In a special service on May 6, 2021, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, whose founding pastor is bestselling author Rick Warren, ordained the church’s first three women pastors: Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards.
Saddleback is the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In fact, the three largest Southern Baptist Churches all have women pastors: Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX, with Ed and Lisa Young as pastors; Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, with Steven and Hollie Furtick as pastors; and now Saddleback.
Other large Southern Baptist churches that have platformed women to preach in corporate worship on Sunday morning include Lakepoint Church in Rockwall, TX; Transformation Church outside Charlotte; Bayou City Fellowship and Second Baptist Church, both in Houston; and Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, FL, with David and Lisa Hughes as pastors. Ed Litton, currently running for president of the SBC, has also had his wife preach sermons on Sunday morning.
The Southern Baptist Statement of Faith is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Under Article VI on The Church, it says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastors is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Southern Baptist churches that put women in the role or even function as pastor dismiss our statement of faith and defy what God has said in His word, the Bible.
The SBC is the largest fellowship of protestant churches (since every Southern Baptist church is autonomous, it is not technically a denomination). What happens in Southern Baptist life often affects or reflects what is happening in evangelicalism across America.
With the annual meeting of the SBC just a week away, the subject of women pastors is a controversy many are watching, for it is a doctrinal issue more fundamental to the church than many understand.
The Biblical Qualifications for Pastors
Charles Spurgeon once said, “The pulpit is the Thermopylae of Christendom. There the fight will be lost or won.” Who stands in the pulpit and what is preached from the pulpit are of critical importance to the life and vitality of that church body. Says Dr. Tom Buck, “As goes the pulpit, so goes the church.”
The main biblical texts that give the qualifications for pastors are 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. (Other relevant texts include Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Timothy 5:17-19 and 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and 4:1-5, Hebrews 13:7 and 17, and 1 Peter 5:1-5).
The Apostle Paul said to Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The Greek word in the text for overseer is episkopos, from which we get the word bishop. Later in 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul calls these overseers “elders.” Peter refers to the elders as shepherding the church in 1 Peter 5:2. This is where the word “pastor” comes from, as pastor means “shepherd.”
Whether overseer, bishop, elder, or pastor—these are all the same office in the church, and this office is to be held by qualified men. This is by the command of God, a design we see throughout Scripture. The elders of Israel in the Old Testament were only men. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two, they were all men. The twelve apostles were only men. So the elders or the pastors in the church are to be men.
In 1 Timothy 3 beginning in verse 2, we read, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”
Paul echoes these qualifications in Titus 1:5-9, adding that a pastor “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” That is pastoring—feeding the flock of God and fending off the wolves.
It is crystal clear that only men are to be pastors. Not every man will be a pastor, but a man who aspires to the office “desires a noble task,” and he must meet the qualifications God has given. There is no separate list of qualifications for women as pastors or elders. There is not a single example of a woman as a pastor in the Bible. In fact, right before the qualifications for a pastor, we’re given a direct prohibition against letting a woman perform even the function of pastor.
Women Prohibited from Pastoring
In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we read, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Timothy is told to teach the women in the church to have self-control, which bookends these instructions. In verse 9, a woman is to adorn herself “with modesty and self-control,” wearing self-control as if it were a garment. In verse 15, women are given the reminder once again to be self-controlled.
“Let a woman learn” is a blessing for women and something counter-cultural at that time. Among the Jews, women were often illiterate. First century Rabbi Eliezer said, “Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah is teaching her promiscuity (tiflut)” (Sotah 3:4). Among the Greeks, women were not invited to the schools of the philosophers.
The church is and always has been inclusive of men and women (Acts 1:14), for they are fellow heirs of eternal life by faith in Christ (Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7). But a woman was to enter as a picture of humility, “quietly with all submissiveness.” Women are prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men.
Preaching the word of God to the people of God and giving exhortation is an exercise that is inherently authoritative. Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 2:4). And to Titus, he said, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15).
Some will argue that Paul’s prohibition against women preaching is strictly limited to the Greco-Roman culture of his day, or that he was only addressing a problem Timothy had dealing with strong-willed women in Ephesus. In a commentary on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the late Scottish minister William Barclay wrote, “The early church did not lay down these regulations as in any sense permanent, but as things which were necessary in the situation in which it found itself.”
