Christian women, Complementarianism, Ministry, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

Originally published August 3, 2018

When it comes to Christianity, are the specifics of what people believe important?

I think most of us would answer a resounding “yes” to that question. Of course, the various concepts we believe are important. You can’t just believe anything you like and still be a Christian. There are certain things you must believe in order to become a Christian at all, and there are certain things you will come to believe because you are a genuinely regenerated Christian. But what are those things, and how do we know which is which?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “essential doctrines” or “primary, secondary, and tertiary theological issues” or “first, second, and third tier levels of doctrine”? For years, theologians have been attempting to organize beliefs of the Christian faith – all drawn from the Bible, naturally – into nice neat categories in order to make things a little simpler. As someone who thrives on organization and categories, I’m grateful for their efforts. But if you begin to study this categorization of beliefs, you’ll find that we haven’t reached an across the board consensus yet.

Generally speaking, “essential”, “primary”, or “first tier” doctrines are those which you, biblically, have to believe in order to become a Christian and/or be considered a Christian. For example:

✢ Sin is a thing, and I am a sinner.

✢ God exists and is the supreme authority of the universe.

✢ Jesus was God in human flesh.

✢ Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

See how this works? If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you’re not saved. If you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you’re not saved. Here’s how our friend, Pastor Gabe, briefly outlines essential doctrines:

 

(Gabe later tweaked the acrostic a little and added an “S”, which I think is helpful.)

The vast majority of brand new Christians have only the most basic understanding of most of these tenets at the moment of salvation. But it’s not an issue of fully understanding – or else we’d all have to be theologians in order to get saved – it’s an issue of believing. Someone who is genuinely regenerated may not completely understand how the Trinity works (honestly, no one does), but when she’s introduced to the biblical idea of the Trinity, she believes it, learns more about it, and does not reject it.

There is typically agreement among most reputable theologians regarding what constitutes first tier doctrine. Scripture is clear about these things, and several of these issues were settled long ago by the church fathers in assorted church councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc.)

Secondary issues are routinely defined as non-salvific but still extremely biblically important, if not quite as biblically clear-cut as primary issues. Doctrines surrounding baptism (credo versus paedo, affusion versus immersion), for example, are usually cited as a secondary issue. A disagreement on a secondary issue doesn’t mean one person is saved and another isn’t, but it normally prevents close partnership in ministry activities involving these issues. For example, my Presbyterian friends and I can join together in pro-life ministry, but we would most likely not plant a church together.

Tertiary issues are non-salvific, less immediately urgent, biblical issues in which the Bible is even less clear-cut and open to wider (yet still biblical) interpretation. These are issues over which Christians can disagree and still maintain close doctrinal fellowship, even in the same church, if they’re in agreement on first and second tier doctrine. Eschatology – the order and timing of events at Jesus’ second coming – is a doctrine that’s often considered third tier. Someone can hold a different eschatological view than mine, yet it doesn’t affect our ability to worship together, work together, or participate in the ordinances together in the same church.

Some theologians add a fourth category – issues of adiaphora, conscience, or Christian liberty. Usually these are issues of much less importance that the Bible either doesn’t specifically address, or doesn’t give commands about one way or the other. Individual Christians may use biblical principles to inform their consciences and decide for themselves. These would be things like whether or not to take your child trick-or-treating or deciding whether to dress formally or casually for church.

While theologians are largely in agreement about primary doctrines, there is wider spread disagreement on which doctrines are secondary and tertiary (many consider eschatology to be a second tier doctrine, for example) and whether or not there is a need for a category of adiaphora, since such issues are normally not considered to be “doctrinal” issues. In fact, there’s enough space for disagreement that pastors and theologians often wisely refrain from making concrete lists of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

But when we’re talking about the different levels of doctrine, what you won’t find is questions like these: Is murder a first, second, or third tier doctrine? What about gossip? Rape? Adultery? Lying? Gluttony? Pride?

And it’s not because these issues aren’t important or because the Bible doesn’t address them. It’s because they’re in a different category from the other issues: the category of sin. They aren’t doctrines upon which salvation hinges, they aren’t open to interpretation, and the Bible is clear that we are absolutely not to do these things.

In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an excellent article about the different levels of doctrine entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He carefully explains the importance of each level of doctrine and what it covers in a plea to keep each level’s urgency in its proper place of significance during discussion, debate, and decision-making.

It was a helpful article to which I always refer people who have questions about tiers of doctrine, and I agree with Dr. Mohler’s thoughts wholeheartedly (as I usually do) …except on one point:

“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue.”

Women serving as pastors, women preaching, women teaching men Scripture in the church, and women exercising authority over men in the church is not a secondary issue. Nor is it a primary or tertiary one. It does not belong in the category of “doctrine” in the same way baptism and eschatology do. It belongs in the category of sin in the same way murder, gossip, and adultery do. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12

(The preponderance of Scripture supports and affirms this concept, so to keep things simple, we’ll use this verse as an exemplar.)

