Will the Next SBC Resurgence Include a Redefining of Complementarianism? (Part 2)

Josh Buice

This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.

A Call to Empower Women

Some are calling for a resurgence in the SBC that leads to the “empowerment” and placement of women in the highest positions of denominational leadership – including office of president (https://bit.ly/2Jkn386). SBC presidents are viewed as leaders of the denomination and regularly preach during their tenure. Therefore, I have claimed a woman holding this office would violate 1 Timothy 2:12 that forbids a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. I have encountered two primary arguments to this objection.

First, it is said the SBC President is not inherently powerful and would not exercise any real authority. That is an odd response since the recommendation is for the purpose of “empowering” women. Surely the empowerment of women is not electing them to meaningless, powerless, positions that are devoid of any authority. Furthermore, whether some view the office as authoritative or not, it is certain that most within the SBC and the watching world will view it as such.

Second, those who want to limit the scope of complementarianism argue that the Scriptures only prohibit women from teaching or exercising authority over men in the local church. Before addressing that argument, the biblical text should be examined.

Complementarianism as Taught in 1 Timothy 2:11-15

These five verses should be interpreted in the larger context of 2:8-15 where Paul addresses gender roles in the church followed by the specific leadership qualities for elders and deacons (3:1-13). In 2:8-15, Paul gives distinct instructions for men and women. Particularly, in verses 11-15, he explains the role of women regarding the teaching and leadership in the church.

In verse eleven, Paul begins with a positive command saying, “let a woman learn.” This statement would have shattered ancient conventional stereotypes. In that culture, women were widely believed to be academically inferior. Yet, before Paul makes any prohibition, he writes words of liberation. A woman should learn. As an image bearer of God, she is to be a student of God’s Word. However, there is to be a demeanor in the way she is to learn – “quietly with all submissiveness” – and a limitation to her role. Spiritual equality does not eliminate God’s designed roles. As Paul prepares to give the qualifications for those who will teach doctrine and be spiritual leaders in the church, he first establishes the role is not designed for women.

If a woman is to learn quietly and submissively, she must not assume the position of teaching nor take authority in the church over men. Therefore, Paul gives this clear prohibition, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet.” The qualified men of the church are responsible before God for what is taught in the church and its governance.

Paul’s reasoning behind this prohibition is explained in 2:13-14. He grounds the ordering of the teaching and authority in the church upon the order of creation. Simply put, God created Adam before Eve. This was God’s plan and was not a divine afterthought, and Paul viewed it with theological meaning. Therefore, he was not choosing roles for men and women, nor basing it upon human opinion, nor adapting to his culture. God created man first and gave him responsibility over the garden and moral pattern for life in the garden (Gen 2:15-17). Then God created woman as his helper to carry out that responsibility (Gen 2:18). Therefore, men have been given the God-given role of teaching and governance in the church just as Adam was given that role at creation. As William D. Mounce writes, “Paul is prohibiting two separate events: teaching and acting in authority… Paul does not want women to be in positions of authority in the church; teaching is one way in which authority is exercised in the church.” [1]

One may argue Paul’s words are obsolete or patriarchal privilege that should be thrown upon the ash heap of history, but his words are not vague. I agree with Josh Buice who wrote, “While women are permitted to discuss biblical theology in a mixed group setting such as a Sunday school class, women teaching children or other women (Titus 2), or in a private setting such as with Apollos’ instruction that was gleaned from meeting with Priscilla and Aquila—biblical teaching, when among the church as a whole or a mixed audience should be led by men.” However, should this be limited only to a local church or does it have broader application?

Is the Prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 Limited to the Local Church?

Some argue this command does not prohibit a woman from teaching Scripture publicly to men or serving in positions of authority over men at a denominational level. These commands – so the argument goes – are for the local church, and the SBC is not a local church.

However, SBC presidents are regularly invited to preach in local churches. Therefore, the messengers in voting for a woman for this role would, by that very act, facilitate her preaching in a Sunday morning worship service in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. Beth Moore has already preached in several churches, so her election would make that inevitable.

Furthermore, the president preaches a sermon each year at the convention. J.D. Greear believes a woman can teach men even in a Sunday morning service, [2] so it is possible a woman will preach at the convention if he is elected president. Even if one views a convention sermon as different than one in a local church, the convention is a gathering of local churches. Therefore, how does it make sense that a woman could not preach to one local church, but could preach to thousands of local churches attending the convention?

It seems beyond common reason that a denomination comprised of local churches who partner together for the spread of God’s Word around the world would desire a model of teaching and leadership different from God’s design for the local church. To limit the application of 1 Tim 2:12 to the local church – at the exclusion of the denomination – seems absurd. I cannot imagine that Paul would have told Timothy that only men should preach and lead the church in Ephesus, but if Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae formed a cooperation to reach the world for Christ that any form of leadership would do.

If we pattern our convention after the leadership models of this world, we should not be surprised when the rest of the world’s philosophies flow right into our ranks. More importantly, if the SBC goes down this path, it will follow in the footsteps of every other liberal denomination and should expect the exact same results. I feel certain that what is allowed on the denominational level will eventually creep into the local churches.

But, wait, it might be argued. Will this view not perpetuate the problem of men dominating women? While the domination of women is abhorrent and must be addressed, the answer is not to empower women to places of authority that violate God’s created design. In fact, that is what led to the domination of women in the first place. Lord willing, I will address that tomorrow.

  1. William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 130.
  2. ]https://jdgreear.com/blog/can-women-teach-in-the-church/
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Author Will the Next SBC Resurgence Include a Redefining of Complementarianism? (Part 2)

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.