Rare are the instances when a denomination is faced with a watershed moment that will define its entire future for good or ill. For the Southern Baptist Convention, that moment is this week’s annual conference.
What’s at stake is whether or not the SBC will continue to carry the torch of biblical authority and inerrancy, or begin to travel down a path that leads to full-fledged apostasy. It will either stand on the rock of Scripture or it will be swept away by the same current that has carried various other mainline denominations over the falls.
The issue is clear and unambiguous, the Scripture at stake is easy to interpret, and the choice is simple. It is a choice between the Bible and the world.
There is a movement in the SBC to select a woman as the next president of the denomination. Dwight McKissic, the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, is promoting the idea, and specifically advocating the election of well-known Bible teacher and open borders advocate Beth Moore to the post (The Case for Electing Beth Moore as President of the Southern Baptist Convention).
From a biblical standpoint, this is a movement that should be firmly rejected, on the grounds that the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids it.
Here’s how 1 Timothy 2:12 reads: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet.” When Paul uses the word “I,” he is invoking his full apostolic authority as one who received his gospel directly from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). He has authority to direct the conduct of the church on matters of gender roles just as he does for church discipline and the qualifications for an elder.
We all know what the word “permit” means and what the word “woman” means. The perimeters that the Scripture establishes here are around “teaching” and “exercising authority.”
In practice, this means we must ask two questions if we are thinking about appointing a woman to a position. The first question is whether this puts her in a position where she is teaching men. If it does, it is not to be done.
The second question is whether this puts a woman in a place where she would be exercising authority over men. Exercising authority means quite simply that she has the authority to tell a man what to do. If appointing a woman to a particular position means putting her in a position where she is issuing directives (no matter how politely or softly she does it) to men, it is not be done.
Some argue that this command was simply a cultural matter and no longer applies today. But by immediately invoking Adam and Eve, Paul grounds his appeal in the very order of creation, which is transcultural. This is a directive which applies to the church in every age. So, in short, the nomination of Beth Moore to be the president of the SBC should be a non-starter.
But McKissic has a different idea. He longs for the day when women will serve at “all levels of leadership in SBC institutional life within the boundaries of the Bible.” (Emphasis mine throughout.) Given his lax understanding of the “boundaries of the Bible,” this is just the first salvo in a campaign to put women in the pastorate, behind the pulpit, and on church boards.
It is certainly not that women are forbidden to teach anybody anywhere. In fact, older women (whose children are grown) are directed by the apostle to “teach what is good,” and to take what they have learned from Scripture and life and use it to “train the young women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:3-4).
Beth Moore is a gifted Bible teacher and has had an enormous impact on the women who benefit from her teaching, whether it comes in person or in the form of books or films. This, of course, is entirely appropriate and worthy of admiration.
McKissic argues that there is no biblical impediment to Ms. Moore’s elevation because the SBC itself is a “parachurch” organization. But biblically this is erroneous. In reality, there is no such thing as a “parachurch” organization at all. Parachurch organizations belong to the one church universal (Ephesians 1:22-23) and their ministries are just as much expressions of the church as anything else. There may be many congregations and parachurch organizations, but there is only one church, only one body of Christ.
McKissic also tries to justify his idea by arguing that the president of the SBC has “extremely limited authority,” and that the position is “weighted more toward symbolism than governing.” From one vantage point, this statement is actually demeaning to women, for it suggests that it’s okay to give a woman a little bit of authority as long as it’s not too much. But the biblical issue is not how much authority a woman has over men, but whether she wields it at all.
McKissic makes an admission that is fatal on these grounds. He lists the areas of responsibility the SBC president has: making committee appointments, presiding over the annual SBC convention, serving as a trustee of all SBC entities, serving on the order of the business committee, and representing the SBC to the public at large.
“But beyond those responsibilities,” McKissic adds, “the SBC presidency has no decision-making authority.” Which means, of course, that within those responsibilities, she does in fact exercise “decision-making authority” over men.
In a perfectly dangerous statement, McKissic admits that what is driving him is not a passion for biblical fidelity but raw, unadorned feminism. After identifying “racism and sexism” as “the two greatest institutional systemic sins” in the SBC’s history, he then adds ominously, “To deny a woman from serving as a (sic) SBC president or vice president is purely sexist from my vantage point.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, since the plain teaching about gender roles in the church comes from Paul, McKissic has accused the apostle of being a sexist. And since Paul got his gospel from Jesus Christ, McKissic has essentially accused Jesus of being a sexist too. Yikes.
According to McKissic’s screed, the only thing keeping the SBC from abolishing gender distinctions altogether is “tradition, sexism, fear, and other non-biblical factors.” Wow. That’s the kind of indictment you would expect from Methodist bishop Karen Oliveto, who called Jesus a “bigot,” but hardly what we should expect from one of the leaders of a denomination whose hallmark has been unalloyed allegiance to the Word of God.
To put the issue beyond dispute, McKissic closes by saying, “God wants the SBC to set its house in order—racially and gender-wise. He is cleaning the SBC house.” Well, “cleaning the SBC house” of what? Apparently of those who believe what the Bible teaches about gender and the roles assigned to men and women in Christ’s church.
The one thing McKissic says with which I agree is that “To say this is a critical hour in the life of the SBC is an understatement.” I couldn’t agree more. This week will show us what the SBC is made of - steel or butter.
Of course 1 Timothy 2:12 is out of phase with contemporary cultural dogma. The Word of God always has been. It should not matter to us one whit what the world thinks of the decisions we make when our denominations meet, even if the whole world disagrees, mocks, and ridicules. The 4th-century church father Athanasius, who fought his entire life to preserve a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ, was once told by a friend, “But Athanasius, the whole world is against you.” Athanasius’ immortal reply: “Then Athanasius is against the whole world.”
It is my contention that the first step away from orthodoxy for the modern church has been its embrace, in the 1970s, of feminism over the authority of Scripture. Once the precedent has been set that somehow it’s okay to set aside foundational biblical teaching if the culture doesn’t happen to like it, then the door has been opened to error in all its forms. It’s only a matter of time before they all crowd in. The SBC is facing a momentous and institutionally defining decision. Attendees at the SBC gathering must not deceive themselves about where McKissic’s path leads.
What the SBC needs are “oaks of righteousness,” not reeds that are blown about by the wind. Let’s pray that Athanasius will have a lot of friends in the hall this week.