When the Baptist Faith & Message Study Committee made its report to the 2000 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the three of us, Charles S. Kelley, Jr., Richard D. Land, and R. Albert Mohler, Jr., were assigned two particular tasks by the committee and its chairman, Dr. Adrian Rogers.
First, we were asked to answer questions on behalf of the committee during debate as the report was given. Second, we were also assigned to write a commentary and study guide to be published by LifeWay. We remain honored that Dr. Rogers and the committee trusted us with these tasks.
In light of recent questions about Article VI: The Church, we hope to help Southern Baptists to understand the confession’s statement concerning ministry. Speaking of the church, that statement reads: “Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
As background, it is important to know that the committee sought to identify the one word about the pastoral role that Southern Baptists would best understand. As Dr. Rogers stated and the committee concurred, the one word that virtually all Southern Baptists understand is the word pastor.
The language means that a pastor is one who fulfills the pastoral office and carries out the pastor’s functions. Thus, the statement means simply what it states, that the office of pastor is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture. In the Baptist understanding, office and function are inseparable. As we wrote in the commentary on the BF&M, “Central to the pastor’s role is the responsibility to preach and teach.” Pastors also provide spiritual leadership and oversight for the congregation.
Again, it is important to understand that the word pastor was chosen precisely because of its clarity among Southern Baptists. The statement carefully affirms that both men and women are gifted for service in the church, but the role of pastor is biblically defined and is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture.
When the confession was adopted and revised in 2000, Dr. Rogers and the committee made clear that it does not speak to every job category and ministerial title within a local church. But it does specifically define what the Southern Baptist Convention means by pastor, and what we believe the Bible teaches. The word pastor should be reserved for those who fulfill a pastor’s function and office.
The Southern Baptist Convention has sole authority to determine how the BF&M is to be applied in its own work. Baptists believe that every local church is autonomous and has full authority over its work, but all Baptist associations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, have absolute authority to speak for themselves and to define their own membership. Our hope is that we may clarify what the BF&M means and why it matters. May God bless the SBC and our churches.