As Southern Baptists prepare for their annual meeting in June, four men are set to be nominated as candidates for President of the convention:
-Randy Adams, Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention
-Ed Litton, Pastor of Redemption Church (Saraland, AL)
-Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)
-Mike Stone, Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (Blackshear, GA)
Among many important challenges facing Southern Baptists, recent events have raised questions about the hard-won complementarian consensus of the denomination. That consensus was settled twenty-one years ago in the SBC’s doctrinal standard, The Baptist Faith & Message.
With this in mind, CBMW has invited all four men to participate in a candidate forum in which they will answer a short list of written questions related to complementarianism and the SBC. Our hope and prayer are to provide a forum for candidates to express their views in a way that will serve and inform Southern Baptists and perhaps even wider evangelicalism.
The candidates’ answers speak only for themselves and have not been edited. The order in which we received the answers is the order in which they will be published.
1. The issue of women in ministry was one of the defining issues of the “conservative resurgence” within the SBC. Do you think it was important for the issue to occupy such a central place in the controversy? Is it right for it to occupy so much of our attention today?
It is inevitable that this issue became front and center in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention at the end of the 20th century. It’s also inevitable that we must deal with the issue now, and the issue is simple and straightforward. The reason comes down to this: We have to decide how a church is rightly ordered. We have to understand, based on Scripture, who is and is not a pastor, who should and should not be teaching the Scriptures according to the Bible itself. These are not avoidable questions in the modern age, precisely because you now have many denominations that are ordaining women as pastors and calling women as preachers and teachers in the church. They’re doing so in conscious defiance of the clear teaching of the church throughout twenty centuries.
But there’s another reason why this issue comes to centrality, and it is that it becomes indicative of our understanding of Scripture. We believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. Now there are some who would claim to be egalitarians and to affirm inerrancy. I’m not saying that it is impossible, I am, however, saying that Southern Baptists believe that it is implausible and that egalitarianism reveals a hermeneutic that undermines the authority of Scripture. To state the matter bluntly, when you look at passages such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, what one must do with Scripture in order to get to putting a woman in the pulpit is what the vast majority of Southern Baptists recognize as illegitimate and pointing to larger problems in the entire theological pattern.
2. The Baptist Faith & Message says that God has gifted both men and women for ministry within the local church. Can you describe some of the valuable ministries that women are to have within Southern Baptist Churches?
In my own lifetime, I bear testimony to the glory of God, through women who faithfully taught me the Bible as a child and who encouraged other women into faithfulness, godliness, and obedience to Christ. I learned as a young boy about the women who served so faithfully and bravely as missionaries and about women who serve the church in ways that are both unique to women and indispensable to the church.
The Baptist Faith and Message starts by making clear that both men and women are gifted by God for service to the church, and that’s a matter of God’s glory. That’s a matter of the New Testament church reflecting the glory of God that was revealed first in creation itself. But even as in creation itself there is a distinction in the roles between men and women, there’s also a distinction in the church between the roles of men and women. Men and women are not set at odds but are called to faithfulness according to the Word of God.
3. The Baptist Faith & Message also says that the office of “pastor” is limited to men as qualified by scripture. Do you think Southern Baptists were right to include this as part of their confessional identity?
I confess the fact that I was a member of the committee that brought the recommendation and had a personal role in the development of that statement. So yes, I enthusiastically support it and believe that it was absolutely right for Southern Baptists to say so. Again, I returned to the historical fact that Southern Baptists would have to speak to this for two reasons. Number one, our churches needed to make an affirmation of the ground of our cooperation together and how that was extended to this question. To put it another way, the Baptist Faith and Message says that those who would put a woman in the office of pastor placed themselves outside the convictional foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The other reason was even more urgent, and that was to make clear what the convention expected of those who would teach in the seminaries, accept commissioning in its missionary corps, plant churches, or publish materials. That is to say, it was a clear confessional requirement for Southern Baptists moving forward. Within a fairly short amount of time, every one of the entities of the SBC through its board of trustees had adopted the Baptist Faith and Message as its confessional statement.
4. Recently, there have been some publicized instances of women serving as the Sunday morning preacher in Southern Baptist churches. Do you think the Bible allows for women to serve in this role? Explain.
I do not believe that the Bible allows for women to preach the Bible to the gathered congregation on Lord’s Day worship. There is not a single example of this taking place in the New Testament, and we have the explicit statements as I already mentioned from 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 in which there is not only a very clear statement from the apostle Paul but also an explanation. We have the testimony of Christian history and we have the unity of the Southern Baptist Convention on this issue, but it all goes back to the Bible and that’s where Southern Baptists take our stand.
5. Do you believe that the Bible allows for both men and women to serve in the office of “pastor”?
Well, this is where I began my comments. I believe that the Bible reveals God’s pattern, which comes in the form of his command revealed in both the order of creation and in the New Testament definition of the church, and makes very clear that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. That is not a matter of human discrimination at the level of gender or sex. It is a matter of incontrovertible truth that the Bible makes a distinction and the New Testament spells it out.
6. Does support for female pastors suggest an erosion in the doctrine of inerrancy? Are these issues related? If so, how?
Well, this is another question the Southern Baptist Convention faced in the 1980s and the 1990s, and clearly we face it again today. There are those who would simultaneously affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and an egalitarian position. The problem is that the hermeneutic required to arrive at an egalitarian position is, I believe, subversive of biblical inerrancy even if it doesn’t contradict it. Once again, the issue is the objectivity of the text. It’s the fact that the text is there. The words are there. The Christian Church has not been confused about the meaning of those biblical exhortations, apparently from the beginning. Some modern authors try to point to isolated examples here and there that they can find somewhere in church history, but the fact is that it is undeniable that in virtually every branch of Christianity, wherever it has been found, until very recently, the office of pastor has been fulfilled by men in such a way that it was simply taken as normative, right, and biblical, and anything else was understood to the contrary.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.