Why Is Social Justice the Biggest Threat to the Church in the Last One Hundred Years?

Why Is Social Justice the Biggest Threat to the Church in the Last One Hundred Years?

Last summer as a group of concerned Christian leaders gathered in Dallas, Texas for the summit on social justice, several times it was repeated by others, and by me personally, that social justice is the biggest threat to the church of Jesus Christ in the last one hundred years.

As we discussed these matters in great detail, as we were departing for the airport, a few of us got into one vehicle and one of the men from the back asked me directly, “How do you know that this is the greatest threat in the last one hundred years?” What I said in that ride to the airport I maintain to this very day, but now—with much more clarity.

The Three Headed Dragon

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings, interesting characters emerge onto the scene in The Lord of the Rings and  The Hobbit. One formidable character is the great red dragon, the fire-breathing monster known as Smaug. The dragon has taken over Lonely Mountain and the entire story of The Hobbit is a dramatic build-up to the teamwork of an unlikely and eclectic group that is determined to overcome the dragon. The only way to do so is by storming the door and defeating the beast.

Throughout history, the church has faced a number of controversies and a number of dragons along the way. From legalism to ecumenism to postmodernism, the evangelical church has drifted through the years. Perhaps the biggest controversy to face the evangelical church in recent history has been the inerrancy controversy. This problem crossed denominational lines and affected many institutions and entities along the way—not to mention the local churches that were devastated. The story of the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention is nothing short of God’s providence. Other denominations never recovered when they were overtaken by theological liberalism.

The main issue, although filled with serious complications that were played out in the theological, legal, and local church circles—was the inerrancy of God’s Word. No matter how large the dragon, it had only one head. It was easy to rally people behind the cause to fight for the Bible. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June ebbs and flows from 5-9k people every June depending on the city, but during those years of controversy (in the late 70s), the local churches were busing in thousands of people to vote—to take a stand against error. In Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1985 during the heat of the resurgence, 45,519 messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention showed up to vote.

When people suggest that social justice is “the greatest threat to the church in the last one hundred years”—many Christians who know their history begin to see images of large crowds at the annual SBC meetings over inerrancy and they think of the church growth movement of pragmatism, and the Emerging Church movement and the racism of divided churches in the Jim Crow era—and they just don’t understand how social justice could be that big of a deal. We must remember, no matter what the beast is—if it’s liberalism, pragmatism, or some other theological or political conglomeration—those beasts had one head to focus upon during the fight. I’m arguing that social justice is a three-headed dragon—one that’s often difficult to define—yet one that has a powerful push both in terms of numerical and financial support. That’s what makes this social justice issue the biggest threat to the church in the last century.

Complementarianism—Does It Need a Revision?

The social justice controversy is complicated. One of the “heads” of the dragon of social justice is the issue of complementarianism. Simply put, social justice is driving us toward the need to redefine and clarify where we stand on women serving in ministry. This was one of the biggest issues facing The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary near the end of the inerrancy controversy of the SBC. You can see some of this in a documentary that was made by liberals to chart the “takeover” of Southern Seminary. Through the faithful leadership of Albert Mohler, the institution was led back to the biblical and theological position.

The Danvers Statement was first produced by The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988 and to this very day, remains a solid document that articulates the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity as designed by God from the very beginning. The point is clear—if such differences and if such roles were the product of God’s original design, why would we suddenly desire to redefine the boundaries for women in the local church? Many voices today are advocating for women’s leadership in the church so long as a woman is not ordained to the office of elder. Others are promoting the idea of a woman to lead in denominational life—such as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Such conversations have led to the recent release of the SBC Womens’ Leadership Network.

During times of controversy, we tend to focus upon what certain people cannot do rather than celebrating what they can do. In this case, we should celebrate what God has called women to do and help them fulfill God’s calling on their lives. We are not living in the past where women were, in many ways, discriminated against because of their gender. However, we should stand opposed to any agenda that presses the boundaries that extend beyond the God ordained roles and responsibilities for women in the church and culture. The social justice agenda is currently beating this drum that suggests we need to rethink complementarianism.

Ethnicity—The Modern Racism Debate

Craig Mitchell, in his explanation of Article 12 of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, writes the following, “The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.” He cites Svante Paabo, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany as stating the following:

What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded. [1]

In other words, throughout history, we have made a horrible mistake of dividing over the tone of skin. The melanin count in one person doesn’t make him a member of a different race of people—all of us can be traced back to one historic human—Adam.

However, throughout American history (and world history) we have often divided over skin color. Even after the slave trade was ruled illegal, our nation went through a difficult time of division in the Jim Crow period. Far more than water fountains were segregated. Much of our culture—including local churches were divided by skin color.

Since that time period, we have watched those days pass away. Much education and repentance has occurred through the years allowing for an equal playing field in various spheres of culture—including business, academia, athletics, politics, and the church.

Although we are living in days of great opportunity for all ethnic groups within the United States—and specifically within the evangelical church circles—we continue to see a resurgence of rhetoric regarding racism, discrimination, and white privilege. Certain evangelical voices are leading this conversation through confusing statements on social media and conference platforms such as the MLK50 event which was held on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While many praised the event, it was filled with moments of tension and a lack of clarity on the person and beliefs of King himself.

Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. recently posted a clip of a sermon where the following statement was made:

Social justice is a biblical issue…it’s not a black issue, it’s a humanity issue. It’s not a hood issue, it’s a global issue. And until we understand that Jesus himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captive, to set free those who are oppressed.” If that ain’t social justice, I don’t know what is.

