- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Saddleback Church, the California megachurch kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday over its decision to install a woman as a teaching pastor, is expected to appeal the expulsion this summer at the 13.7 million-member denomination’s annual business meeting.

The church, the denomination’s second-largest before Tuesday’s action by the SBC executive committee, in 2021 ordained three women as pastors — a violation of SBC rules. While ordination is a local-church matter, a denominational spokesman said, putting a woman in a lead or teaching pastoral position violates SBC rules. 

The Rev. Mike Keahbone, an SBC executive committee member, said via Twitter that Saddleback is “likely” to ask SNC delegates, known as “messengers,” to overturn the panel’s decision at a June business session.

“Saddleback now has the option to appeal, which appears likely,” Mr. Keahbone wrote. “That appeal would happen on the floor of the annual meeting in New Orleans and decided by the messengers. This was the heart of the [committee] room; to let the messengers of the SBC decide.”

“We love and have always valued our relationship with the SBC and its faithful churches,” read a statement from Saddleback’s elders. “We will engage and respond through the proper channels at the appropriate time in hopes to serve other like-minded Bible believing SBC churches.”

Saddleback, founded by celebrity pastor and author Rick Warren, claimed a weekly attendance of 23,494 in 2020, Rev. Warren said in June he would be succeeded by Andy and Stacie Wood, who jointly led a church in San Jose, California, as “God’s couple to lead our congregation,” according to media reports.

While Andy Wood is the “lead pastor” at Saddleback, Stacie Wood holds the title of “teaching pastor,” and that — along with the earlier female ordinations — has stirred controversy in the Baptist community.

The Southern Baptist “Faith & Message” document — a summary of the denomination’s tenets — states that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The denomination has lost prominent members such as Beth Moore, a highly popular Bible teacher and conference speaker, and other congregations over the rule. 

Some churches have left the denomination, but along with Saddleback, four other SBC churches were voted out by the leadership on Tuesday. Those congregations were New Faith Mission Ministry of Griffin, Georgia; St. Timothy’s Christian Baptist of Baltimore; Calvary Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi; and Fern Creek Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky.

The Rev. Jared Wellman, who chairs the SBC executive panel, said in a statement, “These churches have been valued, cooperating churches for many years, and this decision was not made lightly. However, we remain committed to upholding the theological convictions of the SBC and maintaining unity among its cooperating churches.”

Saddleback, founded in 1980 by Rev. Warren as a living-room gathering of a few couples has grown to 14 campuses in California and beyond. 

Rev. Warren, whose “Purpose Driven Life” book became an evangelical staple, urged delegates to the 2022 SBC business session to remember Saddleback’s accomplishments for the denomination, among them planting 90 Southern Baptist churches in Orange County, California.

“Are we gonna keep bickering over secondary issues?,” Mr. Warren asked, “Or are we gonna keep the main thing the main thing?”

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that it is the installation of a woman as a lead or teaching pastor — not ordination per se — that was the grounds for expelling Saddleback and four other congregations from the Southern Baptist Convention.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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