✢ The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear command against a certain behavior. And when we behave in a way God has prohibited, that is called “sin”. All of the tenets in the three levels of doctrine are affirmative statements regarding beliefs (you must believe in the resurrection of Christ, we believe in baptism by immersion, etc.). None of them are commands, in the negative, against sinful behavior (Thou shalt not murder, I do not permit a woman to teach… etc.)

✢ Secondary and tertiary doctrines can be open – to varying degrees – to biblical interpretation. Every stripe of non-heretical eschatological thought can provide you with chapter and verse passages that can, depending on the angle from which you approach the subject, be biblically plausible and scripturally supported. There is no biblical support for anything God prohibits. No one can cite a properly handled, in context Bible verse in which God says, “It’s OK to commit adultery,” or “Women are allowed to preach.” There can be multiple views on a secondary or tertiary issue that can all be considered biblical, but there can only be one view of sin that is biblical.

✢ Differing beliefs on true secondary and tertiary issues are not sin. My Presbyterian friends have a different view of baptism than I do. That doesn’t mean either of us is sinning. I may think their interpretations of the verses they believe support paedo baptism are incorrect, but they are not breaking any of God’s commands. Differing behavior (again, we see the distinction between doctrinal belief and sinful behavior) on issues of sin is sin. If someone behaves differently from God’s command about lying, she is sinning. If a woman behaves differently from God’s command in 1 Timothy 2:12, she is sinning.

✢ Differing beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. When someone has studied a theological issue enough to hold a particular position on it, it’s usually because she is striving to please God and to be biblical in her beliefs. Differing behavior on issues of sin is born out of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Someone who steals has already decided in her heart that her desires are better than God’s command. A woman who knowingly holds improper authority over men in her church is doing so because she has already decided to defy God’s clear command against such.

✢ Because different beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of rebellion and are not sin, they do not require church discipline. Sin does require church discipline. If someone in your church is openly dishonoring her parents, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. If a woman is pursuing a career as a pastor, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. 

Since the publication of Dr. Mohler’s article (and perhaps as a result of others teaching the same thing) the idea of the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “secondary doctrine” has spread in a most unhelpful way, leading many Christians to treat the issue in a c’est la vie, “We can just agree to disagree on this,” manner.

No, we cannot.

We would not say, “We can agree to disagree,” on lying or adultery or homosexuality or abortion, and we cannot say it about women preaching, teaching men, or holding unbiblical authority, either. We disciple and teach a sister in Christ who is unaware of what the Bible says on these matters, and if she is committing any of these sins, we begin the process of church discipline. But it would not be loving toward her, or honoring God, to allow her to continue in biblical ignorance or in willful sin.

Furthermore, the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 brings with it dangers to the church that true secondary and tertiary issues, and even many sins, do not.

I have mentioned several times when dealing with this issue that women preaching to men is highly correlated with women teaching false doctrine. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine. False doctrine and heresy are infecting the church – via female preachers – at an alarming rate.

We dare not simply “agree to disagree” on this.

The violation of God’s command that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures nor hold improper authority over men is a sin like any other. It is not a doctrinal issue in the same sense that other second and third tier doctrines are. If left undisciplined, however, it can lead to first tier doctrinal issues infiltrating a church and eventually destroying it. It is detrimental to the church to label and treat any sin as a secondary doctrinal issue.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: How to Leave a Church

 

What is the biblical way to leave a church?

This is a great question that I’ve received from several readers. There are a lot of different circumstances that might cause someone to leave her church, and there are right ways and wrong ways to leave. I’ve been so grateful to hear from women who want to handle things biblically.

First, a couple of words of counsel that generally apply to nearly all situations when you’re considering leaving a church:

•In most circumstances, even bad ones, I would counsel against “ghosting” your church – simply disappearing with no explanation or goodbyes to anyone. When you’re preparing to leave, as appropriate to your particular situation, tell your pastor how much he has meant to you. Say a special goodbye to dear friends. Speak words of encouragement to your leaders and teachers. Search your heart for anyone you may have sinned against, repent, and apologize. Leave graciously.

•If you’re married, you and your husband will need to talk and pray together about whether or not to leave and how to do so. Be sure to remember that your husband is responsible for making the final decision and you are responsible for submitting to him.

Let’s talk about some of the more specific reasons you might have to leave a church, and what it would look like to leave well in each situation.

Death

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and you die unexpectedly, you’re off the hook. It’s OK to “ghost” your church. :0)

If you’re a faithful member in good standing and have a terminal illness, use some of your remaining time (if you’re able) to make a gracious exit. Take some time for special goodbyes. Discuss your funeral service and details with your pastor if applicable. Consider leaving a gift to your church in your will.

Moving or Temporarily Relocating

If you’re moving too far away to continue attending your church, let your pastor and those you’re close to at church know.

Do you know your new address and/or e-mail address? Provide it to the church office if you’d like them to keep sending you the church newsletter and any other mailings, and let them know if it’s OK to give that information out to other church members who would like to stay in touch. Make sure you have correct phone numbers and e-mail addresses for church friends you want to stay in contact with. If you’re not yet connected to a church in your new hometown, ask your pastor if he can suggest a good church in the area.

For those who are temporarily relocating (for example, college students or military families) and want to keep your membership in your home church, yet be active members of a church in your new location, find out if your new church has any sort of dual membership option (sometimes called “watchcare”). This allows you to maintain your membership in your home church while giving you membership benefits (voting, teaching, communion, or whatever your new church’s policies are) in your new church.

Switching from a good church to a church that’s a better fit for your family

Maybe the church you’ve been attending is a good one, but you’ve recently become more Reformed in your soteriology and you’d like to join another church in town that you more closely align with, theologically. Perhaps there’s a nearby church that has started offering programs and accommodations your disabled child could benefit from that your current church isn’t equipped to offer. Maybe, though doctrinally sound, your current church has switched to a genre of music that, even after giving it a good faith effort, still grates on you to the point of distracting you from worship, but another local church has music you’re more in harmony with.

None of these are reasons you absolutely have to leave a church. In fact, if your church is teaching sound doctrine, and the reason you’re considering leaving is a matter of preference or convenience, I would encourage you to try to work things out and stay at your current church if at all possible. It might be that God would have you start programs and accommodations for the disabled at your current church, or that He will begin to use the new music style in your life in some way. At the very least, when it comes to non-doctrinal issues like these, give it plenty of time, prayer, and serious thought before you leave.

Talk to your pastor (or appropriate elder) when you start thinking about leaving. This should not be an “If you don’t change X,Y, and Z, we’re outta here!” type of conversation. Be kind. Express your concerns or needs lovingly and biblically. Find out if there’s any information you need to know that would affect your thoughts about leaving. For example, maybe the pastor has also started becoming more Reformed and needs you to stay and support him as he begins transitioning the church in that direction. Maybe a lot of other church members have expressed discomfort with the new direction the worship music has taken and the leadership is considering changes that would make it easier for you to stay. You never know until you discuss it with your pastor.

If you come to the decision that you really need to move to another church, talk with your pastor again and let him know your decision. Take care of all of your church responsibilities before leaving: if you’re teaching a class with a definite end date, finish it. If you’re teaching a permanent class, let whoever is in charge of securing teachers know when you’ll be leaving so a new teacher can be found. Wrap up any projects or turn them over to the appropriate person. Resign any positions you hold. Don’t leave your brothers and sisters in the lurch.

When you say your goodbyes, it’s not necessary to disclose to everyone every detail of your reasons for leaving, but, if possible, try to stop any gossip before it starts by making sure people understand you’re not leaving because of someone else’s sin, unresolved conflict, false teaching, etc.

Leaving due to sin or false doctrine

The chairman of deacons is having an affair and nothing has been done about it. Your pastor just finished Bill Johnson’s book and is starting to teach New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine. Women have been preaching from time to time on Sunday mornings.

The most crucial time not to simply disappear from your church is when there’s sin or false doctrine in the camp. Jesus and the Apostles did not handle sin and false doctrine by avoiding it or ignoring it. They loved the people committing the sin and teaching the false doctrine enough to confront them – sometimes harshly, if needed – so that they might repent and be reconciled to Christ. We don’t run. We reconcile.

Just as God placed Esther in exactly the right position at the right time to help rescue His people, it could be that God has placed you in your church and given you a biblical understanding of the situation for such a time as this.

In cases of both sin and false doctrine, you should usually* follow the steps for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20:

1. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (15)

2. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (16)

3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (17a)

4. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (17b)

(*If you have knowledge that someone is imminently about to commit sin, especially if that sin will victimize someone else, and time is of the essence, gather the appropriate leaders and/or church members and intervene immediately. If a crime has been committed, alert law enforcement.)

In my article, The Mailbag: How should I approach my church leaders about a false teacher they’re introducing?, I’ve outlined some steps to take when approaching your pastor or lay leaders about using materials authored by false teachers. Most of this information can be adapted for dealing with issues of sin and church discipline as well.

If the sin or false teaching issue is resolved biblically, praise God, forgive, do whatever you’re able to do to be at peace with all involved, and stay at your church if at all possible.

If you have done everything you’re able to do to help bring about a biblical resolution to the situation and the sin or false doctrine is being allowed to continue, it’s probably time to leave and find a spiritually healthy church. Talk to your pastor or elders, and let them know you’ve decided to leave and why.

Attempt to leave as graciously as possible, taking care of your teaching/serving responsibilities, saying goodbye, making arrangements to stay in touch with friends, etc.

You will need to prayerfully consider the biblically appropriate way to explain to fellow church members and leadership why you’re leaving. Don’t slander people, make an unnecessary scene, or disclose inflammatory details indiscriminately on your way out, including on social media. However, it may be a situation in which those left behind need to know what’s going on so they can make an informed decision about how to address the situation or whether to stay or leave themselves. It may be appropriate to write out a calm, objective, scripturally annotated letter explaining your reasons for leaving, and mail or hand deliver copies of it to the appropriate people. You might need to talk to the denominational leadership board or organization that oversees your church. There are so many different possible scenarios it would be impossible for me to make a blanket statement as to what would or would not be biblically wise and appropriate in every single situation.

 

No matter your reasons for leaving your current church, your search for a new church to join with needs to begin as soon as you’ve made the decision to leave. If you need some help, ask your pastor or trusted Christian friends for suggestions of good churches, or explore the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the sin of staying out of church, because for the Christian, Church is Not Optional. And that’s Non-Negotiable.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Church

It’s Time for a Reformation in the SBC – 3 Issues We Need to Set Right

I’m taking a short summer break this week. I hope you’ll enjoy this article from the archives. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is also taking place this week. Will you please pray that God will bring conviction of sin, repentance, and obedience to God’s Word?


Originally published May 25, 2018

I don’t know the brother who said it, but I saw a remark the other day from a Presbyterian gentleman who said something to the effect of, “It’s time for all doctrinally sound Southern Baptists to leave the SBC.”

I get that.

When you have an organization as large, open, and widespread as the Southern Baptist Convention, problems – even major ones – are inevitable. At this point, there are many things the SBC is still getting right, biblically speaking…

There are many good and praiseworthy things going on in SBC life. We have hundreds of doctrinally sound pastors faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out. Discernment and biblical literacy among Southern Baptist church members is slowly but steadily growing. The SBC takes a public, biblical stand on abortion and homosexuality while many other denominations do not. Our organizational structure for funding and sending out missionaries, while sometimes flawed in its execution, is without peer. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the finest relief organizations in the world. And there’s so much more. Find a godly Kingdom effort going on somewhere, and you’ll probably find a Southern Baptist involved in it. By the grace of God, while we’re far from perfect, we’re getting a lot of things right

…But for some individual Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches, the biblical error and other problems pervading the SBC have become too much to bear, and they have deemed it time to walk away from what they see as a system damaged beyond repair, seeking refuge in ARBCA, Bible, Independent, or non-denominational churches and networks instead.

Like I said, I get that, and I don’t blame them one little bit. Believe me, I’ve had leaving on my mind more than once. And if the SBC continues its downward spiral, it’s an inevitability for nearly all of us who hold to sound doctrine.

But there are still plenty of us crazy, “glass half full” doctrinally sound optimists out there who, like Luther, don’t want to abandon the SBC to the rubbish heap if it can be avoided, but would rather see it reformed (little “r”), renewed, and restored to the glory of God.

If you’ve ever labored through the entirety of the Old Testament (and if you haven’t, stop denying yourself that blessing, and study it), you know that God exercised patience with Israel through centuries of idolatry, rebellion, and paganism of the vilest sorts, sending them prophet after prophet, warning after warning, discipline after discipline, lovingly calling, urging, and commanding them to repent and be reconciled to Him before finally executing judgment on them.

I’m just not sure we’re quite at the point of exiling the SBC… yet. I think maybe these are the days of Elijah. And Jeremiah. And Isaiah. And even Luther. A time for godly Southern Baptist men and women to stand firmly on the written Word of God and speak prophetically, chapter and verse, into their beloved churches and denomination, “Thus saith the Lord.”

And in that same spirit of the prophets of old, we don’t speak from a position of “I’m right and I’m here to prove it,” or because we’re haters, or because we’re power-hungry. It’s because we’re cut to the heart over the sin and idolatry we see among our brothers and sisters. We’re grieved that those things dishonor our precious Savior and bring His judgment and discipline upon those who participate in and propagate them. We deeply desire that our denomination and our churches experience the joy that comes with being spiritually healthy and biblically submitted to Christ.

So, while there are probably at least ninety-five theses that could be nailed to the doors of the Executive Committee in Nashville, here are three that would be a good start.

1.
The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture

Nearly forty years ago, Southern Baptist movers and shakers in the conservative resurgence went to war for the inerrancy of Scripture. It was a long, hard battle, but they won. Now it’s time to fight for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the SBC.

The Bible is our authority as Christians, not the ideas, opinions, and traditions of denominational leaders, SBC celebrities, pastors, or any other person. The Bible. If the Bible commands us to do something, we do it. If the Bible commands us not to do something, we don’t do it. We don’t formulate our own programs and methods and try to squish the Bible in to make it fit. We start with the Bible. We stay with the Bible. We end with the Bible.

Because the SBC does not always submit to the authority of the Bible, we have leaders, celebrities, and pastors looking to, and promoting, sources outside the Bible for direction instead of simply trusting and obeying God’s written Word. We have influential “Bible” teachers who stand on stages in front of thousands and dare to proclaim, “God told me…”, functionally denying the sufficiency of Scripture by relying on supposed extra-biblical revelation (and teaching their followers to do the same). We have pastors and denominational leaders who look to polls and surveys to decide how to conduct their worship services or which social issues need to be addressed and how to address them. We have church growth gurus teaching our pastors to adopt all manner of worldliness that “works” to get sinners in the doors of their churches.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is to survive as an entity of biblical Christianity, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is the number one issue that must be dealt with.  If this issue is properly addressed and corrected, it will alleviate or minimize nearly all other problems facing the SBC. We must submit to God’s written Word and give Scripture its proper place – first place – in our denomination, our individual churches, and our personal lives.

Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient

2.
False Doctrine and False Teachers

If the SBC truly regarded the Bible as authoritative and sufficient, the cancer of false doctrine and false teachers that is slowly killing us would be cured or in remission. Indeed, the aforementioned false teaching of extra-biblical (God told me, showed me in a dream, spoke to me, etc.) revelation is probably the most pervasive false doctrine accepted among Southern Baptists.

When Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple (Imagine a house of God in such a shambles of idolatry that people had to dig and search for the actual Scriptures. Selah.), and Shaphan read it to Josiah, Josiah tore his clothes in grief and began to set God’s house and God’s people in order. After covenanting together with the people to obey God’s Word, the very first thing Josiah did was to have the altars and vessels of false gods carried out of God’s house and destroyed. If the SBC would follow in Josiah’s footsteps we would see things like:

LifeWay would immediately remove and destroy any and all materials by Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Priscilla Shirer, TD Jakes, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, Christine Caine, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, and all other false teachers and promulgators of false doctrine.

There would be no more conferences, simulcasts, or leadership training seminars featuring false teachers, and false teachers would certainly not be invited to speak in any capacity at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

Pastors, authors, and speakers who attempted to build a career inside the SBC by teaching false doctrine would be subject to church discipline for their sin, not turned into celebrities or appointed or elected to denominational leadership positions.

Messenger voting privileges at the Convention would be revoked for churches which habitually and unrepentantly welcome false teachers.

If the Bible were to become our sufficient authority for both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, our eyes would quickly be opened to the enormity of the hold false doctrine has on our denomination, churches, and individuals, and we would act accordingly and biblically.

A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention

10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists

The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies

3.
Disfellowshipping Errant Churches

Earlier this week, the Southern Baptist Convention severed ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC- an association of Southern Baptist churches in the Washington, D.C. area) for refusing to disfellowship one of its member churches, Calvary Baptist, which had called a legally “married” lesbian couple to serve as its co-“pastors” over a year ago.

It was absolutely the right thing to do (the SBC has disfellowshipped several churches that embrace homosexuality), and I’m glad that this standard remains in tact, but…lesbian co-pastors…? That’s how bad it has to get before the SBC can, or will, act to remove a church? What about churches that are embracing sins other than homosexuality?

There are plenty of apostate Southern Baptist churches, and we have no mechanism in place for kicking them out of the SBC.

This is a verbatim quote from the FAQ section (5th question from the top) of the SBC’s web site:

“According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention’s work, or if it acts to ‘affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,’ it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action.”

What does that mean? As long as your church doesn’t affirm homosexuality and gives to the Cooperative Program, you’re in. Never mind if your pastor twists God’s word until it’s unrecognizable. Or lets women and false teachers get behind the pulpit like Steven Furtick does. Or plays AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday and says he probably wouldn’t have strippers on stage like Perry Noble does. Or any of the other ridiculous and blasphemous shenanigans so many of the seeker sensitive types in our denomination pull. Nope, as long as you give your money and stand on the right side of homosexuality, you’re good to go.² ³

I’ll be the first to admit, it would be a difficult standard to set and implement, but look at the standards the New Testament required of churches. We’ve got to set the bar higher than a homosexuality litmus test and an offering for a church to be in good standing with the SBC. Doctrine and practices simply have to be a factor.

 

Can there be another conservative resurgence that brings reform to the SBC? I believe there can.

The Bible says “nothing will be impossible with God.” I believe that. I believe that the God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing, who opened sealed tombs and barren wombs, who parted seas and walked on water and turned water into wine can change the hearts of Southern Baptists and the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By His grace. For His glory. For our good.


¹A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention
²10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists
³This verbiage has been removed from the FAQ section of the SBC website. See “Susan’s” comments and my replies in the comments section for more info.

Christian women, Complementarianism, Ministry, Sin

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

When it comes to Christianity, are the specifics of what people believe important?

I think most of us would answer a resounding “yes” to that question. Of course, the various concepts we believe are important. You can’t just believe anything you like and still be a Christian. There are certain things you must believe in order to become a Christian at all, and there are certain things you will come to believe because you are a genuinely regenerated Christian. But what are those things, and how do we know which is which?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “essential doctrines” or “primary, secondary, and tertiary theological issues” or “first, second, and third tier levels of doctrine”? For years, theologians have been attempting to organize beliefs of the Christian faith – all drawn from the Bible, naturally – into nice neat categories in order to make things a little simpler. As someone who thrives on organization and categories, I’m grateful for their efforts. But if you begin to study this categorization of beliefs, you’ll find that we haven’t reached an across the board consensus yet.

Generally speaking, “essential”, “primary”, or “first tier” doctrines are those which you, biblically, have to believe in order to become a Christian and/or be considered a Christian. For example:

✢ Sin is a thing, and I am a sinner.

✢ God exists and is the supreme authority of the universe.

✢ Jesus was God in human flesh.

✢ Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

See how this works? If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you’re not saved. If you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you’re not saved. Here’s how our friend, Pastor Gabe, briefly outlines essential doctrines:

 

(Gabe later tweaked the acrostic a little and added an “S”, which I think is helpful.)

The vast majority of brand new Christians have only the most basic understanding of most of these tenets at the moment of salvation. But it’s not an issue of fully understanding – or else we’d all have to be theologians in order to get saved – it’s an issue of believing. Someone who is genuinely regenerated may not completely understand how the Trinity works (honestly, no one does), but when she’s introduced to the biblical idea of the Trinity, she believes it, learns more about it, and does not reject it.

There is typically agreement among most reputable theologians regarding what constitutes first tier doctrine. Scripture is clear about these things, and several of these issues were settled long ago by the church fathers in assorted church councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc.)

Secondary issues are routinely defined as non-salvific but still extremely biblically important, if not quite as biblically clear-cut as primary issues. Doctrines surrounding baptism (credo versus paedo, affusion versus immersion), for example, are usually cited as a secondary issue. A disagreement on a secondary issue doesn’t mean one person is saved and another isn’t, but it normally prevents close partnership in ministry activities involving these issues. For example, my Presbyterian friends and I can join together in pro-life ministry, but we would most likely not plant a church together.

Tertiary issues are non-salvific, less immediately urgent, biblical issues in which the Bible is even less clear-cut and open to wider (yet still biblical) interpretation. These are issues over which Christians can disagree and still maintain close doctrinal fellowship, even in the same church, if they’re in agreement on first and second tier doctrine. Eschatology – the order and timing of events at Jesus’ second coming – is a doctrine that’s often considered third tier. Someone can hold a different eschatological view than mine, yet it doesn’t affect our ability to worship together, work together, or participate in the ordinances together in the same church.

Some theologians add a fourth category – issues of adiaphora, conscience, or Christian liberty. Usually these are issues of much less importance that the Bible either doesn’t specifically address, or doesn’t give commands about one way or the other. Individual Christians may use biblical principles to inform their consciences and decide for themselves. These would be things like whether or not to take your child trick-or-treating or deciding whether to dress formally or casually for church.

While theologians are largely in agreement about primary doctrines, there is wider spread disagreement on which doctrines are secondary and tertiary (many consider eschatology to be a second tier doctrine, for example) and whether or not there is a need for a category of adiaphora, since such issues are normally not considered to be “doctrinal” issues. In fact, there’s enough space for disagreement that pastors and theologians often wisely refrain from making concrete lists of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

But when we’re talking about the different levels of doctrine, what you won’t find is questions like these: Is murder a first, second, or third tier doctrine? What about gossip? Rape? Adultery? Lying? Gluttony? Pride?

And it’s not because these issues aren’t important or because the Bible doesn’t address them. It’s because they’re in a different category from the other issues: the category of sin. They aren’t doctrines upon which salvation hinges, they aren’t open to interpretation, and the Bible is clear that we are absolutely not to do these things.

In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an excellent article about the different levels of doctrine entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He carefully explains the importance of each level of doctrine and what it covers in a plea to keep each level’s urgency in its proper place of significance during discussion, debate, and decision-making.

It was a helpful article to which I always refer people who have questions about tiers of doctrine, and I agree with Dr. Mohler’s thoughts wholeheartedly (as I usually do) …except on one point:

“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue.”

Women serving as pastors, women preaching, women teaching men Scripture in the church, and women exercising authority over men in the church is not a secondary issue. Nor is it a primary or tertiary one. It does not belong in the category of “doctrine” in the same way baptism and eschatology do. It belongs in the category of sin in the same way murder, gossip, and adultery do. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12

(The preponderance of Scripture supports and affirms this concept, so to keep things simple, we’ll use this verse as an exemplar.)

✢ The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear command against a certain behavior. And when we behave in a way God has prohibited, that is called “sin”. All of the tenets in the three levels of doctrine are affirmative statements regarding beliefs (you must believe in the resurrection of Christ, we believe in baptism by immersion, etc.). None of them are commands, in the negative, against sinful behavior (Thou shalt not murder, I do not permit a woman to teach… etc.)

✢ Secondary and tertiary doctrines can be open – to varying degrees – to biblical interpretation. Every stripe of non-heretical eschatological thought can provide you with chapter and verse passages that can, depending on the angle from which you approach the subject, be biblically plausible and scripturally supported. There is no biblical support for anything God prohibits. No one can cite a properly handled, in context Bible verse in which God says, “It’s OK to commit adultery,” or “Women are allowed to preach.” There can be multiple views on a secondary or tertiary issue that can all be considered biblical, but there can only be one view of sin that is biblical.

✢ Differing beliefs on true secondary and tertiary issues are not sin. My Presbyterian friends have a different view of baptism than I do. That doesn’t mean either of us is sinning. I may think their interpretations of the verses they believe support paedo baptism are incorrect, but they are not breaking any of God’s commands. Differing behavior (again, we see the distinction between doctrinal belief and sinful behavior) on issues of sin is sin. If someone behaves differently from God’s command about lying, she is sinning. If a woman behaves differently from God’s command in 1 Timothy 2:12, she is sinning.

