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What the Disfellowship of Saddleback Church from the SBC Really Means

by | Jun 19, 2023

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On June 14, 2023, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) overwhelmingly voted in favor of disfellowshipping Saddleback Church by an astonishing number. I assumed the vote would be close, yet 89 percent of the convention voted to hold member churches to the biblical standard of male pastoral leadership.

In 2021, Rick Warren, the former pastor of Saddleback ordained three women to the pastorate before his retirement which opened the denomination up to a debate over women pastors. In 2022, the credentials committee recommended that the convention implement a task force to study the issue of women pastors. Also in 2022, Rick Warren retired and the new pastor, Andy Wood of Echo Church, a Southern Baptist (NAMB) church plant with women pastors, took over the role of lead pastor at Saddleback.

Saddleback continued to stand in defiance against Scripture and the SBC’s statement of faith which limit the role of pastor to qualified men. Despite this, Warren and Wood campaigned against this doctrine of complementarianism and insisted that the SBC change its stance on women pastors.

Interestingly, during Warren’s campaign of contempt, the tides began to turn against him and more Southern Baptists became increasingly opposed to remaining in fellowship with such a blatantly defiant church. Ultimately, this was reflected in the vote to disfellowship.

So what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that there is hope for the SBC? Does this mean that the SBC isn’t drifting to the left after all? Does this mean that we are wrong about the direction of the denomination and that it truly is a conservative denomination?

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The short answer to this is “no.” In reality, while the vote to disfellowship Saddleback was overwhelming, there is still quite a bit of support for women pastors in the SBC. Think about the messengers who were voting—these messengers are supposed to be well-educated and if they take the time to fly across the country to vote, we should assume they are aware of the issues the SBC faces. Yet, 11 percent of SBC messengers still voted in favor of women pastors.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9). It doesn’t take much—by introducing just a little bit of error, or by allowing just a few false teachers or false doctrine, the SBC will continue to have to contend with the cancer that will continue to metastasize. Even though right now the number is small, there is still 11 percent of messengers who believe women should be allowed in the pulpit, and their small voices will gain traction.

Historically, we know that the window of discourse, also known as the Overton Window, always naturally drifts to the left. The theory suggests that ideas and policies can be arranged along a spectrum from “unthinkable” to “radical” to “acceptable” to “popular” to “policy.” Over time, the window of acceptable ideas shifts or expands, allowing previously radical or unacceptable ideas to become mainstream and influence policy debates. Clearly, the Overton Window of the Southern Baptist Convention has moved despite the outcome of this vote.

Further, because of the outcome of this vote, Saddleback, and particularly, Rick Warren, will paint Saddleback as a victim of misogyny which will ultimately garner the sympathy of unprincipled fence-sitters in the SBC who many likely voted merely along the lines of the going consensus at the time. Rick Warren is likely to spend the next several years campaigning for women pastors and painting those who voted against them as “abusers” of women who are all after “power.” Many will fall for it and change their tune in the coming years—it happened with homosexuality a decade ago and we now see the “gay celibate” movement thriving in the SBC.

The bottom line is that the messengers voted against Saddleback because the establishment told them to. The establishment was clearly willing to sacrifice Saddleback in order to silence the conservatives in the denomination who are raising concerns about the leftward drift. The establishment’s purpose in opposing Saddleback had nothing at all to do with women pastors—if it did, they would have addressed this issue with the North American Mission Board, which has been planting and funding churches with women pastors for decades. No, the entire purpose of leading the convention to disfellowship Saddleback was to be able to discredit the concerns of the conservatives and be able to say “see, look what we did. We’re not drifting left at all.”

But keep in mind that the SBC is still highly compromised and has been infiltrated by political leftists that are leading churches to abandon the gospel in favor of social justice. By voting out Saddleback, they can keep a facade of conservatism and cause some of the more outspoken opponents of its liberal drift to let their guard down while they continue spreading their progressivism everywhere else—abortion, homosexuality, racialism, feminism, etc.

Don’t be fooled by this move, it is very calculated, comes from the top of the establishment, and will ultimately serve to undermine conservatism in the long run, especially if you let your guard down.

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