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Al Mohler Clarifies ‘Pastor’ Title in Baptist Faith and Message

On Friday (July 29), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler released a statement explaining what he and two others meant when they were tasked with defining the title of pastor in the Baptist Faith & Message, the statement of faith for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), adopted in 2000.

The question of whether a woman can carry the title of pastor at an SBC church became a hot topic after Saddleback Church, pastored by Rick Warren, ordained three women as pastors in May 2021.

During the SBC’s annual meeting a month later, messengers called for an inquiry into whether or not Saddleback Church should be disfellowshipped from the SBC, which resulted in some contentious discussion at the 2022 annual meeting.

As of today, Saddleback Church is still affiliated with the SBC.

“I served on the committee that brought the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 that was overwhelmingly adopted by this Convention,” Mohler said to the Convention during this year’s annual meeting. “My concern as a churchman, a theologian, and someone who loves this Convention—as I know everyone in this room does—if we eventually have to form a study committee over every word in our confession of faith, then we’re doomed.”

Mohler explained how the word “pastor” was defined and why they used the term in 2000, telling those at the meeting, “We say what we believe in specific words that are in the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M). The moment we start to, of necessity, have study committees decide what the words mean—the words mean what Southern Baptist said in the year 2000. At that time, the word ‘pastor’ was used by the committee and adopted by the Convention, because we were told, that is the most easily understood word among Southern Baptists for pastoral teaching leadership.”

Mohler’s remarks came in response to the recommendation set forth by the committee tasked with investigating Saddleback Church, called the Credential Committee. The Credential Committee recommended that Saddleback not be disfellowshipped “until clarity is provided regarding the use of the title ‘pastor’ for staff positions with different responsibility and authority than that of the lead pastor.”

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Over a month removed from June’s annual meeting, the debate regarding whether a female can carry the title of pastor in the SBC is ongoing.

In his statement, which was signed by fellow Baptist Faith & Message Study task force members Charles S. Kelley, Jr. and Richard D. Land, Sr., Mohler explained that the group was appointed by committee chairman Dr. Adrian Rogers to provide commentary and a study guide on the BF&M in 2000.

Not everyone in the SBC agrees on the meaning of “pastor” in “Article VI: The Church,” which reads: “Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

“As background,” Mohler explained, “it is important to know that the committee sought to identify the one word about the pastoral role that Southern Baptists would best understand. As Dr. Rogers stated and the committee concurred, the one word that virtually all Southern Baptists understand is the word ‘pastor.’”

Mohler defined what “pastor” means in the BF&M, saying, “The language means that a pastor is one who fulfills the pastoral office and carries out the pastor’s functions. Thus, the statement means simply what it states, that the office of pastor is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture. In the Baptist understanding, office and function are inseparable. As we wrote in the commentary on the BF&M, ‘Central to the pastor’s role is the responsibility to preach and teach.’ Pastors also provide spiritual leadership and oversight for the congregation.”

The word “pastor” was chosen because of its clarity within the SBC in 2000, Mohler reiterated. While the BF&M affirms that both men and women have gifts that serve the church, he said, “the role of pastor is biblically defined and is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture.”

“When the confession was adopted and revised in 2000, Dr. Rogers and the committee made clear that it does not speak to every job category and ministerial title within a local church,” Mohler wrote. “But it does specifically define what the Southern Baptist Convention means by pastor, and what we believe the Bible teaches. The word pastor should be reserved for those who fulfill a pastor’s function and office.”

Mohler concluded his statement by saying it is up to the SBC to determine how the BF&M is applied, adding, “Our hope is that we may clarify what the BF&M means and why it matters. May God bless the SBC and our churches.”

This article was originally published at ChurchLeaders.com. 

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