Today, the new line appears to be: “Preaching is ‘not a gender issue,’” according to LifeWay Christian Resources employee, Kelly King and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president, Daniel Akin.
In the span of just a few years, the narrative has shifted from a total denial that the Southern Baptist Convention embraced anything but Complementarianism and has instead moved toward some Baptist leaders applauding women for preaching. Formerly, anyone who dared to identify points of inconsistency and theological drift regarding the long-held doctrine of biblical gender roles in the SBC found themselves brushed aside or laughed away. “You are making something out of nothing,” seemed to be the chorus of response.
And yet, here we are, seeing SBC leaders rally around women who promote themselves as preachers and who do indeed preach to men and women.
I believe we are making something confusing which God in the Bible has made simple and clear: Women are not to teach or have authority over men in the church setting (1 Tim. 2:12), and the role of overseer (pastor) is reserved for a man who is the godly, upstanding husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2-7). The principles present in these instructions for the church provide wise guidance for any Christian seeking to honor the Lord in situations that closely mirror the church, such as seminary chapel messages where the Word of God is preached to a mixed audience much like is done in a church service. President Akin said the same in 2016:
“Both personally and at Southeastern, we affirm without any hesitation or reservation that God calls men to a leadership assignment—a servant leadership assignment—both in the home and in the church,” Akin said. “Men and women are equal in essence before God, but there are specific assignments and functions related to our gender both in the home and the church,” he added.
When it comes to faculty at Southeastern Seminary, those positions that very closely approximate the office of the elder and pastor are also reserved for men. “So, for example, I would not have a woman teach preaching, pastoral ministries or theology,” Akin said. “I would never hire to a [church or seminary] leadership position an egalitarian. I would also never allow an egalitarian to teach a Bible study in a church that I was leading.”
As an aside, I believe we must be careful to teach what the Bible says—no less but also no more, as one of my Southwestern Seminary professors taught me. We cannot go beyond what Scripture says, so here I would actually differ from President Akin in that I would support a woman teaching theology as long as her students are female. Theologically-trained women are a benefit to homes and churches and a powerful force for the spread of the gospel when acting within the parameters of God's good design.
These are not complicated commands and principles in Scripture. But they are cultural pariahs.
There is an eerie echo heard in the current debate of the devil’s treacherously destructive Garden of Eden inquiry: “Did God really say?”
Just like the command to not touch one type of fruit from one type of tree in the garden was not a difficult instruction, neither are the parameters for gender roles given in Scripture. As Christians who desire to follow Christ as closely as possible according to His written Word, believing that the entirety of God’s Word is truth (Ps. 119:160) and everlasting (Ps. 119:89), we should pray to have hearts willing and eager to conform to God’s design (Ps. 119:33).
Still, no one is forced to follow the Bible as written. In fact, there are plenty of denominations that take a looser, more pliable approach to the Scriptures.
But it is not right to try and remake the SBC in the image of other denominations, especially those that are less biblically conservative. If a town has five Chick-fil-A restaurants and one Whataburger, it would be nonsensical to change the lone Whataburger into a Chick-fil-A. Ecumenism dilutes us down to the least common denominator and produces an anemic theology. Let the SBC be what the SBC has been — a people committed to the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of Scripture, without apology. If your opinions and convictions have changed and no longer align with Baptist distinctives, the reasonable thing to do is to find a fellowship of people with which your convictions are compatible.
The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Baptists still trust the Bible as God’s authoritative Word — not an outdated instrument of oppression. And among the 14 million Baptists filling more than 46,000 churches in our convention are thousands upon thousands of women who hold to the same doctrine as their male counterparts. It is faulty framing of the situation to portray the Complementarianism debate in the SBC as a men v. women issue.
Many, many women fully and joyfully ascribe to the Bible’s teaching regarding gender roles. In discounting the opinions of some women because they don’t fit the feminist-styled narrative, those who say they wish to give women a louder voice and greater influence do the very thing they purport to despise: ignore women.
Both Christian men and Christian women serious about “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), must read the Bible, grapple with its correction and instruction, and submit to its shaping of their lives (2 Tim. 3:16).
While preaching is a gender issue, scriptural fidelity is not.