Is a Tsunami Coming to the SBC?


Saddleback Church, Lake Forest Facility

Saddleback Church, Lake Forest Facility

“I’m ready here to join in the former Southern Baptists Support Group with Beth Moore, with Russell Moore, and a few others,” quips former Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren as he begins an interview with Russell Moore posted on March 9, 2023.

Moore scheduled this interview many months in advance to discuss ministry transition. However, Saddleback’s recent ouster from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over the issue of ordaining women as pastors hijacks the conversation.

“I would think,” Moore observes, “with all the crises involving the treatment of women, sexual abuse within the SBC, that saying a church is giving women too much is really not the problem in the SBC.”

Warren replies,

It’s not an accident that the same voices that said, “We cannot protect women from abuse because of the autonomy of the local church,” are the same voices that are saying, “But we can prevent them from being called pastors in the autonomy of the local church.” The autonomy only matters when it is convenient for you.

“Some of them would probably say,” Moore surmises, “‘The Confession of Faith says that the office of pastor is to be held by men qualified by Scripture, and Saddleback now has women pastors.’ How do you see that?”

“This is not a battle between liberals and conservatives,” Warren asserts. “All the liberals left a long time ago. Everybody in the SBC believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. Now we are talking about differences of interpretation.”

“We should be able to expel people over sin, racism, sexual abuse, other sexual sins, things like that, but this is over,” Warren pauses,

You mean we can disagree over the atonement, we can disagree over election, and we can disagree over dispensationalism, we can disagree over the second coming, we can disagree over the nature of sin, but we can’t disagree over what you name your staff?

He continues,

This is the same old battle that’s been going on for 100 years in the SBC between conservative Baptists and fundamental Baptists… . Today, a fundamentalist means you’ve stopped listening… . That’s the number one mark of it… . We have to approach Scripture humbly saying I could be wrong. You’ll never hear a Fundamentalist say, “I could be wrong.” A conservative Baptist believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, a fundamentalist Baptist believes in the inerrancy of their interpretation.

During the pandemic, Warren read over 200 books on church history. He learned

the idea that one guy would stand behind the pulpit and preach, that wasn’t New Testament worship. Paul says everybody has a song, everybody has a Scripture, everybody has a teaching… . It wasn’t one guy – sit still while I instill – that’s our cultural imposition.

Warren points to three Biblical passages as reasons for accepting female pastors. First, he notes that “the Great Commission is for everybody – both men and women are to fulfill the Great Commission… . Women are to go, women are to make disciples, women are to baptize, and women are to teach – not just men.” When people state that the last two parts of the Great Commission are only for men, Warren claims, “That’s eisegesis. You got a problem? Who authorized women to teach? Jesus.”

The second passage he points to is Acts 2. Some might accuse Warren of practicing eisegesis himself when he says, “We know women, it wasn’t just men, women were preaching on the Day of Pentecost.” He believes the Prophet Joel’s prophecy, as quoted by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:18, verifies the presence of female preachers and that “the people who don’t like that ignore that verse. John MacArthur doesn’t even cover that verse, he just skips over it.”

Third, Warren calls Mary Magdalene’s delivery of the news of Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles “the very first Christian sermon.” “Jesus chose a woman to deliver it to men,” Warren notes. “Now that clearly wasn’t an accident. It is intentional. It’s a whole new world baby! … He chose her to be the first preacher of the Gospel.”

Warren asserts that the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message

is not binding on any church, but now we are turning a confession into a creed. We’re weaponizing it, we’re starting an inquisition… . We should kick out churches for sin. We should kick out churches that harm the testimony of the Convention. This isn’t harming the testimony of anybody. And it’s a disputable issue as Paul says in Romans 14. The problem with fundamentalists is there are no disputable, no secondary issues with them. Every one of them matters.

Moore asks, “How do you tell the difference between primary and secondary issues?”

Tightly defining what a primary issue is, Warren believes, “This issue, women’s role, it’s not a primary issue because it doesn’t have to do with salvation. It is a secondary issue … it might split a church, but it shouldn’t split a denomination.”

Then, Warren plays the race card:

For hundreds of years Black Baptist churches have been ordaining women as bishops, as pastors, as prophetesses, as apostles, as elders, as deaconesses. If this is true, the SBC is holding up a sign saying: “All Black churches, look elsewhere. You’re not wanted here.”

Is Warren okay with allowing women prophetesses and apostles in the SBC?

