Credentials Committee withdraws Saddleback recommendation

After much discussion, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Credentials Committee chose to withdraw its recommendation related to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

A decision on whether or not to disfellowship Saddleback for ordaining three female staff members as pastors in May 2021 will be delayed until a later date.

The original motion, submitted by Shadd Tibbs of Louisiana during the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, will remain with the Credentials Committee until it is prepared to present another recommendation.

In its recommendation, the committee declined to call for Saddleback to be disfellowshipped “until clarity is provided regarding the use of the title ‘pastor’ for staff positions with different responsibility and authority than that of the lead pastor.”

Linda Cooper, chair of the Credentials Committee and member of Forest Park Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., presented the original recommendation from the committee.

Cooper said the committee unanimously believes that “a majority of SBC churches hold the belief that the office of lead pastor, elder, bishop or overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

However, the committee recommended that messengers form a study committee to look into the ways various churches assign the term “pastor” to different ministry roles so as to provide “clarity regarding the ‘office of pastor’ as stated in the Baptist Faith & Message. …”

The committee’s job is to consider whether a church is in friendly cooperation with the Convention. Because it is a standing committee, it does not have to wait until another annual meeting to present a future recommendation. It could present a motion to disfellowship a church to the SBC Executive Committee.

The committee “found little information regarding convention beliefs regarding the use of the ‘title of pastor,’ for staff positions with different responsibility and authority than a lead pastor role,” Cooper said.

In debate following the recommendation, both Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and SBC presidential candidate Tom Ascol spoke against it.

Mohler, who served on the committee that composed the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, said Southern Baptists are not confused by what the statement means by the word “pastor.”

Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, proposed an amendment to the committee’s recommendation, which the committee received as friendly. The amendment would have changed the focus of the proposed study committee to a study of how closely a church must adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message to be considered in friendly cooperation.

After announcing the failure of Greenway’s amendment in a ballot vote, SBC President Ed Litton called on Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren to speak to the committee’s recommendation. Warren, the church’s founding pastor who has seen it grow to the largest church in the Convention, has recently announced his retirement.

He used much of his time to speak not directly to the issue at hand but rather to talk about his history as a Southern Baptist and express his appreciation to the Convention.

“I have no intention of defending myself …,” he said. “I could talk to you all about what I believe about the gift of pastorate as opposed to the office of pastorate, but I’m not here to talk about that.

“I wrote you all a love letter that I’d like to share. I love Southern Baptists, and I am a fourth-generation Southern Baptist pastor. I owe you all so much, so I sincerely say thank you, Southern Baptists, for shaping my life.

“As Western culture grows more dark, more evil and more secular, we have to decide are we going to treat each other as allies or adversaries? Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues, or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?”

After Warren’s speech, committee chair Linda Cooper announced that the committee would withdraw its recommendation.

A future recommendation regarding the original motion about Saddleback will come from the Credentials Committee at a later date.

— Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.