Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., who was elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, talks about his views on women in ministry, concerns about narrowing boundaries of theological cooperation, an SBC resolution calling for abstinence from alcohol and the debate on Calvinism.
TAYLORS, S.C. (BP) – In 1980, SBC President Frank Page completed a
doctor of philosophy degree in Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary with the acceptance of his dissertation, “Toward a
Biblical Ethic of Women in Ministry,” which strongly advocated
unlimited roles for women in ministry, including serving as church
In an extensive interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Page said
he recanted those admittedly “radical” and “extreme” views shortly
after earning his Ph.D., and he has repeatedly asserted his support of
the Baptist Faith and Message statement concerning the matter.
Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., who was elected
as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, spoke at
length in the interview about his views on women in ministry, concerns
about narrowing boundaries of theological cooperation, an SBC
resolution calling for abstinence from alcohol and the debate on
Women in ministry
Although surprised that his doctoral dissertation did not become a
point of debate and controversy in the SBC presidential election, Page
said he wonders whether the issue is being raised following his
election “to make sure I’m discredited to the point that another
candidate would be elected in 2007 in San Antonio,” the location for
the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
“There are many people who would love to jump on [the dissertation] and say, ‘See, we told you he was a moderate,’” Page said.
Still, he concedes the dissertation is “fair game” and the questions
are appropriate “because it’s a legitimate part of who I was” – past
tense, Page emphasized frequently when discussing his views on women in
“Is it embarrassing to me that at one time I held such extreme views?
Yes, it is. But it would also be equally hurtful to me to seem like in
subsequent discussions, such as this one, to think that women are
somehow secondary in God’s Kingdom. I would hate for them to think
that,” Page said.
Since the interview with the Witness on July 12, Page’s dissertation
views have surfaced in public discussion as a result of a news story on
a liberal Baptist website, EthicsDaily.com, and in various weblogs – a
development Page anticipated.
Page compared his change in views on the subject of women in ministry
to a similar reversal by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary, and a prominent conservative leader in
the SBC today.
“Al Mohler and I are in the same boat in this particular issue – both
[of us] tried to push what we had been taught into a biblically
acceptable format. Both miserably failed. And both have since recanted
from that,” Page said.
As a seminary doctoral student who was committed to the truth of
Scripture – inerrancy before the subject had become a central issue in
the SBC conservative resurgence – Page said, “I was trying very hard to
conform biblical passages to some cultural preferences of the time.”
Shortly after receiving his Ph.D., however, Page became convinced
“through personal study and prayer” that his dissertation was not
exegetically sound and reflected the work of an “immature theologian.”
As a result, “I changed and recanted those rather extreme views” and he
has never advocated women as pastors or even deacons in
any of his
pastorates during more than 30 years in ministry, nor does he support
the ordination of women.
The Baptist Faith and Message, which Page affirms, asserts, “While both
men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of
pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
“I do very much hold to the belief that God does gift women for
ministry, but my belief is very consistent with the Baptist Faith and
Message 2000, that while women are indeed gifted by God in a variety of
roles and ministries, the role of pastor is held only for the male,”
Page told the Witness.
Page said that he believes only men can be pastors because “it’s an
authority issue. To have women serving as pastor would be to put that
woman in spiritual authority over men and I think Scripture clearly
In the current debate on women in ministry, Page said he would position
himself with the complementarian, rather than egalitarian position.
“I have not used those words because they vary in how they are defined.
But if one were to push for me to fall into one of those camps, it
would be more in the complementarian style, absolutely,” Page said.
Page said he was reluctant to speak about the specifics of the debate
that has arisen in the last year within the International Mission Board
trustees regarding a new baptism guideline and a policy forbidding the
acceptance of missionary candidates who practice a “private prayer
“I don’t know the specifics of what happened in those meetings,” Page said of the IMB trustees’ deliberations.
Still, Page did acknowledge he is concerned “the policies have gone a
little farther than we should go,” specifically citing the one on
private prayer language.
While affirming it is the responsibility of the trustees to set IMB
policies and “I respect the trustee system and I don’t have to agree
with everything,” Page added: “I just think in that one area there is a
possible interpretation of a private prayer language [in Scripture]
that we need to be very careful about saying, no. If there is some
scriptural possibility there, [a policy forbidding it for missionaries]
makes me nervous.”
Page cited 1 Corinthians 14 as a passage which may be interpreted to
permit a private prayer language, while noting that he does not
personally have a private prayer language.
Page said that it is proper for the IMB to set theological policies
which are not explicitly addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message.
