Law Amendment: Stand Where the World Stands Against Us

Over the last year the two of us have benefited from many conversations with friends on the upcoming vote for the Law Amendment at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis. The constitutional amendment will require churches who seat messengers at the SBC to “affirm, appoint, or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

We count folks on both sides of the issue as partners in the gospel, yet we believe that the proposed requirement is a good thing. It coheres with what the Bible teaches and the Baptist Faith & Message affirms. It pinpoints the place where culture opposes our churches most fiercely. It gives the churches of the convention the opportunity to be salt and light in our witness. And it helps to shore up our members with the clarity and courage they need in this historical moment.

Our purpose here is to address friends who agree with us that the Law Amendment presents what the Bible teaches and what the BF&M affirms, but who may not be convinced the amendment is wise tactically. Here are three reasons we would encourage you to support it.

Stand Where the World Most Stands Against Us

First, gender is where the world today arguably opposes Christianity the most. This amendment therefore gives us the wonderful opportunity to point the world to the good gift they’re missing. Plus, we don’t want to claim to stand up for Christ, but then sit down in the place that the world most stands against us.

To back up, disagreements over female ordination in the church root most fundamentally in our culture’s all-out war against the fact that God created us male and female.

Consider the sequence. Second-wave feminism convinced the world that men and women are indistinguishable in what they can do. Within a generation, the world decided that, if that’s the case, we have no reason to distinguish what male and female are. If you didn’t realize it, those are the long-term stakes in this present conversation.

Furthermore, this lesson should be seared into every Christian’s mind: God-given roles protect God-given realities. That is, the different roles God has established for men and women in both the family and the new creation family, the church, protect our belief in the fact that he has created us male and female. Lose the first and you’ll eventually lose the second, even if you never saw it coming.

The Law Amendment, therefore, asks us to stand up for what the Bible gives men and women to do, knowing that this roots in and protects our understanding of what they are.

Don’t misunderstand: The doctrine of ordination is not nearly as important as the doctrines of God or the Bible or salvation. Yet as every army officer knows, we don’t always get to pick where our battles are fought. Right now, Taylor Swift isn’t telling our teenage daughters, “You need to calm down,” over views on the Trinity. Hollywood isn’t pushing an errant view on justification in movie after movie. And no Supreme Court nominee is saying, “Defining the relationship between membership, baptism, and the Supper is above my pay grade.” Rather, forces like these have brought the fight to gender.

The good news is, this fight gives us the blessed opportunity to revel in God’s distinct gifts of manhood and womanhood and to point the world and ourselves to the goodness of those gifts.

Consider the Good Our Confession Can Do

Second, it’s worth constitutionally protecting our confession on this point of cultural controversy because of the great good our confession can do. Confessions catechize and disciple, defend and declare.

In our post-Christian and neo-pagan culture, theological liberalism is entering churches not merely through epistemology, but through ethics. Confessions written before the BF&M, 2000 didn’t need to make moral claims because a Christian-ish moral consensus characterized the country (albeit an inconsistent one; think: race).

Yet that consensus began dissolving rapidly in the latter decades of the twentieth century. As Christians felt the fade, they began inserting ethical content into their confessions, as the BF&M 2000 does. We discovered the need to declare our moral distinctives, both to distinguish ourselves from the world and to equip our churches to best enjoy God’s good gifts of maleness, femaleness, and marriage, properly defined.

We offer this point in response to those that argue that our confessions of faith should restrict themselves to historic Christian orthodoxy and historic Baptist distinctives. Those arguments misread both the landscape and the crying pastoral need of the moment. Again, the members of our churches don’t feel attacked over or tempted to abandon historic views on God or justification-by-faith-alone in quite the same way they do on gender.

Christians generally and Southern Baptists specifically are asking their leaders for instruction, formation, correction, and courage in the areas of gender and sexuality, and that is what a statement of faith like the BF&M 2000 helps provide. We encourage the convention, therefore, not to work against that request by opposing the amendment, but for that request by supporting the amendment.

Be Wary of Too Much Pragmatism

Third, we should be wary of too much pragmatism.

To again back up, we don’t believe the biggest division within the SBC today is between theological conservativism and liberalism. Instead, we believe that people on both sides of this particular issue, on the whole, are sincere theological conservatives.

Yet there does seem to be a growing divide between a doctrinally driven approach to ministry and ecclesial pragmatism. While there is some room for pragmatic decision-making within and between our churches, pragmatism trains us in the habit of loosening the screws on our doctrinal fidelity for the sake of shared mission.

That’s not good training.

Our brotherly caution is this: realize that the path to biblical compromise and theological liberalism often occurs through some combination of pragmatism and evangelistic ambition.

There’s safety in following Scripture. Of that you can be sure.

Jonathan Leeman (Ph.D., University of Wales) is editorial director for 9Marks Ministries in Washington, D.C. Juan Sanchez (Ph.D., Southern Seminary) serves as senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist