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The Bible not only prohibits women from being pastors but from serving as deacons as well, suggest teaching materials for the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming January Bible Study.

The study of the New Testament books of First and Second Timothy relies on the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message as its doctrinal guideline, according to a statement in student and leader guides published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

The Baptist Faith & Message’s article on the church includes the phrase: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

But the 2004 January Bible Study goes further, interpreting the Apostle Paul as saying that both pastors and deacons must be the “husband of one wife.”

That doesn’t mean a pastor is required to be married, say authors Jimmy Draper and Gene Mims, but it does address divorce. “If married, a pastor is to be the husband of one wife for as long as he lives or for as long as she lives,” the study’s leader guide says. “If he is married to one and only one woman, he will be a married man without multiple wives, faithful to the one he has married, and faithful to her until he dies.”

Divorce has become more common in America in recent decades, and more divorced people than ever worship in Baptist churches. A few have begun to enter pulpits. Charles Stanley, a TV preacher and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, drew attention a few years ago when he and his wife were divorced but he refused to resign as pastor of his church, First Baptist of Atlanta.

Paul applies the same “husband of one wife” characteristic to deacons, suggesting that women and divorced men need not apply for that office either, Draper and Mims imply.

Deacons’ wives, as they interpret 1 Tim 3:11 to read, are called upon to share their husbands’ high character and to assist them in church service. “We know that women who served in the early church assisted in ministering to women in such matters as baptism or visiting them when they were ill or in spiritual need.”

Paul’s declaration in 1 Tim 2:12 that women may not teach or exercise authority over a man doesn’t mean that women can’t instruct other women, children or, in some cases, men, say Draper and Mims, but “they are not to have authority over men nor teach them as one having authority.”

Paul’s citing of the example of Adam and Eve explains the principle, they say. Adam was created before Eve, so that the “order of creation established the order of the relationship between man and woman.” Adam was not deceived, but sinned willingly, while the woman was deceived and transgressed. “Paul seems to have been saying that Eve as a woman was gullible outside the protection of her husband, thus women should not exercise authority over a man,” the study concludes.

A later verse that says faithful women will be “saved through childbearing” could mean either that God will reward such women by protecting them from the dangers of childbearing or “that by being good mothers and wives in their God-ordained roles, women will find fulfillment in life.”

“In this sense Paul contrasted the role of a mother at home with a woman who desired to teach in the church.”

The study material also challenges the notion that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity. That is true in matters pertaining to salvation, holiness and service, it says. “But in terms of being set apart for a life and lifestyle of service to God, we have to draw a line. A man of God is a called man and a sent man.”

“Church leadership is the responsibility of a man of God who is sent to teach, preach, lead and equip saints for service.” A current trend to erase such distinctions in the local church is “unbiblical and eventually harmful.”

Paul urges younger women without husbands to marry, have children and manage their households in order to avoid criticism or bringing condemnation to the church, the study says.

Widows are free to remarry, “but no one is free to divorce on any biblical warrant except that of adultery or abandonment.”

On the other hand, if a married person loses a spouse to death, God “graciously allows us to remarry and live in joy and fulfillment with another spouse. Death does not have to rob a younger woman (or man) of a complete life with another spouse.”

The authors note with surprise “how silent” the Bible is on “grievous social practices” like slavery. Biblical authors and characters said nothing about changing the institution of slavery, and Paul called for slaves to respect their masters. “We may be powerless to change circumstances but not powerless to change,” they conclude. “We may have little or no control over others, but we can control how we respond. I am responsible for myself and my behavior no matter what my circumstances are or how others treat me.”

Special caution is issued in Paul’s admonition that pastors treat younger women in the church with “propriety” and as “sisters,” the study observes. “Church relationships for a pastor (or for any man) are important but none more dangerous than between him and the younger women. He is to be completely above reproach in thought and deeds, completely avoiding any snares of temptation that could easily destroy him, her, his ministry, or the fellowship of the church.”

The Bible, the leader’s guide says in a discussion of 2 Tim 3:14-17, “is God’s written revelation to us that leads us to faith in Christ (thus salvation) and shows us how to live, grow in Christ and serve in the kingdom.”

The biblical writers “wrote under the authority and direction of God,” Draper and Mims contend. “God inspired them to record exactly what he meant…. There is not an error in Scripture because God cannot lie, sin or err.”

Another lesson called “Ministering in the Last Days” declares, “Satan is the primary influence of all who are not believers.”

The church faces threats from “false religions,” the authors say. “The events of September 11, 2001, reminded us of how brutal false religions can be and how near to the surface those threats always lie.”

But they see a potentially greater threat from the “cultural Christian,” who professes Christ, attends church and reads the Bible but “segregates his Sunday religion from his daily life.”

“How can a cultural Christian be more dangerous than an Islamic extremist or a ruthless dictator? The answer is that we expect challenges to our faith from those people, so we know to be wary of them and not to trust them. But we look at a cultural Christian and see what appears to be an ally, a brother in Christ. We naturally let our guard down and welcome him into the fold. And there his lack of commitment and his spiritual bankruptcy rob the Christian community of its energy and focus, eating away from within like a hidden cancer.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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