Breaking Down Rick Warren and The SBC

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 195

It’s been said that any publicity is good publicity, but when it comes to the Church, nothing could be further from the truth. The Southern Baptist Convention has had quite a year. I’m sure most involved parties would have preferred last week’s meeting go unnoticed. Instead, though, we had Rick Warren in a social media battle against the SBC.

Like you, I have my opinion on the role of women in church leadership and what I believe is the correct interpretation of scripture, but I did not see that as the most important topic last week. That was the root of the issue, yes, but the SBC has a stated position already. Rick Warren knew what that position was, and he chose to challenge it. Even that, a challenge to the position, is ok and even good sometimes, but that should have been separate and apart from trying to simply get enough people to agree with his rogue position and still get to be a member.

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Here is how this should have played out:

SBC: We believe that women should not hold the office of pastor.

Rick Warren: I disagree, and we will now have women as pastors at Saddleback Church.

SBC: That’s fine, but you can no longer be in friendly cooperation with us as a Southern Baptist Church.

Rick Warren: Yes, I understand. Can we debate that position so that it may be changed, allowing us to return to friendly cooperation in the future?

SBC: yes or no would have been an appropriate response. The end.

What we saw this year:

SBC: We believe that women should not hold the office of pastor.

Rick Warren: I disagree, and we will now have women as pastors at Saddleback Church.

SBC: That’s fine, but you can no longer be in friendly cooperation with us as a Southern Baptist Church.

Rick Warren: Then I will challenge the position publicly and ask that my church be allowed to be different and still in friendly cooperation whether you change your stated position or not.

SBC Messengers: No. The end.

For me, the primary issue at hand was whether the SBC would protect and defend its current stated position on the issue. They have the prerogative to debate it and change it whenever they want to, but denominational leadership (I know they don’t really call themselves a denomination) must first protect and defend the current position in the face of challenges. Rick Warren just wanted to be able to do his own thing without repercussions, and that would have been a grave mistake by the SBC.

Once organizational leadership lets a crack begin to form in what is allowed, it never gets smaller. It only gets bigger. Ask the Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church what happened when they didn’t protect doctrine and discipline rogue churches. The SBC Messengers absolutely did the right thing in upholding the expulsion of Saddleback Church and the others.

Let’s bring this down to the church level. A board of elders should never let one of their own publically state a disagreement with the doctrines of the church, live in contradiction to that doctrine, and remain a member of the elder board, or maybe even a member of the church, depending on the issue.

The other piece of what was at stake was the predictability and unity of SBC churches and their members. If I’m a member of an SBC church and move to a new city and seek another SBC church out, I should be able to trust that they will hold like-doctrinal positions. That’s what the cooperation is supposed to be all about. If every SBC church would have to be investigated to figure out what their positions are, then the SBC really would fail to exist at that point. Trust, cooperation, and unity would be lost. How can organizational leaders work towards predictable outcomes of discipleship among members if the teachings cannot be trusted to be uniform in spirit?

We see this play out at the local level frequently. Church leaders often do not monitor what is being taught in Sunday School classes or how small group ministries are being run. They just let those leaders do whatever they want to. And the longer you’ve been a leader in the church, the less oversight you’ll get. This is wrong. Senior leadership takes on the responsibility of shepherding the flock, and that includes training and evaluating leaders for process and doctrinal alignment continuously.

Bad publicity for Christ’s Church is in-fighting dragged out into the public square. It’s not a good look. Jesus prayed for us in John 17 that we would be one as he is one with the Father in Heaven. Why? Because that is how the world is to know that Jesus was sent into the world to save and redeem and that they are loved, just as God loves his son. What message is the world receiving when our unity is broken?

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A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.

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