✢ Differing beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. When someone has studied a theological issue enough to hold a particular position on it, it’s usually because she is striving to please God and to be biblical in her beliefs. Differing behavior on issues of sin is born out of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Someone who steals has already decided in her heart that her desires are better than God’s command. A woman who knowingly holds improper authority over men in her church is doing so because she has already decided to defy God’s clear command against such.

✢ Because different beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of rebellion and are not sin, they do not require church discipline. Sin does require church discipline. If someone in your church is openly dishonoring her parents, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. If a woman is pursuing a career as a pastor, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. 

Since the publication of Dr. Mohler’s article (and perhaps as a result of others teaching the same thing) the idea of the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “secondary doctrine” has spread in a most unhelpful way, leading many Christians to treat the issue in a c’est la vie, “We can just agree to disagree on this,” manner.

No, we cannot.

We would not say, “We can agree to disagree,” on lying or adultery or homosexuality or abortion, and we cannot say it about women preaching, teaching men, or holding unbiblical authority, either. We disciple and teach a sister in Christ who is unaware of what the Bible says on these matters, and if she is committing any of these sins, we begin the process of church discipline. But it would not be loving toward her, or honoring God, to allow her to continue in biblical ignorance or in willful sin.

Furthermore, the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 brings with it dangers to the church that true secondary and tertiary issues, and even many sins, do not.

I have mentioned several times when dealing with this issue that women preaching to men is highly correlated with women teaching false doctrine. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine. False doctrine and heresy are infecting the church – via female preachers – at an alarming rate.

We dare not simply “agree to disagree” on this.

The violation of God’s command that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures nor hold improper authority over men is a sin like any other. It is not a doctrinal issue in the same sense that other second and third tier doctrines are. If left undisciplined, however, it can lead to first tier doctrinal issues infiltrating a church and eventually destroying it. It is detrimental to the church to label and treat any sin as a secondary doctrinal issue.

Church

It’s Time for a Reformation in the SBC – 3 Issues We Need to Set Right

I don’t know the brother who said it, but I saw a remark the other day from a Presbyterian gentleman who said something to the effect of, “It’s time for all doctrinally sound Southern Baptists to leave the SBC.”

I get that.

When you have an organization as large, open, and widespread as the Southern Baptist Convention, problems – even major ones – are inevitable. At this point, there are many things the SBC is still getting right, biblically speaking…

There are many good and praiseworthy things going on in SBC life. We have hundreds of doctrinally sound pastors faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out. Discernment and biblical literacy among Southern Baptist church members is slowly but steadily growing. The SBC takes a public, biblical stand on abortion and homosexuality while many other denominations do not. Our organizational structure for funding and sending out missionaries, while sometimes flawed in its execution, is without peer. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the finest relief organizations in the world. And there’s so much more. Find a godly Kingdom effort going on somewhere, and you’ll probably find a Southern Baptist involved in it. By the grace of God, while we’re far from perfect, we’re getting a lot of things right

…But for some individual Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches, the biblical error and other problems pervading the SBC have become too much to bear, and they have deemed it time to walk away from what they see as a system damaged beyond repair, seeking refuge in ARBCA, Bible, Independent, or non-denominational churches and networks instead.

Like I said, I get that, and I don’t blame them one little bit. Believe me, I’ve had leaving on my mind more than once. And if the SBC continues its downward spiral, it’s an inevitability for nearly all of us who hold to sound doctrine.

But there are still plenty of us crazy, “glass half full” doctrinally sound optimists out there who, like Luther, don’t want to abandon the SBC to the rubbish heap if it can be avoided, but would rather see it reformed (little “r”), renewed, and restored to the glory of God.

If you’ve ever labored through the entirety of the Old Testament (and if you haven’t, stop denying yourself that blessing, and study it), you know that God exercised patience with Israel through centuries of idolatry, rebellion, and paganism of the vilest sorts, sending them prophet after prophet, warning after warning, discipline after discipline, lovingly calling, urging, and commanding them to repent and be reconciled to Him before finally executing judgment on them.

I’m just not sure we’re quite at the point of exiling the SBC… yet. I think maybe these are the days of Elijah. And Jeremiah. And Isaiah. And even Luther. A time for godly Southern Baptist men and women to stand firmly on the written Word of God and speak prophetically, chapter and verse, into their beloved churches and denomination, “Thus saith the Lord.”

And in that same spirit of the prophets of old, we don’t speak from a position of “I’m right and I’m here to prove it,” or because we’re haters, or because we’re power-hungry. It’s because we’re cut to the heart over the sin and idolatry we see among our brothers and sisters. We’re grieved that those things dishonor our precious Savior and bring His judgment and discipline upon those who participate in and propagate them. We deeply desire that our denomination and our churches experience the joy that comes with being spiritually healthy and biblically submitted to Christ.

So, while there are probably at least ninety-five theses that could be nailed to the doors of the Executive Committee in Nashville, here are three that would be a good start.

1.
The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture

Nearly forty years ago, Southern Baptist movers and shakers in the conservative resurgence went to war for the inerrancy of Scripture. It was a long, hard battle, but they won. Now it’s time to fight for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the SBC.

