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Using the term Pastor

Whether or not one can clarify a sub-point or two of a widespread debate without getting caught up in the whirlwind of the major issue itself is questionable. Still, I am going to try. My goal is only to call attention to some historical information that may be worth considering as the current dispute about women being ordained to various pastoral roles goes forward.

By now it seems common knowledge that on Mother’s Day, Saddleback Church in California ordained three women as pastors of specific ministries in that congregation. One of the women works with children and now carries the title Next Generation Ministries Pastor. Another leads the church’s pastoral care ministry and will be called Pastor of Pastoral Care. The third works with students. She has been referred to as Student Ministries Pastor in recent news stories.

Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church and is probably the best known Southern Baptist pastor in the world through his immensely popular and influential series of Purpose Driven books. Saddleback is also the second largest church in the SBC with more than 28,000 average attendance each week at its various campuses.

What Saddleback Church and Rick Warren do are important because of the influence and example their ministry has across the United States and around the world. Also, the timing of the ordination of three of their long-time women staff members as pastors comes on the heels of Beth Moore’s departure from Southern Baptist life because of the way women are treated in SBC life. Moore was our denomination’s best known woman author, speaker and conference leader.

Reaction to Saddleback’s decision has been swift and, for the most part, negative from their fellow Southern Baptists. And it is here I want to remind of what was said in 2000 when Southern Baptists voted to add the phrase “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by the Scripture” to their statement of faith.

Albert Mohler, one of the nine members of the committee that helped draft the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message Statement of Faith (BF&M), responded to Saddleback’s action by saying, “You will also find no reference to a ‘senior’ pastor (in the BF&M). A pastor is a pastor and ‘the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.’”

In 2000 other members of the drafting committee offered a different understanding of the phrase. For example, Steve Gaines, former SBC president, was pastor of First Baptist Church, Gardendale, Alabama, at the time and a member of the drafting committee. In an interview with The Alabama Baptist published May 25, 2000, Gains explained the pivotal reference “the office of pastor is limited to men” to refer only to the senior pastor position.

“Other staff positions and ordinations are all individual church matters,” he said. He went on to explain that he had women serving as ministry leaders in his own church and this proposed addition to the BF&M would do nothing to jeopardize their positions of service leadership.

In the same article Hunter Street Baptist Church pastor Buddy Gray, then president of the Alabama State Baptist Convention, supported Gaines’ understanding. He agreed that men should serve as senior pastors, adding “the good thing (about the statement) is that more women than ever are involved in full-time ministry.”

He added the proposed statement “opens all the other roles for them” as ministers.

Do not be confused by the term minister. Baptists have interchanged that term and pastor forever. The point is that in Alabama and elsewhere the proposed edition to the BF&M was explained as referring to senior pastor. That is the only person who carries the title pastor without any limiting adjective to clarify the title.

In that same interview, Gaines explained that “the document (the proposed BF&M) will not be used as a standard to deny churches association with the SBC.” Gaines said it was “merely a consensus of the majority of Southern Baptists on theological issues.”

“We are not a religious hierarchy,” he said. “We can’t tell anyone what to do.”

Again, Mohler sees it differently today. In the same article reacting to Saddleback, he wrote, “The BF&M is the summary of Baptist beliefs that define what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist and a church ‘in friendly cooperation with’ the Convention.”

In other words, Mohler argues one must believe and practice in accordance with the 2000 BF&M in order to be a Southern Baptist. One can only wonder how he could have called himself a Southern Baptist during his years of denominational service prior to 2000 when he disagreed with many parts of the 1963 BF&M.

One final point. In his reaction article, Mohler stated, “We (Baptists) have no theology of an ordained ministry. We have no theological basis for making ordination the determinative issue in anything. You will find no evidence of an ordination theology in any historic Baptist confession of faith.”

I believe he is exactly right at that point. History teaches that when Baptists have done ordination, it was done in a variety of ways across the centuries. Ordination has been for a particular ministry in a particular local church. Today ordination follows the ordained from place to place and position to position. Early in America, Baptist ordination was reserved for the association, the only organized Baptist body of that day. At other times ordination has been done by the local church.

In days past Baptists did not ordain music directors or religious education directors or church administrators. Now we call them worship pastors, discipleship pastors, executive pastors and other similar titles.

Function and office have always gone together, and they still do. There is a difference between being pastor of the church and being the church’s children’s pastor. The titles do not confuse the functions.

Time changes both understandings and perspectives. Perhaps that has happened with the words of this debate. Still, being reminded of what was said when this addition to the BF&M was written may be helpful as the arguments about titles applied to various offices in the church continues to roil.

