Five Reasons to Support the Law Amendment

Gerred Bell

A Response to Rob Collingsworth

The Southern Baptist Convention will come to a crossroads at the annual meeting in Indianapolis this June. The gathering will surely be remembered as one of the defining moments in the 180-year-old Convention’s existence so far. While Southern Baptists have debated what it means to be an association of churches in friendly cooperation over the decades, Baptists now have the distinct opportunity in Indianapolis to clarify and delineate the boundaries of our association on one of the most pressing doctrinal debates of our day—complementarianism vs. egalitarianism—and to ensure that our convention has a theologically conservative and biblically faithful future ahead of us. 

Sometimes, it all comes down to one vote. This year, that vote will be on the Law Amendment.

In 2022, pastor Mike Law proposed an amendment to the SBC constitution to add an enumerated 6th item to Article III, Paragraph 1, regarding the friendly cooperation of SBC churches. It reads: “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” 

After giving a year of his time to advance this necessary and clarifying amendment, garnering over 2,200 signatures from fellow SBC pastors and institutional leaders in the process, the Law Amendment, as modified by pastor Juan Sanchez, passed overwhelmingly in New Orleans in 2023. 

Now, messengers will have the opportunity to vote again in 2024 to ratify the Amendment and secure its addition to the SBC constitution. 

As Dr. Andrew Walker, professor of ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently explained, the Law Amendment “affirms what the Bible affirms. It really is that simple. Arguments about confessionalism, precedent, consequences, and the like are distractions from a more central question: Does the Bible affirm that only qualified men can be pastors? Yes. I want to make it my goal in life to never vote against what I think is clear from Scripture.”

Who could be opposed to simply agreeing with what the Bible teaches and restating what our Baptist Faith & Message 2000 already affirms? 

Rob Collingsworth, for one. 

In a recent article in the Baptist Review, Rob Collingsworth proposed five reasons one might oppose the Law Amendment. In this response, I will demonstrate how Collingsworth’s five arguments actually work against him and prove that the SBC needs this amendment now more than ever.

Reason One: “It Prioritizes Title, But Inconsistently”

Collingsworth begins by claiming that he would “not only discourage a church from separating title and office [of pastor], but I would actively encourage them to change such a practice and reserve those titles for someone who holds that office of church-wide authority and oversight.” 

So far, so good. He could have been commended for sharing wise and scripturally sound wisdom if he had finished his argument there. 

He goes on to suggest, however, that “it would be foolish not to acknowledge our cultural and linguistic history over the last 50-100 years, a period in which thousands of churches in our convention have separated title from office by granting a much larger semantic range to the word pastor than its two counterparts.” 

This is also true. But careless linguistic practices within the SBC today do not carry water as an argument against the Law Amendment; rather, they highlight the need for our Convention to speak with clarity on the issue as soon as possible.

In light of his counsel against separating the title and office of pastor, it is strange to see him pivot into nitpicking the wording of the Law Amendment. Collingsworth continues:

“Frankly, I find the language ‘any kind of pastor or elder’ more confusing than clarifying. Scripture and our confession both seem to indicate that there is only one kind of pastor or elder…But those words that we often use to delineate a ‘children’s pastor’ vs. a ‘worship pastor’…aren’t describing different kinds of pastors; they are merely modern terms we use to specify varying responsibilities among individuals who all occupy the same office: pastor/elder/overseer.”

It’s here that Collingsworth’s entire first argument works against him and for the Law Amendment. He admits there is a spreading semantic carelessness within the SBC on the use of the title “pastor.” This is why the drafters of the Law Amendment wisely included the modifier “of any kind.” As one observer on X put it rather bluntly, “If you find the phrase ‘any kind of pastor or elder’ confusing, I can only believe it’s because you’re the obscurantist.”

And Collingsworth can’t have it both ways: Either we believe as a cooperative body that pastor/elder/overseer is one position and there is no other kind of pastor (and thus women with these titles in various churches really are serving as “pastors”), or we believe that women with the title of pastor are not really pastors (they are incorrectly titled and SBC congregants need clarity from the messengers at an annual meeting). 

It’s not the wording of the Law Amendment that “prioritizes title but inconsistently,” it’s the unbiblical and unbaptistic practices within the SBC that are inconsistent with our Baptist Faith & Message. 

It makes no sense to adopt Collingsworth’s position here and be content to allow this titular confusion among churches to prevail—all while claiming that we all agree that there is but one office of pastor/elder/overseer. If we accept this framing from Collingsworth, we must assume that the churches putting women in that office, or giving them a title that is inseparable from the office and function, are either accidentally or intentionally shirking our confession. If we give those churches the benefit of the doubt and conclude that they are simply confused, why would we allow confusion to reign? 

Once again, the Law Amendment, not Collingsworth’s delay tactics, would close the semantic question for the SBC. Its ratification will send a loving and unmistakable message to those churches that they should clarify the ministry duties of women in their congregations. 

Reason Two: “It Excludes People Who Hold to Our Confession”

Next, Collingsworth distinguishes between egalitarian churches that purposely violate our confession and complementarian churches that are confused but intend to hold to our confession. 

He’s right that there is a difference between the two, between the church that “is happy to not only call a woman a pastor, but to let her occupy that office” and the church where the “only thing they would need to do in order to not run afoul of the amended language would be to change the title of their children’s or women’s ‘pastor.’”

Collingsworth is far too quick to paper over the fact that many, many churches in the SBC still fall into the first category—the ones “that are unapologetic in their rejection of a doctrine Southern Baptists have enshrined in our confession.” 

He gestures to the vote to remove Fern Creek from the SBC as evidence that the “system is working,” claiming that “we already agree that a church who has a woman functioning unapologetically as an elder runs afoul of our constitution’s stipulation that cooperating churches be ‘closely identifie[d] with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.’”

But do we agree on this? Collingsworth conveniently leaves out the fact that his close friend, Bart Barber, appointed a pastor, Jason Paredes, from a church that has women “functioning unapologetically” as elders to the Cooperation Group, a critical committee constituted to study the boundaries of our cooperation as Southern Baptists! Paredes is on record multiple times, and in no uncertain terms, in his defense of Fielder Church’s commitment to unapologetic egalitarianism: “We unwaveringly, unequivocally, gratefully have female pastors in this church.”

If we “already agree” on excluding unapologetic egalitarians, as Collingsworth tries to claim, how can Barber’s elevation of Paredes to the Cooperation Group be explained? If the SBC functioned as Collingsworth tries to assure us that it does, Fielder Church would be removed, not rewarded with a seat at the table on a committee that is, by all obvious reckoning, attempting to make an end-run around the Law Amendment. 

Thus we see again that Collingsworth makes the case for the necessity of the Law Amendment, albeit by what he omits. The Amendment would first and foremost empower the SBC to continue to remove the Saddlebacks, the Fern Creeks, and, yes, the Fielder Churches. As it should. If we do agree on this, I hope to see Collingsworth himself refer Jason Paredes to the Credentials Committee. 

If a patient has numerous cancerous tumors, no doctor worth his medical degree would remove one and then declare the patient to be “cancer-free.” Yet that is exactly what Collingsworth tries to do. The confessional remedy of the Law Amendment must continue to be applied to the SBC if we have any hope of receiving a clean bill of biblical health on this doctrine in the near future. 

To his second category, the confused complementarians within our midst, I certainly concede that there may be churches in the SBC who have a complementarian commitment, and even practice, who use egalitarian language. Again, this seems like a perfect opportunity to clear the air and allow these churches to bring about much-needed clarity within their congregations (see above). 

The price of confessional faithfulness is constant vigilance. Which path honors God’s Word more: Allowing a myriad of churches to operate in contradiction to our confession and the clear teaching of Scripture? Or possibly excluding the few churches that might hold our practice and confession but obstinately continue to use confusing language because “we ticked them off” (as Bart Barber likes to say)? 

The biblical answer is obvious—the former, not the latter. Still, I have faith in our Baptist brethren. I believe that almost all the churches in the SBC that hold to our confession in spirit and truth—and not in name or money only—will be happy to retitle any positions necessary to maintain “friendly cooperation” with the SBC. 

Furthermore, we bless those churches that use an improper title for women by clarifying our use of language and allowing them an opportunity to correct their terminology. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). By facing the reality that we do have unapologetic egalitarians in the SBC, agreeing on our terminology, and passing the Law Amendment, we can preclude “quarrels about words” and allow the SBC to move forward in cooperation.

The Law Amendment would not fundamentally exclude anyone who holds to our confession. For if they hold to our confession, they won’t have women pastors. But we know that many in our midst do have women pastors, and proudly so. Hence, the need for the Amendment.

Reason Three: “It Is Out Of Step With How We Have Existed As A Convention For Nearly Two Centuries”

At the heart of his third argument, Collingsworth amazingly argues that: 

“It is not now, nor has it ever been, the practice of the Southern Baptist Convention to enforce or impose a confessional standard among cooperating churches. The confession is a self-identified consensus statement that broadly describes what most Southern Baptists believe. It is a guardrail for the work of our entities rather than an enforcement mechanism for our churches.”

If this gives you whiplash, you’re not alone. Because in the immediate point above Collingsworth made a plea for not excluding churches “who hold to our confession” and even defended the “enforcement mechanism” of removing churches that violate our confession, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. 

Which one is it? Again, he can’t have it both ways, and neither can the SBC. Either the Convention can decide, by a confessional standard, that a church is in friendly cooperation with the Convention, or we can’t. Either we can restate what’s important for friendly cooperation in our constitution, or we can’t. 

In a turn of historical revisionism, Collingsworth goes too far in claiming that “For the first 100 years of our existence as a convention–including an 80-year period in which we had no confession–the constitution said nothing about what a church must believe in order to cooperate. The only criteria for cooperation? Financial contribution.” Rest assured, this was not the case. While it may be true on its face that, before 1925, we did not have the BF&M as we know it today, the SBC also did not have Presbyterians, Anglicans, or Lutherans joining our denomination through the mere act of financial contributions. The SBC has never been a financial free-for-all. 

Furthermore, as a matter of accurate history, and one well-documented by many Baptist historians, prior to the formation of the 1925 Baptist Faith & Message, Baptists relied primarily on the New Hampshire Confession of Faith—first written in 1833 by Baptists and for Baptists. Malcolm Yarnell explains that “When the Southern Baptist Convention was led to adopt a convention-wide confession in 1925, Lee Rutland Scarborough, Carroll’s successor as president at Southwestern Seminary, was instrumental in having the New Hampshire Confession chosen as the basis of what is now the Baptist Faith and Message.” 

It is necessarily instructive, then, to consider what the New Hampshire says about the office of pastor in a “Gospel Church”: “Its only scriptural officers are bishops or pastors and deacons” whose qualifications, claims and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.” The qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6-9 are as clear now as they were then: These offices are reserved for qualified men.

What is far more out of step with how our Convention has existed for nearly two centuries is the idea that Southern Baptists would countenance female pastors, either in title or function. 

To be clear, Collingsworth is correct that the SBC does not mandate a cooperating church to adopt the BF&M 2000 as its confession within that local church—if that’s what he meant. Still, any church that does elect to cooperate must indeed have a faith and practice that closely identifies with the BF&M 2000. It’s hard to imagine a more material inversion of “closely identifies” than to purposely reject the clear delineation of the pastoral office as reserved for men.

If you want to have women pastors, you can either do so on your own (be non-denominational) or by joining a denomination that affirms this transgression of Scripture. But to try and bring female pastors into the SBC is a “freelance” effort beyond the limitations we have repeatedly and currently set. And the primary author of the BF&M 1925, E.Y Mullins, rejected such an approach to SBC cooperation: “The moment you join any group other than a free lance club, you accept limitations. The Baptist denomination is not a free lance club as some would like to make it.”

Speaking of confessional boundaries, the SBC recently decided that racism and abuse are matters that are important enough to enumerate in our constitution. When those amendments were being advanced through the very same process that the Law Amendment is advancing today, did Collingsworth and his kind make any of these same arguments against them? The answer is a resounding “No.” Why didn’t Collingsworth claim that adopting those amendments would somehow institute the imposition of a heretofore never-before-seen confessional standard on SBC churches? I can think of a few reasons, but I will let the readers draw their own conclusions. 

Thus, like racism and abuse, if the messenger body decides that women pastors are an important issue that demands further clarification in our constitution, then it’s an important issue. But I have yet to hear Collingsworth offer a defense for allowing churches with a different faith and practice regarding racism and abuse to remain as a part of the SBC. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander…apparently until it comes time to deal with egalitarianism.

Collingsworth makes a feint at anticipating this objection but dissembles on nature of the hypocrisy exposed by those who embraced the former constitutional amendments but reject the Law Amendment. He says:

“And what’s the difference between the issues already enumerated in Article III and the one before us? Easy. I’ve seen numerous people say something to the effect of, ‘If you want women pastors, just go join the _______ (insert denomination).’ But what do we say to those who affirm racism or tolerate abuse? Surely not ‘Go join another church,’ but ‘Repent.’ These are not ‘agree to disagree’ issues among otherwise orthodox faith groups. One of these things is not like the other. Let’s not pretend otherwise.”

He says the “difference” is “easy” to explain (I assume) but fails to do so at all. He doesn’t explain the material difference between how adding constitutional amendments on racism and abuse does NOT constitute a new confessional standard, but adding one on male-only pastors DOES. He doesn’t even try. Instead, he wrongly asserts that what the SBC says to churches who have abusers or racists is simply “repent,” overlooking the fact that the Credentials Committee was incredibly swift in disfellowshipping a church over a “black face” incident, the facts of which are contested by the pastor of that church. 

Still, if we are able to call churches with abusers and racists to repent, why can’t we call churches with female pastors to do the same thing? If we truly believe that the Bible is our authoritative standard for faith and practice and that only men can be pastor/elder/overseer, shouldn’t we call on these churches to repent from their sin, turning from Satan’s “Hath God really said?” to the Bible’s “Thus saith the Lord” on the question of who can be a pastor? 

We should. We can. And to do so is not to enforce some new confessional standard but rather to embrace our Baptist history of Baptistic confessionalism and biblical complementarianism. 

Reason Four: “It Invites Unintended Consequences”

Collingsworth’s fourth issue is that the amendment will allow subjective metrics to be brought forward to the Credentials Committee based on the words “as qualified by Scripture.” 

But what Collingsworth fails to note is that the language in the Law Amendment simply echoes the already agreed upon language found in the BF&M 2000, Article VI, The Church: “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.” 

In this section, Collingsworth engages in some hypotheticals. It is only fair then to consider another hypothetical: What if Law and Sanchez had omitted the “as qualified by Scripture” language? One can only imagine that the detractors of the effort, such as Collingsworth, would have taken issue with that as well. “What, is Law arguing that SBC churches can just appoint any men to be elders without considering the biblical qualifications?” Or, “See, this is just about giving power to men at all costs, it’s not about submission to the Scriptures.” 

It was wise of Law and Sanchez to adhere as closely as possible to the BF&M on this point. This language is actually yet another argument in favor of the Amendment, not against it. 

To indulge the specter of unintended consequences, we can ask whether a social media spat is indeed grounds for the removal of a church from the SBC. Maybe, maybe not (probably not).  But there is a reason that language is in the BF&M 2000. If we’re going to have churches claiming the name of the SBC and benefitting from our cooperative programs, it is absolutely fitting that the Convention maintain the necessary right of a freely associating cooperation to remove churches that persist in harboring pastors who disgrace their office and bring shame upon the name of Christ. 

Should such a case ever arise, I don’t know why Collingsworth’s early exhortation that our message should be “repent” can’t be deployed here. If a pastor is so publicly and egregiously acting in a manner unbecoming of his office, and his local church refuses to address it, why shouldn’t the SBC messenger body be given an opportunity to consider if we still want that church in our Convention? 

And if the process works, as Collingsworth assures us that it does, that pastor would have multiple opportunities to speak for himself, to answer questions, and ultimately, to appeal to the messenger body to make his case for why his behavior falls within the scriptural qualifications for the office he holds. Maybe he could convince a room of 10,000 messengers to decide that his use of sarcasm is within the bounds of godliness and holiness, just as God himself used sarcasm when his voice boomed from within the whirlwind when he spoke to the man Job? 

How about a picture of a pastor with an alcoholic drink? Again, the Credentials Committee, the Executive Committee, and the messenger body have the ability to decide if that’s an issue that makes cooperation impossible. And those churches are welcome to attempt to add those stipulations to the constitution. What a great opportunity to provide clarity to our nearly 50,000 cooperating churches!

Far from being a problem, Collingsworth’s “unintended consequences” give us even more opportunity to zero in on the definition of a cooperating church within the SBC. He says that we will be forced to ignore the “unnecessary addition” to the wording of the constitution, but in doing so, he makes a great point: Why should we ignore the words of our confession or our constitution? We shouldn’t.

And if Collingsworth doesn’t like the fact that the BF&M has the language of “as qualified by Scripture” in its description of pastor/elder/overseer, he can always try to amend it from the floor at the annual meeting—a process he is personally quite familiar with. 

Reason Five: “It Sets A Dangerous Precedent For Future Cooperation”

Finally, Collingsworth asks where we will stop. Or rather, he asks, “Enforcing sound doctrine is good, but where do we stop?” 

If I had been his editor for his article, I would have asked him to read that sentence again very slowly. Where do we “stop” enforcing sound doctrine? Surely he doesn’t mean that? The only answer any faithful Christian can give to such a question would be “Nowhere!” Why would we, as Baptists, ever stop being concerned about sound doctrine? 

Even if he managed to word it better, his question doesn’t seem to want a real answer. I will attempt one anyway. We “stop” once we decide what it means to be a Southern Baptist.  Is an egalitarian church a Southern Baptist church? How about a church with open communion? A church with deacons who serve the function of elders? 

These are serious questions, and if the messenger body feels that they are important enough, we should address them with constitutional amendments or strengthen—not weaken—our standards of cooperation. 

Open-ended questions that point to widespread non-compliance on matters essential to our Baptist identity are not all equal. We can engage in an appropriate degree of triage here. What are the doctrinal issues at play that most seriously threaten our stated commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture? When framed like that, there is only one right issue now in Baptist life that rises to the top: The proliferation of female pastors. Before we can even ask “where do we stop” we must first start by defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints at the point of the most fierce attack in our generation. As Jonathan Leeman argues:

“I think the egalitarian and androgynous push of the last several decades is a front-burner, generationally urgent issue for the church, and anyone who denies this is naïve. Our culture’s assault on gender differences and authority is generationally urgent because it’s unique to this Western moment, this time and place. This is our battle, and if you cannot see that, I believe you are more affected by our time and place than you realize.”

Let’s deal with the front-burner, generationally urgent threat first. Once we’ve done that, we can consider whether we should stop or continue. Ultimately, we stop when the messengers decide we’ve done enough to reaffirm our Baptist identity and defend our distinctives for a new generation. That’s the Southern Baptist way. That’s democratic religion at work. 


Baptists are indeed at a crossroads. There are two paths before us—one that leads to compromise and decline and one that leads to faithfulness and flourishing. We need to decide what it means to be a biblically faithful cooperating church within the Southern Baptist Convention for the 21st Century. The answer should not be some new invention or a halfway covenant between complementarians and egalitarians but a return to biblical and Baptistic commitments, including—and especially—on the question of “Who is a pastor?” The Law Amendment will only help us in this endeavor. 

Collingsworth again asks in his conclusion if we are truly unwilling to cooperate with churches that use titles differently than we would. Tom Ascol rightly pointed out the issue with such a rhetorical move: “So now we are being encouraged to show ‘title hospitality’ to churches that choose to have women who identify as pastors. We have seen this play before. I hope that Southern Baptists won’t fall for it.” 

Because the issue here isn’t just about titles—and it never has been. And it’s about more than just cooperating with churches that do things a little differently than some (or many) of us would prefer. The rise of unapologetic egalitarianism, which is nothing more than the baptized version of proud feminism, poses a clear and present danger to the health and future of the SBC. 

That’s the reason behind Mike Law’s push for the Amendment in the first place. But you don’t have to take my word for it; take his. Read the backstory on the genesis of the amendment, read how Law realized that “in just a five-mile radius of Arlington Baptist, I had noticed five other SBC churches that had female pastors on staff,” read about the run-around he got from Convention leadership, and the clarity that the Credentials Committee asked for on this very question in Anaheim, as told by the man himself in Mr. Smith Goes to the Convention.

Despite overcoming all of the many obstacles that SBC leadership put in front of Mike Law, he prevailed in securing the first vote on this crucial Amendment, and was rewarded by receiving overwhelming support from the messenger body who passed it with at least 80% affirmation in New Orleans. 

This is yet another important piece of history that Collingsworth leaves out. Collingsworth asks a lot of questions. It would be more than fair to ask him yet one more: Why don’t you trust the messengers? Better yet, why are you working so hard to contravene the will of the messengers on this issue? No doubt Collingsworth knows he is in a small, and far more liberal, minority in SBC life on this question. Why, then, is he trying to force his vision for cooperation on the rest of us?

Should Collingsworth and the faction he represents prevail, the SBC will continue in a direction that it cannot ultimately maintain for long and still remain the Southern Baptist Convention that we know and love—one that stands on God’s Word, every verse, and defends its doctrinal distinctives against the acids of modernity and liberalism. 

The supporters of the Law Amendment (which is the vast majority of Southern Baptists) and those who believe we should hold fast to conservative theology and biblical fidelity are not imposing something alien upon SBC cooperative life. Nor would they be violating their conscience to remain in the Convention and keep working to root out the egalitarians and create a better standard of cooperation. Even if we don’t win the first time around, we believe the SBC is worth fighting for, and we believe it belongs to Baptists who embrace both the Bible and the right use of our confessional statements. 

Collingsworth closes by saying, “I hope you’ll join me.” Again, he misunderstands who should be joining whom here. So I stand with the thousands, perhaps even the ten thousand, messengers who voted to adopt the Law Amendment in New Orleans and turn the question back to Collingsworth: I hope you will join us.

Photo credit: Randy Starkey

  • Gerred Bell

    Gerred Bell is a Senior Financial Analyst and a member of Grace Fellowship, an SBC church in South Forsyth near Atlanta, Georgia. He is committed to helping more lay members in SBC churches get engaged in denominational reform efforts. You can follow him on X at @GerredwithaG.