As the Southern Baptist Convention faces some internal challenges about who can be a pastor, one of its seminaries is clarifying the definition. At last week’s fall board meeting, trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, resolved that although staff should keep teaching and graduating both men and women, “men alone [are] reserved for the office and function, and thereby title of pastor.”
In the resolution, trustees praise the stance taken by SBTS President Dr. Albert Mohler, who was on the team that drafted the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 faith statement. In return, Mohler tweeted thanks to seminary trustees for “passing a unanimous resolution defining pastor as both function and office and limited to men by Scripture as confessed by Southern Baptists in the Baptist Faith & Message.”
Comments online range from “It’s been encouraging to see @albertmohler’s leadership on this at the convention and afterward” to “I’m actually happy with this decision, every time the Southern Baptist make the decision like this. It just makes your march to irrelevance happen even quicker. [K]eep it up you will cease to be a denomination hopefully, within the next 10 to 15 years.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Clarification Targets Saddleback
Although Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s resolution doesn’t mention any churches by name, it comes in response to recent ordinations of women by Saddleback Church. The California SBC megachurch, formerly led by Rick Warren, ordained three females in May 2021, leading to intense debate and calls for its disfellowship.
At the SBC annual meeting in June 2022, the denomination’s Credentials Committee said it wasn’t yet prepared to decide Saddleback’s status. The committee also proposed that a separate “study committee” form to explore the issue for a year. But Mohler shot down that idea, saying, “If we eventually have to form a study committee over every word of our confession of faith, then we are doomed and we are no longer a confessional people.”
When Saddleback’s ordinations of women were announced, Mohler called them “contrary to Scripture” and “an attempt to redefine and reformulate the convictional foundation of Southern Baptist faith and cooperative ministry.” He wrote, “The theological issues have not changed since the year 2000 when Southern Baptists spoke clearly and precisely in the Baptist Faith & Message. More importantly, the Holy Scriptures have not changed and cannot change.”
Pastoral ‘Office and Function Are Inseparable’
This July, Mohler issued a joint statement about defining the word “pastor.” With fellow seminary president Chuck Kelley and former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president Richard Land, he wrote that it’s “important to understand that the word pastor was chosen precisely because of its clarity among Southern Baptists.