As we wrap up the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention, there is much to be thankful for as we depart from the city of Dallas. First, we must be overjoyed that we have presidents who serve the seminaries of our Convention who are absolutely committed to the protection of women and the safety of both students and faculty members—especially those women who serve and study on their campuses. We must likewise be grateful for the attempt at more honest reporting of statistics by the North American Mission Board—something Kevin Ezell discussed in his report before the messengers. However, as we prepare to head back home today, I’m honestly confused over the amount of time and effort placed into the discussion of empowering women to leadership roles in the SBC. If we have already established our position on biblical complementarity years ago—why has it become such a talking point this year?
I truly appreciated the answer given by Dr. Albert Mohler following his report for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on Wednesday morning when asked specifically about women serving in leadership roles in our SBC entities. He explained that the institution he oversees has a clear policy in place that they only hire faculty to teach in the school of theology who meet the qualifications of a pastor. He went on to explain that they have other schools where women can serve — but not as it pertains to the teaching of God’s Word.
All of our seminary presidents spoke of their unashamed embrace of complementarianism, to which they received a passionate applause from the floor by the messengers of the SBC. However, while that sounds encouraging, we must remember that words have meaning and we would be fooling ourselves if we truly believed that everyone in the SBC who claims to embrace complementarianism is unified on the definition of the term itself. It would be wise to have a good concise definition to work from when discussing the issue so as to avoid affirming or rejecting other people on the basis of a misunderstanding of their definition of complementarianism.
Not only is our culture seeking to blur the lines between what it means to be a man and a woman—such distinct boundaries and roles are being tested in the religious circles as well. In fact, on Monday evening at a #MeToo panel discussion during the 2018 SBC, James Merritt, pastor and former president of the SBC, was quoted by Jonathan Merritt in a tweet stating:
“A woman can be the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t see anything in the Bible that prohibits that,” says
@drjamesmerritt and receives a round of applause at #metoo panel at #sbc18
This same type of language was used on social media frequently leading up to the SBC. With all of the buzz on social media about empowering women that led to questions coming from the floor by the messengers, it would be good to explain why electing a woman to the office of president of the SBC is a bad idea—one that would have a lasting negative impact upon our Convention both practically and theologically.
The Annual Meeting of the SBC Is More Than a Business Meeting
If the SBC’s annual meeting was only a business meeting, it would be easier to make the case for a woman to preside over the business as the president of the Convention. The truth is, women are intelligent, articulate, and capable in many ways—so our view of complementarianism has nothing to do with a diminished view of the giftedness or abilities of women. It is focused, however, upon the role distinction of men and women within God’s original design along with the boundaries that God has instituted from the beginning.
The SBC, as a large family of churches (47,000), meets annually to carry out the business and to organize specific missions and discipleship ministries of the SBC. However, more than business and organizing of ministries takes place during the second week of June each summer. The messengers gather to worship in song, prayer, preaching, and much of this worship is under the direct oversight of the president. Add to this scenario the reality that the president of the SBC typically preaches the convention sermon—which would not be possible under a proper complementarity position.
To be clear, a woman serving in the office of the president of the SBC would lead to a violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 which states, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Preaching and teaching should be reserved for men—which is not an invention by misogynist men who seek to hold women back, nor is it a an ancient cultural boundary for Paul’s cultural context. Complementarity is rooted and grounded in creation as God placed Adam as the head to Eve and required that Eve submit to her husband. Paul states the same thing in Ephesians 5 as he speaks of the headship of men, the submissiveness of women, and role distinctions between men and women that were instituted by God from the beginning. This complementarity honors God and creates opportunities for men and women to both fulfill their God given abilities for the glory of God.
The SBC President Is Most Often a Pastor
In less than a half a dozen instances in 173 years, the president of the SBC is always a pastor. When leading pastors, it would be good to have a pastor to lead and help give direction on missions and discipleship partnerships that will have a direct impact upon the local churches of the Convention. You would have to go back to the 1960s for the last time a president of the SBC was not a pastor.
Once again—this idea speaks to the authority aspect of the office of president which would seem to violate 1 Timothy 2:12 if a woman occupied that office and carried out all of the necessary functionalities. Furthermore, the office of president most often being a pastor allows for the president to lead, guide, and organize ministry in an authoritative manner while preaching and teaching the Word without violating any of God’s complementarity roles.
Complementarity Is Under Attack in our Culture
The move toward empowering women to fulfill their calling is a worthy movement for the churches of the SBC to support—so long as it’s helping women fulfill God’s original design for them as helpers and disciple makers within their home and local church context. If we’re completely and brutally honest—a biblical understanding of complementarity will not lead naturally toward the pursuit of the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The world hates complementarity and has already slain mainstream denominations on this important distinctive resulting in practical and theological capitulation. That is the exact opposite direction from where the SBC has historically led pastors, missionaries, and messengers of the Convention. A move toward a new or broad complementarity will lead to a fracture of the SBC and potentially a split over what’s being called secondary.
We must never forget the fact that the feminist movement promoted equality for women and a liberation that allowed women to expand their horizons. The feminist movement is not a new movement in human history. In fact, it dates back much earlier than the 1950s or 1960s. The feminist movement dates back to the Garden of Eden. Satan tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit and in doing so he tempted her with more than expanded horizons. In his crafty temptation, he placed before Eve a role reversal opportunity to lead her husband, a violation of God’s authority, and he cast a doubt on God’s Word all at the same time. That pattern continues to this very day and is very much alive in our evangelical culture.
When the world attempts to shame us on our position of complementarity—we need to hear the hiss of the original attack by Satan himself in the Garden of Eden. We will not be loved for following Jesus—and since Jesus invented complementarity in the beginning—we should anticipate the world to despise it, reject it, and mock it. That sounds much less threatening until the hatred and mocking is directed at you or me personally. Be prepared to be hated, but to those who remain faithful, the Lord himself will reward you.