In 2000 the Southern Baptist Convention made headlines with theological arguments including women cannot be pastors and wives must submit to their husbands. Next year those controversies come to local churches in a new study by LifeWay Christian Resources.
Among other things, the Baptist Doctrine Study 2008: The Baptist Faith & Message celebrates “true masculinity and true femininity as gifts from God.”
“The biblical teachings on gender directly conflict with the thinking of the secular world, which increasingly sees gender differences as nothing more than socially constructed forms of oppression,” says the book written by three denominational leaders who all served on the committee eight years ago that proposed the changes to the SBC confession of faith previously revised in 1963.
“Gender chaos now prevails in much of our culture, leading to confusion and harm in the lives of individuals, families and even churches,” write Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The creation of human beings as male and female and God’s common affirmation of both genders demonstrate God’s love for us and His design of different roles and responsibilities for men and women.”
Specifically, they “affirm that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
“This assertion has become controversial only in recent years,” the book says. “Until recently all Christians affirmed that the pastoral office is limited to men recognized as fully qualified by biblical definitions.”
The authors claim the Bible “clearly reveals a complementary relationship between and women.” Both sexes are gifted for service in the church, the study contends, “but the New Testament defines a pastor as a man who is the ‘husband of one wife’ (1 Tim. 3:2) and a man who is gifted by God to fulfill the preaching ministry.”
Discussing another church office mentioned in the New Testament, that of deacon, the study says, “The Bible sets a high standard for deacons, specifying many of the same qualifications for pastors.” The section on deacons quotes First Timothy 3:8-13, which repeats the “husband of one wife” qualification applied to pastors, but it does not specifically say that deacons, too, must be male.
Another chapter in the study defends the SBC position on families, which states the wife “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
“The Baptist Faith and Message stipulates that the wife, ‘being in the image of God as is her husband,’ is thus ‘equal to him,’ even as she receives ‘the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation,'” the study says. “As the Bible makes abundantly clear, motherhood is to be greatly honored and respected, and the proper relationship between the husband and wife produces family harmony and provides a witness to the glory of God.”
The SBC publishing house produces a Baptist doctrine study for adults every year. The denominational calendar designates a week in April for the study, but churches conduct it at different times. This year’s study is designed for six sessions based on 21 articles that form the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
The preamble to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message describes the confession as an “instrument of doctrinal accountability” with doctrines that are “essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice.”
The statement is used as a guide for hiring in all SBC entities. Several missionaries were fired or resigned when the International Mission Board required them to affirm the revised statement in 2002.
Some churches and denominational bodies prefer the earlier 1963 version of the Baptist Faith & Message, which allowed more latitude on controversial issues like biblical inerrancy and women’s roles.
The first undated Bible study produced in on-line format by the Baptist Center for Ethics explored changes between the 1963 and 2000 statements and what they meant. It’s called Real Baptists and is available for order here.
In the preface of Real Baptists, BCE Executive Director Robert Parham said the newer faith statement put Baptists at a crossroads. One path, he said, leads “backward into a 19th-century cultural castle,” while the other leads toward a “21st-century pilgrimage” toward meeting future challenges.
The new SBC doctrine study takes on other theological issues in addition to gender roles. It argues for “substitutionary” atonement–which means Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners–and “verbal plenary inspiration” of the Bible. That means the very words in the Bible are inspired, and not just the ideas they represent, and that all parts of it are equally inspired. The study describes the Bible with terms of “authoritative, infallible, inerrant, sufficient and eternal.”
“Inerrancy has been a controversial word in some circles, and some Baptists have argued that this word is unnecessary and divisive,” the authors acknowledge, but they defend the term.
“We can be confident that the Holy Spirit fully inspired every word of the Bible in its original text,” the book says. “Because God is the Bible’s ultimate Author, a denial of inerrancy denies His perfection and undermines the Bible’s authority. It is also inconsistent to claim that the Bible can be infallible in its purpose while containing errors, no matter how small.”
The new LifeWay study also addresses social issues including homosexuality, abortion and evolution.
“One of our greatest challenges today is to speak the truth about the sin of homosexuality,” it says.
On abortion: “Based on our conviction that all human life is sacred from conception until natural death, Christians must oppose abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, human cloning, and any technology or research that involves the destruction of a human embryo.”
The book says the Bible also rules out evolution: “By definition evolution has no room for the concept that humans are made in the image of God, for evolutionary theory has no room for God.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Real Baptists: Spotlighting Changes in the Baptist Faith and Message
Bob Allen was the managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, writing more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure. He is currently the news editor at Baptist News Global.