Sadly, McKissick missed the point of Luke 4:16-30. A clear contextual reading of that account of Jesus in Nazareth will demonstrate that God often does the unexpected. Furthermore, the emphasis is placed upon the spiritual poverty and slavery to sin and how Christ delivers people from spiritual poverty rather than the social needs of individuals. The social justice agenda is hyper-focused on equality of opportunity and equality of social position both inside the church and outside the church. This is simply not the message of Jesus.

Through the years, the church has suffered the mistake of mission drift on social issues. We see this in many black church circles where they have turned the pulpit into a political stump, but it has likewise been in seminary education like the Carver School on Social Work that was closed in 1997 on the campus of Southern Seminary in Louisville. It was transferred to Campbellsville University in 1988. Albert Mohler, in a statement, articulated that one of the key reasons for the closing and transfer of the school was the direction that social work as a profession had taken in the last 20 years.

While we must stand upon a firm commitment to “do justice” and we must stand in opposition to injustice in our society and within evangelical circles—the current social justice movement has a different motivation. As a means of acknowledging the wrongs of the past, we are being encouraged to empower people with certain melanin count to high ranking positions within the local church and denominational circles. In some cases, even if the individual is under qualified for the position, it has been suggested he or she should be chosen in order to achieve a respectable level of skin tone diversity. This is severely patronizing to the black population—and anyone else with darker skin than whites.

In order to press an agenda, you must convince a population to accept your ideologies. The normalization of terms and ideas and theories such as “systemic racism” and “white privilege” is one means of continuing this agenda. Many people today haven’t even been willing to pause and honestly evaluate evangelical circles to see if systemic racism is really alive across the system (which is different than individuals). In the same way, many people haven’t paused to evaluate the theory of white privilege within evangelical circles.

Once again, if it does exist, why are we not all working together to name the names of leaders, institutions, and entities that are engaged in this sinful discrimination scheme? We do this with sexual scandals and discrimination against women, but we aren’t willing to call names with racism? Could the ideas of systemic racism and white privilege be nothing more than a political strategy to deconstruct hierarchies and to gain political power within the evangelical church?

As we continue to see a growing divide among ethnic groups within evangelicalism, the way forward for the proponents of social justice is merely a repeat of historic mistakes regarding collectivism and a hyper focus on group equality rather than biblical justice for the individual. Samuel Sey explains:

Over time the term ‘social justice’ became associated with critical theorists and Neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School in Germany. They rejected universal rights or human rights as a basis for justice. They essentially rejected liberty for individuals as the hallmark for justice in society. They believed, instead, that parity between groups were the mark of justice in society. They rejected individualism and embraced collectivism. They did not define justice as equality of opportunity; they defined justice as equality of outcome.

In our ongoing debate on social justice in the area of ethnic division, we must evaluate the conversation and see if we are interested in establishing biblical justice for all, or if we are advocating for advancement and empowerment for our group. That’s what separates biblical justice from social justice. The agenda of social justice is interested in power—not unity nor is it interested in biblical justice. If the machine can use such tactics as social solutions to ethnic division in order to obtain the power, that’s often how the game is played.

Gay Christianity Demands Inclusion

In 2014, as a direct response to the controversy caused by Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released a comprehensive response to Matthew Vines. In the opening chapter, Albert Mohler writes the following:

Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question. [2]

In our present social justice conversation, the false category of “gay Christianity” is being promoted by evangelical leaders—many of whom speak in major evangelical conferences and lead evangelical institutions. If you search on Google for “gay Christianity” (as of 4-3-19), the second listing on the first page is for Living Out. This is a ministry devoted to helping those who experience same sex attraction and clearly states the following on their website:

Can you be gay and Christian? Is it a sin to be gay? How do you live life without sex? How do I support my same-sex attracted Christian friend/family member?
We are a group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction bringing out into the open the questions and dilemmas that gay Christians can often face.

Recently, Tom Buck, who serves as the senior pastor for the First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas devoted nearly a week for the release of four consecutive articles (part 1part 2part 3, part 4) that pointed out the errors of the Living Out ministry and called for separation and acknowledgement regarding the endorsement of the ERLC and Russell Moore—among other evangelical leaders. Since then, the ERLC has removed their endorsement, however, you can still see it on the web archives.

If we are to be committed to biblical justice, how can we both love people and accommodate error at the same time? That is precisely what the proponents of gay Christianity are asking the church of Jesus Christ to do. Heath Lambert provided clarity on this issue by writing the following:

Is a “gay Christian” consistent with the gospel of Christ? Matthew Vines’s answer to this question is the exact opposite of the one provided by historic Christianity. Vines’s book, God and the Gay Christian, is an unfortunate reversal of thousands of years of moral clarity about homosexuality. [3]

He goes on to make this statement, “What is at stake in this debate is nothing less than our love for troubled people and the very gospel of Jesus Christ.” [4] Make no mistake about it, the capitulation on the false category of gay Christianity and the acceptance of new “ministries” such as Living Out and Revoice demonstrate that the LGBTQA+ proponents are planning to bang on the same door, use the same rhetoric, and demand the same equality that has been shouted loudly through this social justice conversation from the beginning.

The Way Forward

The way forward is not to continue to shout at one another or to talk past one another. In fact, we must avoid misrepresentation and labor to achieve unity through the cloud of controversy. As we continue to talk, study, and work through this controversy—there is a better way forward. I would like to propose a few suggestions.

