Gender & Worship (IV)

Gender Roles in the Chruch

Many have come to believe that a congregational meeting called to discuss the business of a local church would contravene the “keep silent” prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:34. I do not think so. However, I urge extreme caution in dealing with this matter. Why? Because if congregational business meetings do violate the Scriptures, then it would be nothing less than “shameful” to engage in them (“for it is shameful for women to speak in church,” 1 Corinthians 14:35). “Shameful,” not in Paul´s sight, but in God´s sight. Thus, it is imperative we take the time to study this subject thoroughly, making sure we have prayerfully considered each and every nuance of the question, and all this before beginning the practice.

It must be kept in mind that this issue is not just a matter of personal conviction. It is, instead, a matter that effects the whole church. Consequently, if a congregation rushes ahead, commencing the practice, while there are those in the church who could not conscientiously agree with them on the implications of the “keep silent” mandate of 1 Cor. 14:34, then they would be forcing these folks to violate their consciences in order to participate in such a meeting. This would involve not just them in sin, but those who compelled them as well (cf. Rom 14:23). On the other hand, if the actions of the church force some to conscientiously refrain from participating in such meetings, thereby creating a schism in the local congregation which might ultimately result in those not inclined to participate to leave and go somewhere else where congregational business meetings are not engaged in, this, I believe, would not be just unfortunate, but counter to the injunction of Eph. 4:1-3, which says: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Therefore, before we let this matter divide us, it must be lovingly and thoroughly studied.

I wish to make it clear that I believe congregational meetings called to discuss the business of a local church are totally scriptural. By “congregational meetings,” I mean meetings that include all baptized members of the local church, whether they be male or female. By “business,” I mean those things having to do with the legitimate function of a local church.

The Jerusalem Church Example

The church at Jerusalem had not been in existence very long when “there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). The twelve apostles, who were members of the Jerusalem church, “summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.´ Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). Notice that they called together “the multitude of the disciples.” That this excluded women cannot be credibly argued, and if not, then women were involved in making a decision about the men who would “serve tables” in the Jerusalem church, and did so without teaching over or exercising authority over the men present. While you’re thinking about this, keep in mind what transpired here is what we’ve called “and approved apostolic example.”

In a popular workbook used by brethren that argues that women are scripturally prohibited from participating in business meetings, one of the authors writes:

Notice that the Apostles (v. 2) took the lead in this matter. They simply ask the disciples (yes, that included men and women) to select seven men from among them. Notice who would do the appointing: “whom we may appoint over this business.”

In an apparent effort to diminish the implications of these verses, the author makes the point that the apostles “took the lead in this matter.” Yes, and rightly so, for women were prohibited from exercising authority over men; but this is not really the issue, is it? What is at issue is whether the women, along with the men, engaged in selecting the seven men that were set before the apostles for ordaining. If they did, and I don´t see how anyone can deny it, then women, consistent with their God-ordained roles, participated in the “business” of selecting these seven men. In other words, here we have an “approved example” and a “necessary conclusion” that women may participate in church business meetings. Therefore, when the writer said, “They simply asked the disciples to select seven men from among them,” his “simply” serves to reduce the importance of what was taking place, and this is that even with the presence of apostles, it was deemed appropriate for the whole church to be involved in selecting its servants. Therefore, when men today, in the absence of elders, and viewing a men´s business meeting as the “ruling entity” of the church, exclude women from the decision making process, informing them, after the fact, of their decisions, they are not honoring the teaching of God’s inspired word. I used the term “ruling entity” because this is the term used in the workbook mentioned above. In fact, this is exactly what was said:

Leadership in the local church belongs to men. A decision making business meeting is in itself a ruling entity…. Just as it is men (not women) who are to conduct the worship of the assembly, it is men (not women) who are to conduct the business affairs of the local church.

The Men’s Business Meeting As The “Ruling Entity” Of The Local Church

As I see it, the mistake these men make is thinking that, in the absence of elders, a men’s business meeting, which has never been anything more than an expedient, is somehow the de facto ruling entity of the local church. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “entity” is defined as:

1 a: BEING, EXISTENCE; eps: independent, separate, or self-contained existence b: the existence of a thing as contrasted with its attributes 2: something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality.

