These days, Rick Warren has become a thorn in the side of Southern Baptist leaders who once admired and celebrated him.
From his perspective, he’s simply leading a one-man crusade to return to basic Baptist principles. From the perspective of his former friends and endorsers, he’s become someone who’s stirring the pot of dissension unnecessarily.
On the surface, the issue is women in ministry. Underlying that, however, this is a fight over Baptist autonomy.
In a second video published this week to advocate against the SBC’s expulsion of the California megachurch he founded, Warren explains: “Many people assume I’m making these videos simply about the question of women in ministry. But that’s not the case. That issue was simply the precipitating event that uncovered a number of weaknesses that must be addressed. There are far, far bigger issues at stake here.”
“There are far, far bigger issues at stake here.”
He adds: “If I were to sum up all those issues in one sentence it would be this: We must return to being true Baptists. We must recover the distinctives that grew our denomination. We must remember what our strengths were and recommit ourselves to those unique distinctives that make Baptists different from other Orthodox Christians and from other denominations.”
Prior to next week’s SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, Warren is putting on a full-court press to ask messengers to vote to restore Saddleback Church in Southern California to good standing in the SBC — overturning an action by the SBC Executive Committee to expel the church for ordaining women as pastors and allowing women to preach.
Although Warren is easily one of the best-known Southern Baptist pastors in the world, he never has held any denominational office or been involved in denominational politics — until now.
His initial fame came from his bestselling books The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church. Both books sold tens of millions of copies; with Purpose Driven Life reportedly surpassing 50 million book sales.
To make the case that conservative Southern Baptist leaders once believed he deserved their seal of approval, he recently released a set of 27 endorsements of his books gathered by his publisher, Zondervan. That list is a who’s who of leaders of the “conservative resurgence” of the SBC.
It includes an endorsement from Billy Graham, who wrote: “Rick Warren’s strategy for completing the Great Commission is the most biblical, most comprehensive and greatest vision for world missions that I’ve ever seen, or heard, or read about in my lifetime of ministry. I’m so proud of what Rick, my son in the ministry, has already accomplished. I just wish I could live long enough to see the rest of his vision happen.”
“I truly feel sorry for men who deprive their souls of learning profound spiritual truth from godly women.”
“The rest of his vision” is now the rub. Because Warren has become convinced God not only allows but desires women to preach the good news just as men are called to do. And one of his proofs is the Great Commission.
Warren has been busy on Twitter, making his case. Among some of his recent tweets:
- “Added together, at least 1,928 SBC churches have women pastors quietly serving on staff. Most are in larger, growing churches. About half are ordained.”
- “Some are expressing surprise at my passion for the SBC. That reveals they don’t know squat about me.”
- “REPEAT: No one is asking SBC complementarians to change theology. Rather, will you be Christlike to non-complementarians as you are with Calvinists & other minority views that most Baptists disagree with? Is #dissent, the cherished right we Baptists fought for, now dead in our SBC?”
- “I truly feel sorry for men who deprive their souls of learning profound spiritual truth from godly women hindered by their belief that NO WOMAN can TEACH them anything. Grateful for my grandmother, mom, wife, sister, daughter & books by sisters in Christ who’ve taught me so much.”
- “In Scripture, a pastor was NOT a guy who stood behind a pulpit, in a church building, holding a Bible, preaching to a crowd. There were no church buildings until the 4th century No pulpits until the 9th century. No printed Bibles until the 15th. A pastor was a small group (house) leader!”
After last week issuing an open letter on biblical authority, this week Warren released a video about Baptist polity or governance.
He makes an acrostic of the word Baptist:
- B is for the Bible as our sole authority.
- A is for the autonomy of every local church.
- P is for the priesthood of every believer.
- T is for take the gospel to the whole world.
- I is for immersion baptism for believers only.
- S is for separation of church and state to ensure religious liberty.
- T is for training in righteousness.
“If you look around and you listen to voices today, it’s obvious many Baptists don’t know our roots,” he says. “They are approving actions that are positively un-Baptist. Our founders would be rolling over in their graves.”
The SBC has become like an arrangement of cut flowers severed from their roots, he warns. “We don’t even know our Baptist distinctives anymore. And for 17 years of decline now, the bloom on the SBC has been fading.”
Further, his appeal to allow a diversity of opinions on women in ministry within the SBC is not a campaign to ask others to change their theology to match his, he explains. “The very fact that I am a Baptist means I would never presume to ask you to do that.”
Historically, Baptists “agreed to disagree in order to agree on the Great Commission,” he says.
Citing the Baptist distinctive of soul competency, Warren charges: “Unfortunately, there are Presbyterians in our midst, posing as Baptists, who don’t really believe in that historic Baptist distinctive. They love creeds, and they want to enforce them.”
“Unfortunately, there are Presbyterians in our midst, posing as Baptists.”
Warren said he’s heard from 16,000 pastors who responded to his open letter published last week. “They’re tired of angry fighters and scared by the climate of fear and exclusion created by powerbrokers.”
Warren told BNG he has been denied access to communicate with SBC messengers through means available to other advertisers. So he’s using his Twitter platform and personal email database to get out his message.
Likewise, he said SBC Executive Committee staff have not returned his calls and have not allowed him to present his side to those making decisions against Saddleback.
In one of his tweets, Warren cited one of the most revered leaders of the conservative movement in the SBC, Charles Stanley, who recently died.
“The 2023 SBC will kick out churches for having a woman preach WHILE honoring Charles Stanley, SBC president who was saved through a WOMAN PREACHING!”
The he quotes Stanley’s own account: “As Mrs. Wilson preached, the Spirit struck me to the core! When she gave the invitation, I was the first down.”
An open letter to all Southern Baptists | Opinion by Rick Warren
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