The family described as Baptist distinctive

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--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.

Also speaking on this year's theme -- "The Family: Reclaiming a Biblical View of the Family, Womanhood and Manhood" -- were Southwestern President Paige Patterson and Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in women's studies; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Mark Liederbach, associate professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Tom Elliff, senior vice president of spiritual nurture and growth for the International Mission Board.

The family is a "Gospel issue," Moore said in his presentation, titled "Have Baptists Changed or Has Culture?: The Baptist View of the Family." Moore is dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's school of theology in Louisville, Ky.

In Ephesians 5, Moore explained, the Apostle Paul's discussion of the family is not merely a practical matter for the believers of ancient 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, noting that the relationship between a man and his wife is a picture of Christ's relationship with His bride, the church.

Thus, the Gospel –- Christ's love for and salvation of His church -– is falsely portrayed when the traditional family is not respected, Moore said.

Moore noted, for example, that the lifelong commitment of a husband and wife demonstrates the doctrine of eternal security. But when a child sees his parents ripped apart by divorce, he is presented with a false view of Christ's relationship to His bride. 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 said during the Sept. 13-14 conference at Southwestern's Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

Paige and Dorothy Patterson met separately with men and women during the conference's second plenary session 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," Paige Patterson told the men. According to Ephesians 5:22-33, he continued, 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, Patterson said.

"The cosmos is God's universe," he noted. "Moral oughtness has its genesis in the nature of the Creator, sustainer and owner of the cosmic eons. 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 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 Christ is subordinate in function," Patterson said. In the same way, men and women are "equal in essence," but women are "subordinate in role assignment," he said. 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."

Land, in his presentation titled "Abortion: America's Greatest Sin, the Family's Greatest Challenge," noted that Southern Baptists now are one of the most pro-life denominations in the United States. However, he also noted that nearly 50 million Americans have been killed since the 1970s by 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."

It was not always the case that Southern Baptists have been critics of abortion, Land said.

Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in its Roe v. Wade decision, many Southern Baptists were either pro-choice or negligent concerning the abortion issue, Land said. Consequently, the Supreme Court's decision did not result in the outcry among Southern Baptists that it should have, he 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 said, noting 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 10 Southern Baptists take a pro-life stance toward abortion, which has its roots in Judaism and the beliefs of the early church, Land said. Abortion was never accepted as an alternative in western, Judeo-Christian culture until the mid-20th century, he pointed out.

Land encouraged the 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, 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 the presentation in a later session titled "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 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's fourth annual Baptist Distinctives Conference will address "Centuries of Faithful Witness: the History and Theology of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary" in honor of the seminary's centennial.


Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Audio files from Southwestern’s Baptist Distinctives Conference can be access online at www.swbts.edu/conferenceaudio.

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