Monday, August 21, 2006
Do SBC Moderates Really Believe Women Should Serve as Pastors? An Important Research Project

The controversy over women in the pastorate has been a part of Southern Baptist life for the last three decades. This is not to say that the controversy has itself reshaped the Baptist landscape at the congregational level. As is now clear, “moderate” churches historically identified with the Southern Baptist Convention are virtually as reluctant as conservative churches to call a woman as pastor. Instead, the question of women in the pastorate has become something of a symbolic issue for SBC moderates and their successors. In a very real sense, the question has become rather hypothetical, serving as an indicator of a theological trajectory rather than a genuine openness to having a woman serve as pastor.

The conclusive evidence for this is found in a report commissioned by Baptist
Women in Ministry
. “The
State of Women in Baptist Life, 2005
” by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed and Pamela
R. Durso is a major research project that should reshape the conversation over
women in ministry among Baptists.

The researchers acknowledge their own ideological commitments, but their analysis appears to be both comprehensive and fair. “The perspective of this report rests firmly in the moderate-to-progressive constellation of Baptist organizations in the southern United States,” the authors state. “Institutions that make up this constellation are those that parted company with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), some gradually and others more abruptly beginning in the 1980s.”

After tracing the history of the ordination of women in Baptist life, the report turns to the controversial question of women serving in the pastorate. With specific reference to moderate and liberal Baptist bodies including the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the authors offer this blunt assessment:

Never before have so many Baptist women officially served as pastors and co-pastors, and yet statistically the great majority of Baptist churches affiliated with the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF have not called women to serve as pastor.

Indeed, their research indicated that out of the thousands of churches involved in their sample, only 66 of these churches have called women as pastors or co-pastors. The percentages tell the story. The BGAV reports 16 women pastors among 1,411 churches. Among the BGCT’s 5,900 churches, only 11 women serve as either pastor or co-pastor — and this amounts to .19% of the total. In other words, even if the BGCT is understood to be supportive of women in the pastorate, less than one-fifth of one percent of their churches have called a woman as pastor or co-pastor.

Unsurprisingly, the group most supportive of women pastors is the Alliance, and that group reports 26 women serving as pastor or co-pastor out of 118 affiliating congregations.

The bottom line of the research reveals that moderate Southern Baptists, while
registering strong opposition to the 2000 revision of the Baptist
Faith and Message
, and while offering strong words of encouragement to women
seeking to serve in the pastorate, appear to be extremely reluctant to call
women to serve in these positions.

As a matter of fact, dozens of the largest and most visible moderate pulpits have transitioned over the last 20 years, but, as yet, not one of these churches has yet called a woman to serve as pastor. These churches would include congregations such as Crescent Hill Baptist Church and Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Wieuca Road Baptist Church and First Baptist Church Decatur in the Atlanta area, South Main Baptist Church in Houston, First Baptist in Asheville, Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Broadway Baptist Church and University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Third Baptist Church in St. Louis, Kirkwood Baptist Church in Kansas City, and even churches like River Road (Baptist) Church in Richmond.  The list goes on.

In other words, moderate Baptist congregations — even self-consciously liberal congregations — are just not calling women to serve as pastors to any significant degree.

This report deserves a wide reading and should be of interest to both moderate and conservative Baptists. The researchers cover a wide range of questions and their quantitative analysis should prompt much discussion among Baptists on both sides of this controversy.

Among moderates, the report should serve as a catalyst for asking what must be a very hard question:  To what degree are moderate Southern Baptists actually open to women serving in the pastorate? At the hypothetical level, this openness appears to be nearly universal among moderates — especially those associated with the CBF. At the congregational level, however, the reality appears to be dramatically at odds with this public commitment.

Beyond this, this report points to a future crisis in terms of a disconnect between moderate theological education and moderate churches. According to these researchers, women now constitute a majority of students studying for ministry at schools including Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.  Will churches call these women to serve as pastor?  Will the feminization of these schools force a disconnect between these institutions and their supporting churches?  Where are the men?

[The percentage of women enrolled at American Baptist Convention USA schools such as Andover Newton Theological School and Colgate Rochester Crozer Theological Seminary were even higher. At Andover Newton, 65% of students are women, reflecting an exodus of men from the ministry among mainline Protestants.]

This important report, now available online, helps to clarify and to quantify where many Baptists really stand on the question of women serving in the pastorate. If nothing else, regardless of one’s convictions on this question, the report must raise the question of credibility on the part of moderate Baptists who claim to support women pastors. At this point, with the singular exception of the Alliance of Baptists, this support appears to be hypothetical, not real.

Thursday, August 10, 2006
Response from Dr. Newkirk

Dr. Dennis Newkirk, pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmund, Oklahoma, has posted a most gracious response to my article below. His “Reply to Dr. Mohler” is a generous and candid statement of his concerns and thoughts.

One section of this post deserves particular attention:
Even more than denominational press, the threats and name calling from some of the brethren also felt like a violation. But much of that was from the heat of emotion and must be overlooked.