  1. Commitment to the Sufficiency of Scripture: Unfortunately, the social justice agenda is primarily a political agenda. There are theological talking points that often get brought to the surface, but the fabric of the agenda is politically driven and motivated. In order to untangle the web of controversy, there will need to be an uncompromising commitment to the sufficient Word of God. There is no controversy and no trial too big for God’s Word.
  2. Conversation. There hasn’t been much conversation happening on the issue of social justice. There has been no real serious conversation. It has been primarily a one sided conversation with responses shouted back and forth—mostly in the 280 character limit of Twitter. At some point, there needs to be a honest and transparent conversation between people who talk to one another directly.
  3. Pursue Unity in the Gospel of Jesus: True unity will not come as a result of the social justice agenda. It will only cause division and compromise of doctrinal fidelity. The only means of true unity will come as a result of seeing ourselves marked by our union with Christ. This is not the outward mark of circumcision as the Jews often misunderstood, but by the circumcision of the heart. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross (Gal. 3:28-29).
  4. Do Justice: The call of all Christians is to practice biblical justice and to stand against injustice. We must do this within society and evangelical circles (local churches and denominations). We must love people and care for people properly and biblically. This means that we must not tolerate discrimination of people based on skin color and gender. Once again, the Bible is clear about how to do justice, walk humbly, love God supremely, and love our neighbor (Micah 6:8; Mark 12:28-30).

The only way to honor Christ, protect the gospel, and to gain the trust of people is by standing upon the Word of God without compromise and acknowledging error when necessary. Where necessary, and it may be necessary at some point, we must be willing to divide friendships over important theological issues—specifically those that denigrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Until then, we pray for unity and peace as we continue to work through the controversy of social justice.

Martin Luther once urged ministers of his day to take action and to not be lazy. He stated:

Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture … The call is: watch, study attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent … This evil. shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring. [5]

You can describe social justice in terms of a train with boxcars to identify an agenda or a three-headed dragon to identify the threat. I still believe this is the biggest threat to the church in the last century. Once upon a time, Martin Luther stormed the door of the Roman Catholic Church and took on the beast of a false religion. Today, we must not underestimate the three-headed dragon of social justice. We must not forget that while we see the beast of social justice, this enemy of the church is merely a puppet for the true dragon—Satan himself who hates Jesus and God’s church. Be alert (1 Pet. 5:8). Stand firm (Eph. 6:13b-14a).


  1. Megan Gannon, “Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue.” Scientific American.com(February 5, 2016).
  2. Albert Mohler Jr., ed., God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014), 9.
  3. , 77
  4. , 80
  5. Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1983), 40-41.

 

 

 

Stop “Empowering” Women and Start Equipping them to Biblically Lead

Stop “Empowering” Women and Start Equipping them to Biblically Lead

This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.


The Ongoing Push to Empower Women

Last month, I drew attention to the redefining of complementarity occurring in the SBC (https://bit.ly/2Jkn386). Various leaders were using similar language calling for “the tearing down of all hierarchy” and “empowerment” of women in the SBC. This rhetoric began to translate into action as the election of a woman as the “first trustee chairwoman” at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was celebrated, followed by the proposal for a woman to serve as president of the SBC.

Some pushed back against this movement with Scriptural responses. For example, I wrote several articles carefully exegeting 1 Timothy 2:12-15 in order to offer a biblical argumentation for the complementarian roles of men and women. With that Scriptural foundation, I argued that a denomination comprised of local churches should not desire a model of teaching and leadership different from God’s design for those same individual churches.

Proponents of empowering a woman as SBC president have given arguments such as the Baptist Faith and Message only prohibits a woman from serving as a pastor; the office of president is not the biblical office of pastor; and the job description for president does not prohibit a woman from serving. What they have yet to advance is an argument for the roles of men and women that proceeds from a careful analysis of Scripture. Rather than interacting with any biblical arguments offered, one writer simply concluded, “in short, there’s no reason a woman cannot be SBC president.”

The impetus behind this recent movement is critical to understand. This conversation did not arise in a vacuum but surfaced in light of the sad revelation of mistreatment of some women in the SBC. To be clear, there is no justification for the abuse of women and it is right to take a strong stand against all its forms. In addition, when such abuses come to light, we should look to Scripture to guide both our reaction to them and the solution for how to rightly move forward. However, emotional pragmatic answers have been controlling the conversation instead of ideas rooted in Scripture.

For example, in a panel discussion at SBC 2018, solutions were discussed for how to respond to the accusations of mistreatment and marginalization of women in the SBC. Repeatedly, the call to empower women and give them roles of leadership were echoed. One panelist commented that when situations arise where women have been mistreated in the church, the wisest answer is to empower women in leadership to bring about a peaceful solution. At face value, that answer might appear completely logical, but it is absolutely unbiblical.

The NT Model of Leadership

In Acts 6, the church encounters its first crisis that created a division in the church. Luke writes, “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (6:1). The text does not ascribe the motives behind the marginalization of one group of widows over the other as deliberately sinful. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution among these women was serious and needed to be confronted.

This matter was of such importance that the apostles summoned the entire church to address the problem (6:2). Although it was necessary for the apostles to not be distracted from leading the church in the preaching of the Word, the needs of the widows must not be overlooked. Therefore, the apostles called upon the church to choose individuals from among the body to lead in this important task to assure that these women were cared for and no longer marginalized.

The first recorded problem in the church directly involved the mistreatment of women. The apostles identified the need for individuals to lead in the task of bringing about a peaceful resolution that would result in godly care for these women. If there is any task that it would seem appropriate to place women in positions of authority, surely this would be a perfect case. Yet, the apostles directed the church to “pick out from among you seven men” (6:3).

