Al Mohler on Why He Changed His Mind on Women Pastors

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Al Mohler reflects on why he changed his mind regarding women as senior pastors:

It was in the mid 1980’s, and it was a time of tremendous controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention. The issue of women in ministry, women in the pastorate, was an issue of central controversy.

In 1984, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution (a very contentious moment) on women. It was the first time that this denomination as a whole in terms of its annual meeting in such an official way had made a declaration that the office of pastor was restricted to men as qualified by Scripture. That incited one of the most incredible denominational controversies in the midst of that great controversy of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s that one could imagine.

Many people took umbrage at that statement. Many people were hurt and outraged and stunned that the Southern Baptist Convention would say that a woman ought not to be pastor.

I was one of them.

I was a student in this institution (SBTS). This institution at that time taught monolithically that women – just as men – could and should be called as pastors in churches. There was no CBMW , no book on recovering biblical manhood and womanhood. You talk about the influence that a preacher or a teacher can set a course of his or her own error leading to others… I can give firsthand testimony of that.

When the denomination adopted that resolution in 1984, I not only took part, I led an effort to protest it. We bought an ad in the Courier-Journal and made a statement about God as an equal opportunity employer. By the way, I did this while affirming biblical inerrancy, absolutely sure that the Bible was the infallible, inerrant Word of God.

There came a day when Carl Henry was here on campus. In the providence of God, it ended up being my assignment to be his host. Incredible privilege! He was already a mentor to me by his writings. I had been anchored in orthodoxy and in inerrancy as his books had had an influence on me.

At one point, it was my responsibility to get Dr. Henry from one end of this campus to the other. As I was walking him along, he brought up the issue of women in the pastorate. He asked me my position on the issue. With the insouciance of youth and the stupidity of speaking more quickly than one ought, I gave him my position. He looked at me with a look that surprised me and said to me, “One day, this will be a matter of great embarrassment to you.” That’s actually all he said. When Carl Henry tells you that on the seminary lawn, the effect of that embarrassment was instantaneous… The shock on his face was enough to arrest me. We talked more; we didn’t get close to that. We did talk about it many times thereafter.

What do you do when Carl Henry tells you, “One day this is going to be a matter of great embarrassment to you?” Well, I went to the library. I looked for every book I could possibly find on the subject. Frankly, the urgency on me was such that I didn’t think I could eat or do anything until I found out why I was going to be so embarrassed. The campus was full of people who appeared to be wonderfully unembarrassed about the issue.

I found very little. There wasn’t much. There was a book by Stephen Clark, Man and Woman in Christ. It led me into, thankfully, some Scripture study. I ended up staying up until I could figure this out. Somewhere between Carl Henry saying what he said to me and the dawn of the next day, my position had completely changed.

Now… Carl Henry didn’t change my position, but he sure did arrest me. It was the Scripture that changed my position. I had to come face to face with the fact that I had just picked this up, I had just breathed this in, and I’d just capitulated it out without checking it according to the Scriptures. By the way, going to the Scriptures, it doesn’t take long. It wasn’t not like I embarked on a lifelong study to discover what Scripture says about this. It didn’t take long at all.

I realized that indeed Carl Henry was right. One day I would be very embarrassed about this. When I saw him the next morning, I was already in a different world.

Source: SBTS Chapel Message, September 14, 2010: Getting it Right, Getting it Wrong, Getting it Fixed, Getting it Done: Learning Ministry from Apollos

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