“There are a multitude of issues that have to be dealt with within the
trustee framework that go way beyond the Baptist Faith and Message. …
There are many things that the Baptist Faith and nd Message just simply
doesn’t deal with.”
One example that Page agreed the Baptist Faith and Message does not
address, but that the IMB properly can address in its policies,
involves the charismatic practice of speaking in tongues in public
worship. “I believe there should be serious criteria that would exclude
persons from service in that regard,” Page said of those who advocate
and practice tongues.
As to the IMB’s baptism guideline, while Page said he was not familiar
with the details, he affirmed that he believes re-baptism is necessary
in the case of a person who was baptized by immersion following
salvation in a church with “incorrect theology,” including one which
rejected eternal security of the believer – which is the requirement of
the IMB baptism guideline.
“There would be others in my mind where I have asked over the years for
a person who has been baptized by immersion to be re-baptized in our
church,” Page said.
Page said there is a “perception” that the IMB policies have “gone too
far. We just need to be careful in our trustees that we hold to
guidelines that are explicitly biblical and do not go beyond that,” he
As a member of the SBC Resolutions Committee this year that recommended
the much-discussed resolution calling for “total abstinence” from
alcohol for Christians, Page told the Witness he found the debate about
the resolution, during the SBC and since, “deeply disturbing,”
“eye-opening” and “very troubling.”
The Resolutions Committee put forward the resolution, Page said,
because “there was a growing movement among some brethren to promote
what we believed was a misinterpretation of the doctrine of freedom in
Christ. … When a precious doctrine is being misinterpreted by people
within our own convention, the committee, with my certain agreement
believed it was necessary to make this kind of stand.”
Page emphatically rejected criticism of the resolution as “pharisaical”
and strongly disagreed with the suggestion that the committee was
manipulated by outsiders to bring the resolution to the floor. “I
absolutely reject that,” Page said, noting that the members were very
“strong,” there was “no strong-arming, there was no pushing” and
committee chairman Tommy French, a Louisiana pastor, was a “consummate
Even though he was a member of the committee that recommended the
resolution, Page said some unnamed persons are suggesting he is “soft
on alcohol” because some of the most prominent critics of the
resolution were among the most prominent supporters of his presidential
“I would never be judgmental and pharisaical and say you can’t be a
Christian and drink a glass of wine. But I have to say as God wants us
to be a strong witness that I believe it is extremely important that we
stay away from alcohol,” Page said. “To me, the witness issue is the
bottom line of why we need to strongly take a stand against alcohol
without being pharisaical.”
Page said the current debate among Southern Baptists on the issue of Calvinism “has both healthy and negative aspects to it.”
An example of the healthy aspect, he said, was the discussion between
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige
Patterson – an opponent of Calvinism – and Southern Seminary
President Mohler – an advocate of Calvinism – in two heavily attended
workshops of the Pastors’ Conference prior to the SBC annual meeting in
“I thought the dialogue was an encouraging display of theological
debate,” Page said of the Patterson/Mohler dialogue, adding that the
SBC needs more of that kind of theological discussion. “It’s [already]
being discussed; why not discuss it in a proper forum? I felt it was
very good,” Page said.
Some of the negative aspects of the Calvinism debate, Page said, is
that the issue contributes to the growing factionalism in SBC life.
“There are some who are drawing lines in the sand and saying you cannot
be a Southern Baptist and be a Calvinist,” Page said. “There are
Calvinists who are saying we will not rest until every Southern Baptist
seminary is five-point Calvinist and all the graduates are five-point
Calvinists. So, you’ve got extreme division occurring.”
Asserting his belief that some Southern Baptist seminaries are
graduating “hundreds” of students who espouse Calvinism while there are
a “relative small number” of Calvinist SBC churches, Page said that he
believes Southern Baptists are headed for “tumultuous days” as those
graduates come to places of service in the churches.
Page published in 2000 a book, Trouble with the Tulip: A Closer
Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism, critiquing Calvinism,
which he rejects as based on the “manmade” doctrine of Reformation
theologian John Calvin, rather than a Bible-based theology.
Page also warns that affirmation of Calvinism in churches and
denominations leads “inevitably” to diminishing commitment to
Page told the Witness that in both of his criticisms of Calvinism –
manmade and a deterrent to evangelism – it’s not accurate to say such
is true of all advocates of Calvinism, which is why he is willing to
work with such Calvinists in SBC life and is willing to appoint such
persons to positions of leadership in SBC life.