The revision to the Baptist Faith and Message which reads, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture," has received a great deal of attention. Some critics have charged it is not baptistic for a convention to take a position on this. Others charge it is anti-woman, while others still wonder whether it ought to be addressed at all in a confession of faith. Does the BF&M get it right? What are the facts?
The preamble to the Baptist Faith and Message states that confessions of faith "constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body." The consensus opinion of Southern Baptists is obviously that the pastoral role is to be filled by men. The vast majority of Southern Baptist congregations call only men to serve as pastor. About 30 of over 40,000 churches currently have a woman as pastor – only 2 of 5,000 Southern Baptist congregations in Texas. Even those most vigorously promoting the idea of having women as pastors are not in fact calling women to pastor their own churches. Some wonder whether they actually believe in the importance of women pastors, or are they hoping for political advantage by making the SBC appear anti-woman?
Critics argue that Baptists are merely behind the times, or have been unduly influenced by a "patriarchal" society. However, we think Baptist churches have male pastors because they believe they are so instructed by the New Testament.
Southern Baptists believe the place to begin in this, as in all doctrinal questions, is to ask, "What does the Bible say?" Even a cursory reading of the pertinent texts prompts three important observations: 1) there were no known women pastors in New Testament times; 2) none of the instructions regarding church order include instructions for women pastors; and 3) some texts on church order explicitly forbid women to occupy that role. In 1 Timothy 2:12, written with the specific purpose of regulating the office of pastor and the orderly function of the churches, Paul writes, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (NIV). Paul does not expect that women will not or cannot learn or teach (compare with Titus 2:3-5 and 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14,15). He concludes women cannot have a pastoral position, or perform the pastoral function, for that puts them in authority over men in the life of the church.
The question at hand is not whether women are of equal value to men, nor is it whether they can minister effectively. They are, and they do! Nor, is it an issue of the autonomy of the local church. It is, rather, that the Scripture assigns the role of pastor to males.
The Bible's teaching on pastoral qualifications does not mean it is anti-woman. On the contrary, numerous passages speak clearly and forcibly to the inherent worth and value of women. Women in the New Testament engaged in significant ministry, performing valuable service in sometimes difficult situations. This is readily seen in the Acts of the Apostles. Both Priscilla and Aquila spoke privately to Apollos at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26), correcting his incomplete and flawed theology. Further, women clearly played a considerable role in the work of the apostle Paul. In his letter to the Romans, Paul identified sixteen noteworthy helpers in ministry (16:1-16), and at least ten of them were women. Women in the New Testament, as they do today, participated in varied ministry, which served to strengthen and conserve the churches.
Southern Baptists are not anti-woman; indeed, they affirm the leadership of women in family, business, politics, and a wide array of human endeavors. Furthermore, women are an integral and invaluable part of the Body of Christ, serving in a broad variety of important roles both as volunteers and vocational ministers. We don't know how to say this more strongly: women and men are of equal value! However, because Scripture speaks specifically to the role of pastor, churches are under a moral imperative to be guided by that teaching, rather than the shifting opinions of human cultures.