This being the case, when did a men’s business meeting, which, by default, probably doesn’t have more than one man who could meet the qualifications of an elder (otherwise there could be an eldership) become the “ruling entity” of the local church? In other words, where in the Bible is the direct statement, approved example, or necessary conclusion that such is the case? There aren’t any, as far as I can tell. Even so, Christian men have been willing to pontificate their erroneous views on this, as the following quote indicates:

If a woman has authority with men in business meetings, she then has authority over men in the church. Remember, that business meetings are decision making meetings that involve the leadership of the church. If women have the same authority as men in these meetings, then they are exercising authority over the church (which includes men as well as women).

Here I believe a compounding of errors takes place. First, some conclude that only men are to be involved in making decisions for the church, arguing that such “authority” belongs to males only. If we were discussing the oversight and rule of an eldership, then I would readily concede the point; but we’re not. What’s under discussion is a men’s business meeting functioning as the sole decision-making entity for the church. I maintain there is absolutely no authority for this, and if there is, then someone should cite book, chapter, and verse for it. This error is then compounded by the argument that if women were permitted to participate in a congregational business meeting, they would somehow be exercising authority over the men of the church. But how so?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that men, not women, are to exercise leadership in the local church, and there is no doubt that such leadership involves authority. Otherwise, Paul’s instruction that a woman was not to exercise authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:12 would make absolutely no sense. Anyone who knows me, or has listened to my preaching and teaching over the years, knows that I believe and teach that a woman, in order to be pleasing to God, must be “under authority” or “in subjection” both in the home and the church. Consequently, and as I’ve indicated over and over again in this study, I do not believe a woman can “teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). I further believe that the  “keep silent in the churches” prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:34 prevents her from speaking out of order or exercising any authority over men in the assemblies of the church. However, the only men the New Testament identifies as having the “rule” or “oversight” in the local church are elders/bishops/pastors (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). Therefore, and here’s my point, the only “ruling entity” in the local church is a plurality of men (viz., the eldership) who meet certain specific, as well as extensive, qualifications that were articulated by the apostle Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, if an eldership existed in a local church, then a “men’s business meeting” would not, and could not, be viewed as a “ruling entity.” The fact that many now believe it is, is without any scriptural authority. This means that in the absence of elders a “men’s business meeting” is not the de facto “ruling entity” for the church. In fact, in the absence of elders, it is my contention that there is absolutely no ruling entity that exists in the local church. This in no way diminishes male leadership, for it is the whole church, under the leadership of men, that is to decide a matter. In such meetings, women, who are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men, would not take the lead, just as they do not do so when the whole church comes together for worship.

Forced to concede that women ought not to be excluded from such meetings, some will say, “Okay, okay, I’ll not object to women being in the business meeting, but they’re going to have to remain silent, as per 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.” But does 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 really prevent women from saying anything? No, no more than it prevents women from singing in a worship assembly or speaking in a Bible class. As long as women do not teach or exercise authority over a man, they are in their place — the very place God put them. Therefore, a decision made by the whole church, under the guidance and leadership of men, does not, nor can it, by definition, exercise authority over anyone, as it is a decision of the whole church — namely, a decision with which the whole church agrees. This is what happened in Acts 6:5 and Acts 15:22, even though in each of these cases there were men in the congregations who had God-given authority to rule, namely, apostles and elders.

Consequently, decisions that are made — and decisions will have to be made — are to be made by consensus. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “consensus” is “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” In other words, “unanimity.” Some think that such is impossible, but they are wrong. It is sometimes difficult (and this is why elders are such a blessing), but not impossible, for a congregation to come to an unanimous decision about some piece of business. In fact, if all members are Christians, and this is what a local church is supposed to be, then it ought to be possible to arrive at a consensus of opinion, and to do so without someone (an evangelist) or group (men’s business meeting) being “in charge.” It is regrettable that such a process can be, and often is, quite difficult, and this is particularly so when those involved in the process don’t have the right attitude about what it is they are doing — namely, demonstrating their faith and trust in God and those He has redeemed with the precious blood of His Son.

Admittedly, this whole process is made much easier when elders — who are in the God-given position to exercise “oversight” or “rule” — are in charge. However, and as it has already been noted, elders do not exercise themselves as “lords” over those who have been “entrusted” to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). When these men set the right example, it is assumed the congregation will follow. There are, of course, exceptions (i.e., the unruly, et cetera) and elders have the authority to deal with such members. If the elders are unsuccessful in leading such to repentance, then they will ask the congregation to “withdraw” from such individuals (1 Tim. 3:6). So, even with elders, the local church is expected to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). In lieu of elders, a men’s business meeting does not operate as the “ruling entity,” and New Testament Christians must break free from all man-made doctrines, including the one that says it is only the men’s business meeting that can make decisions in a church without elders. Without elders, decisions must be made by the whole church.

When this happens consistent with the principles laid down in the Scriptures, women do not exercise authority over the men in the church, as it is not the women who are making the decision, but the whole church. This is not just a matter of semantics, as some may claim, for a decision made by the whole congregation, with the men exercising their leadership roles, is not itself a “ruling entity,” for such would be, by definition, a subset of the church, not the whole church itself. And because the only subset of the church that the Bible talks about that has oversight or rule is the eldership, a men’s business meeting cannot be a “ruling entity” for the church.

The Feminization Of Culture

But don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, for I am not arguing that it is right for a woman, uninvited, to be in a “men’s business meeting.” I believe a men’s business meeting cannot only be a lawful expedient, but it can be a loving one as well. In other words, although I believe the Bible teaches both men and women can come together to discuss the business of the church, I also believe that current cultural conditioning has made this a very thorny issue that is fraught with various dangers. The feminization of Western culture — and the primary focus of this culture is America — is in full bloom.

Radical feminists bent on nothing less than the destruction of patriarchy have, with few exceptions, won all the battles. As a result, a family structure where the husband/father is accepted and honored as the head is practically nonexistent, or seriously diminished, in our culture. The home and workplace are now almost totally egalitarian, and the patriarchal nature of religious structures are changing with more and more women being ordained as clerics, whether it be bishops, priests, pastors or various other “ministers.” It is fair to say that the times are not just changing, they have, instead, already changed. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. The burqa, that “shuttle-cock” outfit Afghan women were forced to wear under the repressive regime of the Taliban is not, it may surprise you, just a Taliban invention. It is worn many places in the Muslim world. It is an interpretation of Shari’ah (Muslim law) that requires a woman to wear a hijab (a covering). Even so, this covering was used by the Western media as a symbol of the oppressive rule of the Taliban. No doubt many Christian ladies were appalled by the thought of the oppressiveness of being forced to wear such an outfit. But I am afraid that even Paul’s teaching concerning the head covering the Corinthian women were required to wear would seem equally oppressive to many Christian ladies today. After all, women who are liberated in the market place and in the home will not take kindly to a symbol of authority in the church either. But Paul told the Christian women of Corinth that they could not take their head coverings off in their sacred assemblies.

Of course, the women of Corinth were not culturally liberated, and a head covering of some sort was evidently mandated as a symbol of their subjection. But, because the women were “all one” in Christ Jesus equally with the men, some apparently thought it would be okay for them to take their coverings off in the assemblies of the saints. But Paul says they could not. He gives several reasons, one of which was to remind the woman of the role she was originally created to play, i.e., a helpmeet, in that man was created first and therefore the woman was created for man, and not the other way around, and this no matter what some women seem to think. Paul used the primacy of man as one of his arguments for a woman not teaching nor usurping authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:13. Therefore, if our current culture mandated the wearing of a head covering for women, Paul’s teaching would require that Christian ladies not take their coverings off in our assemblies. But because it is not culturally mandated in our society, I do not believe women should feel obligated to put one on when they come into our assemblies. Of course, if they still think they should, then they must not violate their consciences. However, just because women in our culture are not required to wear coverings to show their subjection, and therefore are not required to wear coverings when they worship in our assemblies, does not mean the points Paul made about the roles of men and women can be disregarded. On the contrary, women are to be in subjection. As such, they cannot teach nor exercise authority over men. This does not, as we’ve seen, prohibit women from being in congregational business meetings. Nevertheless, their participation would have to be consistent with their God-ordained roles.