Considering the arguments being made about empowering women, it should be striking that the apostles did not recommend for even one woman to be enlisted in the oversight of this ministry to the widows. It cannot be that the apostles lacked wisdom, failed to be sensitive, or merely acquiesced to the cultural norms of the day. When the apostles saw the need for oversight of this critical ministry in the church, they set a clear example of God’s design for authoritative leadership to be men.

The argument I am making is not that no women could have assisted these men chosen to lead. If they were wise leaders, they would have sought women to assist them in this task. However, the empowerment to lead in resolving this ministry crisis was given exclusively to men. Apparently, male authority in the church is not exclusively restricted to the teaching role of a pastor as some suggest.

It seems unreasonable to believe that the apostles did not deem it appropriate to enlist women to exercise authority in resolving the crisis of the widows, but the SBC should elect a woman as SBC president to address its problems. Perhaps the reason that individuals have not given biblical examples for their argument to “empower” women in the church is because none exist. The apostles were all men; the planting of churches was led by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was given to men.

That said, my ultimate point is not that women should have no leadership in the church. They most certainly should. In fact, I contend that this push to empower women in unbiblical ways will only serve to minimalize and discourage women from valuing the very leadership God has called upon them to exercise.

We Desperately Need Women to Biblically Lead

One of the dangers of responding to issues of this nature is appearing unbalanced. While trying to defend against the onslaught of those promoting unbiblical roles for women, it is easy to get entangled in only addressing what women cannot do. The reality is that women are a wonderful gift from God and their leadership is needed both in the home and the church.

My experience as a pastor is that we need more women, not less, leading as God calls for in Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior… and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” In other words, God calls women in the church to lead other women in fulfilling the vital role that he has given them. Only in Scripture can God’s intended design for women be found.

Paul respected women and worked side by side with them in the work of the gospel (Rom 16). However, the only ministry in which he called upon them to lead was the discipling of children and other women. Mothers in the home should take great joy in the privilege to raise their children in godliness. Women in the church should devote themselves to the crucial role of discipling other women. Women have the unique privilege and responsibility of leading in these significant ways. It is sad and tragic that so many women feel unfulfilled in the beautiful design for which God created them. It is an even greater tragedy when the church cultivates that emotion.

Rather than enticing women with empowerment and cultivating a dissatisfaction towards their God given design, the SBC should call upon churches to equip women to serve in their Titus 2 role. I believe in the radical equality of men and women as image bearers of God. I also know that women have suffered greatly in this world at the hands of sexism. But it is the sin in this world that truly oppresses women, not the role God designed for them or the biblical authority structure of the church. Ever since Satan deceived Eve in the garden, the world has been selling “liberation” for the price of rebelling against God’s design. We should not allow them to set up shop in our individual churches or in the SBC.

Therefore, we should stop “empowering” women and start discipling them to follow Scripture.

The Too Little, Too Late Voice of Russell Moore Regarding Revoice

The Too Little, Too Late Voice of Russell Moore Regarding Revoice

This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.


Russell Moore is not generally known for his silence nor slowness in addressing hot social topics. For example, recently he spoke loud and clear about President Trump’s immigration policy that separated children from parents who were arrested for crossing the U.S. border illegally. Dr. Moore expressed his legitimate concerns about the damaging effects that this could have upon those children. When Trump reversed direction, Dr. Moore tweeted his support of this decision within minutes of the announcement.

Therefore, I became increasingly troubled by Dr. Moore’s silence regarding Revoice – a conference designed for the purpose of “supporting, encouraging and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians.” If the ethical implications of a U.S. Immigration policy were worthy of Dr. Moore’s attention, surely Revoice holds equal weight. The latter hits much closer to home for evangelicals and has the potential to result in a far greater and more lasting damage.

Russell Moore’s Days of Silence

On June 13, during the ERLC report at the SBC, Dr. Moore was asked by a messenger about Revoice and its endorsement by ERLC Fellow, Dr. Karen Prior. Dr. Moore responded by saying, “I don’t know about the Revoice Conference,” and then proceeded to give a lengthy defense of Dr. Prior. I consider Dr. Prior a friend, and although I disagree with her endorsement of Revoice, I share Dr. Moore’s appreciation for her. However, Dr. Moore dismissed the core of the messenger’s question, “Will the ERLC disavow Revoice?” Furthermore, he ignored the messenger’s disconcerting description that quoted Revoice’s promotion of the conference as a “celebration of queer culture and the plight of LGBT Christians.”

Considering that concerns about Revoice had been echoed across social media for weeks, it was hard to believe that Dr. Moore could not know about it. Dr. Owen Strachan, an ERLC Research Fellow, published his concerns on May 31. Drs. Jason Allen, President of MBTS, and Albert Mohler, President of SBTS, both tweeted about it on the same day. It is strange that Dr. Moore, who was on Twitter that day and most every day since, could have missed a highly promoted article that addressed such a hot social topic.

Nevertheless, whatever Dr. Moore’s knowledge about Revoice was on June 13, his voice remained silent. After a week, I began to call for Dr. Moore, via Twitter, to please address Revoice. His busyness with other things – both trivial and significant – appeared to communicate a lack of concern. In the days after June 13, he tweeted twice about a rap video, in which he appeared, congratulating J.D. Greear on his election as SBC President. He tweeted about hoping to never hear another political address at the SBC. Four times he tweeted about an ERLC initiative on abuse of women. No less than twelve times he tweeted about his concerns with the effects of President Trump’s immigration policy upon children.

Surely, the risk of redefining the ethical teaching of Scripture on sexuality was as important to Dr. Moore as the danger of children being separated from their parents at the border for a matter of days. Long after any emotional trauma those children experienced has passed, the children of our churches will still be spiritually traumatized growing up with the false teaching that could take root in our churches if Revoice gets its way, while leaders like Dr. Moore remained silent. However, the silence finally broke.

