Here in East Tennessee, there’s been a bit of a controversy in the news lately over a local Baptist Church who was voted out of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC). The issue stemmed from the church hiring a female pastor, a role which according to Baptist polity only a man is elligible to fill.
In the local news media coverage of the confrontation there has been, in my opinion, a disturbing lack of representation of the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s views and decisions regarding the non-compliance of the church in question. The articles in the local paper paint the TBC as an out-of-touch, oppressive, patriarchal, and even sexist organization that is being unreasonable in it’s unwillingness to consider the church with the female pastor a “cooperating church”.
The church has come out with statements such as the following:
What has transpired today is not a matter of one group of Baptists believing the Bible and another disregarding it. It is a difference in Biblical interpretation that has led us to this place.
Except that it IS an issue of one group believing the Bible (TBC) in it’s entirety and context, and another group (First Baptist Church Jefferson City) disregarding it, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
FBC Jefferson City also commented:
FBC Jefferson City seeks above all to be faithful to scripture, believing that ‘…there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female…’ as we ‘seek to be one in Christ Jesus.’
The above comment was the one that rustled my feathers so to speak.
My first issue with the church is that they cherry-picked a scripture (Galatians 3:28) written by the Apostle Paul to attempt to justify their appointment of a female pastor. According to Paul’s other Epistles such as Ephesians 5:1-33, the very next book following Galatians, he outlines the gender roles of men and women as they symbolize the relationship between Christ and the Church. The argument is frequently made that the Epistles were letters addressing specific situations within the audience churches, but weakly as the issue experienced in FBC Jefferson City is precisely that of the one faced in the Corinthian church when Paul wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.
For a bit of context, I’ll digress a little. Theology of the family directly represents the relationship between God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Christ is the head of the Church, submissive to God the Father, (John 5:19) and the Holy Spirit, or the power of God given to us through Christ. Likewise, the husband is the head of the wife, who submits to the authority of her husband, and the children are the product of their relationship, all of whom are submissive to God. Paul calls it a mystery for a reason (Ephesians 5:32) because it is profound and difficult to grasp.
In 1 Timothy chapters 2-3, Paul outlines specific instructions to men and women (1 Timothy 2:11-15) specifically referencing the fact that a woman is not to hold a position of authority over a man within the church based on God’s created order in Genesis chapters 2-3. When God made man in the Garden of Eden, His intent was always for the man to lead and bear the weight of responsibility of protection, provision, and affection for woman, as a man is supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the church; willing to give his life for her, even and especially when she doesn’t deserve it (Isaiah 53:4-6).
The conflict in the Garden of Eden when humankind fell from grace into sin and death occurred because Eve doubted the goodness of God and sought wisdom apart from God, and disobeyed God’s command, in the presence of her husband, Adam. She effectively took over the role of authority given to Adam (who had specifically been instructed as to the command regarding the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) and Adam disgraced his role of man and God-given authority as he passively let his wife choose sin without rebuke or correction. The result was brokenness, death, banishment, and a sin nature that the rest of scripture details God’s quest to right through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:1-19).
I say all that to say this: God established a created order by which the people called by His Name are to abide. When we don’t, there are inevitably consequences. Women have desired that position of authority ever since the fall (Genesis 3:16).
The reason a female pastor is considered inappropriate by the TBC is because it asserts a woman to a position of authority over male congregants. Because the man is to be the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, this violates God’s created order of authority. The woman is inappropriately placed as the head of the Church, which then undercuts the authority of the men who should be fulfilling their God-given duty of leadership. I know someone is going to bring up Deborah in the period of the Judges. To which I would like to point out Judges 4:1 & 8-9. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, and ended up with a female judge. Not only that but the men beneath her were disgraced by the fact that they were too weak of mind and spirit to fill the role they should (v. 8-9) and no honor was given them. There were consequences for their disobedience.
