A Response to Saddleback

Before I begin, let me get the elephant in the room addressed. I am a 35-year-old white evangelical male. I have a steady form of income as the pastor of an amazing Southern Baptist church. I own my house, and both my vehicles are paid off. I have two degrees and, in the next few years, will have two more. By all contemporary accounts, I should keep quiet about the issues I am about to address, but my convictions compel me to speak (or write as it were).

Last week, a brother from the SBC led his church to make an historic decision (their words). Last Thursday night, Saddleback church, a megachurch in Southern California, ordained three women as pastors. The purpose of this post is to engage the interwebs on a matter of profound significance with grace and concern. I admit, in the space allotted here, I cannot give a comprehensive treatment of this issue, but I will certainly try to be fair and balanced (sorry, FOX News).

Historically, the role of women has been a hot-button issue. This issue has manifested itself in the world of politics, the marketplace, and the church. The fault line of complementarianism and egalitarianism has often been the hallowed ground of an ongoing culture war. Before addressing my concern with this discussion in the context of the church, let me plainly state, women in politics and the marketplace should be afforded the same opportunities as men, so long as they are qualified and adequately capable of whatever the task at hand might be. However, this post is not about the role of women in politics or the marketplace.

As a Southern Baptist, I hold to the BF&M2000. This statement is neither creedal nor confessional, and it certainly is not on the same level as Scripture, but it is foundational to all Southern Baptist cooperative efforts. One must recognize the SBC’s foundational statement has gone through a bit of an evolution over time. For the sake of this subject, it is valuable to consider the side-by-side readings of Article VI on the Church[1]:

1925 – Its [the church] Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons.

1963 – Its [the church] Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.

2000 – While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

Notice the evolution in language from 1925 to 2000. The terms bishop and elder have been replaced with the term pastor. Some might reason, there is no office of pastor found in the New Testament. In the strictest of senses, this is not altogether wrong. The office is that of overseer (ἐπισκοπή), overseers are often referred to as Bishops. This word is used interchangeably with the term elder (πρεσβύτερος). See Paul’s use of these terms in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and 1 Timothy 5:17-25. Where, then, did the idea of a pastoral office enter the picture?

I believe the problem presented is a straightforward one to rectify. When someone refers to the office of pastor, it is because they have been conditioned to define the office of the elder/overseer by its function. The term pastor has its etymology in the Latin word for shepherd. The Greek word for shepherd is found in Ephesians 4:11 in the list of spiritual gifts. The word ποιμήν is used to describe the function of a shepherd as one who herds sheep.[2] The same word is used in Revelation 2:27 regarding the rule of the nations granted by the Lord Jesus. This rule is given to the ones who persevere to the end. In this respect, we see the term commonly translated as pastor as a leadership position with divinely granted authority.

Furthermore, Paul directly addresses the pastoral duties of the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28. Paul calls the elders to oversee the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. Here the elder/overseer keeps watch for wolves who will come and not spare the flock.

Within these modest word studies, I wish to demonstrate the office of elder/overseer is pastoral in that the elder/overseer provides watch-care and oversight over the flock of God. This they are to do with Christ, the Good Shepherd, as the model, and they are to function under His authority as the head of the church. This is why you might hear the phrase “under-shepherd” used. The elder/overseer of the local church is the shepherd under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus. While it is true there is no “office of pastor,” it is also true the office of elder/overseer is functionally that of a shepherd (pastor).

Within the order of the church, God has reserved the role of pastoral oversight to qualified men (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). There is a parallel in how the church is to understand the role of women within this context. Women have complementary roles to that of men, and men have complementary roles to that of women. God uniquely gifts and calls women to roles he has not gifted nor called men. We see this played out in the family structure in the woman’s blessing to bear children. In no way does a traditional complementary view minimize the gifting of a woman in the context of the church. Instead, it celebrates the ordered structure God created.

If my modest exegesis is sound, and I believe it is, it would not be wrong to warn the flock (as Owen Strachan has here). Furthermore, it would be wholly proper and biblical to emphatically state, the ordination of a woman to the functional office of pastor is against Scripture. Lastly, it is plain to see; Saddleback has chosen to reject the SBC’s position on the limitation of the pastoral office to men. Consequently, by their actions, they have placed themselves outside the cooperative relationship among Southern Baptists who hold to the standard of the BF&M 2000. As much as it grieves my heart to see this happen. It grieves me even more to say, Saddleback should repent of their unbiblical stance on female ordination and be restored to fellowship with the rest of the SBC, or they should publicly depart all cooperative efforts.

I write from a profound conviction not just in the authoritative inerrancy of the Bible but from a place of complete dependency on the sufficiency of the Bible. It is true; the Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. I humbly submit I believe my exegesis of the text is faithful to both these convictions, and I pray this might be an encouragement in today’s incendiary culture.

[1] https://bfm.sbc.net/comparison-chart/

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 843.

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