NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Scripture records women’s work in the Old and New Testaments, detailing the work of midwives, prophetesses, warriors, a judge, teachers, mothers and others.
“If it wasn’t for women, there would be no Southern Baptist Convention,” is Alabama Pastor Jared Cornutt’s take on the subject. He submitted the resolution “On the Legacy and Responsibility of Women Fulfilling the Great Commission,” adopted by messengers to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
Women were among the earliest Baptist missionaries to foreign lands, commissioned by the Triennial Convention, Southern Baptists’ earliest denominational roots. Southern Baptist offerings funding national and international missions are named for women.
The resolution praises God for calling women to fulfill His Great Commission, thanks God for gifting women for ministry, thanks “countless women who serve among us as missionaries, writers, apologists, teachers, mentors, and leaders, both volunteer or professional,” and affirms the work women conduct today in homes, churches, communities, in workplaces and on the mission field.
With the resolution, messengers encouraged pastors to equip women for the work of the ministry; exhorted Southern Baptists to cooperatively “commission, train and support women to go and make disciples;” and vowed to create an environment where “women are fully respected, valued, and mobilized as co-laborers for the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission.”
The resolution is needed for such a time as this, Cornutt told Baptist Press following the 2023 meeting.
“I just felt like, in light of what we are going to be discussing, the right thing to do would be to honor and recognize the role that women play in the church today, and ultimately in fulfilling the Great Commission,” said Cornutt, lead pastor of North Shelby Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. “The reality is there would be no Southern Baptist Convention without women.
“When you look at Scripture, it’s evident that women play a vital role in the church, and no person — no matter if they’re a pastor/elder/overseer, of if they are a deacon, or if they are just a church member — no single person in the church has any more value than any other,” Cornutt said. “We’re all members of one body, and every one of our functions are important.”
Southern Baptist discussions and actions regarding women — that the office of pastor is reserved for men — have drawn criticism and analyses from the contemporary culture.
Cornutt, in addition to putting forth the resolution supporting women, also introduced a motion to amend “Article VI. The Church” of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, adding the terms of “elder” and “overseer” alongside pastor, as offices that are reserved for men.
Messengers approved the motion by raised ballots, amending the article to read in part, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Cornutt’s resolution, in its pre-ambulatory clauses, details the work of biblical women including midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-20); judge and warrior Deborah (Judges 4:4-9); Jael, a wife who conquered army commander Sisera (Judges 4:17-22), and the prophetess Huldah who proclaimed God’s judgment and mercy to priest Hilkiah and others King Josiah sent to her.
Anna proclaimed the arrival of the Messiah (Luke 2:36-38). Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome were among many women who followed Jesus and finally supported His earthly ministry (Mark 15:40-41) and “were commissioned as the original witnesses to and proclaimers of His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10).
The resolution notes Phoebe, stating she “served the church and contributed to its mission” (Romans 16:1-2); reflects on how Priscilla and Lydia provided their homes for church gatherings, and mentions Philip’s daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).
“I think when it comes to things like women being the witnesses of the resurrection,” Cornutt said, “you’ve got to realize in that society, women were devalued. In fact, women were not even credible witnesses for most people.
“So, the fact that our sovereign God chose women to be the immediate witnesses to that, was kind of knocking down cultural barriers that existed,” Cornutt said. “And it’s a way of God saying that men and women have equal value, dignity and worth — not because of who’s qualified to be a pastor, not because men and women are different — but because God says that we are equal and valued … because we bear His image.”
Cornutt lamented the way some secular media outlets portrayed the Convention’s actions regarding women.
“I feel like there was a lot of sensationalism in a lot of the secular news outlets coming out of the Convention,” Cornutt said. “My hope would be twofold. My first hope is that women in our Convention would know that we do value them, and that we love them, and we believe that they are called to do ministry, and they’re called to share the Gospel, and we affirm that, and we want them to live out that calling.
“And two, I hope for those who are outside our Convention, that they would understand why we have theology that we believe, and we affirm. Southern Baptists in no way put down women, in no way try to see them as lesser than a man.
“We don’t believe that any man can be a pastor. We believe that only men qualified by Scripture can do it.”
The resolution is in agreement with other statements Southern Baptists currently affirm, Cornutt said.
“Yes, we believe that men and women are made in the image of God. They’ve equally valued in dignity and worth. They are created differently and they can hold different offices,” he said, “but the same responsibility falls on every Christian: Take the Gospel to the nations.”