Dear Tennessee Baptist Convention, Scripture is not driving your view of First Baptist Church Jefferson City; tradition is.

Dr Ellen di Giosia pastor First Baptist Church Jefferson City
Dr. Ellen Di Giosia, Pastor. Image Credit: First Baptist Church Jefferson City

Dear Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC),

I just received word of your recommendation regarding First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, and let me say that I’m quite saddened over your recommendation (not decision; it must be voted on by the Convention as a whole) to deny FBCJC recognition in your convention meeting coming up next week. The urgency of this situation, and the deliberation of First Baptist Church Jefferson City over whether or not to send delegates on the church’s behalf has merited this letter to be.

I applaud First Baptist Church Jefferson City for its commitment to partnership and unity, even though it knows the Tennessee Baptist Convention denies women the opportunity to use their God-given giftedness in preaching, teaching, and pastoring. And yet, I am saddened that they are being persecuted the way they are because of their commitment to God’s gifting of whomever He pleases. By the way, the last time I checked, Scripture says God gives gifts “as He wills,” not according to gender. You’re assuming something in your view of women in the church that you’ve yet to prove the Word of God says.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Some within your convention state in the USA Today article above that the office of Pastor is restricted to men “as qualified by Scripture,” but that is a claim that has no merit. In fact, as we shall examine in the so-called prohibition passages, there’s little to suggest that women shouldn’t serve in the pastoral role in church ministry. In the end, really, your tradition and your traditional view of women are driving your practice, not Scripture.

The passages that we shall examine are 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Corinthians 14:26-35, and 1 Timothy 3.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

This is the passage many Southern Baptists live and die on regarding women and their place in the Body of Christ, but the text, read at face value by many, is read in a way that disregards context. When Paul says, “Let them learn in silence with all submission…but I do not permit a woman to teach…, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:11-12), Paul then goes on to discuss Adam being formed before Eve and Eve being deceived. But if one reads Genesis 1-3, these things are upheld by Scripture. Paul’s argument that these women should learn but not teach has nothing to do with the created order because, if created order is the aim in 1 Timothy 2, why is it that Paul dismantles it in 1 Corinthians 11?

11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11, NKJV)

If the man came before the woman originally in creation, but the man comes through the woman (and second to her) today, then the creation order in Genesis doesn’t argue against a woman being in ministry. Rather, Paul is upholding the events of Genesis because the false teaching that has permeated the church is a direct contradiction to the Old Testament Scriptures – and Paul is telling these women that, if they are to ever teach in the church, their teaching must be in accordance with Scripture.

The issue in 1 Timothy 2 pertains to false doctrine, which is the reason why Paul put Timothy in Ephesus in the first place. Some who want to be teachers are affirming false doctrine and don’t know that it’s false (they’re affirming false doctrine, ignorant of the truth), but Paul encourages them in the Lord because he himself is an example of someone who did something ignorantly (he persecuted the church):

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. 12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:3-15)

The context of 1 Timothy 2 is 1 Timothy 1, and, as I’ve heard it said from a Southern Baptist professor, “A text means what it means in its context.” How can you use this text to justify your harsh treatment of women and your barring them from pastoral and elder/teacher/preacher positions in the church when you yourselves don’t even have a proper interpretation of Scripture? If context is key, and the context affirms false doctrine, then that explains why the women of Ephesus were being told to learn but not teach.

You can’t teach when your doctrine is false; you must first learn before you teach, in the same way that a baby must first crawl before he or she walks. What about this is hard to understand? Additionally, 1 Corinthians 11 refers to women who “pray or prophesy” publicly, so women were actually delivering a word from God (hint: preaching) in the local church. Why is it that you claim to be in step with the Scriptures but don’t allow women to preach locally? You don’t allow women to preach because you know that, if God has called women to preach, then He has also called women to pastor — and if you accept defeat in women preaching, then Scripture illuminates your wrong view against women pastors.

1 Corinthians 14:26-35

Few Southern Baptists I’ve talked to ever held up this passage as a prohibition against women in ministry, but I tackle it because there are a few “fringers” out there who just may read this passage and believe that “God is telling women to shut up” in the church. If Paul is telling women to be quiet in the church always, then why does he discuss women praying and prophesying earlier in the Book of 1 Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 11:5? If women are praying and prophesying publicly, then they’re not being silent — which means that Paul would be telling women to speak in 1 Corinthians 11:5 but then tell them to “shut up forever in the church” in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

In other words, your belief of women keeping silent forever in this passage, to do nothing in the church that involves speaking (preaching, pastoring, teaching, etc.) means that you believe God is endorsing a contradiction in His Word: telling women to speak when they prophesy, but denying them when they preach (which is, essentially, the same as prophesy). God is not a contradiction, thus this view of women is egregiously false.

