Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
In 1991, Church Freedom was understood as “the historic Baptist affirmation that local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.” In general, this is simply another way of saying the best ecclesiology is that of congregational rule, upon which most Baptists would agree. Where many Baptists would disagree with this statement is the affirmation of ordination of females to certain positions in the church. While Baptists have historically disagreed on whether or not females should be ordained as deacons, Baptists have typically understood pastoral ordination as limited only to males on the basis of passages such as 1 Timothy 2:9-15.
Shurden continues, “No bishop or pastor, no civil leader or magistrate, no religious body or convention of churches can dictate to the local church. To permit such dictation is to abdicate freedom and obligation.” In stating this, he implies that the CBF is different from the SBC in this regard. However, this is inaccurate. Baptists have long believed that if a local church is going to do ministry with another congregation, they need to know if they are working with like-minded churches or churches that differ with them on key issues of doctrine. Baptist churches “have often joined together voluntarily in local associations and national unions or conventions,” and each church must decide for itself what to approve or disapprove in such voluntary cooperation. Neither the SBC nor the CBF believe that local churches should be told what to believe or how to operate by denominational agencies or others churches.
Today, the CBF states, “We believe in the autonomy of every local church. We believe Baptist churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whomever they perceive as gifted for ministry, and to participate as they deem appropriate in the larger body of Christ.” Note the change from ordaining “male or female” in 1993 to ordaining “whomever they perceive” in 2021, which opens up the possibility of ordaining people who identify as transgender or nonbinary, something that recently happened in a CBF affiliated church in Indiana.
 Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 33.
 E.g., Mark Dever, “The Doctrine of the Church,” A Theology for the Church, Rev. ed. (Nashville: B&H, 2014) 624-34; and Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 1089-92.
 While the theological debate on passages like 1 Tim 2:9-15 is not the scope of this paper, “an all-male eldership has been the overwhelming norm in Baptist life.” John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 170.
 Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 36-37.
 W. L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1959), 16-17.
 Akin, Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel Akin. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014, 653.
 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Who We Are,” 2021, accessed August 19, 2021.
 Martin, Stephanie, “Baptist Church in Indian Ordains the First Trans Pastor in Its Denomination,” Church Leaders, June 2, 2021.
Note – This article was co-written by Terry Delaney and Dr. Gary Shultz, Jr.
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