Therefore, women could not take a leadership role in a congregational business meeting, but would need to conduct themselves consistent with the obligation placed upon them by God in His divinely revealed word. To disregard this would be to forfeit who we are as a people “in Christ.” So, as we study this subject we must do so carefully and prayerfully.

As a male, I do not intend to look down my nose at a female spiritually or otherwise. At the same time, I do not want to do anything that would cause a woman to get out of “her place.” By this expression, I do not mean the place where I want to keep her, but the place where God put her. Therefore, with the egalitarian spirit that is wreaking havoc with many folks’ thinking today, the decision to have a business meeting with just the men of the church does not have to be the crass chauvinism some think it to be. On the contrary, and commensurate with the man’s leadership role, it may be both the most loving and wisest thing to do. I’ll have more to say about this in just a moment.

Neanderthals Ain’t Cool

In today’s society, if you hold to a traditional understanding of men and women in the family and the church, you are an “uncool Neanderthal.” If you believe God has assigned to men a unique calling to authoritative leadership, where they alone are appointed to positions of “oversight” in the church, and they alone are the heads of their families, you will be seen as backward, fearful of change, and a misogynist (or woman hater). You hold such a position, it will be thought by many, because you’re just another insecure male frustrated over the loss of your cultural superiority. Furthermore, either you’re not married (it figures!) or your wife (for surely you are male) is a shriveled doormat of a human being who has low self-esteem and wears heavy make-up to hide the welts where you have beaten her into submission.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter what kind of “traditionalist” you are. You may believe that women are created in the image of God and are deeply loved by Him, and have been given talents that should be encouraged and developed for use in the local church. And you may believe that women are essential and valuable partners in their families as wives and mothers. You might respect women, work in partnership with women, and even learn from women. But if you believe it is God’s will that men have been given certain unique positions of leadership in the church and family — even if you believe this leadership ought to be exercised in a humble, servant-like fashion — the “cool” people will still see you as anti-women.

It also doesn’t matter that your belief regarding the sexes has been the normal position held by the majority of all people, everywhere, over all time, up until about 1960. Why? Because the current cultural propaganda brushes aside all history before the rise of modern feminism as uniformly oppressive to women. Exclusive roles of the sexes are to be outgrown just like witchdoctors, horse-drawn carriages, and rotary telephones. We have indeed “progressed” (?) much further along than some have even imagined.

Visualize This, If You Can

In the epilogue of his book, I Permit Not A Woman….To Remain Shackled, Robert H. Rowland wrote: “Visualize with me an unusual, but not unscriptural scene. It is Sunday morning and we walk down the hall of the educational wing of the church.” He goes on to describe several scenes: In one room “the minister and his wife are team-teaching a mixed class on family relations. Across the hall, an older lady, who spent 40 years in the mission field in Africa, is teaching a mixed college class about mission work … In another classroom, a sister who recently graduated from a Christian university with a major in Biblical Languages is teaching a dozen men and women New Testament Greek. Down the hall, a Christian woman, who is a trained psychologist, is teaching a group of recovering alcoholics and their mates. In the auditorium, a Christian woman who is head of the music department at the local Christian university has a large group of men and women studying worship and is training them to read music and blend voices to more effectively teach and admonish in song. In the family room, the new youth minister is teaching teenagers to resist Satan and live for Christ in this sin-pressured world. She recently graduated from a Christian university. The teenagers have already learned to love and respect her.” After the congregation gathers for worship in the auditorium, “the lady who taught the music class encourages the church to join her in two songs of praise.” After a brother reads scripture, “a sister asks the church to join her in the offering of prayer and thanksgiving.” After the preaching, which we are told was done by a man, “three men and three ladies wait on the communion table and serve the church. One of the ladies offers thanks for the bread and a man offers thanks for the wine.” During the announcement, an elder announces “that Sister Jones, from our favorite Christian university, and professor of Biblical Archeology, would be preaching for us next Sunday morning on the subject ‘Archaeological Evidence That The Bible Is True.’” “The bulletin reports the activities of deacons and deaconesses who are involved in dozens of ministries within the membership and in outreach.” The writer then goes on to lambaste those who would find this whole thing “shocking.” Yes, this will indeed be quite shocking to most who read this, but such is the vision of some among us.

