Southern Baptists look for fatherlike pastors

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 19, 2000

The poor Southern Baptists: they’re being hit again.

Monday, June 19, 2000

The poor Southern Baptists: they’re being hit again. Like the president among politicians and the United States among nations, they get unrequested special treatment just because they are prominent and influential. Targets of convenience, they are. A while ago, the Southern Baptists were denounced for wanting to make an appeal to the Mormons and then for telling Jewish people that Jesus the Christ is really theirs. Next it was because they will send teams to Chicago for social work projects and demonstrate their faith by work. Reading the general news media now one might get the impression they have launched an anti-women campaign by new efforts to bar women from ministry. The Southern Baptists have, in fact, simply declared their preference that the specific pastoral office be exercised by men in light of a local church being conceived as a family of families and the pastor, therefore, a father among fathers.

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We must begin consideration of the Southern Baptist position from understanding the nature of Baptist polity. (I am not Southern Baptist, but I listen.) Each local church owns its property, calls and releases its own pastors, and decides matters of belief and practice for itself. Associations or conventions of local Baptist churches speak as the churches addressing each other and neither for those churches nor do they lay requirements upon them. To say that pastors ought to be men is counsel offered for individual churches’ consideration. They may, however, do or not as they jolly well please. And, to the embarrassment of the conventions and amusement of the public, some do just that.

Second, the counsel given specifically relates to the office of pastor and not necessarily to other ministerial opportunities. Although men have been much in the majority, many churches have women serving on their staffs, and there is every indication the number is increasing significantly. Women have always played an especially important role in Southern Baptist foreign missions. A principal hero is Lottie Moon (1834-1883) of China.

According to Baptist theology, a pastor is a shepherd whose specific tasks are to feed a particular flock and to lead this flock. The role is consciously based on the Old Testament and Hebrew institutions of 12 tribal patriarchal heads and fathers heading clans within the tribes intentionally fulfilled in Jesus’ choice of 12 men as disciples and apostles and his declaration of building his church upon these men. It seems to Southern Baptists leaders, however, many local churches might not agree, that a man serving as the pastor of a local church is most consistent with this pattern and with the nature of a church as an extended family.

Southern Baptists do not reject women as pastors or ministers, because they respect and interact with those women who represent other churches. This is most evident in such public ministries as military and hospital chaplaincies.

What bothers me about women ministers are the extremes. I disrespect those who declare that only men can be ministers and then control the men ministers or who fill actual ministerial roles but mask the fact by euphemistic titles. Some women missionaries do at least as good a job in ministering as men, but such aren’t sufficiently forthright to call them ministers. The other fact that irritates me is the great number of women who demanded the right to be ordained as ministers as a feminist triumph. Among the earlier women ministers in other denominations was a large number who wanted more to assert their rights than to minister. Happily, many of these have become distracted by new causes, and women now entering ministry are much more likely actually to be called to minister.

The Southern Baptists – in a country that is free from government interference with churches and in which churches ought to be free from the tyranny of political correctness – have a right to make their own decisions about women in ministry. In turn, the Southern Baptist Convention allows and encourages local churches to make their own decisions. The impression I have of Southern Baptists is that they wish the pastoral office to follow a biblical model so that pastors are fathers among fathers in a family of families, which is the church.Wallace Alcorn’s column appears Mondays