Concord Association churches headed for showdown over FBC Jefferson City’s ordination of a woman
By Bob Baysinger
October 7, 2003
TIPTON – A simmering theological issue in the Concord Baptist Association may be approaching the boiling point.
The issue is the ordination of women, and it moved from private discussions to the public platform Sept. 27 when a letter from Concord Baptist Church was read to approximately 150 messengers attending the association’s semi-annual meeting at First Baptist Church, Tipton.
The letter told messengers that Concord, pastored by Missouri Baptist Convention President Monte Shinkle, was taking a doctrinal position on the issue women’s ordination.
"We do not condone the practice of the ordination of women as deacons or ministers," the letter said. "We believe it to be unbiblical and a departure from Southern Baptist belief and practice. We desire that it not become an accepted practice among the churches of Concord Baptist Association."
The letter, recommended unanimously to Concord members by the deacon body and approved by the church at a business meeting on Sept. 21, added that Concord is concerned because "one church in our association … has ordained women (and) the practice may spread."
The letter did not mention another church’s name, but messengers had no doubt about the name of the "one church" when Doyle Sager, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, read a statement, defending his church’s recent ordination of Jeanie McGowan to the Gospel ministry. McGowan is on staff at First Baptist, serving as the minister for single adults.
"I believe there is room in our association family for people and churches that interpret the Bible differently," Sager told the association messengers. "This is the priesthood of all believers at its best."
Sager listed biblical, historical, associational and personal reasons why, "First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, has chosen over the years to ordain women as deacons and, more recently, to ordain a woman to the Gospel ministry.
"We believe the Bible when the prophet Joel preached that because of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, women and men would preach," Sager said.
"We believe the Bible when in all four Gospels it was women who first announced the resurrection of Christ to the disciples. We believe the Bible when it says that the evangelist Philip had four daughters who had the gift of preaching. We believe the Bible when it says that women could pray and preach publicly.
"We believe the Bible when it says that Phoebe was a "deaconess" in the early church," Sager added. "We believe the Bible when it says that all distinctions (social, ethnic, economic and gender) are done away with in Christ, who puts us all on equal footing," he said, using Galatians 3 as a reference.
Historically, Sager said both British and American Baptists have practiced the ordination of women in the past and "historical precedent even exists in Baptist life for a female director of missions."
But Alan Branch, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary assistant professor and vice president for student development, said the Bible passages used by Sager have nothing to do with church order.
Sager’s use of Gal. 3:28 to justify the elimination of all barriers – social, ethnic, economic and gender – has nothing to do with church offices, Branch said.
"It’s talking about justification. The Bible affirms that both men and women are created in God’s image, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have different job descriptions," Branch said.
The Concord letter said the church recognizes "the autonomy of the local church and the association."
But, the letter continued, "We would ask our sister church to re-examine her position. We call on our association to consider its position on this practice. We call on all of Concord Baptist Association to pray for us as we are genuinely concerned about this issue and its implications."
Sager gave no indication that First Baptist would re-examine its position, emphasizing the Concord Baptist Association purpose statement. He said the purpose statement is "to bring together a family of churches in voluntary relationship."
"No where do these documents state that the association exists to insure that all churches agree on every matter of faith and practice," Sager said.
"As an association we made an intentional choice a few years ago to allow our churches to subscribe to either the 1963 or the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. Neither the 1963 nor the 2000 BF&M mention the ordination of women. Granted, the 2000 BF&M states its view that the office of pastor is limited to men. Even so, it would appear to be very inconsistent to enforce one statement of faith over against the other when we have voted to honor both."
From a personal standpoint, Sager told the association that "the women who are deacons at First Baptist and who are on the pastoral team at First Baptist make an invaluable contribution to the kingdom and give evidence of God’s calling upon their lives."
Calvin Brown, Concord Association’s director of missions, said he was uncertain what the next step would be in the controversy.
"I’m not afraid of dealing with controversial issues," Brown said. "This is a disagreement between our two largest churches. We want to be fair to everyone. It’s up to the association, not to me.
Brown would not predict the outcome.