This brings up the issue of Biblical gender roles, which I’ve written about previously. Men and women are both created in God’s image, equal in worth and value, yet different and complementary in role. One enormous lie perpetuated in our culture today are that men and women are equal in role and ability, which is biologically, scientifically, verifiably false. And in my opinion, not to deviate too far off topic, but that is why men are no longer respected- they’ve allowed women to usurp the roles of leadership and authority and we’ve given rise to a culture that abhors traditional family structure and values and men who are weak and lazy leaders and fail to fulfill their role as Godly men. As a woman, I won’t speak to the issue of declining Christian masculinity in the U.S., but suffice it to say, the only reason Deborah was made judge over Israel was because no willing, man would step up to the task. Could that argument be made in the case of FBC Jefferson City? Possibly, though weakly, and easily defeated. If one thinks there is no willing pool of eligible male applicants to the position of pastor, they’ve turned a blind eye to websites such as pastorsearch.net and job search programs through theological seminaries to which numerous qualified (and my use of qualified includes not only education but eligibility based on scriptures guidelines of male leadership within the Church) applicants searching desperately for work and an opportunity to minister in the capacity of pastor.
The argument presented by the church is a self-defeating one in that while claiming to hold fast to the Scriptures, they’re actually violating numerous others in the name of equality.
Here are just a few passages which detail the appropriate roles of women to be fulfilled within the Church and family:
- Genesis 2:18-23
- Proverbs 31:10-31
- Proverbs 12:4; 31:10; 12
- 1 Corinthians 11:3-12
- Ephesians 5:22-23
- 1 Peter 3:1-2
Women in Roles of Responsibility
- Judges 4-5 (we already covered Deborah)
- 2 Kings 22:12-20
- Proverbs 31:10-31 (I did already reference this one but it’s a good solid piece of scripture that empowers women through fulfilling their own roles and not those of the man)
- Matthew 28:1-10
- Exodus 15:20
- Malachi 6:4
- Romans 16:1
- Romans 16:3-4
It isn’t that women are not allowed to serve in the church, because they are. It’s that they are to comply with their God-given roles in doing so.
The point here is that in none of the above listed passages was a woman ever established as priest or pastor. Period. If you go so far back as to look at the Levitical requirements for a priest, it is incredibly restrictive, not only to men, but to the specific line of Levi- which is why Christ was a priest in the order of Melchizedek (not of the line of Levi but of Judah) and thus fulfilled prophecy about the Messiah. and elsewhere in the New Testament, we’re told that those who seek to fill that role are judged by a higher standard than those who do not seek to teach or pastor (James 3:1).
The Bible is consistent in its stance on leadership within the church and the role of pastor is by no means exempt from the Scriptures’ guidelines.
Regarding the issue of Biblical interpretation, the word that should be used when conflict over scripture occurs is not interpretation, but application. There is only one single interpretation, and that’s the author’s original intent. God means His Word to mean what HE wants it to mean, and not what we think it should mean to us. With the Bible, it’s all or nothing. The moment bits of scripture are ignored, excluded or otherwise used to justify an agenda, the entire book loses its integrity as an authoritative document and the Inspired Word of God. There is one interpretation of Scripture, but many applications. The FBC Jefferson City is not only misinterpreting the author’s original intent of that passage in Galatians- which is not even written to address the roles of leadership in the church but rather the basis of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus- but also incorrectly applying it to suit their situation and agenda of having a female lead pastor.
The issue of application and interpretation is important because using the same passage of scripture out of context, one could feasibly argue that gender is not in fact biological and sacred as it was given by God, (Genesis 1:27-28; 5:2) but rather a social construct created by the evil patriarchy to oppress and control women. Then you can get into the issues of transgenderism, gender identity politics, homosexuality, even trans-speciesism… Christians were never called to live according to the culture or societal norms of the day, (John 15:19; 17:16; 1 John 4:5) in this case being gender role equality. The issue here is not one of discrimination or exclusion. It is about direct disobedience to the Word of God according to the Bible (in its entirety), and kudos to the TBC for not backing down on its convictions.
When a church fails to comply with the standards set forth in Scripture and upheld by the TBC, it has the opportunity to fix the issue, or to be voted out of the organization. The point at which the Church begins to pander to the culture or stand for the sake of anything other than the truth of the Gospel, the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture is the point at which I jump off that thought train and get back to what the whole of Scripture actually teaches.
That said, I have more respect for an Atheist who holds true to their convictions and beliefs than I do for a Christian who waffles on theirs.