Rick Warren explains what changed his mind about women pastors

| Baptist Press/Adam Covington

Former Saddleback Church pastor and founder Rick Warren recently laid out three passages from the Bible that led him to conclude that it is acceptable for women to serve in the office of pastor.

Saddleback Church, the California-based megachurch founded by Warren in 1980, was recently expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention for having a woman fill the office of a teaching pastor. The church plans to appeal the decision later this year. Since Warren’s retirement last year, the church has been led by Andy and Stacie Wood.

In a podcast interview with former SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President  Russell Moore posted Wednesday, Warren said he believes that “we have to approach Scripture humbly” and that “the Church at its best was the Church at its birth.”

“This is not a battle between liberals and conservatives. All the liberals left a long time ago. Everybody in the SBC believes in the inerrancy of Scripture,” said Warren. “Now we are talking about differences of interpretation.”

The best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life laid out three Scripture passages that led him to conclude three years ago that it was acceptable for women to become pastors.

Warren first cited Matthew 28:19-20. Known as the Great Commission, the passage involves Jesus telling His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“We claim that we believe that the Great Commission is for everybody, both men and women are to fulfill the Great Commission,” Warren argued.

“There are four verbs in the Great Commission: ‘go,’ ‘make disciples,’ ‘baptize,’ and ‘teach.’ Women are to go. Women are to make disciples. Women are to baptize, and women are to teach, not just men.”

The second passage he cited was the day of Pentecost, as explained in Acts 2, in which the Holy Spirit came down upon the early church, with those present speaking in foreign tongues.

“We know women were in the room. We know women were filled with the Holy Spirit,” said Warren. “We know that women were preaching in languages other people couldn’t hear to a mixed audience. We know women; it wasn’t just men; women were preaching on the day of Pentecost.”

Warren noted that, in the passage, when the Apostle Peter told the crowd what was happening, he quoted the Old Testament verse of Joel 2:28, which states, “on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

His third verse of evidence was John 20:17, when Jesus told Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples about his resurrection, noting that Jesus “chose her to be the first preacher of the Gospel.”

Warren added that while he supported women becoming pastors, he stressed that “it doesn’t bother me if you disagree with me,” noting, “I have to say, I could be wrong.”

“For 2,000 years, the Church has debated the role of women in culture, but to make it a litmus test for ‘are you a Baptist or not?’ is nonsense,” he continued.

Warren was asked if Saddleback would appeal the expulsion at the SBC Annual Meeting in June. He replied that while he wanted to “walk away from it,” he also felt he had to do so.

“I need to stand up for the pastors who are scared to death by this inquisition, and I think I need to stand up for the millions of godly Southern Baptist women whose gifts and leadership skills are being stymied,” said Warren.

Warren told Moore that while he believed that churches should be expelled from the SBC for “sin, racism, sexual abuse, other sexual sins,” having a woman serving as a pastor should not be one of them.

“We should kick out churches for sin. We should kick out churches that harm the testimony of the convention. This isn’t harming the testimony of anybody,” he added.

Supporters of the SBC prohibition on women pastors include Owen Strachan, a theology professor at Grace Bible Theological Seminary and a critic of Saddleback’s direction.

In a Facebook comment responding to Saddleback’s 2021 announcement that it ordained three women as pastors, Strachan cited 1 Timothy 2:9-15, which includes the verse in which Apostle Paul writes: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

“Churches that affirm women pastors are opposing the Word of God, and opposing the Word of God means opposing God himself,” said Strachan.

“Now is the time to leave and find a good congregation. Do not delay. There is no spirit of competition in what I write here; what Saddleback is doing grieves me, and I have no doubt grieves many in the congregation.”

Warren retired as senior pastor of Saddleback last September, succeeded by Pastors Andy Wood and Stacie Wood, who Saddleback identifies as its teaching pastor.

Last month, the SBC Executive Committee approved a recommendation from the SBC Credentials Committee to label Saddleback and four other churches as “not in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention” over their decision to allow women to hold the office of pastor.

SBC’s Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman told Baptist Press that the disaffiliations came because of “the churches continuing to have a female functioning in the office of pastor.”

“As stated in the Baptist Faith and Message Article VI, the SBC holds to the belief that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” stated Wellman in February.

“These churches have been valued, cooperating churches for many years, and this decision was not made lightly. However, we remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintaining unity among its cooperating churches.”

In the SBC, local churches ordain pastors, not the denomination.

Last August, prominent SBC theologians Richard Land, Albert Mohler, and Chuck Kelley published a statement clarifying the meaning of “pastor” to mean “one who fulfills the pastoral office and carries out the pastor’s functions.” The three men were tasked with writing a study guide for the Baptist Faith & Message when it was revised in 2000.

“[I]t is important to understand that the word pastor was chosen precisely because of its clarity among Southern Baptists. The statement carefully affirms that both men and women are gifted for service in the church, but the role of pastor is biblically defined and is to be held only by men as qualified by Scripture,” they stated.

The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message establishes that “pastor” was not to be used to describe every ministerial position within a church.

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