This post, written by SBC Pastor Brett A. Maragni, the Founding Pastor of Harvest Jacksonville (Florida) and the host of the popular podcast Sound of Truth with Brett Maragni, gives a clear and concise presentation of why the SBC vote on the Law Amendment this Tuesday, June 11, 2024, is critical to the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.


On Tuesday, June 11, 2024, the Southern Baptist Convention will vote on the Law Amendment, a proposal to keep gifted Christian women out of “leadership” in Christ’s Church.


We are about to find out if the Southern Baptist Convention is going to remain a family of autonomous churches that are united around a mission (The Great Commission) and common historical Baptist beliefs and practices that have been well summarized in a confession (The Baptist Faith and Message; hereafter BF&M), a confession that was never meant, or understood, to demand 100% conformity by SBC churches -OR- if the SBC is going to abandon this heritage and take a significant step toward a more rigid, “you must conform 100% to the BF&M or you are not one of us” mentality.

One of the most trusted voices on the BF&M, Hershel Hobbs (1907-1995), once said:

“We must ever keep in mind that the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creedal statement. However, its general acceptance by Baptists demonstrates that it embodies those things generally believed by them. No one should lose sight of the fact that the preamble of the statement, protecting the individual conscience, is a vital part of the overall statement of the Baptist Faith and Message. If we ignore it and seek to enforce any one of the seventeen articles, then the statement becomes a creed. And Baptists are not creedal people.”

In a few days, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention will vote on whether or not to pass the Law Amendment. The amendment adds a qualification (below) to a list of five other qualifications (not listed below) that determine if a church can be in “friendly cooperation with” the SBC…


The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which: Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.


If the Law Amendment passes, the SBC will, in effect, take on a new form as a denomination. And not for the better. We will officially abandon our historical identity and become a creedal people. This is my chief reason for opposing the Law Amendment.

Hundreds of cooperating churches in the SBC have a children’s “pastor” who is a woman or a woman’s “pastor” who is a woman, especially among our predominantly African-American churches. These churches are autonomous churches that align with the vast majority of the tenets of the BF&M. To dictate to them that one specific portion of the BF&M disqualifies them from being in friendly cooperation with the SBC falls out of line with the historic approach to the BF&M and establishes a dangerous precedent and is a bad look for a denomination that has historically prized the autonomy of the local church and characterized itself as being the “un-denomination” and the “inverted pyramid” denomination.

If the Law Amendment passes, it will mark the first time that the SBC has made conforming to the BF&M a requirement for autonomous SBC churches. It is one thing to require convention entities and missionaries to be utterly congruent with the BF&M, but it is no small thing to require churches to do the same now. It is a massive transition from a confessional network of mission-cooperating churches to a creedal denomination. While creeds have played an important role in church history to clarify biblical Christianity, Baptists have historically distinguished ourselves as confessional, not creedal, prizing soul competency over any external compulsion to embrace a specific doctrinal statement as binding.

Most advocates of the Law Amendment are motivated by a desire to protect the SBC from a slippery slope that will result in liberal or leftist theological beliefs and practices. The Law Amendment is not the best way to protect the denomination from those concerns.

I do not believe a woman should be a “senior pastor” (or an elder) in a church. Our church does not use the label “pastor” for any women leaders. I would not break fellowship with a church that has a woman leading the women’s or children’s ministry and is given the title “pastor.”

Here are a few facts and thoughts on the issue at hand (use of the term “pastor”):

1. The original BF&M (1925) did not have the word “pastor” in it. “Bishop,” yes. “Elder,” yes. But not “pastor,”

2. Can someone provide a primary source reference to the word “pastor” being used as a term for a church office before the Reformation? I am not saying the word was not used in that capacity. Perhaps it was. I have not been able to find one, nor has anyone provided one for me in the past year that I have been asking for (since the Law Amendment was initially voted on last summer). The Didache does not use the word. It seems troublesome that perhaps no church in over 1,500 years ever used the word to refer to a church office, yet the SBC is ready to make an amendment that dictates how the term can be used in all SBC-affiliated churches.

3. In practice, many SBC churches distinguish between “pastors” and “elders,” even though the BF&M says it is the same office. Is there any chance that in the next few years, we will have a vote on an amendment stating that such churches that make this distinction are “not in friendly cooperation with the SBC”? I seriously doubt that will happen. Perhaps this amendment isn’t about ensuring churches conform to the BF&M?

4. Hundreds, if not thousands, of SBC churches, use the term “pastor” for a young (often too young to qualify for how a first-century church would apply the term “elder”) youth leader who has a very similar job description and is on the same level on the church’s leadership org chart as a woman who is heading up the preschool and children’s ministry. While he is labeled a “pastor,” she is labeled a “director.” This is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst.

5. An argument I have come across FOR the Law Amendment is something like this: “All denominations that allow women “pastors” end up going down a slippery slope to full-scale apostasy (ordaining homosexuals, etc.).” This is patently false. I trust the people behind a statement like this are either ignorant or forgetful of church history, as opposed to intentionally disingenuous. While many churches and denominations have indeed taken that dangerous pathway (as advocates of the Law Amendment have duly noted), the fact is there have also been numerous churches and denominations that have had women “pastors” for decades and yet have held firm against the liberal beliefs and practices of the surrounding culture.

