Saddleback still Southern Baptist for now, after surprise call from Rick Warren

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (RNS) — One of the nation’s best-known pastors made a surprise visit to the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting on Tuesday.

Rick Warren, author ofThe goal-oriented lifeand pastor of Saddleback Church – one of the largest churches in the denomination – told delegates from local churches, known as messengers, that he was grateful to the SBC.

“I love Southern Baptists,” he said.

He then urged Southern Baptists to put aside their differences and work together to spread the gospel throughout the world. Warren also said Baptists are able to overcome all sorts of theological differences and continue to cooperate.

“As Western culture becomes darker, more evil, more secular, we have to decide: are we going to treat each other as allies or not?” he said.

Warren’s call came as members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination considered expelling Saddleback for violating a church ban on female pastors.

Although Saddleback does not use the word “Baptist” in its name, the church is affiliated with the SBC which has 13.7 million members. Warren founded the Church of Southern California in 1980 after graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. bestselling author spoke at the SBC Pastors Conference in 2011.

In May 2021, the church ordained Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards as staff pastors. The move placed Saddleback in the middle of a split over the SBC’s statement of faith, which limits pastorship to men. Some Southern Baptists say the ban on female pastors only applies to the senior pastor of a church. Others, like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler, say no woman should serve as a pastor in any capacity.

The issue of female pastors and female preachers sparked a national debate in 2020, after Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted about speaking in a church on Mother’s Day. This led to claims that women preachers were invading the SBC, which remains a problem for critics of SBC leadership like Florida pastor Tom Ascol, one of the SBC’s leading candidates for president. Moore would eventually leave the denomination in part because she said the uproar over women’s preaching overshadowed the SBC abuse crisis.

Upping the ante, Saddleback also recently announced that Warren would be retiring this fall and that Silicon Valley church pastors Andy and Stacie Wood would succeed him. Andy Wood is currently senior pastor at Echo Church, a multi-site church, while Stacie Wood is a teaching pastor. They would have the same roles at Saddleback.

Mohler told Religion News Service in 2021 that the ordination of a female pastor violated Baptist and biblical teaching: “Saddleback has taken actions that place themselves in direct conflict with the stated doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Last year, Shad Tibbs, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Trout, Louisiana, called on the SBC to “break communion” with Saddleback and any other church that has female pastors. That request, made at the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, was referred to the Credentials Committee, which is responsible for deciding whether churches are in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC.

Earlier Tuesday, Linda Cooper, chair of the credentials committee, told the Messengers that the committee was not yet ready to make a recommendation on Saddleback, given that Southern Baptists disagree on the whether the prohibition applies to the senior or senior pastor of a church – or any staff member of a church being called a pastor.

“The Credentials Committee found little information to substantiate the Convention’s beliefs regarding the use of the ‘title pastor’ for staff positions with responsibility and authority different from that of senior pastor,” said the committee in its report.

Instead, the committee recommended the creation of a task force to examine the issue.

This was opposed by Mohler, who said a study committee was unnecessary. Mohler served on the committee that revised the SBC’s Statement of Faith to include the banning of female pastors and said Southern Baptists know what the word “pastor” means.

Jack Maddox, pastor and messenger at First Baptist Church in Jacksboro, Texas, also opposed the appointment of a study group.

“We don’t need another committee, however well-meaning, to speak on this issue for our church or for this convention,” he said. “We have a book that has already talked about it. ”

Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, offered to modify the committee’s recommendation to have a broader study of how churches should follow the SBC Statement of Faith. After a break, this amendment was defeated.

After Warren’s speech, the credentials committee withdrew its recommendation. This postponed any further action on the motion for now. The Credentials Committee will continue to meet throughout the year and may make a decision regarding Saddleback in the coming months.

Churches have been expelled from the SBC in the past for having gay members, for mishandling sexual abuse, and for racist actions. While churches have left the SBC after appointing female pastors in the past, no church had previously been expelled for having a female pastor.

Before leaving the room, Warren challenged the messengers to focus on completing the Great Commission – Jesus’ command to spread the gospel to the world. Warren plans to spend his post-Saddleback years working with the Finishing the Task Network, which hopes to expand missionary work.

“Are we going to continue bickering over side issues?” he said. “Or are we going to keep the essential as the main thing?”

Religious News Service

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