Updating and Refining the 1689 Baptist Confession: Affirming Marriage and the Roles of Men and Women
The biblical roles of men and women are not adequately addressed in any of the English Puritan/Reformed confessions, including the 1689. Feminism has been embraced by some pastors and theologians and is making inroads into the modern evangelical church. Many conservative evangelicals have responded to egalitarianism by affirming biblical complementarianism at a creedal level.
The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
A group of concerned evangelical pastors and scholars gathered in 1987 to address the influence of egalitarianism in the church. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) drafted a confessional document known as “The Danvers Statement.” The statement was published the next year (1988) and was followed by the publication of a large book with multiple contributors1 and a journal.2
The Baptist Faith & Message
The Southern Baptists took note and drafted a doctrinal statement on “The Family.” The statement was incorporated into The Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M) and approved by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998. The article (XVIII) affirms monogamous heterosexual marriage (thereby excluding homosexuality) and defines marriage as “a covenant commitment.” It also articulates the biblical structure of the family, distinguishing the husband as the head and the wife as the helper while affirming their equal dignity as “God’s image.” In 2000, the BF&M was further revised to add a statement to exclude women from the office of pastor (Art. VI, The Church).3
The 1689 Baptist Confession
The 1689 Confession affirms the heterosexual nature of marriage. But it does not provide a clear definition of marriage. Samuel Waldron refers to this as “a significant omission” and “no longer so harmless as it was in past generations.”4 Moreover, simply affirming that God instituted marriage “for the mutual help of husband and wife” fails to delineate the distinct yet complementary roles of the husband and wife. Egalitarians could easily twist “mutual help” to serve their cause. Furthermore, the Confession’s use the masculine pronoun (“he”) when referring to candidates for the office of bishop or elder is no longer adequate, in my opinion, to address the encroaching danger of feminism that’s invading the church.5
In light of modern attacks on the institution of marriage and distinctive roles of men and women, Reformed Baptists would do well to offer a confessional response to today’s aberrations, as other evangelicals have. Noteworthy are many of the “New Calvinist” ministries that give a clear affirmation of biblical complementarianism in their doctrinal statements.6 It’s true that some Reformed Baptist churches include a statement about the roles of men and women in the home and the church in their local church constitution. But this doctrinal and polity issue is not merely local, circumstantial, or cultural in nature. For that reason, I believe it would be best to give it confessional status.
- Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991). John Piper and Wayne Grudem edited the book, and it features twenty-two contributors. In my opinion, this is one of the best and most thorough treatments of the subject. A second edition (2006) is now available. [↩]
- The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood launched in 1995 and is available in PDF format online: http://www.cbmw.org/Journal. [↩]
- An online version of the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith & Message is available here: http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp. [↩]
- A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 2nd edition (Durham, U.K.: Evangelical Press, 1995), 299. Waldron notes the 1689’s omission of the lawful grounds for divorce and remarriage (present in the WCF and Savoy) and labels it “inexcusable.” I would like to see these two paragraphs from the WCF restored though it’s possible some Reformed pastors may not. [↩]
- The masculine pronouns “he” or “his” may serve as generic pronouns. Of course, we know that the Puritans didn’t intend them as generics in this context. But it’s wise to be more precise in our day. [↩]
- Consider the following doctrinal statements adopted by churches associated with the Acts 29 Network: “We are not egalitarians and do believe that men should head their homes and male elders/pastors should lead their churches with masculine love like Jesus Christ”; also, “We are not evangelical feminists and do believe that God reveals Himself as a Father and is to be honored by the names He reveals to us without apology.” Churches that belong to Sovereign Grace Ministries have adopted the following: “Women play a vital role in the life of the church, but in keeping with God’s created design they are not permitted ‘to teach or to exercise authority over a man’ (1 Timothy 2:12 ESV). Leadership in the church is male.” Bethlehem Baptist Church’s Elders Affirmation of Faith states. “Women are not to fill the role of pastor-elder in the local church, but are encouraged to use their gifts in appropriate roles that edify the body of Christ and spread the gospel” (12.5). Article XVI of Together for the Gospel’s “Affirmations and Denials” contains a clear articulation of biblical complementarianism. [↩]