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First Thoughts

SBC 2024: The Law Amendment

The Law Amendment is one of the most crucial issues facing messengers headed to Indianapolis for the 2024 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The amendment passed by an overwhelming margin in New Orleans and is required to be approved by a 2/3 majority this year in order to be added to the Constitution. I want to help Southern Baptists understand the importance of this decision by examining what the Law Amendment is, what issues are not involved in this decision, and what is really at stake.

What Is the Law Amendment?

The so-called Law Amendment is an effort to change the SBC Constitution to clarify that the only kind of church in friendly cooperation with the convention is one that “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

There is a historical and textual reason for this amendment.

Historically, this became an issue at the 2022 SBC meeting in Anaheim. At that meeting, rather than make a recommendation to remove Saddleback Church for employing female pastors, the Credentials Committee recommended further study to determine what a pastor is. This recommendation led to a great deal of tumultuous debate, to a withdrawal of the recommendation from the committee, and the ultimate removal of Saddleback in 2023.

The historical issue is connected to the textual one. The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) makes clear that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture, and the SBC Constitution requires cooperating churches to “closely identify” with that statement of faith. It has been alarming that some leaders could express confusion about the clear biblical teaching restricting the office of pastor to men that is required by the BFM and SBC Constitution.

Those issues led Mike Law to propose this amendment. The brief language of the amendment makes clear that our convention knows what a pastor is and that faithfulness regarding the role of a pastor is necessary for participation with the SBC. The intention is to correct real confusion that has taken place.

What Is NOT at Stake with this Amendment

There has been as much confusion about this potential amendment as anything I have seen since I began paying attention to SBC life. Let me mention a few serious confusions.

First, this debate is not about who is a complementarian and who is not. Many faithful leaders who believe the office of pastor is reserved for men are not in favor of this amendment. One of those men is the current SBC president, Bart Barber. Bart is a good man, a faithful pastor, and has been repeatedly clear that his opposition to the amendment is not at odds with his clear complementarian convictions. Southern Baptists need to be clear on this matter and debate the issues rather than mischaracterizing good folks.

Second, this debate is not about running good churches out of the convention who are confused about who a pastor is. This amendment is not targeting churches who ignorantly and innocently give the title of pastor to a woman. The same section of the Constitution, which would forbid churches with female pastors, also forbids racism, homosexuality, and sexual abuse. The Credentials Committee, which investigates constitutional violations like these, has the authority to engage erring churches and give them an opportunity to repent. This same engagement and opportunity would be possible on the issue of female pastors.

The Southern Baptist Convention is built on churches and their rock-solid biblical convictions. The churches own the convention and send messengers to tell it what to do. Furthermore, those messengers have always trusted their committee members to do some of the most important business in our convention. These committees have done the hard work of turning our entities from liberalism, of writing our documents, and of addressing crises like sexual abuse.

The argument that the SBC cannot take a stand on biblical faithfulness because our churches might be ignorant and our committees could be reckless is not only new but dangerous. If our convention is stuck with committees that are unwise and injudicious and churches that can’t figure out what a pastor is, then our convention will not be able to function.

What Really Is at Stake

The real issue on this matter is the Bible. The Bible is crystal clear that the office of pastor is reserved for men as qualified by Scripture (1 Timothy 2:11-12; 3:1-7; Titus 1:6).  Baptists know this. That clear knowledge makes this whole thing much easier than some of the overcooked debates around this issue would lead you to believe.

It is this simple. The Law Amendment has been placed before Southern Baptists. The question the amendment asks is whether we agree with Scripture that the office of pastor is reserved for men. Brothers and sisters, the clear answer—the only answer—is yes. Simple faithfulness demands our agreement with Scripture.

We may prefer not to talk about this issue. We may wish that we could focus on other matters instead of this one. Believe me, I understand that. But I also understand that we get to choose the issues we address far less than we would like. The fact of the matter is that right now, we are being asked what a pastor is. We must tell the truth.

Good folks have practical concerns about what this means for the behavior of our committees and well-intended but confused congregations. Those questions are important, and we need to figure them out. I am brimming with confidence that a convention full of faithful churches and wise and loving people will be able to figure those things out.

What we cannot do is avoid addressing those practical questions tomorrow by dodging faithfulness today. What we cannot do is go on the record saying no to an issue that is so clear in Scripture. What we must never do is betray the heritage we have received from a previous generation of Southern Baptists who worked so hard in the conservative resurgence to recover a denomination at the brink of theological ruin.

I do not believe Southern Baptists won a battle in the 1980s about biblical authority just to get to the 2020s and fight about whether we would obey that authority.

The question in front of us is convictional, not practical. The world will be watching. More than that, the Author of Scripture will be watching. So much is at stake. We must take a stand on the clear teaching of the Bible and our own documents. We must approve this amendment.

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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