There are a few things to note about 1 Corinthians 14: first, in 1 Corinthians 14:27, Paul encourages them to do everything they do “for edification.” Here, Paul isn’t prohibiting women from serving because the five-fold ministry gifts as mentioned in Ephesians 4 are given for edification, to build up the Body of Christ rather than tear it down:

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

So, women preaching in the church would edify the Body of Christ. Your view that women preaching is against God’s Word is contradictory to the Word because women preaching the Word can only build up and strengthen God’s church if they adhere to the faithful teachings of Scripture. And many women in pulpits across the country and world do, daily, faithfully.

Next, wives specifically are not the only ones told to be quiet; those gifted with speaking in tongues and prophets are as well:

27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. (1 Corinthians 14:27-31)

Notice that interpreters are told to keep silent “if there is no interpreter” (v.28); prophets are told to “keep silent” if they are first and another has a prophecy (v. 30). To say that all prophets and those speaking in tongues should keep silent at all times in everything is ludicrous because it denies the context; why turn around, then, and degrade women by denying Paul’s words the context they so richly deserve?

In the same way, women can’t be told to “be quiet in all things” because Paul has a specific situation in which he’s telling them to be quiet:

34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

The context of Paul’s prohibition against women speaking has nothing to do with prophesies, for women did prophesy in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:5). Rather, he wants the wives in the church to ask their husbands questions at home about what’s taking place within worship. The words “let there be two or at the most three, each in turn” (v.27), “for you can all prophesy, one by one” (v.31), “for God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (v.33), and “Let all things be done decently and in order” (v.40) all point to the desire to maintain proper order of service in the house of God, not to bar women from using their spiritual gifts (but to teach them how to use them and what to do in church service; worship service leaves no room for questions). If a male were talking out of order, Paul would’ve also addressed him in the same manner.

Again, as biblical hermeneutics class taught me, “A text means what it means in its context.” Take something out of context, and you can make it say anything — which is exactly what’s happening with your view that bars women from ministry.

1 Timothy 3

This is another key text used to bar women from preaching and pastoring in your churches, particularly because of a terribly flawed interpretation of 1 Timothy 2. But 1 Timothy 3, like 1 Timothy 2, affirms women, not bars them.

Verses 1 and 2 set the tone for the text:

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (1 Timothy 3:1-2)

I’ve emboldened two phrases in the verses above. The first is “if a man,” which has been assumed by many to refer to “a male” (gender-specific). And yet, this is not the case: rather, if you understand that Greek is the native language of the New Testament, and knew this word in the Greek (the language in which Paul wrote the letter), you’d understand the Greek word for “a man” here is tis, which means “someone,” not “a male.” So, what the verse is saying is this: “If someone, whether male or female, desires the office of Pastor, he or she desires a good work.” The word “he” there at the end of 1 Timothy 3:1 is a third-person singular noun, referring to “he or she,” an inclusive pronoun that uses the masculine to refer to both genders collectively. Men and women are both called “mankind” in Genesis 5:2. Should we exclude women because of the word “mankind”?

Next, the phrase “the husband of one wife” doesn’t exclude women either. I was told by someone that God’s Word includes women in verse 1 but then excludes them in verse 2 which is silly. God is not Open Theist, saying “Oops, I made a mistake in verse 1 so let me correct it in verse 2.” Rather, the phrase “husband of one wife” is inclusive of women. Let me explain why.

You’ll notice Paul’s words about women in 1 Timothy 3:11 when it comes to serving as deacons. Whether discussing women in general or wives, the female gender is eligible to serve as deacons in the church. This was an addition to the original deacons, who were males only (see Acts 6:2-4). And yet, Paul adds them here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit —which goes to show that, contrary to Southern Baptist understanding, Paul and God Himself are both for women and in support of their work in the ministry.

Since women are included as deacons, the phrase “husbands of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:12 cannot refer to males only; rather, the phrase is inclusive of women who are to be one-man women in their marriages and home life. If “husbands of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:12 doesn’t exclude women, then neither does 1 Timothy 3:2.

Another reason as to why women aren’t excluded from the Office of Pastor is because “Pastor” is not only an office, but also a gift, as Ephesians 4:11-16 says. It is part of the five-fold ministry and thus, is a gift given by God to the churches. Pastor, therefore, is a gift and an office, and if God gives a woman the gift, and she desires it, then God desires she serve in the office. The idea that God would give a woman a spiritual gift but then deny her the office is contradictory to who God is.

Was God pleased with the wicked, lazy, and slothful servant, who received a talent but went and hid it in the ground (Matthew 25:14-30)? We know the answer to that. Thus, women are not prohibited from serving in the Office of Pastor because God has given to some of them the gift of Pastor and demands they use it for His glory. An office and a gift may be two different things, but God doesn’t give the gift without thereby ordaining and preparing a believer for the office.

Tennessee Baptist Convention, you must understand that First Baptist Church in Jefferson City has been part of the SBC for over 140 years. They’ve contributed, showed up to convention meetings, and enjoyed the fellowship. But your recommendation that they be barred from voting on any issues of influence and that their delegates not be seated in the convention is just wrong, unloving, and a divisive way to disagree with fellow believers. And to claim that “they’re not cooperating” because they disagree with you is wrong; rather, you’re disagreeing with God and not cooperating with the Holy Spirit, and that should’ve driven them to leave the SBC years ago. But against the judgment of many, they’ve stayed because of their devotion and commitment to their roots. No matter how high God has elevated First Baptist Church Jefferson City, they’ve never forgotten where they came from. Lord knows, we’d all do well to remember that.

I believe that Scripture disagrees with you, as does First Baptist Church in Jefferson City and a number of believers around the world, but FBCJC is willing to work with you in spite of those differences. Your recommendation is not loving in return, and it ignores all the time they’ve peacefully served the same Lord that you claim you serve in the church of God.

Tennessee Baptist Convention, as shown from the texts of Scripture above, it’s not the Scriptures that endorse your view or move you to bar women from the pastorate; rather, it’s your tradition. Jesus told the Pharisees that their traditions nullified the teachings of Scripture (“you make the Word of God of none effect, Matthew 15:3-9), and you do the same today with your recommendation regarding First Baptist Church in Jefferson City.

FBCJC doesn’t want to divide over this issue but work toward the greater causes of missions and leading men and women to come to Christ. And yet, if this is the stance you intend to take toward it, I humbly request that FBCJC exit the convention and invest its time in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), where it has already forged a partnership and where the church will be embraced with open arms and the love of God. But, if FBCJC remains in the SBC, as it has done for over 140 years, then I pray that this letter and hopefully, others just like it, will move you to do a few things:

  • First, visit First Baptist Church Jefferson City and hear Dr. Ellen Di Giosia preach. I’ve heard the woman of God preach many times since her installation as Pastor there, and I can tell you that she is as God-called, anointed, and appointed as any male preacher and male pastor on the planet (even beyond the SBC).
  • Re-read the prohibition passages that you think adhere to your view and read the scholarly views of others who disagree with you. It’s all too easy to quote John Piper or Wayne Grudem or some other complementarian, non-egalitarian scholar, but please stretch your spiritual muscles and work your hearts and minds more by reading those you know you’ll disagree with. I recommend Craig Keener as a good starting point.
  • Last but not least, take into consideration when examining your traditional mindset the entirety of Scripture, not just the passages under the microscope. For example, you can’t just take your view that bars women from places of leadership without considering Miriam (a prophetess), Huldah (a prophetess who was married), Deborah the judge (who was married and still governed every man in Israel), and Junia (perhaps the wife of Andronicus) the Apostle in Romans 16, among others. If your view is correct, then these women should never have been in leadership positions. And yet, they’re there, in the Word of God. If God didn’t bar Junia from being a female apostle, founding churches, and establishing pastors and leaders in those churches, as apostles did, then He doesn’t bar women from serving as Pastors. Junia is the greater of the two, and women pastors would be the lesser in this case. God doesn’t bar the greater, so why would He bar the lesser?

I realize that this is a hard letter to read in light of the recommendation that will be made at the convention meeting next week. I also realize that the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) has yet to vote on the issue. But I also ask you to examine your hearts and minds and the continued commitment of First Baptist Church Jefferson City to the SBC.

Finally, pray about the decisions you must make, and make them in accordance with the love of God, biblical fidelity, and kindness toward fellow believers. After all, whether you appreciate their view of women or not, FBCJC is doing what they do out of love for all of God’s people, both male and female, their love of God, and their conviction that, if Scripture shows that God gifts women, they would rebel against God to not ordain women and install them as preachers and pastors in the church of Jesus Christ. In this battle, both positions (1 for women, 1 against women) cannot be right. I believe that First Baptist Church Jefferson City, the view of other Southern Baptists in the pews who can’t or won’t speak up, and fellow egalitarian believers around the world, is right — and your view of women is wrong.

And lastly, please remember that in the beginning when God made Adam, the man was incomplete without the woman. I’d dare say that the church today would be the same were men the only ones God-ordained for church leadership.

Sincerely,

A Spirit-filled believer