The Silence Breaks

On Friday, June 22, at 4:27 PM (EST), Andrew Walker with the ERLC tweeted an article (https://bit.ly/2txd3i8) that spoke of his “pastoral concerns about how the Revoice Conference is being framed and the potential confusion it might sow among impressionable audiences.” At 5:26 PM (EST), Dr. Moore retweeted Walker’s article with the comment, “Good balanced analysis by my @ERLC colleague @andrewtwalk.”

I was immediately thankful that the silence had finally broken, and that Andrew Walker was “deeply skeptical” about The Revoice Conference. He expressed his concern for how Revoice was labeling homosexuals as a “sexual or gender minority,” and how they were “appropriating the language of sexual and gender progressives who have zero interest in maintaining any semblance of Christian teaching.” In addition, Walker stated that “speakers and presenters at Revoice have made alarming arguments in the past.”

That said, I was surprised and remain concerned by several things. I know, some will say, “First he had a problem that Dr. Moore had not said anything. Now he has a problem with what he did say.” As a pastor, I know what it is like to have people who are never satisfied with anything I do. I pray that is not my attitude. I have not been an avid critic of Dr. Moore, and I detest those who paint him with a tail and a pitchfork no matter what he does. However, I share equal disdain for the fanboys who circle the wagons whenever a legitimate concern is raised. Certain things are still troubling.

The Timing and Manner of the Response

The timing of the response’s release was strikingly odd. If you missed the statement altogether, you are likely not alone. It was released, in what is called in media, as a “Friday News Dump.” No one who is media savvy publishes anything remotely significant on a Friday – especially at around 5:00 PM. In addition, while Dr. Moore tweeted no less than twelve times in a week about Trump’s immigration policy, he has not pointed to Walker’s article since his Friday evening tweet. It makes one wonder whether Dr. Moore sees this issue as critical of an issue as Walker communicates.

This raises the question of why Russell Moore would delegate addressing this issue to a colleague. It was Dr. Moore that was personally asked at the SBC about Revoice, and he claimed ignorance about it. Why would he not educate himself and personally address the concerns?

Understanding the problems with the Revoice Conference does not require PhD level research. Fifteen minutes is sufficient to familiarize yourself with its direction. Dr. Moore could have gone to the Revoice website (http://www.Revoice.us) where he would have discovered topics such as, “Redeeming Queer Culture,” where attendees will learn about the “virtues of queer culture,” and “what queer treasure… will be brought into the New Jerusalem.” Dr. Moore could have been enlightened to “mixed-oriented marriages” where “gay men” – who continue to label themselves as such – are married to “straight women.”

If Dr. Moore did not want to take the time to peruse the website, he could have relied on the vast amount of research that was already available. On June 20, Dr. Mohler once again drew attention to what he called an “important article by Colin Smothers” that extensively detailed “the Revoice conference and its fundamental problems” (https://bit.ly/2tgGUeH).

If Dr. Moore had personally taken the time to research and respond, he would have been prepared to give a much stronger argument against Revoice than was offered in Andrew Walker’s piece. Walker’s approximate five-hundred-word response to Revoice was less than robust in comparison to all the lengthy and thorough responses that preceded it. Amazingly, neither Moore nor Walker even referenced any of these articles – many written by SBC leaders – that warned about Revoice.

While Walker merely referenced that the speakers held troubling views, other articles gave their graphic details. There is little doubt that Revoice is intended to be revolutionary in shaping the thinking of evangelical churches. What was once unimaginable to even openly voice is now considered worthy of “celebrating.” The views of many of the speakers are an assault on the doctrines of sin and sanctification. Although they all declare that LGBT people should not engage in homosexual behavior, they offer new definitions that are not biblical and will not help people overcome its power. Consider the published words of some of those speaking at Revoice :

  • “the desire to have sex with others of our own sex is a temptation to sin which is a result of the fall, but it is not, in itself, sinful.” – Ron Belgau
  • “the sexual aspect of Sodom’s sin involved gang rape, not a consensual and monogamous relationship between two men.” – Ron Belgau
  • “It wasn’t, for me, a matter of whether to be gay or Christian; I knew that I was both…” – Wesley Hill
  • “Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love.” – Wesley Hill
  • “What if we could imagine a scenario in which a Christian businesswoman, after hearing her pastor preach a sermon about these issues, decided that her conscience would allow her to sell products to a gay couple to use in a wedding ceremony?” – Nate Collins
  • “To discern a path forward that enables gay people to view their sexuality as a possibility and not merely as a problem.” – Nate Collins

In addition to these few examples, Nate Collins, is the founder of Revoice. In his personal bio, he describes himself as a “married, same-sex-attracted/gay man.” At one time, this would have been shocking language coming from a pagan. However, it is stunning that this biographical description is chosen by Dr. Collins – a graduate and former NT Professor at SBTS.

It would be one thing if this conference were being conducted by a group of liberals from mainline Protestant churches, but these individuals are from our own theological camp. Dr. Moore’s slowness, timing, and delegated response is far from adequate. But there is one more critical point.

The Glaring Oversight of the Response

Some suggested that Walker chose a more cautious approach in his article, writing, “the Revoice Conference has not yet even occurred, so speculation about the conference could potentially be unwarranted.” Many have declared that we should “wait and see” rather than “rush and judge.” Perhaps Dr. Moore is taking the posture of “wait and see.” The only problem is that an ERLC Research Fellow has taken an attitude that gives the appearance of “embrace and endorse.”

