Southern Baptist Women in Leadership

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church I never really thought much
about the role of women in the church.

 

I remember being effectively
taught by women in Sunday school, Children’s Church, and Choir. In fact
the only place I remember being taught by a man in the church was from
the pulpit and RA’s. More recently, I’ve heard sermons, Sunday school
lessons, and small group studies about the defined role of women in the
Southern Baptist church.

 

As a recently new father, I’ve given this topic more thought. In
2000 the Southern Baptist Convention added, “the office of pastor is
limited to men as qualified by Scripture” to The Baptist Faith and
Message Statement. While I agree that traditionally the office of
pastor has been filled by men, I’m in disagreement that we should be so
bold to say that only men are called to fill this position.

 

In America today, women are CEO’s of large public companies, members
of Congress, and Supreme Court Justices. In our secular world women
have no limits to what they can accomplish. Why shouldn’t women have
equal rights to serve God?

 

The more recent teachings I’ve heard at church and smaller groups
have focused on Ephesians Chapter 5. This passage of scripture from
Paul to the Ephesians explains that a wife should be submissive to her
husband, and that the husband should love his wife just as Christ loves
the Church. Therefore while the wife is submissive the greatest burden
and responsibility falls upon the husband to nurture and care for his
wife. I find nothing real controversial with this scripture. In fact, I
feel that this scripture describes a potentially healthy relationship
of mutual dependency.

 

Paul in a letter to Timothy says, “I do not permit a woman to teach
or to have authority over a man; she must be silent (1 Timothy 2).”
This passage is used to support the 2000 addition of “the office of
pastor is limited to men” to the Baptist Faith and Message Statement.
Paul supports this statement because Eve was the one deceived in the
Garden of Eden and therefore is solely responsible for the “original
sin.”

 

Paul continues in his letter to Timothy about many specific things
that a woman can and cannot do such as; praying only with a veiled
head, forbidding women from wearing jewelry or expensive clothes. It
seems that Paul is addressing specific concerns in a letter to a
specific audience. I feel that it is unlikely that Paul was trying to
establish universal religious practices.

 

Paul’s statements to Timothy seem to differ from some of his very
own statements seen elsewhere. To the Romans Paul publicly commends his
sister in Christ, Phoebe, who was also a deacon at the church of
Cenchreae (Roman 16:1). In the same letter he mentioned several other
women for their hard work and dedication to Jesus. Furthermore in a
public letter to the Galatians’, Paul says, “But now that faith has
come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus
you are all children of God through faith… There is no longer Jew or
Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”

 

So as Christians what must we do when we can find passages from the
Bible to justify both sides of this discussion? I feel that it is our
duty as believers in Jesus to examine scripture from his teachings. The
Baptist Faith and Message of 1964 states, “the criterion by which the
Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” By the way, this statement
is no longer in The Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.

 

During Jesus’ time on earth, there was a prevailing prohibition
against interacting with women in public. Contrary to this Jesus did
not hesitate from talking with a Samaritan woman at a public well,
Jacob’s well. After speaking with Jesus this woman accepted him as
Christ and by no accident became the first evangelical witness sharing
her testimony with the town of Sychar (John 4). While the disciples
where hiding in a secret place, it was Mary Magdalene that visited the
empty tomb and then was instructed by Jesus to go and tell the
disciples to meet him in Galilee (Matthew 28:10).

 

Examining Jesus’ ministry I don’t see any reason why women should be
deprived of the right to serve Christ in positions of leadership. We
see in Jesus’ ministry that the first witness for the Lord was a woman.
The risen Lord first visited Mary Magdalene. Likewise, we see in the
early church that Paul was grateful to many women including Phoebe a
deacon for their hard work and dedication.

 

In our modern heritage one of the most celebrated missionaries is
Lottie Moon, a brave and faithful woman that served until her last
breath. Men and women are equally responsible to share the good news
that effects eternity. As a result it is my opinion that an
individual’s gender should never be used as a bridle to hinder being a
servant for God.

 

Portions inspired by Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by President Jimmy Carter.

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