By Steven Norris
In the news this week, the Southern Baptist Convention decided to oust Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the denomination. The California church, started by Rick Warren, was “deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention, on the basis that the church has…a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.” A Griffin-area church (New Faith Mission Ministry) was also included in this ouster.
Though the church I serve has historic ties to the SBC, I grieve this decision. I do so because our church has a long and rich history of ordaining women to serve as deacons and as full ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a couple of weeks, we will ordain another highly-gifted, Spirit-filled, God-called woman to serve on our ministerial team.
We do so, not because we reject the authority of the Bible, but precisely because we’ve read our Bibles cover-to-cover. As such, we cannot ignore the numerous examples of God calling women to positions of leadership.
In Exodus 15:20, Miriam is referred to as a prophetess who served alongside her brothers Aaron and Moses in leading the people out of captivity in Egypt.
In Judges 4-5, Israel is led by the judge Deborah who serves as both the military and political leader of the people during a time of trial and rallies the Israelites to victory.
In the book of Esther, a Jewish woman becomes Queen of Persia and is called by God to rescue her people from extermination.
The genealogy of Jesus includes four women (unusual for such records of the day) including the prostitute Rahab who was both responsible for delivering the Israelites.
According to the gospel accounts, Jesus was supported by a group of women that included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, Mary, and “many others.”
Faithful women stayed with Jesus during his crucifixion while the male disciples fled. Women found the empty tomb and were the first ones given the job of preaching the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
In the book of Acts, the Spirit was poured out on men and women alike and they prophesied in the Spirit’s power. We hear stories of Lydia, a leader of the church in Philippi, and Priscilla who led a house church and helped disciple the apostle, Apollos. In Romans, we learn of Junia who was described as “outstanding among all the apostles.”
As one pastor put it, “We ordain women precisely because we baptize little girls.” God calls who God calls. Who are we to stand in the way?
We can certainly squabble over a couple of passages that seem to disqualify women from being pastors, but space will not allow for that here. It is enough to say: we are proud of the women that have answered God’s call to serve at First Baptist Church of Griffin and wouldn’t be the same without them.
I pray for the day when a person’s character, giftedness, and evidence of the Spirit’s presence will be the only criteria determining fitness for preaching the good news and leading God’s people. Until that day, I can only shake my head. Instead of focusing on the true enemy, the Church continues to be crippled by “friendly” fire.