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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
There is a controversy raging in some religious circles concerning the ordination of women to the ministry. Pressure is being applied to leaders in various denominations by groups favoring the ordination of women. Women’s rights groups have successfully changed the practice of many religious denominations, and it is reported that women "now constitute almost 50 percent of the enrollment at some seminaries and divinity schools in the Boston areas."*
The Boston Globe reports that at the Harvard Divinity School the number of women stands at "a record 40 percent and is rising."** As the number of women with the supposed credentials to minister increases, we can expect to see many more churches bow to the pressure and accept women pastors.
The acceptance of women preachers is no longer confined to Protestants and Pentecostal circles, but it has reached into Baptist ranks. In fact, many Baptists have accepted the ordination of women with open arms.
At a conference of Southern Baptist Convention leaders held in May of 1977, these leaders speculated on the Baptists of tomorrow. "One of the generally expected trends by the participants was the significant increase in the number of women being ordained as pastors and deacons."+ The Southern Baptist Convention already has a number of women serving as pastors across the country, and many of their leaders seem proud of their "open mindedness."
Dr. James L. Sullivan, a past president of the convention, stated in a press conference, "we have a number of women who have been ordained to the pastorate and theologically trained...I Personally have no convictions against it. Tradition has been the main problem."++ This statement reflects the real problem facing Baptists today – a lack of conviction. If we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we will have convictions against the ordination of women.
These convictions – if they are Bible convictions – will not be based upon any prejudice against women. They will not reflect a haughty male chauvinism which delegates to women a place of inferiority. They will simply be convictions to do what God says the way He says to do it. The Scriptures clearly teach that a woman, regardless of her theological training or oratorical abilities, cannot preach or pastor.
Paul laid down the qualifications for a pastor in I Timothy 3:1-7. In verse two, he states that a bishop (pastor or over-seer of a congregation) must be "the husband of one wife" which eliminates any woman from consideration for the office. Also in verse two Paul states that a bishop must be "apt to teach."
Teaching is one of the primary responsibilities of a pastor, yet the scriptures forbid a woman to teach men. "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." (I Timothy 2:11-12) Any woman who steps into the pulpit to teach or preach the doctrines of the Word to a congregation violates the very Scriptures she is teaching!
Along this same line Paul told the saints at Corinth: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35) Paul is stating that the God of order has placed in His churches a restriction upon women. They are not permitted to preach or teach men, and it is a shame for them to do so.
Furthermore, the office of the pastor is a position of authority. The writer of Hebrews, speaking of the pastor, said; "Obey them that have the rule over you." (Hebrews 13:17). This office cannot be occupied scripturally by a woman for the scriptures clearly state she cannot usurp authority over the man (I Timothy 2:12).
It seems the real problem in the issue of the ordination of women is that most are not going to submit to the authority of the Scriptures. What Paul said does not seem to matter today; therefore we can expect to see more churches bow to secular pressure and accept women in their pulpits. In spite of increasing pressure to ordain women, Baptists must hold tenaciously to the Word of God and refuse to bow to any pressure.
We must stand against the compromising winds of the day and lead the fight against creeping liberalism. May God grant us grace to do so in love.
*Southern Baptist Journal, August 1977, p.11.
+Ibid., May 1977, p.8.
++Ibid., June 1978, p.14.