In light of a challenge from California pastor Rick Warren, the Convention overwhelmingly affirmed its position that only males should serve as pastors by a vote of more than 88%.
The decision comes down to a matter of faith, Ryan Helfenbein, vice president of communications at Liberty University, said on American Family Radio on Friday.
Some other Protestant denominations have begun to ordain women through the years but Southern Baptists this week held tight to their belief that women should not serve as pastors as cited in their 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and supported by various Biblical accounts.
Helfenbein stressed the “obey” part of the Great Commission and told show host Jenna Ellis that to assume another position on women as pastors is to weaken faith in Christ.
“We not only have a Great Commission but we have a common confession," he stressed. "And in Matthew chapter 28, verse 19 and 20, when Jesus says, ‘Go you therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, son and the Holy Spirit,’ he then says, ‘teaching them to obey al that I commanded you.’ That 'teaching them to obey' part is really important to having a confession of faith."
Go and teach but...what?
Christ tells Christian believers to go and teach. Because he left it to humans to figure out the wording, the lessons can vary. In light of that, Helfenbein, who has a master's degree in divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said subtle doctrinal differences can have a great impact on the message.
“If we simply say, ‘Well, we are going to have this mission of reaching people for Jesus, great. What are you going to teach them?’ So we have to recognize those distinctions,” Helfenbein said.
The differences were highlighted from the convention floor in New Orleans when Warren and Dr. Albert Mohler were each granted three minutes to speak on the issue.
“We should remove churches for all kinds of sexual sin, racial sin, financial sin and leadership sin – sins that harm the testimony of our convention,” Warren said, but churches with women on pastoral staff have not sinned, he argued.
"If doctrinal disagreements between Baptists are considered sin," he went on say, "we all get kicked out.”
In his rebuttal to Warren, Mohler was applauded loudly by the SBC messengers for defending biblical doctrine. After pointing out Saddleback allows female pastors to teach the congregation, he said the SBC is not seeking to "invade the autonomy" of the local church but the Convention has a responsibility to establish its membership.
“It highlighted the key fundamental differences," Helfenbein said of the two speeches. "Rick Warren is saying we can have essentially a mission without really having a confession, and Al Moller is simply arguing, ‘Look, I'm not saying anything about the gospel ministry of Saddleback, those who have been saved through that ministry, baptized into that ministry. Wonderful things certainly are happening in Southern California, but this is whether or not we are in good standing with a clear confession of faith that has not changed for over 70 plus years.’ So I really was proud of that vote at 88%, not only to this fellowship, but then also to affirm that the confession is good and stands on its own grounds."
When the SBC messengers were considering adding an amendment about male pastors to the constitution, a female messenger had a message for objectors.
"Let those who affirm women in pastoral leadership attend the United Methodist convention, where they will be welcomed with open arms," Sarah Clatworthy, representing a Baptist church in Texas, said at the microphone.
The amendment was introduced by Pastor Mike Law. He said the clarity is needed to inform an "unbeliever" how a faithful Southern Baptist church views biblical doctrine.
Meanwhile, before he ever got to New Orleans, Warren could read the room. He communicated his position on social media in days leading up to the convention saying in those posts that he did not expect a favorable vote.
“When I looked at Rick Warren from the standpoint of where he was coming from, he did not have any kind of majority support from the delegation of messengers that came from all the different Baptist churches across the country. Just to clarify, the church was already disfellowshiped and basically the motion from the floor was whether the messengers were going to affirm and approve that decision,” Helfenbein said.
Clear communication a must in light of LGBTQ agenda
Helfenbein said the SBC’s stance is particularly important because of the LGBTQ push society is wrestling with right now.
“We have a larger culture that doesn’t even know what a woman is. We need to be abundantly clear by the meaning of pastor,” he insisted.
Helfenbein also told Ellis the SBC’s stance is an act of obedience, not an act that lessens the significance of women in churches.
“God has designed that men and women are equally gifted...equally gifted but God has reserved and prioritized a headship in the church," he said. " Just like in marriage and in the family, and we have to honor God’s authority in what he has designed for marriage and also for the church."
It is for such a time as this that churches need to reaffirm their commitment to Jesus Christ, Helfenbein said.
“This is a moment of testing for the church," he warned. "Are we ashamed of the Gospel of The Lord Jesus Christ? Are we ashamed of God’s word?”