As he moves to wrap up this topic, Moore poses the big question: “Is Saddleback going to appeal this on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention in June?”

Since the interview, Saddleback has announced its intention to bring its case before the SBC at the annual meeting in New Orleans the week of June 11th. Warren explains why: “I’ve had over 300 letters written to me by scared pastors” who are currently ordaining women to the ministry.

In my heart of hearts, I just want to walk away from it… . [but] I think that’s a selfish thing to do. I think I need to stand up for the pastors who are scared to death by this inquisition, and I think I need to stand up for the millions of Southern Baptist women whose gifts and leadership skills are being stymied.

He continues,

We don’t need the Southern Baptist Convention. They need the 6,000 purpose-driven churches that are in the Southern Baptist Convention in our fellowship, but we don’t need the convention. It would be for the benefit of others, not for us.

Where do I begin?

As a state-contracted chaplain in the prisons of Virginia, I received training from the SBC-affiliated Baptist General Association of Virginia. With all of the hoopla surrounding the ordination of women, I was surprised how many ordained Southern Baptist women attended the training. Warren is truthful when he asserts that many SBC churches already ordain women. He does have a constituency to represent and defend.

When the SBC passed a resolution in 2019 which promoted Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality as useful analytical tools, it was not an indicator that most Southern Baptists support CRT. Instead, it demonstrated the fact that most Southern Baptists either do not know what CRT is or are not concerned about CRT. Likewise, if the SBC votes to reinstate Saddleback Church (which I believe it will), it will reveal that the average Southern Baptist does not care one way or the other about female pastors.

Sadly, in his interview with Moore, Warren glibly dismisses relevant passages to the debate at hand by saying, “Those particular passages for Titus, Timothy, and Corinthians have hundreds, literally hundreds of interpretations… . I knew the Titus passage. I knew the Timothy passage. I knew First Corinthians.”

Warren never takes into consideration the Biblical books that he mentions! First Timothy 2:9-15 clearly teaches that men are to attend to public ministry in the church while women are attending to private ministry in the home. A plain reading of First Timothy 3:1-7 indicates that pastors are to be men. Titus 2:4, 5 calls upon older women to “teach (disciple) the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” By avoiding these key Scriptures and others, Warren does exactly what he accuses MacArthur of doing to Acts 2:18!

In 1985, Bob Jones University Professor David Beale wrote his classic SBC: House on the Sand. His thesis was that the SBC is unsalvageable and therefore Fundamentalists should not invest their lives and resources into it. He wrote his book during the “Conservative Resurgence,” and many criticized him for it.

The biggest problem for those who hold to the Biblical position on female pastors is that average Southern Baptists relate to ministers like Rick Warren and Beth Moore. They are not as familiar with “fundamentalists” such as Al Mohler and Tom Ascol. Honestly, the average layperson in the pews loves Rick and Beth, and, ironically, they were exposed to their ministries and materials through SBC churches.

If Warren wins the day at the annual meeting, my advice to Bible-believers in the SBC is found in Second Corinthians 6:17, 18, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” If Warren wins on the plain issue of women pastors, it is guaranteed that Beale’s sinking sand will eventually morph into a tsunami. Get out, or be drowned!

Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


I’ve seen the case for women in the role of pastor argued better than Warren seems to have done in this interview.

He does a lot of conflating of distinct things…

  • Teaching the gospel in general vs. teaching the Bible to mixed audiences in a church setting
  • Serving as a pastor vs. being a prophet
  • Rare exceptions outside the church vs. the rule within the church
  • Women delivering the news of the resurrection in conversation with the apostles vs. “preaching the gospel”

There are probably a few more I’ve overlooked. It’s hard to believe Warren is unaware of the distinctions the traditional view makes on these points, but rather than counter the strongest arguments coming from those he disagrees with, he ignores them in favor of knocking down the weakest—or strawman versions of the weakest.

Does he really think Kevin DeYoung, for example, never read the great commission or the Joel 2 reference in Acts 2, etc.? Seems unlikely.

As for what will happen in SBC, I can’t guess. It has plenty of other problems, but so did all the groups that thought they needed to remain separate from them after the theological liberals were ousted… and the groups that think they need to remain separated from them now. Are “their” problems worse than “our” problems? That’s another topic and not as simple a one as many seem to think (or used to… I don’t know if ‘many’ still applies.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I don't agree with the premise of getting out. Christians wonder why institutions like the public school have gone down the roads that they have, and they should not wonder. They got out. The Reformers did not get out. Just because there are a few winkles doesn't mean we should just abandon and run.

