A Closing Argument for the Law Amendment

Ron Rothenberg

If the SBC Wants to Remain Faithful, It Must Reject Pragmatism, Feminism, and Heresy and Chose Orthodoxy Instead

On May 22, 2024, Dr. Jeff Iorg, the current president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee and former president of Gateway Seminary, published an article in the Baptist Press entitled “A perspective on the proposed SBC amendment regarding women in pastoral ministry.” Iorg’s article is a political argument against voting to adopt the Law Amendment (LA). 

The LA makes explicit the existing implicit agreement between the SBC’s constitution or governing document and the prohibition against women pastors in the SBC’s confession of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM 2000). Article VI of the already complementarian BFM statement on the church was amended at the 2023 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention by adding “/elder/overseer” to clarify the definition of the office of pastor in response to feminist obfuscation of the term so that it currently reads: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (Emphasis added). 

The LA seeks to clarify the existing agreement between the SBC Constitution and the BFM by adding a sixth item to Article III, Paragraph 1 of the constitution’s existing five requirements of cooperation—(1) affirming the BFM, cooperating through (2) reporting and (3) financial support, and upholding the SBC’s positions on (4) abuse (BFM XV) and (5) racism (BFM XV)—so that it would read:

1. 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…(6) “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture (Emphasis added).

Despite its political intent, Iorg’s piece contains both pragmatic and theological arguments, which are linked to theological arguments. This article’s response to Iorg will focus on why some of his theological points are in error.

Pragmatism Must Not Determine Theology

Contrary to Iorg, Scripture, rather than pragmatism, determines the church’s theology and practice (1 Tim. 4:13, 16). In a large section at the beginning of his article, he discusses several pragmatic issues or practical/bureaucratic procedural problems that may occur if the LA were passed and that he believes are reasons to oppose it. 

Iorg claims, “Despite the fact the proposed amendment reflects my beliefs and practices, my concerns about the following implications and consequences of its adoption lead me to oppose it” (Emphasis added). Iorg enumerates six “implications and consequences”: (1) feminist debate over “title or function” of the term pastor; (2) “tensions surrounding autonomy” or conflicts between convention intervention and the SBC principle of local church autonomy involved in convention enforcement of “not in friendly cooperation”; (3) “legal concerns” such as human resource issues for terminated women pastors and convention liability for local church actions; (4) “convention processes and procedures” including time constraints to enforce orthodoxy; (5) “past precedent” regarding the intent and ethical classification in dealing with homosexuality, sexual abuse, and racism; and (6) “disengaging quietly” or informal denominational withdrawal by non-participation and the need to affirm current female participation to keep women engaged.

The pragmatic issues raised by Iorg are valid concerns and are important to consider, but they should not determine how one votes on church doctrine and denominational practice. The BFM is a doctrinal or theological statement that includes some ethical issues. Article VI of the BFM already affirmed a complementarian position on church leadership as the belief of the SBC since 2000, even before the 2023 strengthening of that aspect of the statement. Further, the existing constitution already requires in item 1 of Article III, Paragraph 1 that “close identification with” or general adherence to the BFM is required for “friendly cooperation.” 

In other words, the LA to the constitution only makes explicit the complementarian expectation already implicit in item 1 of Article III, Paragraph 1, just as items 4 and 5 were added to make explicit the expectation to uphold the statements on abuse and racism in Article XV (The Christian and the Social Order) of the BFM. By definition, statements of faith or doctrinal confessions such as the BFM 2000 are summaries of the teaching of Scripture held by a believing body like a denomination, and the constitution reflects these doctrinal convictions. 

Therefore, just as one does not decide what goes in a theological document (BFM) based on pragmatic concerns, but rather one decides based on the teaching of Scripture (1 Tim. 2:12), so also one should not decide how the constitution mirrors that theology based on pragmatics, but rather on the teaching of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Further, and functionally, the constitution in Article III is the enforcement mechanism of the beliefs stated in the BFM, and Scripture charges the church to enforce its beliefs or “contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and guard the deposit (2 Tim. 1:14).

Naturally, one may anticipate what bureaucratic consequences may follow and plan ahead to address them before any potential amendment is passed, but theological considerations are determined by Scripture, not pragmatics. Additionally, in the LA, the SBC convention is not the U.S. Congress, and the messengers are not passing public policies that may have unintended consequences that might change or preclude certain legislation, rather they are dealing with upholding the teachings of God’s Word.