When Dr. Moore was asked about Dr. Prior’s endorsement at SBC 2018, he declared ignorance about Revoice and waxed eloquently about his confidence in Dr. Prior. He spoke of her commitment to Gospel centeredness regarding homosexual issues. I also believe Dr. Prior to be deeply concerned about giving Gospel answers to those struggling with homosexual desires. This is why, being concerned about her endorsement, I privately contacted her because I was concerned about why she would endorse this event. I was not convinced by her reasons, but it was a pleasant interaction.

So, if I contacted Dr. Prior, why did Dr. Moore not take the time to do the same? Why would he not seek to understand her position before taking a position himself? More importantly, if he now believes Revoice to be dangerous, why has he not asked Dr. Prior to withdraw her endorsement as a Research Fellow for the ERLC? I know several people who would confirm that Dr. Moore is not shy to confront those who take a position that is opposite of his – especially if they are leaders in the SBC.

Therefore, shortly after Dr. Moore’s retweeting of Walker’s article, I gave four responses with this tweeted reply:

1. Thankful @andrewtwalk of @ERLC finally spoke on this.
2. Thankful @drmoore pointed to it.
3. How does @ERLC rectify saying the conference is deeply problematic, yet it’s endorsed by @KSPrior (ERLC Fellow).
4. @drmoore was asked this at SBC & it’s still a valid question.

Although Dr. Moore did not respond, Dr. Prior did respond with this tweet:

“We’re Baptists, Tom. We’re allowed to disagree with one another in the application of biblical principles.”

I responded:

“Yes. Baptists disagree. But there is complete agreement on this among the leaders of SBC about the serious doctrinal problems with this conference. After reading the strong words of @albertmohler and @ostrachan – and now @ERLC – would you reconsider your endorsement?

Dr. Prior responded:

“I never expected they would endorse it, and my endorsement of the aims of the conference is well-considered. I don’t know why you need everyone to agree on this, but I don’t have that particular struggle. I stand in support of those with SSA who desire to obey God.”

With all due respect, the issues surrounding Revoice are far deeper than “support of those with SSA who desire to obey God.” It is whether the kind of support Revoice offers is actually biblical and whether the answers the conference gives will help anybody truly obey God. I agree with every warning that I have read about Revoice – including that of Andrew Walker – and I believe this conference is a threat to the Gospel. Dr. Albert Mohler is correct to say, “My biggest concern in this conference and in the language that is used and in the conversation that many evangelicals are now having is that what you see in this conference is the acceptance of the idea that our sexual identity or any individual’s sexual orientation becomes a defining issue that isn’t changed by the gospel and isn’t transformed by sanctification.”

The glaring oversight of Dr. Moore, is that he has failed to ultimately address one of the fundamental questions that he was originally asked on June 13. The question that he answers only with silence. What about Dr. Prior’s endorsement of Revoice? Although his support of Dr. Prior was understandable when he was ignorant about Revoice, I believe his silence now is negligent.

Dr. Prior has every right, as a Baptist, to disagree and be the lone endorser of Revoice among SBC leaders. However, I do not believe that she has the right, as an ERLC Research fellow, to endorse something as dangerous as everyone declares that it is – including the voice of Dr. Russell Moore. I consider Dr. Prior my friend – I hope to remain her friend – but I believe she should step down from the ERLC or Dr. Moore remove her unless she withdraws her endorsement with a good conscience. I do not consider Dr. Prior to be a heretic, nor do I question her love for the gospel. My problem lies not with her sincerity, but her discernment. As Baptists, we can disagree, but our chosen views might prohibit us from being able to lead in certain capacities. It concerns me when someone serving on the ERLC does not exercise better discernment about crucial ethical matters that plague our culture. Dr. Moore should also be concerned, and once again break his silence.

 

Will the Next SBC Resurgence Include a Redefining of Complementarianism? (Part 4)

Will the Next SBC Resurgence Include a Redefining of Complementarianism? (Part 4)

This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.

As I reflect upon the 2018 SBC gathering, I am both encouraged and concerned about the practice of complementarianism in the Convention. I was greatly encouraged to hear several of our SBC leaders articulate a clear and emphatic commitment to the distinct roles of men and women as taught in 1 Timothy 2:12, which I sought to explain in part two of this series (https://bit.ly/2JtPwEz). When Dr. Al Mohler was asked a question from the convention floor about the role of women in teaching, he made it abundantly clear that SBTS was committed to only men teaching in their School of Theology due to the pastoral nature of that role. When asked in another venue about the role of SBC President, Dr. Mohler replied that the gathering was more than a business meeting and included responsibilities that should limit that role to male leadership.

While Mohler’s comments instilled confidence about the future of complementarity in the SBC, I continued to have serious concerns as I engaged in conversations with others. The repeated mantra – both in private conversations and voices from the convention floor – was the need to “empower” women. If this means ensuring that our churches are enlisting women in every possible way to serve the church and not marginalizing them in their service, I fully embrace that call. However, if “empowerment” means to elevate women to all the same roles as men or to employ such a narrow application of complementarity that there is little more than a paper-thin wall separating it from egalitarianism, then count me out. As I argued in my last article, the “empowerment” of women will not reverse the results of The Fall, it will simply repeat the mistakes of The Fall (https://bit.ly/2JCBEMB).

For the sake of clarity, I believe women should serve in many ways within the church, and there should be no limitations beyond Scripture. At the same time, women will never flourish by being “empowered” to forsake the important role that God has given them to fulfill by his design. It is foolish to think that women will find fulfillment by following Eve in her folly exemplified in The Fall. If women want to flourish – as God intended – they should model Eve in her faith as illustrated in her ultimate response to God.

