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Mike Law says constitutional amendment meant to provide clarity

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Sept. 10 to clarify Mike Law’s concern about the misuse of pastoral titles causing confusion among cooperating churches.

NASHVILLE (BP) – A Virginia pastor says a desire for Southern Baptists to be faithful to God’s Word and maintain a clear, evangelistic witness is what is motivating him to move forward with a motion to amend the SBC Constitution.

Mike Law’s motion made at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting received a slight amendment by Juan Sanchez in New Orleans this June before receiving a first vote approval at the 2023 annual meeting. The amendment must receive a second vote of two-thirds majority in Indianapolis in 2024 before it would be added to the constitution.

The amendment adds a sixth point to the third article of the constitution that states, “only churches that affirm, appoint or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by scripture, would be considered to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC.”

Law said he decided to propose the amendment when he discovered there were five Southern Baptist churches with a five-mile radius of his “own congregation [that] had women serving in the office of pastor, including senior pastor.”

He is the senior pastor of Arlington Baptist Church. Law says less than 6 percent of the population in Arlington County would consider themselves evangelical Christian.

“When an unbeliever looks for a Southern Baptist church in my area, I want them to find a church that holds the Bible’s teaching and to our conventions beliefs,” he said in an interview on Baptist Press This Week.

He said he was also motivated by a report from the SBC Credentials Committee in Anaheim, “which in 2022 seemed confused about who may serve in the pastoral office.”

The committee asked for clarification when trying to decide on a filing related to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., which had recently ordained three women and given them the title of pastor. The women had been serving in support roles, such as pastoral care and children’s and student ministry.

After the Anaheim meeting, Saddleback went a step further, announcing that one of those women would begin serving as the lead pastor of its Lake Forest campus. This led to an overwhelming vote by messengers in New Orleans to deem Saddleback (along with a Kentucky church with a female senior pastor) “not in friendly cooperation” with the Convention.

Law agrees the Baptist Faith and Message “makes clear that any kind of pastor, senior associate, or otherwise must meet the biblical qualifications for the office.”

However, he believes it still needs to be added in the constitution.

“So, this amendment gives the Credentials Committee the clarity they asked for and need,” he said. “It makes plain that any kind of pastor, senior associate, or otherwise must meet the biblical qualifications for the pastoral office. And that’s why it really belongs in our governing documents to guide the Credentials Committee’s deliberations and their recommendations.”

He believes precedent has been set over the past few years as other amendments have been added to the same section in the constitution.

“Every update to Article 3 in the last decade or so has had a reference point in the Baptist Faith and Message,” Law said. “I would point out that probably more than 8,000, or as some have said, perhaps as many as 80 percent of the messengers in New Orleans overwhelmingly believed that it was necessary to include this amendment in our governing documents.”

Law says he is aware that there is a concern the amendment could affect churches that use the word “pastor” in support staff roles where the person is not given the responsibility to preach or lead the entire congregation.

“The main thing that I think we want to understand is that it’s unwise to use titles that confuse or cloud the nature of the biblical offices,” he said. “We want to disciple Christians in the nature of the biblical offices and not desensitize them to the truth of the biblical offices.”

While he says this issue is “certainly not a matter of first importance as Paul would outline in 1 Corinthians 15,” he believes this confusion can harm cooperation among churches.

“At the end of the day, placing women in the pastoral office is fundamentally a rejection of biblical authority, and that’s why we want to encourage in the life of our convention, really a joyful submission to the sufficiency in the authority of the Bible,” he said.

“Now, if a church is committed to a grievous error, one that violates the doctrine and the order of the Southern Baptist Convention, as Dr. [Albert] Mohler said in New Orleans, then yes, that church should be referred to the Credentials Committee.”

The 2024 SBC Annual Meeting is scheduled for June 11-12 in Indianapolis.

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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