Without addressing the specifics in his objectionable six individual points, Iorg’s overall pragmatic argument against the LA basically amounts to the following hypothetical claim, “the LA is too pragmatically complicated or has too many impractical ‘implications and consequences,’ so do not make the constitution explicitly reflect what is already in the BFM or do not enforce our stated beliefs.” 

As an ethical analogy, his argument is similar to: “Let’s lie because lying will cause practical problems, in fact, let’s not even acknowledge that the prohibition against lying is even in Scripture.” Just like society does not fail to enforce laws that are just because pragmatically we cannot catch all the criminals and enforcement is costly, so also Scripture, not pragmatics, determines not only what is in our denominational confession (1 Tim. 2:12), but also that we are obligated to enforce adherence to our confession in our constitution (Jude 3).

As president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, Iorg’s responsibility is precisely to deal with such practical and complicated implications and consequences of denominational business. His job is no easy task. Further, it is to his credit as a leader that he can see the potential bureaucratic problems resulting from denominational businesses like the LA. However, it is better to plan to deal with these potential future problems rather than use them as an excuse to avoid upholding Scripture. Contrary to Iorg, Scripture, rather than pragmatism, determines the church’s theology and practice (1 Tim. 4:13, 16).

Doctrinal Taxonomy vs. Doctrinal Fidelity

In a section entitled “Doctrinal fidelity,” Iorg provides a general analysis of the situation in the SBC regarding the LA, which involves an incorrect doctrinal taxonomy and classification of so-called Christian feminism. This section on “doctrinal taxonomy” will explain why Iorg’s doctrinal taxonomy or classification system is inappropriate and misleading. The following two sections, “Feminism a Moral Issue” and “Orthodoxy Fixed, Heresy Fluid,” will elaborate further on why his classification of feminism is incorrect.

Iorg’s doctrinal taxonomy subtly shifts a soteriological issue into an ecclesiological one in order to downplay the seriousness of the “women in ministry” concern (hereafter, “WIM,” involving the issue of whether women may be pastors) in the LA. In order to classify the WIM issue and its degree of seriousness, Iorg introduces a threefold categorization of doctrine, which he notes is taken from his book The Case for Antioch (2011, 109–14). His taxonomy of doctrine and its explanation are as follows: (1) “convictions” are “first order…doctrines which define the Christian faith” and “are doctrines worth dying for”; (2) “commitments” are “second order… doctrines which define denominational fellowship, cooperation, or unity…These are doctrines worth dividing over”; and (3) “preferences” are “third order…doctrines that define local church fellowship…These are doctrines worth debating but which also require deference” (Emphasis removed). 

Iorg’s threefold taxonomy is not unique and represents the general shift in ecclesiology away from biblical theology toward pragmatism noted by Anglican John Macquarrie (1919–2007; Principles of Christian Theology, 1946, 346) and Baptist Millard J. Erickson (b. 1932; Christian Theology, 3rd, 950–52). For example, R. Albert Mohler argues for a similar ecclesiologically oriented threefold “triage” doctrinal taxonomy (Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, 2011, 77–80).

Such postmodern ecclesiastical doctrinal taxonomies historically are based, whether consciously or not, on the twofold soteriological classification of doctrine now known as the “essential/peripheral” distinction. This distinction was popularized by the Reformers (e.g., John Calvin and Martin Luther) and has its roots in the interpretation of Scripture (1 Cor. 3:10–15, cf. Rom. 14:1; Eph. 2:20; Heb. 5:12–14; 6:1–2) by the Church Fathers (e.g., Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine).

The essential-peripheral distinction was known originally as the “necessary/non-necessary” distinction and then later as the “foundational/non-foundational” or “fundamental/non-fundamental” distinction. As the names suggest, the idea was that some doctrines are more important than others because they are necessary (essential) to believe to be saved (1 Cor. 3:10–11; Eph. 2:20; Heb. 5:12–13; 6:1–2) or are foundational/fundamental to believing other doctrines, while others are not necessary (peripheral) to believe to be saved (1 Cor. 3:12–13; Heb. 5:14).

