The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (II)

Preacher with Bible

This is the second in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Nor, as we learned in the previous article, does the N.T. authorize a pastor-system in which one man exercises “rule” over the local church. Instead, the Bible teaches the local church is to be served by a plurality of men (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Jas. 5:14) who meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 & Tit. 1:5-9 and are selected by the congregation they serve (Acts 6:3). These men, when scripturally qualified and selected, are “gifts” given by the Lord to local churches (cf. Eph. 4:7-16). This means that among churches of Christ faithful to the N.T. there can never be any organizational structure larger than the local church. This means that all the organizational and ecclesiastical structures in use in Christendom today are unscriptural and, as such, do not honor or glorify the Lord they claim to serve. Furthermore, the one-man pastor-system that pervades Christendom today dishonors the Lord and that glorious body for which He shed His precious blood.

Rightly rejecting, as they do, the ecclesiastical hierarchies and one-man pastoral systems that exist in most denominations today, local churches of Christ, when they have qualified men, always appoint a plurality of men to serve as elders/bishops/pastors, as the Scriptures dictate.

However, when qualified men are not available to serve the local church, there has all too often been the tendency to look for an evangelist/preacher/minister who can provide that leadership and direction. This is a gross misunderstanding of the role and function of the preacher/evangelist/minister.

“Preacher”

Paul was a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). In Romans 10:14, he wrote, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” “Preacher” is translated from a Greek word (kerux) that means “a herald.” It describes one having a message to proclaim. The preacher is to herald or proclaim the word of God, the gospel or good news of God’s plan for saving mankind.

“Evangelist”

Both Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5) are called evangelists. In the Greek, the word means “a messenger of good” (Vine), and describes one who brings the “good news” of the gospel. This work is identified as a gift of God for the benefit of the church in Eph. 4:11-12. Contrary to what some think, this word does not connote a traveling preacher. What is emphasized by the word is the message.

“Minister”

We find the term in Eph. 3:7, Col. 1:23,25; 1 Tim. 4:6. Of course, the Bible knows nothing of “the Minister” who is set apart and superior to other saints. However, the word, which in the Greek means “a servant,” emphasizes the relationship the preacher or evangelist has to those he teaches. Paul emphasized this concept when he called preachers “ministers through whom you believed” (1 Cor. 3:5).

1 Peter 4:11 says: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” All ministers may not be preachers, but every faithful preacher of the gospel is a minister of the Lord and to those who hear him.

But nowhere in God’s word is the preacher/evangelist/minister given the “oversight” or “rule” in the local church. Therefore, the idea of Evangelistic Oversight did not originate from the N.T.

The charge Paul gave to Timothy was to “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2). In doing so, he was to: “Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” His charge to Titus was to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Thus, we have the work of an evangelist, or as might be considered, his duty, responsibility or office, which Paul made absolutely clear must be done if the evangelist is to fulfill his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). The evangelist’s authority does not extend beyond that of an elder, nor can it be rightly assumed that he is free from the oversight of the elders, but should labor under them when a member of a church that is scripturally organized. But what about a situation where the church is without elders? Should not an evangelist take charge in such a situation? Did not Paul command Titus to take charge of the churches in Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)? Was this not the same point Paul made to Timothy when he mentioned to him the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13?

No, Titus was not put “in charge” in Crete. Paul left him there to “set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5), but there is nothing in the immediate context, or instructions found elsewhere in the N.T., that indicate that the preacher exercises any evangelistic oversight. Therefore, Paul’s instructions did not authorize “evangelistic oversight.” On the contrary, appointing elders would entail the preacher encouraging the congregation, through his preaching and teaching, to “seek out” from among themselves men meeting the Holy Spirit’s criteria. This would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Doing so did not put Titus “in charge” of anything but doing his work as an evangelist and fulfilling his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5).

Well, if the preacher/evangelist/ minister is not to “take charge” and “pastor” the flock, as we see being done in the denominational world, then what is the work of a preacher?

The Preacher’s Work As Revealed In The Scriptures

The preacher’s work that follows is gleaned from a study of Paul’s various instructions to Timothy and Titus.

First, because the preacher is not directly inspired today, he must devote himself to the study of the Scriptures so that in his lessons he is “rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15). Christians need to understand that the preacher in his study is just as much “on the job” as the preacher who is out “pounding the pavement.” Study is hard work. In fact, in some instances it can be as exhausting as physical labor, in that “much study,” the ancient preacher told us, “is wearisome to the flesh” (Eccl. 12:12). Some preachers, more inclined to be gregarious than others, spend their time visiting around the community and seeking opportunities to teach. This is well and good. However, they may find it difficult to buckle down for the hard, exhausting work of studying. The lack of study will show in their preaching and the brethren will start to complain. Surely, a faithful minister of the gospel will not become so entangled in the affairs of life that he cannot find the time to study. Unfortunately, some preachers receive “full time” support while devoting much of their time to fishing, golfing, selling, et cetera. But the Scriptures say that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim 2:4). So, although it is frequently overlooked, a preacher must spend a great deal of his time in studying God’s word, contemplating its application, and praying for its adoption.

