Scholars Defend the Family at Third Annual Baptist Distinctives Conference

When the church’s view of the family is awry, the gospel is being falsely presented, theologian Russell Moore said during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s third annual Baptist Distinctives Conference, Sept. 13-14.  Audio files can be found here.

The family is a “gospel issue,” Moore said in his presentation, titled “Have Baptists Changed or Has Culture?: The Baptist View of the Family.” Looking at the fifth chapter of Ephesians, Moore explained that Paul’s discussion of the family is not merely a practical discussion for the believers in Ephesus. Rather, it is a further description of the mystery of Christ discussed throughout Ephesians.

“In God’s mind, first and foremost, there is Christ and the church, a one-flesh union so that everything that is true of Jesus now belongs to his church,” Moore said. The relationship between a man and his wife is a picture of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church. Therefore, the gospel – Christ’s love for and salvation of his church – is falsely presented when the traditional family is not respected. For example, the life-long commitment of a husband and wife demonstrates the doctrine of eternal security. When a child sees his parents ripped apart by divorce, however, he is presented with a false view of Christ’s relationship to his bride, Moore said. Similarly, men cannot know what it means to love their wives as Christ loved the church unless they see the value of the church.

Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the first of six speakers to discuss the Baptist view of the family during plenary sessions at the seminary’s Baptist Distinctives Conference, titled “The Family: Reclaiming a Biblical View of the Family, Womanhood and Manhood.” Other speakers were Southwestern President Paige Patterson and Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies Dorothy Patterson; Mark Liederbach, associate professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Tom Elliff, senior vice-president of spiritual nurture and growth for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.

Men and women separated during the second plenary session to hear Paige and Dorothy Patterson teach on “Biblical Womanhood in the Church: Teaching and Exercising Authority.”

“According to 1 Timothy 2:12, women in the church are not to have authority over men, nor are they to teach men,” President Patterson said. He went on to explain that according to Ephesians 5:22-33, women in the home are to submit to their husbands, and men are to love their wives. These distinct roles of men and women in the church and home have their basis in creation and in the nature of God.

“The cosmos is God’s universe,” President Patterson said. “Moral oughtness has its genesis in the nature of the Creator, Sustainer and Owner of the cosmic aeons. Concepts such as happiness and meaning find their significance in an appropriate relationship to God, and by extension to other humans and to the environment based on his purposes and mandates. If Genesis 1:1 is true, authority is established on the basis of both the creation and the ownership of Elohim.”

Patterson went on to note that Christ shares the authority and divinity of God the Father. During his earthly ministry, however, Christ submitted to the final authority of God the Father. Patterson said this subordination of Christ to God the Father is evident in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where the apostle Paul writes, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (NKJV).

“Christ and God are equal in essence, but the Christ is subordinate in function,” Patterson said. In the same way, men and women are are “equal in essence,” but women are “subordinate in role assignment,” he concluded. Patterson, however, made it clear that women are not to be forced into submission by their husbands.

“Submission is a voluntary act on the part of a wife in obedience to the command of Christ,” he said. “Any abuse of the wife by her husband is precluded by the husband’s responsibility of self-sacrificing, self-denying love for the wife.”

During the fourth presentation at the conference, titled “Abortion: America’s Greatest Sin, the Family’s Greatest Challenge,” Richard Land proudly announced that Southern Baptists now make up one of the most pro-life denominations in the United States. However, he also said that nearly 50 million Americans have been killed since the 1970s because of abortion.

“The Bible tells us that children are an inheritance from God,” Land said. “America is like the prodigal son. We have taken the inheritance of our unborn children and we have gone to a far city and we have wasted that inheritance in riotous living. And now we are reduced to feeding among the swine.”

Land said it was not always the case that Southern Baptists have been critics of abortion. Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, many Southern Baptists were either pro-choice or negligent concerning the abortion issue, Land explained. Consequently, the Supreme Court’s decision did not result in the outcry among Southern Baptists that it should have, Land said. However, a change began to stir in the late 1970s, caused by the “sheer numbers of abortions” following the Supreme Court’s decision. Land noted that “within a year of Roe v. Wade being decreed by the Supreme Court, there were about 1.5 to 1.6 million babies a year being aborted.”

Today, nine out of ten Southern Baptists currently take a pro-life stance toward abortion, Land said. The stand against abortion has its roots in Judaism and the beliefs of the early church, and abortion was never accepted as an alternative in western, Judeo-Christian culture until the mid-twentieth century.

Land encouraged his audience to remember that “God knitted us together, and God embroidered us in our mother’s womb … We may have been an accident to our parents, but we are never an accident to God. God is involved every time a conception takes place, and God has all of our parts written in his book before any of them were formed.”

During breakout sessions at the conference, 10 other speakers discussed family-related issues ranging from singleness to a biblical view of adoption. Thomas White, vice president for student services at Southwestern Seminary discussed “Biblical Manhood: Loving Leadership.” His wife, Joy, complemented this presentation in a later session called “Biblical Womanhood: Gracious Submission.” Malcolm Yarnell III, assistant dean for theological studies at Southwestern, discussed worship in the home. His wife, Karen, led an earlier session titled “Child-Rearing in the 21st Century.”

Papers from the first Baptist Distinctives conference on religious liberty have been collected and recently published in the book, “First Freedom: The Baptist Perspective on Religious Liberty,” edited by Thomas White, Jason Duesing and Malcolm Yarnell III. A similar collection of papers from the second conference on church renewal will be published early next year. In 2008, Southwestern will hold the fourth annual Baptist Distinctives Conference, “Centuries of Faithful Witness: the History and Theology of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary,” in honor of the seminary’s centennial celebrations.

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