Following Eve in Her Faith Not Her Folly

Paul gave a clear prohibition of women teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Tim 2:12) based upon God’s created order (1 Tim 2:13). He then pointed to the circumstances of The Fall to exemplify what happens when we rebel against God’s design (1 Tim 2:14). In closing, Paul wanted women to see that they can be joyfully and beautifully fulfilled in their distinct role. This requires them to model Eve’s faith, which is exemplified in her response to God’s word of promise. Paul writes, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim 2:15).

Although there is much debate about Paul’s closing words, I believe his meaning becomes clear if we understand he is concluding the Genesis story of Eve followed by a call to all women to follow her ultimate example of faith. This is the reason verse fifteen begins with the feminine singular (i.e. Eve) and concludes with the feminine plural (i.e. all women).

First, regarding Eve, Paul is simply following her character in the plot of the Genesis account. Adam was created, then Eve (Gen 2:15-23). The Fall exemplifies the results of rebelling against God’s created complementarity order (Gen 3:1-13). Eve’s is saved from what led to her deception by trusting God’s word of promise, which included a return to embracing God’s design for her as a woman (Gen 3:14-16).

Understanding Paul’s illustration in 1 Tim 2:15 requires a correct interpretation of his use of “childbearing.” Some argue that Paul is illustrating the biological distinction between men and women and instructing them to find their fulfillment in bearing children. However, there is good reasons to think otherwise. Practically, Paul taught elsewhere that some women have the gift of singleness (1 Cor 7:7), and not every woman has been blessed with the ability to have children. Surely Paul would not exclude these groups from his universal argument that he is making. Furthermore, Paul’s points have all been theological. Therefore, it seems likely he continues with that line of reasoning.

The key to Paul’s meaning is best found in what William Mounce calls “a more serious suggestion” that recognizes the presence of the definite article in the original language before the word “childbearing.” This view recognizes Paul’s building on the context of Genesis 3, which led to Paul’s conclusion that “Eve’s deception will be overcome by the deliverance prophesied in Gen 3:15, which foretells that Eve’s seed (descendant) will bruise the serpent’s head, i.e., salvation is announced in terms of a child to be borne by the woman.”

Therefore, the way Eve would be saved from the results of the Fall – which included her sinful desire to usurp the role of her husband and his sinful desire to dominate her – was to trust in God’s promise that her seed would be the one to bring salvation to all mankind. Having God’s word of promise in Gen 3:15, Eve was faced with another choice. Would she choose to embrace God’s word and submit herself to the role that God had chosen her to fill? Scripture reveals that Eve chose to submit herself and fully embrace God’s promise. Eve went from twisting God’s word to trusting God’s word. This is illustrated in her words of faith recorded in Gen 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” Later, after Cain’s failure could have led her to despair, she remained fixed in her confidence in God’s promise as she declared at the birth of Seth, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Gen 4:25). After The Fall, Scripture only records Eve’s voice two other times, both expressing faith in Gen 3:15. Eve’s faith in God’s word of promise and role that God gave her in the fulfillment of that promise became the focus of her life.

Second, Paul is not ultimately calling upon women to follow Eve in childbearing, but to model Eve in her expression of faith in God’s word and role for them. Although God has not designed women to teach or exercise authority over men, they will find complete fulfillment in in their God-given role to serve in the church. They, like Eve, will find their salvation by faith in the Gen 3:15 promise that was fulfilled by Christ, which will lead to the fruit of “love and holiness.” Ultimately, their submission to God’s command in this will require the same “self-control” as they needed for submitting themselves to modesty (1 Tim 2:9). The question remains for women today as it did for those of Timothy’s church in Ephesus: Will they repeat the mistakes of The Fall or will they follow Eve’s example of faith by trusting God’s word and exercising the self-control needed to submit to their God ordained role?

Where We Go from Here

I share the concerns of fellow Southern Baptists that any abuse of women is abhorrent, and the marginalization of women is equally unbiblical. However, the “empowerment” of women to leadership roles outside of God’s biblical design will not stop either of those things. Obedience and complete submission to God’s Word are the only things that will lead to valuing women for the treasured gift that they are from God. We will never fix unbiblical and ungodly actions with anything short of a robust biblical response. Rather than seeking to empower women, we should seek to entrust to them their biblical role that will produce genuine flourishing. This means we need to train women in our seminaries and churches to serve in teaching and leading children and other women (Titus 2).

In twenty-five years of serving as a Senior Pastor, I have not found that we need less women to serve in these capacities, but that we are always in need of more. We are not serving the families or our churches well by taking women out of the home when their children are in their formative years or removing godly women from teaching and leading the women of the church in order to place them in positions of authority over men. It is a first-class job God has given women and we should encourage them in the value of their role, not facilitate a longing for “something better.”

If the SBC is not training women in our seminaries to help them serve in the roles God has designed, then we are involved in a task that has less to do with the command of the Lord and more to do with taking our cues from the world. If we allow the culture to shift our focus away from the biblical teaching of the distinct roles of men and women, it will be to the detriment of the church and the family. What the SBC desperately needs is not one more resolution about the empowerment of women, but a resolve to return to God’s created design for men and women so that both can flourish as God originally intended. If we choose to do otherwise – ignoring the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:12-15 – we will soon discover that the empowerment of women did not reverse the effects of The Fall, but simply repeated the mistakes of The Fall. May God help us to stand firm in an age that wants to destroy our foundations.