6. Many of our predominately African-American churches have hoped we would not pass this amendment as they have often not been in line with the BF&M 2000 on this point. Yet they are not anywhere close to being liberal or headed down a slippery slope to embracing the radical beliefs of the prevailing culture around us.

7. The New Testament only uses the word “pastor” (Greek, poimen) one time in a way that could refer to a church office (Ephesians 4:11), and even there, it is debatable if these five words are referring to church offices. The immediate context of the verse focuses on “gifts” (see Ephesians 4:7-8), which is why numerous scholars see these five words (four if you believe the proper translation is the hyphenated pastor-teacher) as talking about functional gifts rather than church offices. If Paul is referring to church offices, why does the BF&M not list “evangelist” as a church office? Logic would seem to demand that if “pastor” (or “pastor-teacher”) here is a church office, then so would be “evangelist.” Most Southern Baptists do not consider “evangelist” as a church office but as a spiritual gift. If “evangelist” is a spiritual gift and not an office, how can “pastor” be an office, especially since this is the only time the word is used as a noun to refer to a person in the church? All other uses of the noun “pastor” in the New Testament refer to either Jesus Christ or a literal shepherd that looks over a flock of literal sheep (Ovis arise).

8. I believe and teach that the terms “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” all refer to the same office (I also believe and teach that this office is reserved for men only). Yet I must concede that the idea that all three of these terms refer to the same church office is arrived at deductively (as many doctrines are) and is not explicitly taught from any one verse in the Bible. The BF&M concludes that the word “pastor” refers to the same person as “elder” because the word is used in a verb form to describe the type of work an “elder” does (see 1 Peter 5:2, Titus 1:5-7, and Acts 20:17-28). However, this deductive conclusion was added to the 1963 BF&M and was not in the original BF&M (1925). If a church does not agree with these deductions but agrees with everything else in the BF&M, should this disqualify it from being a Southern Baptist church? Furthermore, if they also believe that the word “pastor” refers to a gift that is not limited to one gender, then does it not stand to reason that a Baptist church can both believe that “elders/bishops” (this would include “senior pastors”) should be men only. Can women be labeled “pastors” because they have a pastoral gift (Ephesians 4:11)?

9. Even if we agree that the BF&M 2000 is correct in that “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” all refer to the same office, is the SBC willing to be biblical in all things regarding this office, and who should or should not be in it? Would it not be hypocritical for Southern Baptists to say that the word “pastor” cannot be used in a Southern Baptist church to refer to a woman and then look the other way if any of the children of “pastors” in SBC churches are insubordinate (see Titus 1:5)? And what about “pastors” in SBC churches who have had “more than one wife” in their lifetime (again Titus 1:5)? There is disagreement among Southern Baptist churches as to whether this verse excludes divorced “pastors” or not. Should the SBC add an amendment for clarification, too (after all, the word “clarification” has been used a lot for the reason behind this current amendment)? What about quick-tempered men (Titus 1:7)? I have known my share of SBC “pastors” who have a short fuse. How about not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3)? This one, to me, is laughable. I have been around so many quarrelsome SBC “pastors” that it is frightening.

10. Finally, another common argument favoring the Law Amendment is that this is primarily an issue of Biblical authority. Some say that we did not fight for the inerrancy of the Bible in the ‘80s and early ’90s, only to ignore the authority of the Bible today. That sounds good as a quote, but the reality is that the Law Amendment is not truly a statement to support the authority of Scripture because strict and careful exegesis regarding the use of the word “pastor” in the New Testament requires an acknowledgment of flexibility in interpretation since the Bible itself does not overtly or explicitly say what the proponents of the amendment claim, as I have demonstrated above.

Lest the reader misunderstand my message, my motive in writing this is not to attempt to help usher in an era of women “pastors.” I will repeat what I stated at the beginning of this article.

I believe and teach this topic in line with the BF&M. But I would not break fellowship with a group of Christians (or a minority group of SBC churches) who disagree with me on the use of the term.


The Southern Baptist Convention is at a critical juncture. Can we not take the historical Baptist approach to the BF&M? Or are we willing to start down the path of making it a creed in which everyone must conform 100%?

I hope the historic approach prevails.

I trust that advocates of the Law Amendment mean well in seeking to honor God and protect the future of the SBC. However, I firmly believe this approach is not the best.

So, if the Law Amendment is the wrong approach to a noble goal (protecting the SBC from liberalism), what do I believe is the correct approach?

If an SBC church calls a woman to be a senior pastor, the SBC votes to disfellowship that church. It was done last year. The same would be true of a SBC church that adds a lay woman elder to an elder board. It’s not complicated. Why castigate hundreds of conservative, Bible-believing churches that have a woman as a “children’s pastor” or a woman as a “women’s ministry pastor” but would never dream of calling a woman senior pastor or putting a woman on an elder board, especially when the infinitesimal number of SBC churches that have gone liberal could be easily identified and adequately challenged and eventually disfellowshipped?

The Law Amendment is a bad approach to a noble goal. I hope SBC messengers will vote “NO.”

Brett A. Maragni is the Founding Pastor of Harvest Jacksonville (Florida) and hosts the podcast “Sound of Truth with Brett Maragni.”Brett started attending a Southern Baptist church as a teenager in the mid-1980s and has served in multiple capacities in SBC churches and local associations. His greatest accomplishment (according to Brett), outside of convincing his wife to marry him, was winning Wade Burleson’s humor essay contest during the 2005 Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC.