“At some point, people in the Southern Baptist Convention are going to need to wake-up to the New Covenant truth that Jesus Christ makes the ground at the foot of the cross equal.”
Dr. Paige Patterson has been completely removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was terminated last night by the seminary’s Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. The vote was unanimous.
For nearly twenty-five years I have opposed the authoritarian tactics of Dr. Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler. That was not always the case. From 1979 to 1993 I was an active supporter of the Conservative Resurgence. I believed we Southern Baptists were in a “Battle for the Bible.” I served as a driver for Judge Pressler as he toured Oklahoma to “get out the vote” for the SBC in the late 1980’s. I was part of the platform security team for Paige Patterson and his crew in the early 1990’s.
It was at the 1994 Southern Baptist Convention that I began to see the strong-armed tactics of Dr. Paige Patterson. Some believe that the 1994 Convention was also the beginning of Paige Patterson and his loyalists targeting me.
I began to see that the “Battle for the Bible” was actually about power and control in the SBC. And sadly, it began to dawn on me that a particular harmful and false doctrine which harmed women was taking center stage in the SBC. Southern Baptist leaders (all male) began espousing the unbiblical teaching that males have an inherent “spiritual authority” over women, and that pastors (e.g. “the holiest of all males”) have the greatest spiritual authority of all. This doctrine became the driving force behind the male dominated leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 2006, Paige Patterson’s disciples who served with me as trustees of the SBC International Mission Board sought to ruin my reputation, end my pastoral career, and threaten my family and church because I stepped up to stop those same IMB trustees from doing Paige Patterson’s bidding in firing IMB President Jerry Rankin and a female Vice-President named Wendy Norvelle (you can read about those days in the book Hardball Religion). My fellow trustees went after Wendy because “no women should be in a position of authority over a man.”
Those IMB trustees failed in their mission to humiliate and silence me, and I thank them for making me the person I am today.
Now their leader, Dr. Paige Patterson, is gone. The only question left is what to do with the stained glass windows at SWBTS. I predict they will be removed by the end of an ominous court trial set to take place in Houston, Texas. I have no joy in my heart over Paige Patterson’s termination. Only a sense of justice.
A New Day Is Dawning in the Southern Baptist Convention
A young generation of Southern Baptists pastors, trained in the politics and spiritual authority propogated by Paige Patterson, had better be careful in aspiring to SBC leadership. Replacing old white SBC pastors who believe in the inherent “spiritual authority” of males over females with young white pastors who believe the same false doctrine will eventually mean these new SBC leaders could make many of the same mistakes Paige Patterson has made.
Let me show you what I mean.
J.D. Greear will be nominated for President of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this coming June 12, 2018. J.D. is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. He seems to be a wonderful man with an equally fine family. He has led Summit to be actively and generously involved in missions and church planting. However, J.D.’s view of women, and what women “can and cannot do” in the home and in the church, serves as a microcosm of the problems we face in the Southern Baptist Convention.
My son, Logan Burleson, and his wife, Nicole, love J.D. and attend Summit regularly. I have friends who tell me J.D. is a “shoe-in” to become President of the Southern Baptist Convention. I think the election will be closer than most imagine. But I am also of the opinion that both J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill, the other man who will be nominated for SBC President, would serve the Southern Baptist Convention well.
J.D’s views of “spiritual authority,” however, seem to illustrate the problems we have in the SBC regarding women. His views (or at least his church’s all-male elders’ views) regarding men and women reflect the views of the diminishing majority of SBC pastors.
J.D. attended Southern Baptist schools, including Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While most Southern Baptists will be focusing on the soteriology of the two major Presidential candidates (e.g. “Calvinism vs. Arminianism”), the question every Southern Baptist should be asking each candidate is this:
“What is your view of spiritual authority?”
The problems surfacing in the Southern Baptist Convention over the mistreatment of women directly stem from an unbliblical and harmful view of “spiritual authority.” In the Southern Baptist Convention, pastors see themselves like the priests of the Old Testament: 1. Uniquely holy, 2. Distinctly authoritative, and 3. Unequivocally in charge.
Only prophets dare questioned the priests of old, and it will take modern day prophets to bring SBC pastors to their knees.
Authoritative pastors have been in charge of the SBC for decades. That’s the reason women are overlooked. It’s an issue of wrongly viewing pastors as having “spiritual authority” to the exclusion of everybody else, particularly women (ask Beth Moore). This unbiblical concept of “spiritual authority” is THE problem in the Southern Baptist Convention.
It infects both Calvinists and Arminians.
Oh, sure, there will “resolutions” and “statements” about women, all offered by Southern Baptist pastors or theologians. But until people and gifted leaders (e.g. “pastors”) in the Southern Baptist Convention begin to understand and practice what Jesus Christ and the New Testament teaches about spiritual authority, we’ll continue to struggle with how women are being treated.
Jesus teaches that He is the sole spiritual authority in His Kingdom. All authority rests with Him (Matthew 28:18). Leadership in His Kingdom is based upon giftings, not gender; humility, not hubris; service, not status; character, not control; and esteeming others better than yourself instead of promoting yourself before others.
Any person – whether male or female (e.g. a patriarch or a feminist) – who “grabs authority” by obtaining an office to “rule over people” is disqualifed as a Kingdom leader.
Jesus said as much in Matthew 20:25-27:
25 Jesus called His disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 It is not to be this way with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your servant 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To be a true pastor in the New Covenant is a verb of service, not a noun of status. But the Southern Baptist Convention has taught for decades that men are to lead, and women are to submit, because God has granted men “the covenant position of authority” and women are to be “under the umbrella” of that authority.
That is pure, unbliblical nonsense. But it’s this faulty and erroneous view of spiritual authority that drives the Southern Baptist Convention’s mistreatment of women.
An Example from Summit Church
Three years ago (May 2015), J.D. Greear had a woman named Elyse Fitspatrick “speak” at The Summit on Sunday morning. Elyse is the author of several books, and according to J.D. Greear, is his wife’s “favorite Bible teacher.”
J.D. should be commended for having Elyse speak on Mother’s Day, 2015. It seems, however, that this invitation for a woman to speak caused some consternation at Summit. 10 days after Elyse spoke, J.D. wrote a blog post entitled Can Women Teach in the Church? He writes:
Our elders have been working on a statement explaining the roles God has given to women in the ministries of our church. That statement is still in the works, but our recent invitation to have Elyse Fitzpatrick share during weekend services has led some to ask whether we believe a woman can preach and teach in the mixed-gender gathering of the church.
J.D. then attempts to answer that question by quoting I Timothy 2 and John Piper. J.D. concludes:
“In context, I think [1 Tim 2:12] means that women shouldn’t be the authoritative teachers of the church…”
J.D. goes on to define what “authoritative teaching” means:
“Authoritative teaching” in a church is (1) teaching that is binding for that particular congregation and (2) the teaching that comprises that church’s fulfillment of its responsibility to pass on the faith to the next generation. The elders have the “authority” to remove from that local covenant community (under the consent of the congregation as a whole) those that reject this official teaching of the church (Titus 3:10–11).
J.D’s teaching on “authoritative teaching” is both unbiblical and harmful to women. There are two biblical reasons I say this:
1. The authority behind Truth is always the greatness of the message, not the genitalia of the messenger.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it (e.g. “the gospel” not the “messenger”) is the power of God that brings deliverance to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16).
If God spoke truth to Balaam through an ass, He can surely speak authoritative Truth to the world through both men and women. Jesus Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” He is the Truth; and if He is the topic of the message, the authority of the message comes from Him, not the messenger.
2. If you wrongly believe that there is inherent authority in males, then you must treat female messengers of the powerful gospel differently.
This is where it gets weird. To show how a woman speaking “truth” at the Summit is one without authority, J.D. sets up a “hedge of protection” for the congregation lest they perceive (his word, not mine), that the woman has authority when she does not. He writes:
A woman can teach in a large formal setting, like a mixed Sunday School class or an evening Bible study, but she must not do so in a way that “mimics” the teaching authority of a male elder. Perceptions are important, and if some in the church begin to look to a woman-teacher as their primary shepherd-leader, both she and they have gone into error.
But what about Elyse Fitzpatrick? She spoke on a Sunday morning during the “sermon time” at Summit. J.D. explains how he and the males at Summit took several steps to prevent the wrong perception that Elyse had some authority over the congregation. He writes:
A teaching elder at Summit (e.g. J.D.) set the context, invited Elyse up to ask her a series of questions, and then (I) wrapped up the service by applying her words specifically to The Summit Church. The elder’s introduction, presence on stage, and application at the end “officialized” the explanation and exhortation given by her for The Summit Church, and made clear she was not teaching (as one with authority) in our church. She explained the content, but we, the Summit elders, bore the weight of responsibility for teaching.
If you watch Elyse Fitzpatrick’s message on Sunday morning at The Summit, you will notice she was not allowed things that other male speakers can do at The Summit. For example:
Elyse could not stand as she taught, she had to sit, lest it be perceived she had authority.
- Elyse could not “declare” truth, she had to be asked questions from one in authority.
- Elyse could not “apply” the Truth to the congregation, only those with authority could do this.
- Elyse had to be “introduced” and “followed-up” by a male with authority.
- Had Elyse Fitzpatrick spoken truth the way males usually do at Summit, there would have been shock among the Summit men.
I’ve written here, here and here that the problem within the Southern Baptist Convention is a warped view of authority. A wrong view of male authority got Village Church in Dallas in huge trouble, Ironically the problems at Village – male elders disciplining a female victim who divorced her husband over his child pornography addiction – occurred during the same month Elyse Fitzpatrick spoke at Summit (May 2015). J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, and Mark Driscoll share a common view of male authority over women.
Unbiblical views of inherent male spiritual authority and the resultant harmful treatment of women infects both Arminians and Calvinists, young pastors old pastors, large church pastors and small church pastors. For some unknown and ungodly reason, biblical conservatism is defined in the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of a woman’s submission and a man’s authoritative leadership, rather than the New Testament definition of Kingdom leadership which is always based on giftings, not gender; character, not control; humility, not hubris; and service, not status.
Southern Baptists say we believe the Bible, but we believe more in our list of “rules” about “roles” for men and women than we do the message of the Bible.
The Good News, the New Testament, the New Covenant signed and sealed by Christ’s blood, elevates women to equal status in the Kingdom of God with men. Equal does not mean identical. Men and women in the Kingdom of God are different, but men and women in the Kingdom of God are equal in spiritual authority. There is equal worth (in Christ), equal significance (born of the Spirit), equal authority (we are all “priests unto God”), equal inheritance (co-heirs with Christ), and equal value (“we are the blood-bought redeemed”).
I did some research on the antonyms of “authoritative” and discovered that “acquiescent” is a good word that describes the opposite characteristic of authoritative. To acquiesce is to “to accept, agree, or allow something to happen by staying silent.”
According to Greear (or at least the all-male elder board at his church), women who teach the Bible can’t be in a position of declaring truth authoritatively, because nobody is to submit to a woman teaching truth. Women are the acquiescers; males are the authoritarians. Males give; women receive. If a male receives “truth” from a woman, then “error” has a occurred because a male can’t get anything authoritative from a woman. There’s a Greek word for such thinking – baloney.
Paige Patterson just lost everything because he consistently behaved according to how he believed. Male authority over females is NOT biblical; it is cultural. And way too many elder boards at Southern Baptist churches have been infected with this false view of male “spiritual authority.”
At some point, people in the Southern Baptist Convention are going to need to wake-up to the New Covenant truth that Jesus Christ makes the ground at the foot of the cross equal.
Whether J.D. Greear becomes President of the Southern Baptist Convention or Ken Hemphill wins the election, reporters should ask both men significant questions about whether they believe men have inherent spiritual authority over women.
I’ll be listening closely to their answers.