Keeping ‘the Main Thing the Main Thing’: Thoughts on Rick Warren’s SBC Speech

Keeping ‘the Main Thing the Main Thing’: Thoughts on Rick Warren’s SBC Speech June 17, 2022

This week, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting. Although I am a doctrinally convinced Reformed Presbyterian, I have a keen interest in the SBC’s discussions, elections, and outcomes. In many ways, the SBC is an index of the state of Christianity within America. The decisions made and the aftermath of this annual event usually generate ripple effects across all major denominations. It is often a reliable indicator of where we are and where we are headed. This year appears to be no different.

While there are potentially a dozen topics to extract and discuss, one that stuck out to me was a speech by celebrity pastor Rick Warren. Rick is one of America’s most well-known and influential pastors. Aside from giving the invocation speech at President Obama’s 2008 inauguration ceremony, he has pastored Saddleback church (the largest in California) and written several best-selling books, such as The Purpose Driven Life. Suffice it to say that when Mr. Warren gives an opinion on an issue, people in, around, and outside the SBC pay close attention.

This year, he offered some commentary on the issue of ordaining women pastors within the SBC. Warren’s comments came in the form of an appeal, as there were considerations on expelling Saddleback Church over the issue. Apparently, the speech worked as Saddleback currently remains in the SBC. However, for the sake of this article, I want to draw attention to one of the alarming statements made by Mr. Warren in this appeal. 

Pleading upon the convention members, he asked them, “Are we to keep bickering over secondary issues? Or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?….this will make God smile.” I understand Rick’s rhetorical question to mean something like this: The issue of women pastors is a secondary issue. Let us focus on unity and Jesus as we address the culture. If we do this, we will glorify God.

While the sentiment may seem well-meaning and virtuous at a glance, upon deeper consideration, it gives me significant solicitude. Not only for the SBC but for reasons mentioned above, Christianity within America as a whole. Given the nature of the subject of his appeal and his reasoning for how we can make God “smile”. It is clear that there are cataclysmic disagreements on what the main thing is and how we keep it. 

For aid in defining “the main thing” and how we “keep it”, let us look to The Westminster Shorter Catechism. I find it very helpful here, as questions 1 and 2 speak directly to these issues. 

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him

In other words, our main objective in life and ministry is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. How do we do this? In faith, we observe and obey God’s Word. As critically stated, Holy Scripture is “the only rule to direct us how we glorify” God. 

Jesus gives us similar instruction in Matthew 22. Upon responding to the Pharisee’s question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (22:36-40).

It is important not to overlook the last verse in that text. Loving and glorifying God is directly correlated to the law (scripture). We glorify God when we obey His Word. This covenantal economy is fundamental to the Christian faith. While grace abounds for those in Christ, we are called to the obedience of God’s Word. This is how we love our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.

For further solidification of these doctrines, here are a few other verses to consider:

  • So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
  • For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:27-28)
  • All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:16-17)
  • Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)
  • That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:3-4)

Friends, it is impossible to glorify God, and “keep the main thing the main thing”, if we are not keenly aware of God’s Word. I would go further and say that anyone advocating that we can glorify God by disobeying His Word is prescribing evil. This is direct dissension from God, His Word, and the economy of His covenant with us. If we are to keep the main thing the main thing, as Mr. Warren pleaded, we must center our lives and ministry on obeying God and His Word. Thankfully, His Word is extremely clear on the issue of women pastors and elders. 

Paul writes in 1 Timothy, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (11-13). 

Some look at this verse and argue this was only relevant for the culture at the time. However, the fact that Paul argues for this doctrine by citing the order of creation is telling. This doctrine is not isolated to a 1st-century reading; it is timeless. Simply put, women are not to serve as pastors in the church – ever. 

If we advocate to disobey or ignore this clear command in scripture, we are not keeping the main thing the main thing; we have lost sight of the target. Because God’s Word speaks clearly to the issue of women serving as pastors, this will never be a “secondary issue”. Anything God commands, we cannot take it lightly. As Christians, we must accept the Word of God as a whole – not in parts as we see convenient for the given culture at hand. It is in obeying the whole counsel of God’s Word that we will find genuine unity and glory to God. This is how God designed it. 

Let us pray for Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, and the church in America. I fear challenging times are coming. As a whole, the church in America is losing sight of the main thing. This is evident in Mr. Warren’s speech and the response of the SBC. 

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