A Southern Baptist theologian says debate over women in ministry is not a matter of biblical interpretation, but rather of obedience to God’s word.
“I think it is an issue of basic obedience, because I don’t believe the Bible is at all unclear about this matter,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said during a Thursday radio program. “It’s a clear statement, ‘I forbid that a woman should teach or have authority over men.'”
Thursday’s “Albert Mohler Program,” featured an interview with Tim LeBouf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Watertown, N.Y., which made headlines for removing a female Sunday school teacher based on instruction found in First Timothy 2:12.
Beyond that single verse, Mohler said, “It’s written into the consistent warp and woof of the fabric of Scripture, where the issue of the fact that God has called some men in the church to the particular responsibility of the teaching office.”
Mohler said it is not a question of status or worth but rather “of complimentary roles in the church.” Mohler said God commands that men lead in church.
“There is both a positive and negative to this,” he said. “There’s a list of things that men are to do, and there’s a list of things that women are not to do. That just rankles the modern mind. It runs against the fabric of the age.”
Mohler said as a young seminary student, more than 20 years ago, he uncritically accepted the only arguments he had heard on the issue, the “egalitarian” or “equal-opportunity-employment” view, until a theologian challenged him to change his opinion to the “complementarian” position that he holds today.
“Am I ashamed that?” Mohler asked rhetorically. “Well I’m ashamed that I ever held the position that I believe now to have been biblically unsustainable. But, you know what? The pattern in the New Testament, whether it’s the Bereans or anyone else, it’s to be corrected by the Scripture and to learn from it and thereby to cherish the truth all the more. Even as Apollos was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila in the Book of Acts. In this case a leading theologian of the evangelical world, the late Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, was the one who pointed his finger at me and said, ‘You better rethink that.’ And I decided I’d better.”
Mohler said the question of women in ministry “is one of the basic dividing lines” in churches and denominations today.
“Christians can disagree on a lot of issues,” he said. “We can disagree over issues of eschatology and our understanding of how all the events pertaining to the Lord’s return are going to occur. We can disagree even on some issues of ecclesiology and consider each other Christians. I am not saying that someone who disagrees with me on this issue is not a Christian. I’m not saying that. But I’m also not saying that, ‘Hey, this is a low-level issue that we don’t have to worry about.’ I think it is a defining issue for the church.”
Mohler said every church must decide: “Do you believe that the clear teachings of the Scripture related to gender questions are enduring for the church today and obligatory on the church today, or are you going to try to argue that they are somehow just only to the immediate context in the Ancient Near Eastern world and are time-bound and no longer valid?”
“The problem with that second approach,” Mohler said, “is how in the world can you apply that understanding of the Scripture to any other question and end up with biblical Christianity? That really was the lever that worked within my own heart and mind to force me, over two decades ago, to change my position on this issue.”
Pondered in that light, Mohler said: “A lot of the Bible that maybe had seemed a little odd and foreign begins to make sense, when you understand that it’s not just some kind of principle that says women can’t teach a Sunday school class that includes men. It’s not just something that says women can’t preach in the pulpit. It’s an entire worldview of how God is glorified in his church when all the right things happen that bring health and order to his church.
“God is glorified when men stand up to be men and do what men are sometimes reluctant to do. And that is open their mouths and speak and teach. There’s something that brings glory to God when a man gets up by the call of God and teaches and preaches God’s word.”
Mohler said women’s roles in the church are no less important, however. “It’s not a status issue,” he said. “It’s a role issue. And the fact is that men bear shame for leaving that vacuum into which many women have stepped. And there is blame among those who now will defend what I believe is biblically defenseless.
“The big issue for us all is to humbly come under the full accountability to the word of God. That’s no easy task. But we better be very, very careful how we read and how we teach the word of God, so that we’re not bringing our prejudices to the word, but are having our minds corrected by the word.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.