‘Reputation Is Everything’

The girl was only 4 years old. She was lured from her parents by a man in his mid-20s and raped. The damage to her tiny body was terrible but not as terrible as what happened next. When the child’s parents found their daughter they did not call for medical help. Instead they abandoned her. Others in the community also turned a blind eye to the child, and the girl slowly bled to death lying alone at the site of the tragedy.

The reason for such brazenness? According to James Emery, author of a research article titled “Reputation is Everything,” the family and community felt the child’s misfortune would sully the family’s honor. Leaving the child alone to bleed to death was deemed an honor killing.

Honor killings are generally defined as murders of women by relatives who claim the victims brought shame to the family.

Afaf Younes was 17. Allegedly there was a pattern of sexual abuse by her father. Afaf ran away from home to get away from him. She was caught and returned to her father who then shot her in the name of honor. No one protested.

A 16-year-old Palestinian girl became pregnant after being raped by her younger brother. Once her condition became known, her family encouraged the older brother to kill her to remove the blemish (an out of wedlock pregnancy) from their honor. Both brothers — the rapist and the murderer — were exonerated. The girl was blamed.

An 18-year-old Palestinian man stabbed his teenage sister 40 times just because of a rumor she was involved in an extramarital affair. The family thanked God for her death.

Emery concluded “several thousand women a year are victims of honor killings.” Women are treated as commodities in these places. They are responsible for maintaining their moral and sexual purity. If they fail, for whatever reason, their “shame” is extended to the entire family and can be eliminated only by their death.

Honor killings usually occur in communities where reputation is everything, experts say. Frequently families will spend their entire lives in the same community. Mention a family name and people can tell you its complete history. Reputation and honor are the most important possessions one has whether one is wealthy or poor.

Most honor killings involve Muslims although the practice, Emery says, predates the founding of the religion and the Quran does not teach honor killings. “Some Jewish communities from the ancient fortress of Masada to conservative Hasidic sects of today have similar views of traditions and ritual law,” he writes.

When Emery writes, “Women are executed in their homes, in open fields and occasionally in public, sometimes before crowds of cheering onlookers,” one can easily draw parallels with John 8:1–11, where the Pharisees wanted to publicly stone a woman taken in adultery. Had the stoning taken place, it would have been an “honor killing” before a crowd of cheering onlookers.

Deuteronomy 22:20 demands the killing of a girl whose virginity cannot be proven. In verse 21, a girl who engaged in premarital sex was to be stoned to death by the men of the town. The purpose of the killings, one reads over and over again, is to “purge the evil” from the community.

It is important to remember that like many people groups in that part of the world, Israel had its own forms of honor killings deeply embedded in its history, traditions and practices. That reality causes one to read the Christmas story with a new sense of appreciation.

In Luke 1:26–38, the angel Gabriel appeared to a teenage Mary in the town of Nazareth. He was a stranger. Whether the angel appeared in her room in the middle of the night or at the well where she went to draw water, it was dangerous for her to be alone with Gabriel. No wonder she was troubled by his greeting.

After hearing that she would bear a son, one can hear the shock in her words, “How can this be?” One can almost hear the fear as she adds, “I am a virgin.” To hear the exchange between Gabriel and Mary as only an intellectual explanation of what is about to happen misses the human drama and fails to grasp the depth of dedication demonstrated by Mary.

While Nazareth was a small, out-of-the-way village resting atop a hillside, Sephora was a large regional Roman city in the valley about an hour’s walk away. It was a regional military post, one of the Decapolis cities complete with all of Rome’s vices.

Mary knew what happened to other girls who had gotten pregnant outside of marriage. She may have known about honor killings in her own community. She may have even witnessed them. So when the angel told her of the coming child, it is no wonder she protested that the foretelling could not be true. If what Gabriel said were true, it could cost her her life. She might join the list of honor killing victims stoned by the men of the town.

Against the fears of physical death, Gabriel told of the greatest longing of a Jewish heart becoming a reality. The Messiah would be born and Mary would be the human instrument of the child’s coming.

That day in Nazareth, hope defeated fear. In faith, Mary resolved, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Mary invited the shame and disgrace that would come when villagers learned she was pregnant. She made her family subject to humiliation because of the conclusions people would reach about her actions. She risked being stoned to death in an honor killing all because of the promise shared by the angel — “so the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”

In the years that followed many people would suffer physical death because of their faith in Mary’s Child. People still die today because of Him. But these have the promise that “as God raised Jesus from the dead, so shall you also be raised.” Mary faced the possibility of death before Jesus was born. Her promise was about what was yet to be.

