committee’s efforts.

“It is a clarification of what we have always believed,” Whitehead said. “For most Southern Baptists, the committee’s report is not news that God has assigned roles in the home and in the church. … This principle is not a cultural relic but the divine order. Most Baptists are pretty squeamish about tinkering with the words of God.”

Whitehead stressed that the new edition does not diminish the role of women in ministry. Midwestern Seminary, based in Kansas City, Mo., “believes that women are gifted and called to all sorts of ministry, with these limits on office. MBTS trains many women students for ministry, and the past two years our top scholars have been women,” Whitehead said.

“They serve in all sorts of ministries, at home and abroad,” he added. “There are no second-class Christians in the church.”

Jane Ann Welch, a music minister at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Overland Park, Kan., told the Kansas City Star that women do not have a senior-pastor role. “[Women] have a wonderful opportunity to be used in their gift areas on staff,” she said. “But I do think the Bible does refer to men in that pastoral position.”

Amy Giles, who directs the children’s ministry at Mulberry Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., agreed. “I think it’s pretty clear in the Bible that ministers and leaders of ministry should be men,” Giles told The Charlotte Observer. “Personally, I think women should take a more submissive role, although I have to say that in my job my views are respected.”

SBC President Paige Patterson, who also is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., told the Raleigh News & Observer that the convention had a responsibility to speak out on the issue.

“In a world where there is an encroachment on the family by an out-of-control feminism, you have to expect that if we have a view that is distinct, we have to state that,” Patterson said.

Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Religion News Service people who disagree with the role of women in the church, as described in the Baptist Faith and Message, disagree with the Bible. “Their disagreement is with the apostle Paul, not with us,” Land said.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., agreed. “It is those who ordain and call women as pastors who have to explain why they would move in a direction opposed to Scripture,” Mohler told The New York Times. “One of the issues that is important here is that the opposition to the idea of a woman serving as a pastor is not culturally driven. It is a matter of biblical conviction.”

In an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Mohler also noted that few Southern Baptist churches have had women as senior pastors and, “For nearly 2,000 years, Christian churches unanimously understood the preaching office as restricted to men.”

James Merritt, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., in metro Atlanta, who will be nominated to succeed Patterson as SBC president, told USA Today that while some churches have ordained women in the past, the practice is “unbiblical.”

Adrian Rogers, longtime pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., and chairman of the committee, said the proposed BF&M revision was released May 18 to allow messengers time to familiarize themselves with the document. It will be voted on during the SBC’s June 13-14 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

“Baptists cherish our doctrinal inheritance. We are a people of the Book, who recognize no other authority for faith and practice but God’s Word. Thus, we receive and affirm those doctrines revealed in the Bible, and we are unembarrassed to take our stand upon the solid rock of biblical authority,” Rogers said.

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  • Todd Starnes