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First Thoughts

A Concern about the Law Amendment

The Law Amendment is the current effort to add the biblical requirement for male pastors into the constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I have been a strong supporter of this effort, but that support does not mean I’ve had no concerns. My support for this amendment has not come cheap.

Initially, I Had Doubts

I had three initial doubts about the amendment.

First, I believed the amendment was unnecessary because our statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), already states that the office of pastor is limited to qualified men. Why would we repeat what is already clear?

Second, I believed the amendment was unnecessary because our convention was already working to remove churches that were in error on this issue. Why go to the work of adding a constitutional provision if our convention can act faithfully without it?

Third, I was nervous about singling this one issue out of the BFM for inclusion in the constitution. There are so many important doctrines in the BFM that we should not ignore. Are we going to fill up Article 3 of the SBC Constitution with a new provision from the BFM every year?

At various times, all these concerns made me wonder if the Law Amendment was wise.

How I Became Convinced

Three developments changed my mind.

First, much of the motivation behind the amendment came from the recommendation of the Credentials Committee at the 2022 SBC meeting in Anaheim. Their initial recommendation, ultimately withdrawn, was that the convention needed time to discern what a pastor really was. The Law Amendment ultimately came from the serious concern that such an important committee did not believe Southern Baptists knew that the office of pastor was reserved for men. I came to share that concern and was willing to take special action to provide the clarity that was requested by the committee itself.

Second, I witnessed Southern Baptists take one overwhelming vote after another in New Orleans to remove egalitarian churches and take the first of two required votes to ratify the Law Amendment. I love Southern Baptists. They are my people, they are faithful, and they are in no mood to entertain any move toward women preachers. I am in no mood to argue with them about such an important and straightforward matter.

Finally, this really is a simple matter of conviction. At the end of the day, the Law Amendment has been placed before us and asks a straightforward question: Do we believe the Bible teaches that the office of pastor is restricted to qualified men? The biblical answer to that question is yes. We simply do not have the freedom to provide the wrong answer based on any practical concern.

So, I am voting for the Law Amendment in June. I am taking eleven messengers from First Baptist with me who are eager to as well, and I hope you will do the same thing.

A Lingering Concern

But faithful leaders in our convention are concerned that the Law Amendment is a foot in the door to investigate churches that don’t give women the title of pastor but have women doing pastoral things. I have been asked whether this is what I am trying to do.

My answer to that question is a resounding no for two reasons.

First, I would not want to be treated that way. I am a convictional complementarian. At First Baptist, we do not allow women to serve with the title or function of pastor, but we do have several women whose job descriptions seem pastoral: they teach the Bible and lead teams. This work is not a violation of Scripture because those incredible women are not teaching the Bible to men or exercising pastoral authority over them. A suspicious outsider might look at their job description and ask how they can know for certain such women aren’t pastors. At the end of the day, those people will have to take my word for it. A convention that initiates investigations rather than extending trust is sick, and can’t cooperate together. My support for the Law Amendment is about dealing with clear and obvious violations of Scripture. It is absolutely not about initiating witch hunts.

Second, I cannot be part of these investigations. All the pastors I know are way too busy with the great commission to be nosing around and investigating other churches. Apart from the freedom and independence that each church enjoys, there simply isn’t enough time to do this. In the zero-sum game of time, I can either put you under the magnifying glass or lock arms with you to share the gospel. I can’t do both.

The request to approve the Law Amendment is not an effort to cannibalize our convention. If that is what I thought it was, I would oppose it. Count me as a pastor who is just as committed to supporting the Law Amendment as I am to being part of a convention that supports the integrity and independence of the churches who make it up. The Law Amendment allows us to support biblical standards for pastors and oppose witch hunts at the same time.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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