However, it is quite plain from the text of Scripture that this instruction applies to all churches in all cultures at all times. How do we know that? Because Paul, exercising his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, pointed back to the order of creation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
So because Adam was the first one formed, and the woman was the first one deceived, a woman is prohibited from functioning as a pastor in the church. Notice the function of pastor is what Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:12. He did not simply say, “I forbid a woman from being a pastor.” He said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.”
Dr. Tom Schreiner, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), said the following: “When we read 1 Timothy 2:12, it doesn’t directly speak to the issue of office. It addresses the matter of function—prohibiting women from teaching and exercising authority over a man. It is interesting, therefore, that many seem to turn the verse around by allowing the functions but denying the office.”
More than the office of pastor being off-limits to women, she cannot teach an assembly of men and women. Mother’s Day is not a day women get to preach, nor should she lead teaching in a mixed class of men and women. These are pastoral functions. This is not complicated, but a people not content with the Bible’s clear commands will try to re-order God’s order—just as Adam and Eve did.
Some try to argue that women can be associate pastor as long as she is not the senior pastor. Or she can preach as long as she’s under the authority of the elders. Or she can be a minister over men as long as you don’t call her a pastor. Stop looking for loopholes! A woman is not to teach or have authority over men. Period.
The New Testament puts no distinction between the office and function of a pastor. As I’ve heard it said, “The office is the function, and the function is the office.” The pastor is the one who pastors. The preacher is the one who preaches. Whoever stands in the pulpit steers the direction of a church, so having a good episcopology—or a biblical understanding of what it means to be a pastor—is of fundamental importance to the church.
Why This is a Fundamental Issue
Though the Scripture says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor,” this does not mean Eve is most to blame for the fall. Romans 5:12 says, “Sin came into the world through one man,” who is Adam. As descendants of Adam, we all inherit the sin nature of Adam.
This also does not mean that women are more easily deceived than men. The vast majority of false teachers in the history of the church have been men. Paul rebuked the whole church of Corinth for listening to false teachers as Eve did: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
The woman was the first to be directly deceived by the serpent, and then became an agent of Satan to tempt the man to sin. She should have listened to her husband who was her authority, but she upset the created order and listened to the creature. Paul reminds Timothy of this so that he may teach the women of the church to remain humble, to recognize her low estate, and submit to God’s order in which He has placed her.
The traditional term for this is patriarchy, simply the understanding that the husband, father, or eldest male is the head of the family. (More recently, the debate over women preachers has been termed complementarianism vs. egalitarianism, but those waters are so muddy I’m not wading into them.) Patriarchy is by the design of God, who formed the man first and gave him headship over his household. As said in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23, the head of the wife is her husband.
God told Adam, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). According to Scripture, this command was given before Eve was made. Adam was to lead his wife, and she was to submit to her husband. This order was rebelled against when Eve listened to the serpent instead of her husband, and Adam listened to his wife instead of leading her.
In the curse, God said to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is ground because of you. In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).
The sin of the Garden of Eden is repeated when a woman assumes the function of a pastor, which God has designated for a man to do. The prohibition against women preaching to the whole church is not merely a secondary or a tertiary matter. This is not a difference of doctrinal opinion that separates denominations. Women preaching over men has its origins in the first sin. It is a deception of Satan.
When the serpent tempted Eve, his first words were these: “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). The words of Satan resound in the debate over women pastors: “Did God actually say that women can’t preach to the church? Nah, that was just a cultural thing. That was just Paul. That was then and this is now. Why would the Spirit call a woman to preach and then tell her she can’t?”
God will not contradict His word, which is the Bible. On this subject, the Scriptures are clear. Those who defy what the Bible says are listening to the tempter rather than listening to God. “Did God actually say?” Yes, God actually said. A pastor is to be a man.
