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Questions, answers recapped on the SBC’s family statement

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following question-and-answer piece was written by Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and chairman of the seven-member study committee which drafted a proposed article on the family to be added to the Southern Baptist Convention’s confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. The article was approved at the June 9 session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–As I arrived at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Wednesday morning of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting (June 9-11 in Salt Lake City), I saw my name on the screen. I was being called to the newsroom. I didn’t return to the convention until the evening session because I spent the rest of the day giving interviews and debating on national television and radio Article XVIII on the family that had been added to our Baptist Faith and Message on Tuesday.
My experience with the national media was very interesting. It was evident by their questions they are biblically illiterate. This story was “otherworldly” to them. Would the largest evangelical denomination in the country actually call for family life to be lived according to biblical standards in our modern age?
I was asked many questions through the course of the day. Perhaps more significant were the questions the media did not ask. I want to restate a few of their questions and also propose some of the relevant questions that were never asked. My answers will follow.
Why was this article presented at this time?
Family life in America has fallen apart. We are a nation of dysfunctional families and broken homes. The divorce rate continues to be a scar on the face of the nation. We have tried psychological and sociological methods to improve the family. The result has been an increase in the breakdown of family life. It is time to sound a clear trumpet call for a return to the biblical pattern for family life. God created us and gave us the gift of marriage and family. Just perhaps he has given us the best guidelines for meaningful family life.
Isn’t the article stated in antiquated language?
Yes, it is 2,000 years old. In keeping with a confession of faith, the article is drafted in theological language, much of which is taken straight from Scripture.
What right do Baptists have to tell everyone else how to live?
The article was not written for the culture. It is a statement expressing our beliefs on the biblical teaching regarding family. I believe anyone who seeks to live according to biblical standards will be blessed. As Christians we have the Holy Spirit to help us live according to God’s Word. Our greatest blessing comes when we obey the teaching of Scripture.
Are all Baptists required to live according to this statement?
No! Anyone who knows Baptists understands you don’t require an individual Baptist or church to do anything! We have no hierarchy or creed. This is a statement of our understanding of biblical truth. It declares generally held belief. No one is required, except by conscience and the direction of the Holy Spirit, to follow this statement.
Does it bother you that other denominations do not agree with you?
No. We have stood alone before. Our concern is not what others think but rather that we are being true to Scripture. Other denominations differ in their positions on the authority of Scripture. Baptists have sought — and continue to seek — the truth of Scripture and to practice it. Scripture is our sole authority.
Why do you require women to subordinate themselves to men?
First, the word “require” is wrong. The Scripture calls a woman to submit herself to her husband in the same way she submits to the Lord. The Christian is never made to obey Scripture but is given the choice of obedience.
Secondly, the word is not “subordinate” but “submit.” It means to “line up behind” and carries the idea of supporting and following the leadership of her husband.
Why did you use the word “submit” in regard to the wife?
Simply stated, we used the word because it is the biblical word. This word is used in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3. The concept of submission is consistent with Pauline theology and the whole of Scripture. In fact, biblical scholar John R. W. Stott rightly says this concept finds its foundation in creation not culture.
Isn’t Ephesians 5:21 the key verse? Doesn’t it teach mutual submission in marriage?
No, the key verse of this passage is 5:18 where we are called upon to be constantly filled with the Spirit. Worship, marriage, parent-child and slave-owner relationships are to be guided by the Spirit of God. Our ability to live in relationship to one another according to Ephesians 5 is dependent upon the power of the Spirit.
Many scholars do not see the idea of mutual submission in verse 21 as referring to the marriage relationship but to the relationship between Christians. If it does refer to mutual submission and stands as a key verse over the passage, then it needs to be applied to parent-child and slave-owner relationships. If it does teach mutual submission, it is evident Paul goes on to define this concept in specific ways for each spouse in the marriage relationship.
We often confuse “worth” with “roles” when discussing Paul’s teachings on marriage. As to worth, men and women are always seen as equal. The fact that God has given them different roles does not change their value. Marriage is a partnership between equals. Yet, God has given the husband responsibility to lovingly lead the home.
My wife, Polla, has many gifts. She is wise beyond description. I would not consider making a major decision (or many small ones) without her input. My love for her is expressed in respect for her wishes, desires and opinions. There are few times when we cannot come to an agreement on the best action to take. On those rare occasions I take the lead because of my God-given assignment. To equate domination with headship is to totally misunderstand and ignore the whole teaching of Ephesians 5.
Aren’t you setting women up to live in abusive relationships?
The article does not call on women to live in abusive relationships. Somehow people have a convoluted understanding of Paul’s words. They completely miss the fact of the man’s responsibility to love, cherish and nourish his wife.
Does this article prohibit women from working outside the home?
This statement does not address that issue.
Are you trying to use this article to eliminate women from ministry?
Moderate Baptists proposed this idea. The fact is, this issue is not addressed in the article and was never discussed by our committee.
Baptists used the Ephesians passage to support slavery in the mid-1800s. Will you now use this to enslave women?
Yes, Baptists did use this to support slavery. However, a closer look at the passage dispels support for slavery. Paul does not comment on the institution of slavery. He only tells Spirit-filled slaves and owners how to relate to one another.
A woman’s greatest freedom comes from being all God has created her to be and fulfilling her role in the family. Submission and slavery have no relationship to one another.
What is the role of the husband in the marriage relationship?
I was never asked this question by either the national or religious media. Yet this is the key to understanding biblical teaching regarding submission and headship.
If one wants to assign weight of responsibility and level of difficulty, I must say Scripture puts it squarely on the shoulders of the man. He is called upon to love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church and in the same manner in which he loves his own body. He is to cherish and nourish his wife. His leadership is to follow the pattern of Jesus and the church and therefore is to be marked by sacrificial giving. His headship over his wife and children always seeks the best for them even when it costs him greatly. Agape love overshadows every decision and every relationship he has in the family.
Many within the secular and religious media teed off on the issue of submission and totally ignored the context in regard to the husband. They see the call for submission as an entree for men to be domineering, demanding and abusive. Nothing could be further from the teaching of Scripture or the article we added to our statement of faith. It just isn’t there. To say so is to be dishonest.
Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith and Message is an excellent statement of biblical truth. It calls for a husband and wife to love each other deeply and live in harmony fulfilling their God-given roles in marriage. They are to partner together to rear their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Biblical family life draws its cohesiveness and greatest fulfillment when lived under the power of the Holy Spirit of God. If that is controversial, then so be it. If culture rejects this teaching, then let them reject it.
Some Baptists have tried to color this declaration into a legalistic statement that enslaves women. They are wrong. It is a statement that calls for women to be served and loved to the highest degree possible. Women are elevated to a place of honor — not put down or deprecated.
The vast majority of Southern Baptists find Article XVIII to be a clear and powerful statement of God’s plan for the family. Polla and I have lived by this teaching for 30 years and have found it to be exceedingly fulfilling. I am not surprised. Obedience to God’s word always brings blessing.

    About the Author

  • Anthony Jordan