Hearing Voices

In an article entitled “Hearing Women’s Voices At The Stamford Church Of Christ,” Dale Pauls, “minister” of the Stamford Church of Christ in Stamford, CT wrote:

Where I worship God I hear women’s voices. I hear them read Scripture, sometimes with an interpretive passion I’ve rarely heard from men. I hear them pray in ways that stir my soul and awaken places in my heart that were dormant and undiscovered. I hear them bring a woman’s sensibility to their reflections on the suffering of Christ as we commune together at the Lord’s Table. I hear announcements that make sense because they are directly given by those most familiar with the real needs of our church family. And I have sat in, and greatly benefited from, classes taught by female social workers or Bible scholars. In fact, where I worship God we understand that distinctions of roles, privileges, rights and status on the basis of birth (that is, on the basis of race, gender and class) are ended in Christ.

I would like to think that reasonable, God-fearing women would easily recognize the folly of such radical feminism. I would like to think that all of you who read this will be  appalled by these shenanigans. But, experience has taught me that this is not always the case. Some of my worst critics concerning gender roles have been Christian women. Depending upon their own perspectives, some have thought me too conservative while others have considered me to be too liberal. Gender issues are extremely volatile, even among Christians. One of the reasons for this is that the feminization process feeds off the real injustices that have existed — and in some cases still exist — in our culture concerning women and equality. I understand this and try to be as sensitive as I can without sacrificing what I believe the Bible to be teaching on this subject. I do not wish to ignore or diminish the legitimate concerns on which feminization feeds. But if you want to know why men today are acting more like women and women more like men, it is because feminist propaganda reigns supreme in our society — a society that encourages, even admonishes, men to get in touch with their feminine side and be, you guessed it, more sensitive. At the same time, women are taught to be more aggressive and authoritarian. It is exactly this role reversal, or interchangeability, that is touted by our feminized culture. In The Feminization Of America, the chapter that deals with “New Men, New Women” ends the section on the new man with this paragraph: “The new man, it appears, is a fit companion for the new woman who, as his mother, lover, wife, coworker, has helped him become the expressive, open-minded, vulnerable, empathetic man he is today” (p. 208). How sweet. Isn’t that just precious. Let all us men get in touch with our feelings so we can act like girly-men. God forbid!

Will The Real Men Please Stand Up?

Where is that man who God created to be male, not female? Where is that man who is a leader of and provider for his family? Where is that man’s man who exhibits those qualities that will make him desirable to God’s woman? He is, unfortunately, an endangered species. But if he can’t be found in society, then surely he can be found in the church? Sadly, this is not always the case, for instead of the church being the salt and light it needs to be to a lost and dying world, the world has risen up to imprint its image upon the church. Too many Christian men act neither like Christians nor men. But the image is not faded altogether, for there is Jesus, the personification of what real manhood is all about. And there is Peter, Paul, Timothy, Titus and the others. There are also those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that speak to the fullness of Christian manhood:

…without reproach or blameless, given to hospitality, good testimony from without, a lover of good, no lover of money, not greedy for ill-gotten gain, temperate, self-controlled, orderly, gentle, not contentious, not a brawler, soberminded, apt to teach, not a novice, children in subjection, able to rule his own house, the husband of one wife.

This is true manhood and it ought to be what all men of God strive for.

Such a man is the “head of his wife, as also Christ is the head of the church. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Ephesians. 5:23-24). The man of God is not a neutered wimp who has emasculated himself at the altar of an anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-biblical feminism. The true man of God is not willing to relinquish his leadership role in the family or the church, and God’s woman does not want him to do so. This may make us “peculiar” to those around us, but it must be remembered that this is precisely what God created us in His Son to be (cf. Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). May God help us to be true men and women, and may we glorify Him in these efforts. In part V of this study, I’ll make my concluding remarks.

2 Comments

    1. Kim, thanks for taking the time to read this series. I’m glad it was helpful. May God continue to bless you as you study His word.

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