There is simply no excuse for name calling when it comes to brothers and sisters in Christ who are earnestly seeking the mind of Christ. Let’s continue to pray for this church and for Dr. Newkirk as they struggle with the question of baptism. At the same time, let us kindly and honestly encourage each other with the full measure of our conviction.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Baptism and the Local Church — Pray for This Pastor and Congregation

The Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmund, Oklahoma had been set to vote on a policy change that would have allowed persons to join the church without baptism. Then, just as the church was poised to vote on the bylaw change, the pastor and elders of the church decided against going forward with the vote [see Baptist Press news story here].

Pastor Dennis Newkirk reflected on this move in his Weblog in an entry dated July 31, 2006. After tracing events that led to this decision, Dr. Newkirk explained:

The concern now exists on the Elder Council that we have not addressed some of the unique aspects of the issue of baptism and its relationship with church membership in our proposed bylaw change. We do not believe that the intent of the bylaw change is wrong but the concern exists that we may have been incomplete and we are out of time to even begin to discuss and possibly adjust it and meet the announced schedule. Because of this, we are not going to ask the church to vote on the proposal. We simply are no longer in consensus as a council.

The pastor’s entire Weblog article deserves a close reading. One other aspect of his concern has to do with what he has characterized as a “violation” of his church’s autonomy and independence. In another posting he reflected:

Frankly, I am so shocked to this week’s events and the unprecedented assault against this local church that I do no have the wisdom or energy to respond in grace. Please give me a few days to seek the Lord’s face before I make any comment about the onslaught and infringement. Godliness, humility, understanding, and speaking the truth in love are much more important than retaliation or winning. I have no desire to strike back in anger or seek revenge. Please pray for grace and wisdom.

I assume that the background to this statement of frustration has to do with a series of articles published in the denominational press, including both Baptist Press and the Baptist Messenger, offering both news coverage and analysis.

I do understand the pastor’s frustration. No one desires to debate an issue of this importance in the white heat of public censure. Nevertheless, the denominational press had no choice but to deal with an issue of this importance. Furthermore, Baptist leaders had no choice but to speak in defense of the biblical convictions at stake — convictions central to Baptist identity and ecclesiology.

Henderson Hills Baptist Church is truly autonomous. No external Baptist body can coerce any action or prevent any action undertaken by the Henderson Hills church. Nevertheless, autonomy does not mean isolation. The Baptist principle of congregational associationalism means that we, as Southern Baptist churches, are united together in faith, mission, and convictions. The local Baptist association, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and the Southern Baptist Convention are also autonomous, and each has the right to establish its own criteria for membership.

As Baptists, we belong to each other and must pray for each other. In times past, churches would often petition associations and other Baptist churches for advice, seeking a common mind and seeking to be united in biblical conviction and practice.

I have heard wonderful reports about Henderson Hills Baptist Church and Dr. Dennis Newkirk. I am certain beyond doubt that this is a godly pastor seeking to lead his congregation in truth. As brothers and sisters in Christ, and as fellow Southern Baptists, we owe this church our testimony, our encouragement, our counsel, and our prayers.

We will watch for further developments with care and prayerful concern.

Here is the text of the article I submitted at the request of the Baptist Messenger:

The Baptist vision of the local church is well summarized by “The Baptist Faith and Message” as “an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.” Those two last words are crucial to this definition – the congregation consists of baptized believers who are drawn together by a common faith and a common witness through the waters of baptism.

Until recently, this has been axiomatic among Baptists, and the concept is directly connected to the Baptist insistence that the church be composed of regenerate persons – those who have experienced the new birth through faith in Christ Jesus. As The Baptist Faith and Message reminds us, baptism (defined as “the immersion of a believer in water”) is “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

In the New Testament, baptism is presented as an ordinance (an act commanded by Christ) that is reserved for believers only, and is understood as the Christian’s act of public testimony and as the believer’s profession of faith in Christ. The link between baptism and the experience of conversion is clear, for example, in the book of Acts [see Acts 2:41-42, 8:35-39, 16:30-33].

The common experience of believer’s baptism is central to the unity and identity of the church. In Ephesians 4:5, Paul writes of the church as constituted by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul reminds us: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

Thus, baptism is presented as a necessary act of obedience to Christ that marks the believer’s incorporation into the church as the Body of Christ. Put simply, the New Testament has no concept of an unbaptized Christian, much less an unbaptized church member. When all this is put together, the consistent biblical witness to baptism as the immersion of believers leads Baptists to see no other act as true baptism, no matter how it may be conceived by other churches. Then, when baptism is understood to mark the believer’s primary profession of faith in Christ and his or her incorporation of the believer into the Body of Christ, an unbaptized church member then becomes a truly foreign concept.

For Baptists, the experience of believer’s baptism by immersion is a source of unity and a powerful affirmation of the church as a local body of regenerate believers, united in one Lord, one faith, one baptism. To compromise this principle is to lose something precious to our Baptist faith-and to the New Testament vision of the church.

See additional coverage at Baptist Press here. Additional coverage by the Baptist Messenger available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Further see KTEN-TV, KOCO-TV, The Oklahoman.