This is a fundamental doctrinal issue because it is clearly framed to be of great importance in the stewardship of God’s church (1 Timothy 1:4). That is not the same as saying it is essential for salvation, and if you get this wrong you are not saved. Nonetheless, women preaching to the corporate body of the church is sin. It is sin for the woman preaching, the men who put her there, and the rest of the church sitting under her teaching.
It is also a very telling sin, which I’ll come back to in a moment. There’s one more verse in this passage that we must consider.
But She Will be Saved Through Childbearing
The command that a woman is not “to teach or to exercise authority over a man” is not confusing—it is a straightforward instruction. The explanation is also not confusing: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
After that comes a verse that has been more confusing. Verse 15 says, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Again, these instructions to women end as they began, directing her to be self-controlled. But what is this part about being saved through childbearing? Many take this to mean that a woman is sanctified through having children.
But follow Paul’s train of thought here. He’s telling the story of Genesis. We go from creation, to the fall, to the promise. In the curse upon the serpent, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is the protoevangelium—the first declaration of the gospel, foretelling the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The role of the woman is not in any way inferior to the man just because the man was made first and the woman was deceived first. Eve was integral to God’s plan for redeeming mankind. Back to 1 Timothy 2:15, the verse begins, “Yet she,” in the singular, still talking about Eve, “will be saved through childbearing.” The English Standard translation is missing the definition article “the,” as in “the childbearing,” in reference to Christ who would be born of woman “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4).
The promise of Christ is not just for one woman but for every woman, which is why Paul switches from the singular to the plural: “if they continue in faith.” Both men and women need to have faith in the one who came through Eve down to Mary, and that is the Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus would not be sired by a man—He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not under the headship of Adam, so that from His conception He would be sinless. No man was involved in the birth of Christ. It is by the grace of God upon women. They share in this wonderful grace, “if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self control.”
Teaching on this passage, Tom Buck says, “We need to live in the role God has designed for our lives. God is not any more pleased with passive or domineering men, as He is with loud, self-promoting women. God has a mission for the church. It is to be by God’s design. You don’t overcome the results of the fall by perpetuating the mistakes of the fall. That’s what Paul is saying.”
How this is a Very Telling Sin
A doctrinal student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also a prominent public activist, said, “Some churches won’t have women pastors, some will. Frankly, I don’t care.” And that’s a major part of this problem. Many Southern Baptists don’t care, like this is no big deal. But appointing women pastors or putting women to serve in the function of a pastor is a big deal.
First of all, it is a sin against God. It is disobeying a clear command from Christ through His apostle to His church, and it is rebelling against the order that God has established for men and women from the beginning of creation. Eve listened to Satan rather than God, and Adam listened to his wife rather than God, and this led to the fall. There is simply no question that putting women in teaching positions over men in the church is motivated by the flesh, not by the Spirit of God.
Second, it is a sin against women. It is spiritual abuse to let a woman believe she can pastor or preach when the Bible says she cannot. It is not abusive nor is it oppressive to tell women not to preach but to fulfill the role God has given to women in the church. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30) and will delight to obey His word.
Third, as I said earlier, women pastoring is also a very telling sin. It tells us where a church currently stands and where it is headed if it does not repent. Paul said that his first letter to Timothy was about “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
After further instructions, he says in 1 Timothy 6:2-4, “Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.”
Can you name one church or denomination that has accepted the ordination of women as pastors and flourished in doctrinal faithfulness? Consider the trajectory of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). In 2020, they celebrated 50 years of ordaining women which began in 1970. Then 40 years later in 2010, the ELCA decided to ordain practicing homosexuals in sodomite and lesbian relationships to the ministry.
Then in 2021, as reported May 9 by the Religion News Service, the ELCA has appointed as bishop the Rev. Megan Rohrer, a man who claims to be a woman. (By the way, he prefers the pronouns they and them, which RNS was happy to accommodate.) In 5 decades, the denomination has gone from the ordination of women, to the ordination of men committing sexual acts with men, to the ordination of a man who thinks he’s a woman. Not even Sodom and Gomorrah were that blasphemous.
Do not think that the same thing cannot happen to Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary began at First Baptist Church in Greeville, SC, before moving to Louisville, KY, where the seminary is currently located. According to First Baptist’s website, they hired ordained women to staff in 1989 and began ordaining women in 1991. They disaffiliated themselves from the SBC in 1999.
