“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings link
Pete, Stuart and Jill Briscoe
I have been wanting to write this post for a long while but I have waited until Bent Tree Bible Fellowship (BTBF) and Pete Briscoe made the decision to go forward with publicly declaring that they would have women as elders. What was even more quiet was the fact that BTBF has long had a female pastor, and from what I can tell, we can now say female pastors. None of this takes me by surprise and I am incredibly proud to say that I spent many years at this wonderful church. Better yet, I can say that my husband and I felt quite close to Pete.
Denny Burk just wrote a post regarding this development called Some reflections on a church that has recently embraced egalitarianism. Burk had this to say.
Briscoe and the elders say that they intend to be a “conservative” church that maintains a tenacious commitment to the Inerrancy of scripture. That is something to be thankful for. There are many who join feminist readings of scripture to a more explicit repudiation of the Bible’s integrity and authority. Briscoe and the elders do not wish to do that. Still, whether they realize this or not, the theological rationale for their decision is at odds with a commitment to the Bible’s authority.
…Briscoe says that he wants Bent Tree to be a place where people can agree to disagree over this issue. He even cites a conversation with Darrell Bock, a member who disagrees with the elders but who also says it is not an issue worth dividing over. I think this point of view is mistaken. At the end of the day, a church will either ordain women pastors or they won’t. There’s no middle ground on that question. You may have people in the church who hold a complementarian position, but their views on the issue have no standing at all where male headship is denied in practice. Furthermore, if the hermeneutical issues are as serious as I have indicated above, then it would be a matter of faithfulness for Christians to contend against such teaching.
I want to commend Denny Burk for his willingness to take my occasional comments at his blog. He is one of the few hard line NeoCalvinist complementarians to do so. He does not appear to have a testosterone problem.
I am going to try to present a picture of Pastor Pete Briscoe, Pastor Joanne Hummel and the doctrinal statement of BTBF to bolster my contention that BTBF is a conservative church from a doctrinal standpoint as well as from actual events that I personally witnessed. Pete, Joanne and other members of BTBF had a profound impact on my faith and it is my hope that this post will properly represent the wonderful ministry that they have at BTBF.
Pete is not a celebrity seeking, "I'm friends with so and so," kind of pastor.
We were short time members of Ed Young Jr's church in Dallas. My daughter was quite sick with a brain tumor and the church was close by. Although Ed Young was kind to us during Abby's sickness, his theology and antics drove us nuts. One of the final straws occurred when my husband was asked to pray during a service. Ed liked having celebrities/professionals up front and made sure that the people in the pews knew just how important Ed was. My husband agreed to pray but he said he did not want an introduction and that he did not want MD placed after his name. Needless to say, he was never asked to pray again.
The first Sunday we attended the church, we introduced ourselves to Pete. He asked us about our professions, etc. When my husband, Bill, said that he was a cardiologist at Baylor, Pete's eyes lit up as he asked Bill if he knew Joe. Bill tensed, getting ready for a blow by blow on just how famous Joe was. When Bill said that he didn't know the guy, Pete said he needed to meet him. Joe was a janitor at Baylor who would pray for the patients as he cleaned their rooms. We knew then that Pete was different and decided to attend the church on the spot.
Pete is the son of Jill and Stuart Briscoe.
Jill and Stuart came to the States from England. You can read about them at their website Teaching the Truth. Pete grew up in a home with intelligent and committed parents: both dad and mom. They were both powerhouses. I will never forget the time that Pete, during a service, told a story about his mother, Jill, coming to speak at the chapel of
Dallas Theological Seminary. It was at another seminary.
Update: This is what happens when you try to recall events in the past. This is a statement from Pete.
I would like to point out one error in your story. The event where men turned their back on my mother was not at Dallas Theological Seminary. DTS has shown nothing but grace and respect to my mom over the years, they are dear friends and I would not want people thinking poorly of them.
As she rose to speak, a number of young men turned their backs on her, showing their disdain for a women teacher. Pete broke down in tears as he reviewed all the wonderful things his mother had done in her life. He could not fathom how aspiring pastors could be both so cruel to her. Through my years there, I heard story after story of the enormous influence his mother, as well as his father, had on his life.
in 2010, Jill and Stuart participated in a book called How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals This book is helpful in understanding how some Christian leaders (and yes-Jill is a leader) came to an understanding that women in leadership can occur within faithful churches.
Bent Tree Bible Fellowship is conservative in their doctrinal stance.
Here is a link to their doctrinal positions.