The Bible is our authority as Christians, not the ideas, opinions, and traditions of denominational leaders, SBC celebrities, pastors, or any other person. The Bible. If the Bible commands us to do something, we do it. If the Bible commands us not to do something, we don’t do it. We don’t formulate our own programs and methods and try to squish the Bible in to make it fit. We start with the Bible. We stay with the Bible. We end with the Bible.

Because the SBC does not always submit to the authority of the Bible, we have leaders, celebrities, and pastors looking to, and promoting, sources outside the Bible for direction instead of simply trusting and obeying God’s written Word. We have influential “Bible” teachers who stand on stages in front of thousands and dare to proclaim, “God told me…”, functionally denying the sufficiency of Scripture by relying on supposed extra-biblical revelation (and teaching their followers to do the same). We have pastors and denominational leaders who look to polls and surveys to decide how to conduct their worship services or which social issues need to be addressed and how to address them. We have church growth gurus teaching our pastors to adopt all manner of worldliness that “works” to get sinners in the doors of their churches.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is to survive as an entity of biblical Christianity, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is the number one issue that must be dealt with.  If this issue is properly addressed and corrected, it will alleviate or minimize nearly all other problems facing the SBC. We must submit to God’s written Word and give Scripture its proper place – first place – in our denomination, our individual churches, and our personal lives.

Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient

2.
False Doctrine and False Teachers

If the SBC truly regarded the Bible as authoritative and sufficient, the cancer of false doctrine and false teachers that is slowly killing us would be cured or in remission. Indeed, the aforementioned false teaching of extra-biblical (God told me, showed me in a dream, spoke to me, etc.) revelation is probably the most pervasive false doctrine accepted among Southern Baptists.

When Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple (Imagine a house of God in such a shambles of idolatry that people had to dig and search for the actual Scriptures. Selah.), and Shaphan read it to Josiah, Josiah tore his clothes in grief and began to set God’s house and God’s people in order. After covenanting together with the people to obey God’s Word, the very first thing Josiah did was to have the altars and vessels of false gods carried out of God’s house and destroyed. If the SBC would follow in Josiah’s footsteps we would see things like:

LifeWay would immediately remove and destroy any and all materials by Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Priscilla Shirer, TD Jakes, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, Christine Caine, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, and all other false teachers and promulgators of false doctrine.

There would be no more conferences, simulcasts, or leadership training seminars featuring false teachers, and false teachers would certainly not be invited to speak in any capacity at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

Pastors, authors, and speakers who attempted to build a career inside the SBC by teaching false doctrine would be subject to church discipline for their sin, not turned into celebrities or appointed or elected to denominational leadership positions.

Messenger voting privileges at the Convention would be revoked for churches which habitually and unrepentantly welcome false teachers.

If the Bible were to become our sufficient authority for both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, our eyes would quickly be opened to the enormity of the hold false doctrine has on our denomination, churches, and individuals, and we would act accordingly and biblically.

A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention

10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists

The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies

3.
Disfellowshipping Errant Churches

Earlier this week, the Southern Baptist Convention severed ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC- an association of Southern Baptist churches in the Washington, D.C. area) for refusing to disfellowship one of its member churches, Calvary Baptist, which had called a legally “married” lesbian couple to serve as its co-“pastors” over a year ago.

It was absolutely the right thing to do (the SBC has disfellowshipped several churches that embrace homosexuality), and I’m glad that this standard remains in tact, but…lesbian co-pastors…? That’s how bad it has to get before the SBC can, or will, act to remove a church? What about churches that are embracing sins other than homosexuality?

There are plenty of apostate Southern Baptist churches, and we have no mechanism in place for kicking them out of the SBC.

This is a verbatim quote from the FAQ section (5th question from the top) of the SBC’s web site:

“According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention’s work, or if it acts to ‘affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,’ it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action.”

What does that mean? As long as your church doesn’t affirm homosexuality and gives to the Cooperative Program, you’re in. Never mind if your pastor twists God’s word until it’s unrecognizable. Or lets women and false teachers get behind the pulpit like Steven Furtick does. Or plays AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday and says he probably wouldn’t have strippers on stage like Perry Noble does. Or any of the other ridiculous and blasphemous shenanigans so many of the seeker sensitive types in our denomination pull. Nope, as long as you give your money and stand on the right side of homosexuality, you’re good to go.² ³

I’ll be the first to admit, it would be a difficult standard to set and implement, but look at the standards the New Testament required of churches. We’ve got to set the bar higher than a homosexuality litmus test and an offering for a church to be in good standing with the SBC. Doctrine and practices simply have to be a factor.

 

Can there be another conservative resurgence that brings reform to the SBC? I believe there can.

The Bible says “nothing will be impossible with God.” I believe that. I believe that the God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing, who opened sealed tombs and barren wombs, who parted seas and walked on water and turned water into wine can change the hearts of Southern Baptists and the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By His grace. For His glory. For our good.


¹A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention
²10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists
³As of 2019, this verbiage has been removed from the FAQ section of the SBC website. Conceptually similar language can be found here (see Article III: Composition).