“May it be to me as you have said” — what a remarkable reputation that statement makes. What a wonderful faith it shows. It is a faith to be remembered and a faith to be celebrated as we prepare to commemorate Christ’s birth this Christmas season.

Finding Faithfulness

Have you ever found yourself wondering what in the world Jesus was doing? Have you ever found yourself confused, perhaps disappointed, with the way things worked out for you in the Lord’s service? Have you ever found yourself expecting Jesus to do more than He seemed to be doing?

All of us have. But we are not alone. So did his closest disciples.

For reasons lost in history, Peter, James and his brother John seemed to make up the core leadership of the 12 disciples who followed Jesus during His three-year public ministry. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, these three are chosen by Jesus to witness special events, providing insights into who Jesus was and what He was about.

Mark 5:21 tells the story of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus was “a ruler of the synagogue.” The Bible does not tell where the synagogue was, only that Jesus arrived “at the other side of the lake” (the Sea of Galilee) after casting out demons from a man in Gadara on the eastern shore.

Jairus forced himself through the large crowd gathered to greet Jesus and pled with him to hurry to Jairus’ home where his 12-year-old daughter was near death. “Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live,” he begged.

Mark says “Jesus went with him” but before they reached the home servants met them with the sad news of the young girl’s death (v. 35). Jesus dismissed what the servants reported, urging Jairus not to be afraid but to believe.

If you were Jairus, or Peter, James or John for that matter, you faced a dilemma. The servants knew when people died ‑- when their heart stopped and they quit breathing. That is what happened to the child. But Jesus insisted she was only sleeping.

The crowd laughed at Jesus’ words. But what would her father do? What would the disciples do?

Jesus did not allow anyone into the room where Jairus’ daughter lay except Peter, James and John. With them as witnesses, He touched her hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And miracle of miracles, she did.

Peter, James and John, along with others, had seen Jesus command the forces of nature when He calmed a storm the night before (Mark 4). They had seen Him triumph over demons in Gadara and heal a woman of a disease that plagued her for 12 years. Now the three stood alone with Jesus and saw His power command death itself.

In Mark 9, Peter, James and John are again chosen by Jesus for a special experience. They accompanied him up a “high mountain” for what is called the “transfiguration.” The three leaders of the disciples saw persons they instinctively recognized as Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ side. On one side stood Moses, representing the Jewish law. On the other side stood prophecy in the form of Elijah. In between was the grace of God in the person of Jesus.

Jesus began to glow with dazzling white light that the disciples could not understand or explain. It was as if the glory of God were visible in the person of Jesus. Mark’s gospel says law and prophecy slipped away. Only the love of God remained — Jesus.

Peter, James and John glimpsed the glory of God in Jesus, even if they did not fully understand what they saw.

About a week earlier there had been another incident. Jesus asked who people said He was. Peter answered for them all: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). But when Jesus tried to explain that being the Christ meant He would suffer and die, Peter argued. The two had a strong disagreement. James and John, along with the other disciples, missed the message, too. Instead of understanding what Jesus was saying, the disciples soon argued about who was the greatest (Mark 9:34).

Not long afterwards, James and John approach Jesus, privately asking that when He set up His kingdom, they wanted to sit at His right and left sides. Imagine the reactions that caused when the other disciples heard what they had done. Mark 10:41 says the other 10 became “indignant.”

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He went to Gethsemane, a place He frequented for prayer. His “hour” was near and He needed time alone with the Heavenly Father. Still, He longed for human companionship as death approached.

Jesus asked all the disciples to watch while He prayed. But He took Peter, James and John a little farther into the olive grove and, in a rare moment, shared His sorrow. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He confessed (Mark 14:34). He asked His closest earthly friends — these core leaders — to watch and pray with Him.

Instead, Peter, James and John fell asleep. Even a second request by Jesus could not keep them awake. As Jesus endured His worst moments of human agony, as He learned “obedience even unto death,” His closest friends could not watch and pray as He asked. Instead they snoozed.

Peter, James and John. They saw the power of Jesus over disease and death and somehow did not understand it. They saw the glory of Jesus in the transfiguration but missed its implications. They heard the mission of Jesus from His own mouth but were more concerned about who would be the greatest. They were invited to support Jesus in His agony but slept.

And when Jesus was arrested, Mark says, “Everyone deserted him and fled,” even Peter, James and John (Mark 14:50). Talk about confusion, disappointment and broken dreams.

