Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president and The Summit Church pastor J.D. Greear has called Saddleback Church’s support for the ordination of women “disappointing.” On his blog, Greear explained why and shared a paper detailing his own church’s position on the topic.
“The Summit Church is unashamedly and uncompromisingly complementarian,” said J.D. Greear in a post on his blog. “What’s more, we consider the complementarian position not merely a box to be checked, but rather a biblical truth to be celebrated.”
“While I have long respected Saddleback’s ministry impact and heart for getting the gospel to the nations,” said Greear, “I disagree with their decision to take this step, and would even say I find it disappointing.”
J.D. Greear on the Ordination of Women
Last Thursday, Saddleback Church celebrated the ordination of three female pastors, the first time in its history the church has ordained women. As of this writing, senior pastor Rick Warren has not offered a statement on the decision. However, Cynthia Petty, one of the women who was ordained, has shared that when Warren offered her the position in November 2020, he told her “the elders had been discussing for many months the possibility to ordain women as pastors at Saddleback Church.”
Saddleback is part of the SBC, which is resolutely complementarian. “Complementarian” refers to the view that, according to the Bible, men and women are equal in value, but different in their roles and that God intends men to be the primary leaders in the home and the church. There are “harder” an “softer” takes on what it means to be complementarian, but it typically means at the least that only men can be senior pastors and that husbands have final authority in the home.
Complementarianism has come under fire recently for ways in which it has been used to harm or limit women. For example, Beth Moore (who recently left the SBC) has apologized for her part in holding the doctrine of complementarianism too highly. She has not, however, rejected it entirely. “I have not lost my mind. Nor my doctrine,” she said. “Just my naivety.”
Saddleback’s support for the ordination of women has caused extensive debate across social media. “Given the intense conversation over the past few days,” said Greear, “I thought it would be helpful to share how The Summit Church approaches and applies this issue.” He linked to The Summit Church’s position paper on the role of women in ministry. The paper offers an explanation of the biblical basis for complementarianism and goes into detail regarding how The Summit Church applies the doctrine. While the church does not support the ordination of women, it has a fairly moderate take on complementarianism compared to some other ministries.
The Summit Church reserves the roles of “pastor” and “elder” for men, but allows women to hold the following positions:
-Deacon (or “Servant Leader”)
Something interesting about this list is that many complementarian churches would likely not allow a woman to hold the title “minister,” which is often used as a synonym for “pastor.” One Twitter user took issue with Greear on this exact point. Even the title of “deacon” would be too much for some complementarian churches.
There are churches that take complementarian theology to mean that women should not hold any role of leadership over men in any church context or even ministry context. And some Christians take the doctrine so far as to discourage women from having authority over men at all, even outside of the church. Because of the differences in how people define some of these terms, one question that seems relevant—but is as yet unaddressed—is exactly what the roles of Saddleback’s newly ordained women entail.
Greear concluded his post:
May God multiply the number of women serving and leading in our churches! We need godly, strong women to step up and use the gifts God has given them. We need these women in the home, speaking courage into their family’s lives. We need them in ministry, calling us to give and pray and go and sacrifice. We need them in society, leading with wisdom, courage, and faith. And may we stay faithful to stand on the bedrock of God’s Word—whether the issue is the role of pastor or any other issue.