Will the Next SBC Resurgence Include a Redefining of Complementarianism? (Part 3)

Will the Next SBC Resurgence Include a Redefining of Complementarianism? (Part 3)

This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.

In part one of this series (https://bit.ly/2Jkn386), I addressed how the recent revelations of the mistreatment of women within the SBC has led to a call for their “empowerment.” It has been proposed that women should be placed in the highest positions of denominational leadership – including the office of president.

In part two, (https://bit.ly/2JtPwEz), I examined the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-13 as the foundation for complementarianism. This passage clearly commands that a woman is not to teach nor exercise authority over men. Paul bases his prohibition not upon the cultural distinctives of his day, but upon God’s created order in Genesis 2:15-18. Therefore, Paul was establishing leadership in the church upon theological truth. Furthermore, I argued this same model should be followed in the SBC leadership structure as it has throughout its history. If a woman is not permitted to preach and lead in one church, it makes no sense to place her in that role in the gathering of thousands of those same churches.

That said, I am certain some will object to the timing of these posts. Why address the limitations of the role of women at a time when their marginalization, mistreatment, and even abuse has come to light? Should this not be reserved for another day?

I wish all I had to make clear was that I firmly believe that any abusive treatment of women is an abhorrent, ungodly, and a violation of God’s Word. I only chose to write these responses due to some using these circumstances as an opportunity to push the SBC towards an unbiblical position. Rather than react to these things, we need to rightly lead with the Scripture. We will not solve the wickedness of the abuse and domination of women by reversing God’s biblical design for the roles of men and women. In fact, that is what led to the domination of women in the first place.

Paul’s Example of the Fall in 1 Timothy 2:14-15

After Paul declares that a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man and grounds that prohibition in God’s created order, he points to the circumstances of the Fall to exemplify his point. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim 2:14). Paul is not saying that women are more susceptible to deception than men. Neither Scripture nor experience would support that claim. Paul simply shows how God’s ordained design is exemplified in The Fall. It demonstrates what happens when we rebel against God’s created order. As Tom Schreiner writes, “In approaching Eve, then, the serpent subverted the pattern of male leadership… Adam was present throughout and did not intervene. The Genesis temptation, therefore, is a parable of what happens when male leadership is abrogated.” The details of the Genesis 3 account support this assertion.

God had placed Adam in the garden and entrusted him with the responsibility of its governance and with God’s word of command (Gen 2:15-17). Since Eve was created after this (Gen 2:18), it was clearly Adam’s responsibility to lead Eve and teach her God’s prohibition and its meaning. The story is clear about who is the leader and teacher at the point of creation. The setting at the end of chapter two is one of harmony and peace between Adam and Eve. “And the man and his wife were naked and were not ashamed.”

A dramatic turn occurs as the serpent enters the storyline. He was “crafty” in his approach – bypassing Adam as the leader and going directly to Eve (Gen 3:1). Thus, the reversal of God’s created order began as the serpent questions Eve about God’s command. God’s prohibition was clear that they should not “eat” of the tree’s fruit (Gen 2:17), but Eve adds to it saying, “neither shall you touch it” (Gen 3:3). The text informs us that Adam was with her as this exchange took place (Gen 3:6). Therefore, Eve usurped the teaching role given to Adam, and he let her do so.

The serpent then challenges Eve’s garden homily and offers his own spin. He repudiates God’s Word as having authority over her, and challenges Eve to take her life into her own hands (Gen 3:5). With her new worldview, Eve took of the fruit and ate. However, she did not stop there. The text declares, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6). The reversal of roles was now complete. Eve rejected the Word of God, assumed the role of teacher of the new command to eat whatever you like, and exercised authority over her husband by directing him to eat.

At this point, it is critical to watch the development of the story. The Fall does not take place until the full reversal of roles is completed. After Eve becomes the teacher by rejecting God’s command in exchange for the serpent’s version, and after she takes authority by directing Adam to eat, “then the eyes of both were opened” (Gen 3:7). At this moment, God’s created order was fully rejected, the perfect world was compromised, and the earlier shameless state was ruined – “and they knew they were naked.” The previous condition was not destroyed until Adam forsook his God-given role and fully followed Eve’s lead.

Paul points to this story to teach what happens when we rebel against God’s created order. Eve’s failure to submit to Adam’s leadership in that moment is what led to her being deceived by the serpent (Gen 3:13). Adam’s failure to teach and lead his wife – choosing to listen to her voice (Gen 3:17) – brought about tragic results. The sin of reversing the roles that God designed led to the sinful battle of the sexes. Fallen women would persist in the desire to usurp the role given to men to lead and fallen men would respond with sinful domination over women (Gen 3:16). Therefore, it was the abdication of that godly, biblical, male leadership by Adam and the refusal to not learn in quiet submission by Eve that ultimately led to the domination of women.

Repeating the Mistakes of the Fall

Abandoning God’s created design for spiritual leadership will accomplish no more for women today than it did for Eve in the story recorded in Genesis. Men dominating women is a result of The Fall and can only be overcome by both men and women being transformed by the Gospel and returning to their God-given roles. We will not solve the problems of male domination by leading women to follow the pattern of Eve in The Fall. It would be foolish to think that the evil act of men abusing women will be overcome by once again twisting the clear commands of God. These sinful instincts are a result of The Fall not its cure. If we want men and women to flourish and desire to abolish the shame that sin has produced between the sexes, we need to return to God’s original order in creation.

Nonetheless, how should women be encouraged to think about the role God has given them in the church? The temptation may be to think that male leadership is somehow just another form of domination and offers no truly significant role to women. Lord willing, I will address that tomorrow in my final post.