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FIRST-PERSON: The Baptist Faith & Message and women

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Who says women are second-class Baptists? No one I know unless it might be someone who suggests that teaching the Bible to women and children is a waste of talent and training unless men are in the audience.

The discussion of a woman’s role in the church has moved to the front among evangelicals, especially in the last two decades. The issue divides congregations and destroys the faith of individuals. The problems and confusion accompanying the rise of “biblical” feminism prompted Southern Baptists to address the matter head-on. What could be a better defense in a conflict of ideas than a clear and unambiguous statement based on the text of Scripture?

Producing a concise, clear statement of the generally held beliefs of Southern Baptists is challenging, especially when Scripture is contra-culture and against popularly held notions. I served on the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee that drafted a statement on the family. The committee examined major passages of Scripture on the family and relationships therein. The article is positive in its tone and declares what Scripture affirms rather than what it forbids; its words and phrases were carefully fashioned in line with Scripture itself.

Anyone taking issue with the statement needs to address his concerns to the words found in the statement as well as to the Scriptures cited. Facts should overshadow feelings; Scripture should overrule experience.

God introduced His purpose for marriage in creation (Genesis 2:24) and reaffirmed that purpose in the Gospels (Matthew 19:5) and the Pauline epistles (Ephesians 5:31). This covenant commitment for an exclusive, permanent, monogamous union of one man and one woman is pledged in the presence of God and transcends time and culture. Epidemic divorce — even among church leaders — and militant attacks on divinely fashioned sexuality complicate the matter even more as biblical standards are blurred by experience and convenience.

Scripture defines how a husband and wife are to relate to one another. As a “helper,” a wife partners with her husband in the overwhelming task of exercising dominion over the world and extending the generations (Genesis 1:28; 2:18). There is no hint of inferiority in the assignment. God is described as a Helper (Psalm 27:9). In this unique function a wife complements and augments her husband.

The husband’s leadership was established and carefully defined at creation, i.e., before the Fall in the Garden of Eden and not as the result of human failure (Genesis 2:15-17), and then was modeled by Jesus, the perfect servant leader. The union of “servant leadership” with “gracious submission” is natural and edifying.

Both husband and wife mutually submit, as suggested by the participle translated “submitting” in Ephesians 5:21. This mutual submission does not negate the unique submission described in verse 22 and elsewhere (Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1-4). The understanding of mutual submission sets the stage for obedience of husband and wife to their respective assignments from God.

Submission to any command, by definition of the Greek word used in the earliest text of Scripture, reflects a choice in contradistinction to forced action. A husband “submits” to the command of Christ when he determines to “love” his wife as Christ loved the church, even to the point of being willing to lay down his life. A wife “submits” to her own husband (Ephesians 5:21-22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1-7). What may seem “ridiculous” in a modern cultural setting or inappropriate when juxtaposed to current ideology, if coming directly from Scripture, is elevated to divine mandate; and that position trumps all others. Even knowledge from firsthand experience should not mold and fashion your interpretation of Scripture; rather, Scripture should bring your thoughts and actions into focus, and subjection, to what is prescribed by God.

Success is not a criterion for sanctifying a task and making it right. I have three graduate degrees in theology, considerably more theological education than most pastors. I have experience on the public platform, and some even suggest that I have gifts for biblical exposition and teaching. Others have testified that I have met their needs through my messages. Some men have expressed appreciation for my ministry.

However, ministry success, public affirmation, spousal permission, pastoral blessing, widespread opportunity — none is the biblical criterion for what I should or should not do in the Kingdom of Christ. In the Pastoral Epistles within the context of church order (1 Timothy 2:9-11) are found explicit boundaries that cannot be violated by what I perceive to be my calling.

Any calling I believe to be from God is filtered through my human frailties. What I feel may not be what God wills. That is why Scripture is ever the monitor and governor of all I desire to do for God. I do not have ultimate jurisdiction over my own actions, and I cannot dictate or control the actions of others. Yet, I have the responsibility not to put myself in a situation where I am regularly or willfully violating boundaries of Scripture.

Doctrine and practice, whether in the home or in the church, are not to be determined according to modern cultural, sociological and ecclesiastical trends. Nor are our choices to be according to emotional whims, obvious giftedness or even a calling that stands in contradiction to any clear mandate in Scripture.

Scripture alone must be the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Scripture makes frequent connections between the life of the family and the life of the church (1 Timothy 3:5, 5:1-2). Leadership patterns in the family are consistently reflected in the church as well (1 Timothy 2:9-14; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). A Christ-centered marriage has the potential to give a “word about God” to a world indifferent to spiritual truths.

Those within the family circle have a unique opportunity to study the Bible and to learn theology through object lessons built into the family’s structure. By lifting up Scripture, we can point women and men to Jesus Christ, and discover God’s unique purpose for each of us.
Dorothy Kelley Patterson is first lady and professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She holds graduate theology degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary and the University of South Africa.
— Also available from Southwestern Seminary: Full text of SBC Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins’ charge to Paige Patterson, delivered upon Patterson’s inauguration as the seminary’s eighth president Oct. 21: http://www.swbts.edu/happenings/pressreleases/2003/hawkins.shtm.

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  • Dorothy Kelley Patterson