I now pastor an SBC church, or rather, a church that affiliates with the SBC. If the SBC decides to begin supporting and ordaining women pastors, our elders would lead our congregation to leave the SBC. We are currently revising our church constitution to make this decision relatively painless for our church if it becomes necessary.

“The reformers did not get out”

Although this is tangential to your main point (which I believe is a case by case) the reformers most definitely “got out.” Some took longer than others but the reformation was a pretty open getting out. Yes Luther did not see himself as separating from the Catholic Church but a papal bull made it pretty clear that he was.

Although the 9Marks article has helpful points, the author still wishes to share pulpits and evangelize together with churches that have female pastors. Suppose 2 churches - 1 with a female pastor and 1 with a male pastor - do evangelism together. If someone gets saved during that partnership, I do not want that person going to a church with a female pastor. Practically, it won't work. Billy Graham's philosophy of ministry had the same problem.

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

Although the 9Marks article has helpful points, the author still wishes to share pulpits and evangelize together with churches that have female pastors. Suppose 2 churches - 1 with a female pastor and 1 with a male pastor - do evangelism together. If someone gets saved during that partnership, I do not want that person going to a church with a female pastor. Practically, it won't work. Billy Graham's philosophy of ministry had the same problem.

Because they rightly see it as a secondary issue, not a gospel issue. The problem with Billy Graham's philosophy of ministry is that he cooperated with theological liberals that denied the fundamentals of the faith, not the 2nd order issues. However, 2nd order issues are important enough to have boundaries/fences. Here is Leeman's quote in its entirety.

The question at play with Saddleback is not about fellowship but about cooperating or convening to train seminarians and send missionaries. This is why the Southern Baptist Convention exists. In a world of limited resources, my church can decide it does not want to pool resources with, say, the Presbyterians and Anglicans for missions, while still happily affirming our partnership in the gospel. In two weeks, I happen to be guest-preaching in a gospel-affirming Presbyterian church. Yet that doesn’t mean I’d plant a church with them. In that regard, denominational separations can, ironically, protect a deeper gospel unity. The alternative is to ignore or tut-tut secondary doctrinal matters (ordinances, church governance, women’s ordination, etc.). Yet this leads to the potential for disobedience on both sides of a disagreement as well as to relativizing biblical authority, as in, “We need to obey these passages, but don’t worry about those.”

A better path may involve doing two things at once:

  • separating denominationally, which heads off constant fighting and allows everyone to act according to their understanding of Scripture;
  • looking for other ways (conferences, book projects, sharing pulpits, evangelizing together) to affirm our ongoing gospel partnership in primary matters.

In West Michigan, the Wesleyan Churches (who ordain women/assistant women pastors) are conservative in their theology. In fact, I know a few of the lead pastors grew up GARBC/IFCA and did their undergraduate work at BBC (Clark Summit University), Cedarville, and Grand Rapids Baptist/Cornerstone U. I've had several board members of our non-profit UTM over the years that come from these churches. Coming together as the body of Christ to break the fatherless cycle through the gospel is one way (which is what UTM does) that churches who have 2nd order differences can work together for the sake of the gospel but still maintain its convictions about these important differences where one would not plant a church together.

Partnering for evangelism with churches which have female pastors won't work practically. If someone gets saved as a result of that partnership, they will go to church somewhere. I don't want that church to be a church which has a female pastor. Billy Graham included almost any church in his crusades, not just those with liberal theology. The same practical concerns still apply.

Despite how Rick Warren exegetes Scripture, this is about his ego, not the Bible.

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

I know Russell Moore is no longer officially associated with the SBC, but I believe his views typically align with the governing majority of the SBC. I feel bad for Pastor Tom Ascol, who struggles not to be painted as an extremist "fundamentalist" within the SBC. His awkward tweet on Uganda's anti-gay legislation could not have come at a worse time for those who stand against female pastors -- since he is one of the most vocal critics of female pastors.

The narrative is being drawn for the SBC's upcoming annual meeting. It's a battle between the extremists and the conservatives:

A Different Suggestion: Perhaps in order to be consistent, the SBC should not reinstate Saddleback and also terminate its association with the other churches Peters mentions. That would be a better consistency. Difficult decisions.

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

The messengers voted to affirm the EC's decision that Saddleback and the other two church are not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. The votes weren't even close.