Authority of Scripture
We believe in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as verbally inspired of God and without error in the original writings. The exact meaning of the Scriptures is essentially unchanged in any important respect in the widely accepted English translations. The Scriptures are authoritative and without error in any category of knowledge, including science and history, and are of supreme and final authority in all matters about which they speak. We believe the Scriptures are to be interpreted in a normal and literal way and that they are understood as the believer is guided by the Spirit of God. Reference: John 10:35; Matt. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; John 16:12-15
You will note that BTBF is premillennial in their statement. However, I can assure you that there are a myriad of beliefs on secondary issues within this diverse congregation.
Pete Briscoe and the elders of BTBF live out in practice what many just claim they follow. Denny has never experienced a church like this. I had not before I attended BTBF and I have not since.
In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity
Why I have been silent about Joanne Hummel, a female pastor at BTBF
I met Joanne shortly after joining the church. She was the minister of the Stephen and Women's ministries. She was the brightest woman I had ever met in the areas of theology, doctrine, church history and preaching. Each time I talked with her, I felt like I needed to go to a seminary library and start reading. Yet, her intelligence was tempered by her devastating wit. One always knew when Joanne was in the building since her passage through the building was marked by laughter and lots and lots of hugs.
As time went on, Joanne would be given the title of pastor and has preached many time from the pulpit of BTBF. My daughter, Abby, attended one service when she visited Dallas and said she could listen to her for hours. During this time, BTBF flew under the radar, unlike Irving Bible Church, a church that was stated by Charles Swindoll. In 2008, Dr Jackie Roese assumed the title and function as pastor and anger erupted in certain sectors. Hoping to spare Joanne a similar experience, I have not spoken much of Joanne's role which is now the pastor of the Carrollton campus which is the mother ship of BTBF. You will note there are other female pastors. I pray that she does not experience the outright hostility that was exhibited towards Jackie Roese.
Pete Briscoe asked me to lead a Sunday School class on the Reformation.
I love the classes at BTBF. I attended one on the history of the medieval church. As the class ended, the able teacher (Scott Arbuckle) could not continue to teach. I asked the Sunday school coordinator if they could continue the class into the Reformation. A week later I got a call from Pete asking me to teach the class on the Reformation. I was startled and mumbled something about me being a woman. Pete asked why I thought that I couldn't teach men the stuff that i knew about history. Needless to say, he convinced me and soon I started teaching and would continue to teach until I left Dallas for Raleigh.
How people who disagree on the role of women can be unified.
Shortly after it was announced that I would teach the class, I received a call from a woman who was involved in a parachurch ministry with her husband. I really liked both of them. She told me that I was treading on theologically unsound ground and that Pete believed in an expanded role for women which was unbiblical. I felt really upset but told her and her husband to deal with this concern with Pete and the elders. The elders decided to back the class and asked the couple not to interfere since I was doing this with their permission.
Denny Burk needs to read this next part. The class was successful and quite well attended. It continued to grow and there were days when there were 70 or so people in the class. Guess who started to attend? The very couple who disagreed with me teaching the class. No, they had not changed their mind but our friendship was more important to them. Eventually, the husband began to teach with me along with Scott and it was great! To this day, my husband and I continue to support them in their ministry even though they are still complementarian because they get it.
Pete can take critique and take it well because he is really humble.
Here is part of a post I wrote called Wade Burleson and Pete Briscoe: Two Pastors Who Really Get It.
Pete ruined me, plain and simple. You see, he handled conflict so well that I was forever changed, believing that all pastors would be like him. I attended BTBF for about 7 years, ending in 2001 when I returned to my beloved North Carolina. In the ensuing years, I was involved in watching another church handle a conflict in such a poor manner that I felt I had entered the Twilight Zone. I was soon to learn that Pete was one of those rare pastors who truly “gets it.”
While at BTBF, we became aware of a situation, which involved a third party (not us) that was unresolved. In fact, we became so concerned about it because we believed it could have serious ramifications for the church. I am not at liberty to share the details but it did not involve any moral, legal or financial failing. In fact, the action itself was justified but was handled in such a way that outsiders could make assumptions that might be reasonable but were not true.
Yuck. So, after much prayer, my husband and I decided to approach both Pete and the elders in confidence. At first, their response was somewhat negative yet they decided to dialogue with us. We requested they meet with the involved party and us to discuss the matter.
