Southern Baptist Convention Made the Right and Courageous Decision to Boot Rick Warren's Saddleback Church

Southern Baptist Convention Ejects Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. CREDIT: Twitter

Wednesday, the membership of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), voted to defenestrate Rick Warren’s Saddleback megachurch. Saddleback, whose 23,000+ weekly churchgoers make it the second-largest congregation in the SBC, along with a much smaller church in Kentucky, was “disfellowshipped” for violating the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith & Message by ordaining three women pastors. According to that document, “the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” At that moment, the SBC may not only have held firm against the Luciferian forces of modernity but also stopped a “long march” through their Church.


Let me stop here for a moment and digress. I’m Roman Catholic, a convert, not a cradle Catholic, and I find it sort of liberating to write about the internal affairs of another denomination because I don’t have to know what I’m talking about. I can just make stuff up willy-nilly. Now I understand why so many Protestants love to tell Catholics what we should do.

Back to the story.

In 2021, Saddleback Church decided to ordain three women pastors. This drew a lot of attention to a problem that had been simmering within the SBC for years. For instance, the Fern Creek Baptist Church of Louisville, KY, which was booted along with Saddleback, has had a woman pastor for three decades. When Rick Warren threw down the gauntlet, the SBC had two choices: come down hard on all offenders or fold like a cheap suit.

When Warren made his case for Saddleback, saying that Saddleback and the SBC were in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message except for “one word” and wasn’t that close enough, the crowd responded with a resounding “no.”

The final vote was not close.


I think the SBC is right in principle, and I think the action by the SBC leadership was courageous. I have to believe that Rick Warren, author of arguably the best-selling book of all time not called “The Bible,” thought that his congregation was too big to be “disfellowshipped” and could do as it damned well pleased. The fact that he was proven wrong is a triumph for first principles.

Why do I think the SBC is right in principle? The Baptist Faith & Message starts out by saying:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Once you’ve laid down that marker, you’re sort of stuck with it. When St. Paul says in 1 Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man,” you don’t have the flexibility to say, well, God didn’t really mean that; He meant something entirely different.

In my own Church, this has been an ongoing struggle that never seems to be settled, no matter how many times it is declared settled. Even now, the German Church is trying to open the priesthood and diaconate to women despite having been told no by three consecutive Popes. This is because the left does not respect Tradition or any authority that it does not control. Unlike SBC, we don’t rely on 1 Timothy, which is immaterial as the result is the same. Here Is Pope John Paul II on the subject.


The Declaration recalls and explains the fundamental reasons for this teaching, reasons expounded by Paul VI, and concludes that the Church “does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.”(3) To these fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ’s way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: “The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology-thereafter always followed by the Church’s Tradition- Christ established things in this way.”(4)

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, I myself wrote in this regard: “In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.”(5)

In fact the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God’s eternal plan; Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood,(6) the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord’s way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers(7) who would succeed them in their ministry.(8) Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles’ mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.(9)

Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.


The key takeaway is that Jesus Christ had women in his inner circle, and they were critical to the Church’s work. He did not designate any of them as apostles or send them out to preach and convert because He chose not to. The argument that He didn’t because of the culture of the time is an argument that human customs limit God’s power. It is not a question of oppressing or undervaluing women because the same guy who says no to women pastors disagrees (Galatians 3:28). It isn’t saying that women are inferior to men in devotion because, on Calvary, Jesus was comforted by one man (St. John the Evangelist) and several women (see Matthew 27:55–56, Luke 23:49, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25). It is because Churches built upon Scripture cannot arrogate to themselves the rights retained by God.

If you want to read an interesting discussion of how this issue is framed in some evangelical circles, you can try this. I have to admit to being shocked that some of this existed but was pretty much with him up to the point that he claimed John Calvin and Martin Luther were just carrying on the theology of St. Augustine, an assertion which, in the utmost charity, can only be called lunacy.

In my view, the ordination of women is a leading indicator of the degree to which a denomination has embraced secular modernism and how soon it will ordain practicing homosexuals as clergy and recognize homosexual unions. Once you toss one of the rules on the grounds that “Paul was speaking to a First Century audience who would not accept women,” then it is easy to make the same argument for homosexual clergy and marriage.


Or, as Samuel Johnson put it shortly before his wife murdered him (joke, Johnson was not married), “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

I understand that a lot of people will disagree with the SBC…and with me…on women’s role in the Church. That’s fine. But all Christians have to come to grips with the fact that we either believe Scripture and what it tells us about our relationship with God and the Church and one another, or we don’t. To paraphrase the words of our Savior to Martha, the SBC “hath chosen that good part.”

Will this cause harm to the SBC? I think that is doubtful. In times of repression, homogenous communities survive. Some churches will disaffiliate, but the SBC will be stronger. Besides that, religion is not a popularity contest. A smaller, hotter Church does more of God’s work than an enormous lukewarm one.

The real question is, why do people join organizations to create conflict and try to change the larger organization to accommodate them? Warren’s Saddleback Church has been part of the SBC since its founding in 1980. He knew what the Baptist Faith & Message laid out as a baseline for affiliation and basically dared the SBC to do anything when he ordained three women. Why didn’t he just announce that Saddleback was moving on and leaving the SBC? That would have been honorable and non-controversial. It is hard to say his decision to try to bully the SBC into changing its rules to accommodate him was principled. Watching the entire episode unfold via Twitter, one was left with the feeling that Warren had declared war on the SBC and wanted to do as much damage as possible on the way out.



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