Fifteen years later, in 2014, they issued a statement allowing for the ordination of anyone identifying as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender). In less than 25 years, a historic Southern Baptist Church went from ordaining women to ordaining sodomites, lesbians, and transvestites. (Another historically Southern Baptist church in Indiana ordained a professing transgender just last month.)
When a church looks at what God has said about the distinctive roles between men and women and says, “Frankly, I don’t care,” that church falls. And great will be the fall of it (see Matthew 7:24-27). This matters to God, and it should matter to us—lest God remove the lampstand of the SBC as He has done with the ELCA and First Baptist Church of Greenville.
In Revelation 2:3-5, Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
On Our Present Course
The North American Missions Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention has planted or given money to numerous churches with women as pastors or women preaching—including Echo Church and Eden Church both in Silicon Valley, CA; Eastown Church in San Ramon, CA; and Pointe Community Church in Somerset, NJ. These churches and dozens of others were on the NAMB website just weeks ago. But when NAMB is questioned about this, websites get scrubbed.
Take for example Urban Voice Community Church in Chicago, IL. A woman named Laisin Cheung was listed as a pastor for this church. When NAMB was asked about it, the website was revised to name her as minister rather than pastor. But her job description did not change. She still teaches men and is dedicated to pastoral care. In a letter to pastors of our church, NAMB said, “Her job description does not violate the BFM 2000.” Oh yes, it does.
First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, MO, boasts that they ordain women. So does First Baptist Church in Newport News, VA, a Southern Baptist church stating, “Under the calling of the Holy Spirit, we ordain both men and women to serve as deacons and clergy.” Whatever spirit they’re following, it is not the Spirit who inspired 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
In 2020, before the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting was cancelled due to the COVID panic, the pastors conference was going to feature a presentation by Hosanna Wong, teaching pastor at Eastlake Church in San Diego. The main speaker was Wayne Cordiero, whose church has a woman as pastor. David Hughes was also going to be speaking, again whose wife is listed as a pastor with him.
The outgoing president of the SBC is J.D. Greear, who has endorsed women pastors though he claims to be complementarian. I spoke with a woman from his church who taught men. The majority of his appointments to the Committee on Committees are women (39 women and 29 men), and a woman has been made chair of the committee. This is the committee who will appoint all of the members of the Committee on Nominations, who appoints trustees and members of standing committees.
This is no small thing. Neither is the Southern Baptist Convention. We should not abandon ship—not yet. As I wrote about a year ago, the USS SBC is a huge ship, and turning one around takes some time. If we who are sound in doctrine and ecclesiology jump ship, the boat won’t get back on course. This huge juggernaut of a vessel—with all its churches, seminaries, outreaches, and other ministries, and over $60 billion in assets—will remain in the wrong hands. Who knows what they will smash into if they continue to reject sound teaching and make shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1:19).
As my friend Allen Nelson has said for the last several years, we must take the ship. The annual meeting in Nashville will be a good indication as to whether that’s possible. Is the ship just drifting left, or will this be a full-on steer to the left? Can we get back on course? We will find out. As always, pray for the challenges that are ahead.
More than needing a change in leadership in the SBC, each church must be mindful of what God has said about who is to stand in the pulpit. We need strong men of God preaching the word of God to the people of God.
When I say preaching, I mean gospel-driven, exegetical, verse-by-verse, book-by-book Bible teaching, that the church, the bride of Christ, may be sanctified “by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
Titus 2:1-6 says, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 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. Likewise, teach the younger men to be self-controlled.”
God does not need the SBC, but if He still intends to use this vessel to advance His gospel, I will be in His service to hoist the sails and swab the deck. No matter what happens to any of our man-made institutions, Christ will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. May the name of Jesus Christ, as head of the church, His bride, be exalted above all.
Consider watching the cinedoc By What Standard? God’s World…God’s Rules which was put out by Founders Ministry last year. It will catch you up on some of the other challenges that the Southern Baptist Convention is facing.