What transpired at that meeting still brings tears to my eyes. Everyone was tense and there was obvious disagreement on all sides. Suddenly, Pete sat bolt upright in his chair, held both his hands up and said something to the effect of “I get it! You are right. This needs to be corrected immediately.” We were all stunned at his insistence on doing the right thing, even though, superficially, it did appear that the church leadership had responded appropriately.
And they went out of their way to do the right thing, over and above what was required. No one in the church, outside of our little group, ever knew what had transpired and unity was restored. All parties were able to continue to worship together. And, if I might add, everyone had a little spring in their step because all was well.
Pete went a step further, demonstrating, forever, his incredible humility. We were attending a large leadership meeting at the church. My husband and I were taking notes since Pete was speaking and his teaching is awesome. He stopped and pointed the two of us out. He said, “See those two taking notes. They did something for me that helped my ministry. They took a risk and did the right thing and I am thankful.”
Why mention this? Pete could have kept the whole incident quiet. We had been so grateful for his response but he wanted to admit it publicly. Why? He is a truly humble man. At that moment, I saw the beauty of an organic body, loving and supporting one another, through thick and thin. And this vision will give me strength until I rejoice in unity with the saints in glory.
Can you imagine the Calvinista celebrity crowd responding like this?
BTBF practices church discipline but do so with thoughtfulness and, in so doing, get results.
Here is one incident as reported by the Christian Post.
Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton has also used public church discipline. A worship leader whose husband discovered she was having an affair was confronted by her pastor more than a year ago. Unlike the Watermark example, the woman repented, reconciled and eventually went on a local Christian radio show with her husband to discuss the experience.
Bent Tree has had four other successful reconciliations of married couples that had been split by adultery, said the executive pastor, the Rev. Tim Harkins.
“Those are the home runs. That is what we are pursuing,” he said. For Peter Briscoe of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas, the most important aspect to the entire process is grace.
"One of the things I learned a number of years ago is that grace is doing the most loving thing," he said.
It took years for the church's worship leader to be at a good place spiritually after having committed adultery. What helped her in that process was Briscoe's care. During a worship service one Sunday evening, Briscoe had come down to the third row as he noticed that it was hard for her. He put his arm around her during worship time and then went up to preach.
For her, that was a defining moment because the point leader of this church expressed grace to her in a way that meant the world to her, Briscoe said.
While not all staff members reach the point of being recommissioned for ministry after a moral failure, some, including the Bent Tree worship leader, do.
When she was restored, the worship leader sang "Amazing Grace" at the church. "She had sung 'Amazing Grace' hundreds of times and it never sounded like that because here's a woman who experienced it," Briscoe recalled.
"God really does restore."
Here is a church discipline incident that occurred while I was a member. This should strike fear into the heart of the 9 Marx crowd.
A member of BTBF left his wife and kids (I think there were 4 but not sure.) He moved in with his sweetie on the side. Pete and the elders met with him, asking him to do the right thing. He refused. He was told that he could no longer be a member of BTBF.
So, did Pete send out treatises to the thousands of BTBF members outlining what was going on? Nope. The church quietly supported the family. The elders continued to meet with the errant husband, begging him to reconsider what he was doing. It was kept quiet and no one in the church was aware this was happening.
One Sunday, Pete was discussing adultery and said that a couple from BTBF would finish the sermon. It was this man and his wife. They were in the process of reconciling. This man was so overwhelmed by the constant contact of the elders and decided that he was wrong. Slowly, with lots of help from good counselors, this couple reunited. They stood before the church to tell their story and you could have heard a pin drop.
As I learned of this and other situations, I was blessed to see how church discipline could be applied without all the meetings, letters to the *faithful* and the votes to suspend the errant member. This man returned to the church without the hoopla of turning him over to Satan and big ol' excommunication meetings, etc. I was impressed and forever changed. That is why I fight so hard against the nonsense that we write about on this blog.
I so miss BTBF, Pete, Joanne and many others. My last Sunday at church, Pete gave me a hug and said "Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't teach." I have never forgotten that. I am doing things a bit differently in Raleigh but the spirit of Jesus, as it shone through these wonderful folks at BTBF, is part of who I am as a Christian.
Pete and Joanne, if you read this, please know that you changed me forever. I went off on a slightly different path as I look at abuse in the church, but you will both always be part of my journey. I miss you both. One day, in heaven, I look forward to our reunion. I can almost hear Joanne laughing! You guys are the best! How blessed I am to have known you.
PS Raleigh would be a great place to start a satellite…….
Here is the BTBF announcement re: female elders.