Despite the fact that Calvin and Luther popularized this idea in relation to the ecclesiological issue of Protestant separation from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), the main point of the distinction was soteriological. In the Reformation discussion, and using the definition of heresy from the Medieval period, the RCC charged the Reformers with being heretics for separating from the RCC. In response, the Reformers accepted the definition of separation from the church as heresy. They responded that, in fact, the RCC was not a true church or was heretical, so the Reformers were not heretical for separating from it. 

The Reformers’ point in raising the distinction was that the RCC had compromised doctrines necessary for salvation and that other disputed doctrines were mere church ceremonies that were not necessary for salvation. Following the Reformation, along with Scripture and its summary in the creeds, the essential/peripheral distinction was one of the tools by which the evangelical church distinguished between orthodoxy and heresy, not cooperation or fellowship between ecclesiastical levels (denomination vs. church).

Following the Reformation, and typical of the meaning and usage of the distinction until postmodern pragmatic ecclesiastical discussions, Reformed scholastic, Francis Turretin (1623–1687) and Puritan divine John Owen (1616–1683) interpreted the essential/peripheral or necessary/non-necessary distinction as having to do with discerning between orthodoxy and heresy rather than justifying separation from a church or describing levels of ecclesiastical fellowship.

For example, nearly a century before Iorg and Mohler, when Lutheran theologian John Mueller (1885–1967) modified the classic twofold distinction into a threefold division, Mueller partitioned the essential doctrines, not the peripherals, into primary and secondary degrees, emphasizing the point of the overall distinction was soteriological rather than ecclesiological (Christian Dogmatics, 1934, 43–58). In contrast, threefold typologies such as Iorg’s and Mohler’s retain the essentials (convictions, first order) but divide the peripheral issues into two sub-tiers (commitments/second order and preferences/third order). 

Consequently, such threefold ecclesiastical doctrinal typologies based on pragmatics rather than Scripture, which perhaps anticipated but never envisioned denominational differences (John 17:20–23), may have limited utility in describing contemporary ecclesiastical realities, but have little validity for classifying the importance of doctrines generally and particularly with regard to orthodoxy and heresy. The biblically based and historic essential/peripheral distinction (1 Cor. 3:10–11; Eph. 2:20; Heb. 5:12–13; 6:1–2), which differentiates between orthodoxy and heresy, is the proper tool for making determinations regarding the relative weight of various doctrines.

Iorg uses his threefold pragmatic and inappropriate ecclesiastical typology to downplay the seriousness of WIM by classifying it as a third rather than a second-order ecclesiastical doctrine. According to the biblical and historical essential/peripheral distinction, WIM is at least a second-order soteriological doctrine or one that is not necessary for salvation because, according to Scripture, there are only two categories or tiers of doctrine. 

However, the following two sections will demonstrate why Iorg and most contemporary complementarians mistakenly classify WIM as “not a primary doctrine” and merely “a test of fellowship” and why feminism has become a chief heresy threatening the contemporary church. In such a situation, the soteriological essential-peripheral distinction rather than an ecclesiological taxonomy is the necessary and appropriate classification tool.

Feminism is a Moral Issue

Iorg uses an inappropriate ecclesiological taxonomy to downplay the importance of WIM and falsely characterizes the debate over the doctrine. Iorg characterizes the issue of WIM at stake in the LA as follows: “Second, the previous issues (homosexuality, sexual abuse, and racism) have a defined moral component. They are sinful acts clearly condemned in the Bible. Women serving in pastoral roles are not in this category. Gender leadership roles are a debate about interpreting the Bible, not about submitting to its authority.”

His assertion contains three false claims that complementarians do not believe: (1) WIM/feminism is not a moral issue, (2) WIM is not condemned by Scripture, and (3) the debate is about biblical interpretation, not authority.

Iorg’s claim that WIM/feminism is not a moral issue is truly incredible for at least three reasons: (1) theology and ethics cannot be neatly divided as some moderns and postmoderns claim; (2) standard reference works in ethics list “egalitarianism” as a topic in their field; and (3) both feminists and complementarians claim they are debating an issue of sin or moral evil.  

First, and according to numerous standard reference works, philosophy/ethics, and theology were one discipline until Ockham separated them, a situation exacerbated by the Enlightenment rationalists and other moderns (Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, 28, 34–35; Cambridge History of English and American Literature, 4:272; Encyclopedia of Christianity, 4:197; Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, 2:414;). 

