Saddleback Church, the Southern California megachurch founded by best-selling author Rick Warren, wants to return to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The Lake Forest-based congregation is appealing the SBC’s move to oust the church over its decision to have women as pastors.
Saddleback was one of five congregations the committee removed over the issue, including Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, which is also appealing its dismissal.
The appeal deadline passed Monday.
As CBN News reported in February, the SBC’s Executive Committee, which handles denominational business outside of the annual meeting, made the decision to disfellowship the congregations because it was “not in friendly cooperation with the Convention.”
It added that Saddleback “has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”
Saddleback is asking the annual meeting of the SBC, which convenes next month in New Orleans, to overturn the decision by the Executive Committee and let them back in the Convention. Otherwise, the committee’s decision will stand.
“SBC bylaws plainly outline the process for churches determined to be not in cooperation with the Convention to appeal their cases before messengers cast their votes,” SBC Executive Committee chairman David Sons said in a statement to CBN News Wednesday.
“Since this is the first time in SBC history for this particular item of business to come before the Convention, it’s important for everyone coming to New Orleans to be prepared and informed about the process,” Sons added.
The church’s appeal shines a light on the larger debate about the role of women in ministry.
Saddleback ordained three women pastors in 2021 – Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards.
“We’re so grateful to share this moment with you. Our best days are ahead of us,” the church commented on Facebook at the time.
After Warren retired in 2022, he was succeeded by pastor Andy Wood and his wife, Lisa Wood, who assumed the role of teaching pastor at the church.
Earlier this month, Saddleback’s flagship campus appointed Katie Edwards as their new campus pastor, Churchleaders.com reports.
Appointing women to the position of pastor goes against the traditions of strictly male leadership within the SBC.
SBC’s statement of faith says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
CBN News has reached out to Saddleback Church for comment on the appeal. At the time of publication, they had not responded.
However, shortly after the SBC’s decision, Andy Wood released a video entitled “The Role of Women in the Local Church.”
“A man who is an elder can empower women and utilize women to use their spiritual gifts in the local church,” Wood said. “We see this from a descriptive angle all throughout the course of the New Testament.”
Stacie Wood commented on Instagram, “I’m serving Jesus under the authority and in alignment with my spiritual leaders…We believe that women can be gifted and empowered as teachers and as pastors.”
Meanwhile, Fern Creek Baptist Church who also submitted an appeal told the SBC’s executive committee, “We obviously interpret scripture referring to women in ministry differently than some others in Baptist life.”
“We are happy to meet with you to further discuss how we feel Jesus has led us to this interpretation,” they added.
Saddleback, with multiple campuses across Southern California, had 54,000 members as of 2021, according to its annual membership report to the SBC. It averaged an attendance of 28,000.
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