Thankfully, that was not the final word. In time, confusion gave way to insight. Disappointment turned to amazement. New visions replaced broken dreams. And those who once fled in fear became pillars of the Christian church honored through the ages for the faithfulness.

The reason for the change? There are many but one is that Peter, James and John did not choose isolation or separation amidst their confusion, doubt, disappointment or failures. They held on to Jesus and to one another. And Jesus held on to them, providing new revelations and understanding that transformed their lives.

How strange that when the three disciples thought their journey with Jesus was ending, it was only just beginning.

Being like Peter, James and John as recorded in Christian history may be “a bridge too far” for most of us. But if we stay with Jesus and stay with His Church we will at least travel the same road they did. We will not be lost in confusion, doubt, disappointment and failure. We will find faithfulness and all that it brings.

Failure Doesn’t Stop God’s Caring

One of the best known “gotcha” moments in the Bible is when the rooster crowed the morning Jesus was crucified.  All four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — tell about Peter’s bragging the night before. When Jesus told the disciples they would be “scattered like sheep” (Mark 14:27), Peter swore he would follow Jesus even if it cost him his life.

But before the sun rose the next morning Peter’s courage failed. Around a fire to keep the night chill away, Peter was accused of being a follower of the one on trial for his lifeless than a stone’s throw from where he stood. Peter’s response? “I never knew him,” even swearing that he did not know Jesus.

That is when the rooster’s cry pierced the night and pierced Peter’s soul as well. In various ways, each of the gospels describes Peter’s reactions when he realized what he had done — that he broke down and cried bitterly.

Luke’s gospel relates to another part of the story. Luke reports that when the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter. Most of us read those words as a “gotcha” moment, an “I told you so” moment, a condemnation for Peter’s failure.

But does our concentration on Peter’s denial before a hostile crowd cause us to miss part of the story, perhaps an important part?

Luke expands the conversation between Jesus and Peter in which Peter pledges his undying loyalty. The exchange begins with Jesus sharing that Satan asked to “sift Peter.” The Bible never defines what “sift” means but from this side of the story, we know that Peter was tested like no other follower of Jesus that night.

Jesus did more than share the bad news of what Peter faced. Luke tells us Jesus added, “I have prayed for you.” Think of that. Knowing that Peter faced trials, knowing that Peter would deny him, Jesus prayed for Peter. His concern was not anticipating an “I told you so” exchange. Jesus’ concern was for Peter and his service in the kingdom.

Jesus added, “When you turn back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). Denial did not mean that Peter’s faith failed. If his faith had failed perhaps Peter’s sorrow would have caused him to join Judas at the hanging tree. After all, both denied Jesus that night.

But Jesus said, “I have prayed for you that your faith does not fail.” Then he gave him a task. When you have overcome your failure (when you have turned back) strengthen your brothers, Jesus said.

Because we live in a world that relishes “gotcha” movements, we see that message in the locked eyes of Jesus and Peter across the courtyard. “I told you so.” That is how we would react.

But what if there were more in the message of that moment. What if Jesus’ eyes were filled with compassion? What if his eyes conveyed encouragement, even hope in the midst of such obvious failure? What if Jesus’ eyes reminded Peter, “I have prayed for you so don’t give up”? What if they said, “Turn back and strengthen your brothers”?

What if we have been wrong all this time and it wasn’t a “gotcha” moment at all? Peter still would have wept bitterly at his failure but the bitterness would be tinted by the unfailing love of God. Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus still wanted him, still had a task for him.

Wouldn’t that message make us cry if we heard it in the midst of our failures?

Mark hints at Jesus’ concern for Peter. When the women find an angel at the empty tomb on resurrection morning, the angel instructs them to “Go tell the disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). John’s gospel recounts that the first to hear the report of the women were Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Peter had been sifted by Satan. Peter had failed. But God had not given up on Peter. God still cared for Peter and had work for him in the kingdom.

John’s gospel closes with another conversation between Jesus and Peter. This time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times Peter affirms that he loves Jesus with heart and soul and mind and strength.

Each time Jesus responds with a command, “Feed my sheep.” The command is like a sledgehammer pounding a spike. It is clear, certain, and unmistakable. It was like what Jesus said that night in the upper room. “Peter, I have prayed for you. When you turn back, strengthen your brothers.”

Peter failed but God did not stop caring about him, did not stop using him in His kingdom. You and I fail, too, but God does not give up on us either. Failure doesn’t stop God’s caring. He calls us to “turn back” to Him in confession and repentance and then get involved in what God is doing in the world.

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