Furthermore, according to the Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and the Philosophy of Religion, “although some would make a sharp distinction between philosophy and theology, there is substantial overlap in the questions each treats (PDAPR, 92). When Iorg asserts that “Gender leadership roles are a debate about interpreting the Bible,” he is admitting that WIM/feminism is an issue of theology. Consequently, unless Iorg wants to draw a sharp modern/postmodern distinction between ethics and theology that is incompatible with the premodern Bible and its premodern interpreters, then he must recognize that as a theological issue involving church practice, WIM/feminism is both a theological and a moral issue.

Second, since standard reference works in ethics list egalitarianism as a topic in their field, Iorg is mistaken in thinking that WIM/feminism is not a moral issue or does not “have a defined moral component.” For example, The Pocket Dictionary of Ethics and The Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics list “egalitarianism” as an entry. Both specifically refer to the WIM/feminism issue as an aspect of that topic. Additionally, since both W. Grudem’s Christian Ethics as well as his Systematic Theology and since at least some seminary ethics classes (e.g., Fuller, “ET 522,” Catalog, 222; Union, “SE 322,” Catalog, 93; Gateway [Iorg’s former school], “L2415,” Catalog, 309) deal with feminism/egalitarianism, then Iorg’s claim is truly incredible that the issue of women pastors does not “have a defined moral component.” 

Third, and contrary to Iorg’s assertion that “women serving in pastoral roles are not in this category” of having a “defined moral component” or being “sinful acts clearly condemned in the Bible,” prominent proponents of both so-called Christian feminism and complementarianism claim they are debating an issue of sin or moral evil. In the IVP “Spectrum Multiview Book Series” Women in Ministry: Four Views (WMFV), renowned complementarian S. T. Foh accused feminists of sin: “The battle of the sexes is the result of sin and the judgment on it for the woman (Emphasis added. WMFV, 75). 

In the same volume, well-known feminist A. Mickelsen counter-charged complementarians with sin: “The ‘authority’ approach that Foh promotes seems far out of keeping with the spirit and ministry of Christ himself. Desire for power over others was the original sin in the Garden of Eden and is at the root of many sins in our churches and society” (Emphasis added. WMFV, 122). Further, Mickelsen argued, “history indicates that this sinful desire for dominance, power and control over others is the root of almost all moral evil” (Emphasis added. WMFV, 184).

As another example, the Danvers Statement (1988), the definitive doctrinal definition of complementarianism, explicitly defines the debate over WIM/feminism as a moral issue of sin: “Sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles” (Emphasis added. DS Affirmation #4 in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 470). As a self-professed complementarian in his article, Iorg should recognize that his claims flatly contradict the definitive definition of complementarianism in the Danvers Statement.

As a final example, and in the definitive so-called Christian feminist work, Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE), K. M. Pidgeon specifically indicts complementarians with being responsible for abuse, “acts of abuse are sins” and “while many complementarian churches condemn domestic abuse, they are clearly perpetuating the gender inequality that is a primary driver of that violence” (Emphasis added. DBE, 577, 95–96). Since Iorg himself states that he considers abuse to have “a defined moral component” and since feminists explicitly and historically hold complementarianism (i.e., rejection of women pastors based on creation order hierarchy, 1 Tim. 2:12–13) responsible for abuse and a host of other moral evils (e.g., slavery, racism, Nazism, incest, etc.), then clearly Iorg is mistaken when he claims that the issue of women pastors is not a moral issue.

Feminism is Condemned by Scripture

Iorg is also in error when he supports his false claim that WIM/feminism is not a moral issue with the added denial of the fact that having women pastors is one of the “sinful acts clearly condemned in the Bible.” Further, since Iorg claims that he is a complementarian, but both feminists and complementarians recognize that one of the central claims of complementarianism is that Scripture prohibits women from being pastors (1 Tim. 2:12), then one must wonder why Iorg is denying one of the central tenets of a position he claims to hold (DBE, 4, 226–27; RBMW, 193; DS in RBMW, 470). 

If Iorg or others object that prohibition and condemnation are not the same, then one should consider that the difference between prohibition and condemnation, in the sense being discussed, is irrelevant practically since violation of a biblical prohibition necessarily brings condemnation for sin (Lev. 5:17; Rom. 14:22). If God prohibits an activity in Scripture, then he will certainly condemn as sin a violation of that prohibition (Deut. 17:2–5; Rom. 1:32). As defined by the DS, the complementarian position is that Scripture explicitly prohibits and therefore implicitly condemns the practice of women pastors (1 Tim. 2:12). 

Authority, Not Merely Interpretation

Iorg’s claim that the LA and the theological-ethical debate over feminism surrounding it are merely about interpretation rather than biblical authority is also incredible: “Gender leadership roles are a debate about interpreting the Bible, not about submitting to its authority” (Emphasis added).

The outrageousness of Iorg’s assertion is recognized when the introduction to the definitive complementarian work Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW, 1991, 2006) states in utter contradiction to Iorg that “at the core of this topic lies the fundamental issue of biblical authority. If we write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, then we are bound to do so with everything the Bible teaches” (Emphasis added. RBMW, xi).

Similarly, and also contrary to Iorg, the definitive feminist work DBE places submission to biblical authority at the center of the debate when it defines the first of four characteristic features of so-called Christian feminism as submission to biblical authority: “Egalitarians are distinguished by four relevant commitments in this divide: [1] we are committed to the authority of Scripture” (DBE, 655). 

Additionally, the Danvers Statement (1988), the definitive doctrinal statement of complementarianism, contradicts Iorg when it defines the debate with feminists as entailing submission to biblical authority: “We have been moved in our purpose by the following contemporary developments…9. the consequent threat to Biblical authority as the clarity of Scripture is jeopardized” (DS Rationale #9 in RBMW, 469).

Therefore, not only is Iorg’s characterization in error regarding what is at stake in the debate over the LA and the feminist issue of which it is a part, but his assertion also contradicts the very tenets of the complementarianism he professes to hold as defined by the definitive documents of both feminists and complementarians.

Complementarianism Should Not Be Up For Debate

Iorg and his supporters may object regarding his contention that a moral issue and scriptural submission are not in view in the current debate because: “Southern Baptists are decidedly complementarian. The current discussion, however, centers on what it means to be complementarian and if this issue should be a test of fellowship” (Emphasis added). Such an objection overlooks the history of doctrine and consequently mischaracterizes the current situation.

Historically, the Danvers Statement (1988) is the definitive doctrinal statement of complementarianism, and it is elucidated in RBMW. The definition of complementarianism is not open for discussion; the matter has been settled.

In the original debate with feminists, there were five views of WIM: (1) traditionalist, (2) hierarchical/complementarian, (3) headship, (4) so-called Christian feminist (i.e., the misnomer egalitarian), and (5) radical/secular feminist (not part of the Christian debate) (Women in Ministry: Four Views, 1989; WMFV). The five views range from most to least restrictive of a woman’s creation order purposes from (1) to (5). As a rough characterization and as historically understood, the traditionalist view is stricter and harsher than complementarianism, but these two views have much affinity, while the headship view is: (1) a compromise with feminism; (2) a halfway view between traditionalism and feminism that stands closer to feminism; and (3) is repudiated by complementarianism.

In the later debate, the feminists, now in control, manipulated the terms of the debate to their own advantage and incorrectly collapsed the doctrinal taxonomy into two views: (1) complementarianism and (2) egalitarianism (Two Views on Women in Ministry, 2001, 2005). 

Consequently, not all who currently claim the label complementarian are complementarian by historical and confessional definition (i.e., the DS). Adherents of the traditionalist and headship views and those who disagree with the DS never were and never will be complementarians. Traditionalists are allies of complementarians, but they are not complementarians. Further, those who refuse to defend the summary of scriptural teaching in the DS are disobedient to the biblical mandate to pass on (2 Tim. 2:2) and preserve orthodoxy (2 Tim. 1:13–14; Jude 3).

Additionally, the preface to RBMW (2006) indicates that “the upcoming generation,” now the current generation of church leaders in 2024, does not understand complementarianism, is “conceding their biblical stance on the issue, wittingly or unwittingly,” and presents a view that is “nothing more than a repackaging of egalitarianism” or so-called Christian feminism (RBMW, x). In other words, as B. Laughlin and D. Ponder put it, many who currently claim the name complementarian “are complementarian in name only” or “CINOs.”

Therefore, the debate over feminism in the SBC and the LA is not an in-house debate between complementarians, as Iorg would have readers believe. Instead, it is a debate between traditionalists and complementarians with CINOs and feminists (headship view and so-called egalitarians). 

Based on the clear contradiction of Iorg’s own statements with the DS and RBMW demonstrated above, and like CINOs, there are at least three logical possibilities: (1) he either does not understand or is ignorant of complementarianism as expounded by the DS and RBMW; (2) he is either being deceptive for political ends or is unwilling to defend or disobedient to the biblical mandate to pass on (2 Tim. 2:2) and preserve orthodoxy (2 Tim. 1:13–14; Jude 3); or he is either self-deceived about (2 Tim. 3:13) or lying about being a complementarian and is really a feminist. 

Readers ought to review the Dallas Statement, and if they find they do not agree with it or are unwilling to defend it, they ought to either repent or stop calling themselves complementarians and join the feminists. If they are in agreement with it, then there is no reason not to vote for the LA, which merely enforces a point of Bible doctrine summarized in the BFM 2000 and that is also in accord with the DS.

Orthodoxy Fixed, Heresy Fluid

Iorg is mistaken when he claims that “the debate about women in pastoral roles centers on biblical and theological interpretations about complementarian and egalitarian positions. Southern Baptists are decidedly complementarian. The current discussion, however, centers on what it means to be complementarian and if this issue should be a test of fellowship” (emphasis added) because the current debate with feminism is a struggle for the very existence of the church by fulfilling the biblical mandate to pass on (2 Tim. 2:2) and preserve orthodoxy (2 Tim. 1:13–14; Jude 3) against heresy (2 Pet. 2:1). 

Misunderstanding of Orthodoxy and Heresy

Evangelicals generally do not understand orthodoxy and heresy, so they cannot identify heresy. Most evangelicals falsely believe that something is heresy only if it contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. Many others also falsely believe that if someone errs in teaching a doctrine not in the creeds, the error cannot be heresy. Further, many evangelicals falsely identify the creeds with the teaching of the first four ecumenical councils. Moreover, many misunderstand that the essential-peripheral distinction permanently makes not only essentials unchanging but also means that peripheral issues may never become essential.

Additionally, a growing number of evangelicals falsely think that since the various denominations disagree on so many theological issues, then the very concepts of orthodoxy and heresy are outdated and unfashionable. Others still falsely hold that the very concepts of orthodoxy and heresy themselves are completely unnecessary are a false socially constructed binary opposition, and/or are offensive for a variety of reasons, such as: (1) doctrine develops over time and/or is historically-culturally relative; (2) truth is historically-culturally relative and/or unknowable so that the labels orthodoxy and heresy are imaginary constructs of the church to retain power and exclude “the other”; or (3) the label heresy is an offensive Marxist power play by oppressors to keep the oppressed down.

In contrast to the preceding false notions, orthodoxy, and heresy are correctly characterized by the following select biblical features. In Scripture, orthodoxy and heresy are a binary opposition or set of mutually defining terms represented by truth and falsehood (1 John 4:5–6). Orthodoxy is any true doctrine or practice that is in accord with the fixed tradition (Jude 3) in Scripture (1 Tim 1:3–11), is necessary for salvation (Rom 10:9–10), and which the church and academy have the responsibility to pass on (2 Thess 2:15) and preserve (Jude 3). Heresy is any false doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3) or practice that contradicts (1 Tim. 1:3) or is novel (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4) with regard to Scripture or the common core (2 Tim. 1:13–14), which rises to the level of destructive error (2 Pet 2:1–3), or is pertinaciously maintained in the face of church discipline (Titus 3:10). 

Furthermore, the three creeds (the Apostles, Athanasian, and Nicene-Constantinopolitan), confessions, and essential-peripheral distinction aid in identifying orthodoxy and heresy. However, while the essentials represent the doctrines necessary for salvation (1 Cor. 3:10–11), unchanging orthodoxy, or the fixed tradition in Scripture (Jude 3), the peripheral issues—matters of dispute (Rom. 14:1) or mere errors over details or lesser matters which are not extremely harmful (Matt. 5:19; 23:23)— they may rise to the level of destructive doctrines that threaten salvation (2 Pet. 2:1–3) even though they are not properly essential issues but nevertheless take on the force of first-order doctrines. Such is the case with contemporary feminism/WIM—it is a peripheral issue that began as a small error, but through heretical development, contemporary ideological associations and current practical impact are destroying the church and society.

Contemporary Feminism is a Heresy

Although so-called Christian feminism as a whole and its specific position on WIM started out as a peripheral issue or matter of small dispute that did not have much impact on the church, through its heretical development, contemporary ideological associations, and current practical impact, it has now risen to the level of a destructive doctrine that is decimating church and society. 

Once a side issue believed by a minority of churchgoers in the 1960s, feminism is now the dominant view not only of most Western churches but also of so-called Christian publishers, campus ministries, missions organizations, and schools (RBMW, ix). Marked by the rise of Christians for Biblical Equality (1988, CBE) and due to cultural influence through education, the media, and legislation, feminism is now the dominant view of not only most Western churches but also of so-called Christian publishers, campus ministries, missions organizations, and schools (RBMW, ix).

So-called Christian feminism (i.e., egalitarianism) is no longer a standalone ideology but rather has become integrated into the antichristian, postmodern, and cultural ideology of the unholy trinity. The unholy trinity is a worldview that consists of the three dominant ideologies (Marxism, multiculturalism, and genderism [feminism, homosexuality, and transgenderism]), which work together to form the lens through which Western culture views all of reality, namely, race, gender, and class. This integration may be recognized in part through CBE’s mission statement:

“CBE International (CBE) is a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures” and CBE is “devoted to reviewing and promoting resources on gender.” 

Although it is true that, in some ways, feminism has improved the general condition of women, it has had a much larger destructive impact on church and society, of which not only religious but also secular have begun to take notice. To various degrees and as documented elsewhere, feminism is at least partly responsible for the rising: divorce rate, sexual immorality and deviance in society, crumbling of the family unit, number of single parents, unnecessary complications in human resources, and litigation relating to sexual harassment, bitterness and singleness of women, felt need for immoral reproductive technology as “liberated” women put off childbearing due to their careers, decrease in church attendance in churches led by women pastors, reduction in the number of male college graduates, male drug use and suicide rate, the invention and propagation of transgenderism, and many other moral and societal evils.

So-called Christian feminism is not simply sin, nor merely heresy, but rather it has become a blasphemous cultural evil, a malignant festering disease of the mind and soul, that is destroying Christian churches, particularly in the West, and in many cases robbing believers of their salvation through the larger and greater delusion of the unholy trinity of which it is a part. Contemporary so-called Christian feminism is no longer merely the belief that women may be pastors or hold equal authority in their home to their husbands or participate in professional or political life outside the home but also entails commitments to an anti-biblical hermeneutic method, worldview, and an interconnected web of Marxist and multicultural beliefs.

Consequently, the contemporary debate over so-called Christian feminism is no longer about the interpretation of a handful of passages, nor even about how to interpret Scripture generally, but rather is a battle to maintain and preserve the orthodox, historic Christian faith. 

Therefore, Iorg misperceives feminism as a tertiary ecclesiastical issue rather than the essential or primary issue that it has become in the contemporary debate, in the context of the unholy trinity, and with regard to the seriousness involved with the practice of disfellowshipping or excommunication. 

The very idea of “a test of fellowship” implies the idea of orthodoxy and heresy. The SBC’s practice of excluding churches from its denomination is a practice of church discipline on the denominational rather than the local church level and is akin to the Roman Catholic practice of excommunication. By definition, the practice of church discipline deals with repeated and/or serious unrepentant sins involving behavior (Matt. 18:15–17) and/or doctrinal heresy (Titus 3:10–11). Biblically, no one is to be disfellowshipped or excommunicated for trivial reasons nor small doctrinal errors, but rather for heresy in doctrine and/or practice (1 Tim. 4:6).

The Specter of Multiculturalism

Like most contemporary evangelicals, Iorg demonstrates his inability to identify heresy when he uses one of the four defining slogans of the evil, antichristian, and antibiblical ideology of multiculturalism: “We are a diverse, messy collection of churches with leaders opining on every imaginable issue. We must celebrate our diversity rather than striving for conformity while doubling down on what the SBC came together to do in the first place—getting the Gospel to people who have never heard it” (Emphasis added).

Whether they are pastors, scholars, or church members, most people are shocked when they hear that multiculturalism is a blasphemous, evil, antichristian ideology. They immediately think, “What kind of bigoted, intolerant, and racist statement is that? Isn’t multiculturalism all about overcoming racism in society by having diverse ethnic groups with different cultures all getting along together? How can you be opposed to that without being an ethnocentric racist?” 

In response, that conception of multiculturalism is a watered-down, fantasy, and popular understanding of multiculturalism that is related to, but radically different from, the failed educational ideology and political policies that have been shaping Western society for the last 50–60 years. Multiculturalists want you to think that their false ideology is all about replacing racial hatred with ethnic harmony in society, but their worldview and policies entail much more than and often things very different from that, and ultimately some of their own proponents acknowledge that their ideology has historically failed (A. Rattansi, Multiculturalism, 143, cf. 20, 36, 72,).

Multiculturalism is the second member of the antichristian, postmodern, and cultural ideology of the unholy trinity. According to the Dictionary of the Social Sciences and other sources, multiculturalism may be understood as a socio-political ideology closely associated with “identity politics” rooted in Marxism. It is concerned with socio-political-economic recognition, respect, and equality of ethnic-religious minorities through anti-assimilationist tolerance and wealth and power redistribution. Contrary to some, there is no non-ideological definition of multiculturalism which simply affirms cultural-ethnic pluralism. The far-reaching and antichristian ideological implications of multiculturalism are understood from its four popular slogans: (1) all cultures are equal, (2) celebrate diversity, (3) understanding through education, and (4) unity in diversity.

Multiculturalism’s four slogans contradict Scripture. The slogan, which Iorg uses by analogy to promote diversity of doctrinal differences in the church, celebrate diversity, means to retain and emphasize ethnic differences in opposition to assimilation or acceptance and internalization of another’s culture. Whether being used literally as in multiculturalism or by way of analogy as in Iorg’s article, Christians do not “celebrate diversity” or revel in “a common experience of difference.” Rather, they are commanded to “be zealous, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) by “thinking the same thing” (Phil. 2:2) or assimilating to the kingdom culture of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) taught in Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17). I have discussed the antibiblical nature of multiculturalism’s other slogans elsewhere

Therefore, and like the ethnic meaning, Iorg’s doctrinal use of the multicultural slogan “celebrate diversity” is completely against Scripture’s command for unity in one faith (Eph. 4:3–5). Rather than following the failed heresy of multiculturalism, the SBS should keep the unity in the Spirit by passing on and preserving the same faith (Eph. 4:3–5; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 2:2) by rallying around its unity in the BFM and enforcing that unity by addition of the LA to its constitution.  


None should follow the advice in Iorg’s article because it is littered with theological errors. His advice to place pragmatism before doctrine in deciding important theological matters, such as enforcing doctrine, is misguided (1 Tim. 4:13, 16). His mischaracterization of the SBC debate over the LA/WIM as not involving a moral issue, a practice condemned by the Bible, nor submission to the authority of Scripture contradicts both Scripture itself and definitive documents of both feminists and complementarians in defining their debate. 

If many follow Iorg in misperceiving feminism as a tertiary ecclesiastical issue rather than the essential or primary issue that it has become as part of the chief heresy threatening the church today, i.e., the unholy trinity, then one result will be the destruction of the SBC.

Finally, Iorg’s inability to identify heresy both in his treatment of WIM and the use of one of the chief defining slogans of multiculturalism makes him an unreliable guide for deciding about the LA. 

Therefore, and contrary to Iorg, if one agrees with the summary of 1 Tim. 2:12 in the BFM that is in agreement with the DS, then one should vote for the Law Amendment in order to pass on (2 Tim. 2:2) and preserve orthodoxy (2 Tim. 1:13–14; Jude 3) in the SBC rather than capitulate to the unholy trinity.

  • Ron Rothenberg

    Ron Rothenberg is a systematic theologian and ethicist currently serving as an independent scholar. He is the former associate editor of the Ethics and Political Economy Center. Before that, he served in local Asian immigrant churches for nearly a decade. He is the author of two books and peer-reviewed articles. He has taught as a scholar and a pastor globally. He received his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a Contributing Scholar at the Center for Baptist Leadership.