Second, the work of a preacher is to “preach the word,” which includes convincing, rebuking and exhorting with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). There is an unwholesome trend among some brethren today to minimize the importance of pulpit preaching, and to over-emphasize other forms of evangelism. These want to measure a preacher’s effectiveness by how many cold calls he makes in “personal work.” Such an attitude is unfair in that it magnifies one kind of evangelism over against another. In truth, neither of these forms of evangelism should be ignored, for both pulpit and individual teaching are important. But to judge a preacher’s effectiveness by one or the other is a serious mistake. Paul said that he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Further, the evangelist is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), which simply means when it is well received and when it’s not.

Third, the preacher is to “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5). This includes, as the immediate context indicates, the appointing of elders. As we’ve already pointed out, this would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Further, the preacher must hold fast the pattern of sound words, charging some that they “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3; Titus 1:10-14; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must warn the church against apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-7; Acts 20:29-31). Even elders, when convicted of sin, must be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:19-22; Titus 3:10-11).

Fourth, the preacher’s work involves training others so they can be effective servants of Christ: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This would entail teaching the younger men with the view that they will develop into elders, deacons and preachers. When a preacher has done his duty to train others, the work continues to move forward even when he is absent preaching and teaching elsewhere, or when he moves on to another work. A congregation that has talented men who have been taught well are able to function effectively without a “full time” evangelist, if need be.

Fifth, the preacher is called upon by God to be “an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12; 5:22). The man doing these things will be an asset to the local church and will, no doubt, be highly esteemed in love for his work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:13). Being fully supported to preach the gospel on a regular basis is a privilege and trust that must never be abused by those who desire to live faithfully before the Lord.

In the next article, we plan to delve a bit further into our investigation of the church without laity.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity

The "My Church" Of Matthew 16:18

The church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ is unique (cf. Acts 20:28). It is most unfortunate that it remains a church unknown to most. Astoundingly, it is a church without laity, and it is this feature that we’ll be focusing on in this series of articles. But to do so, it is necessary to begin this story at the beginning.

Before His death on the cross some two thousand years ago, Jesus declared, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18b, KJV). It is, therefore, this church — the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 — on which we’ll be concentrating our attention. But to see this church as Christ created it will not be easy for some because they will come to this study with various denominational preconceptions about what the church belonging to Christ ought to look like. Nevertheless, in order to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of this church, it is required that one reject, at least for the moment (and I hope permanently), all denominational thinking, for it is just such thinking that has caused the church without laity to be marginalized and unappreciated for most of the last two thousand years.

Therefore, I ask all of you who read here to make a genuine effort to free your minds of the denominational clutter that so easily besets us and to be willing to open your Bibles in a study of a subject that is of paramount importance to us all, in that it has to do with where we will be spending an eternity.

Acts 2 records the founding of the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. It took place after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven in A.D. 30. As the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached by His apostles on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s ascension, a day that was later referred to by the apostle Peter as “the beginning” (Acts 11:15), those who heard and obeyed the message were added to the church by the Lord Himself (cf. Acts 2:47). It has been this way ever since.

The Church Is A “Called-out” Group Of People

The church that the Lord added people to at its beginning was a “called out” or “gathered people” (for such is the meaning of ekklesia, the Greek word often translated “church” in the New Testament) that did not consist of a clergy-laity distinction, as do most religious bodies today. On the contrary, Christ’s church, a church He purchased with His own blood (cf. Acts 20:28; Hebrews 10:29), consists entirely of a priesthood of believers who have been “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3:27 Romans 6:3). It was Peter himself who said to all baptized believers: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In another place, he said, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, the church belonging to Christ is a called-out group of people who make up a priesthood of all believers. As such, they are able to offer their own sacrifices to God without any earthly mediators.

Ironically, and I say this because current practices in many Protestant churches belie this idea, the watchword of the Protestant Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Luther himself said: “All Christians are priests and all priests are Christians. (Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 283). It was even earlier than this that Augustine, who is so greatly admired and venerated by Roman Catholics, wrote, “None of the faithful doubts that the priesthood of the Jews was a figure of that royal priesthood which is in the Church, to which are consecrated all who belong to the Body of Christ, the sovereign and true Head of all priests” (Augustine, Quaestionum Evangeliorum, ii, 322ff, quoted in Paul F. Palmer, SJ, “The Lay Priesthood: Real or Metaphysical?,” Theological Studies, Vol. 8 [1947], p. 583).

But in quoting these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, I have really gotten a little ahead of the story I wish to tell. My point in quoting them at this time is simply this: many years after the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 was established, prominent Catholics and Protestants recognized that in the New Testament, and this is going to be a complete surprise to some who read this, there was no concept of a “priesthood within the priesthood” of all believers. In the “My church” of Matthew 16:18 there was no laity, period. All were priests. In fact, not only did Christ’s church not have a laity over which earthly priests were to exercise authority, there was absolutely no clergy-laity distinction to be found in Christ’s church.

Defining Terms

Even though clergy and laity are frequently used terms today, it cannot be assumed that all understand how these terms are being used here. Permit me, then, a little time and space to define terms. Depending on the specific denominational context, the laity are defined by function (namely, they do not administer the Word and “sacraments”), by status (they do not have a “Rev.” in front of their names), by location (they serve primarily in the world), by education (they are not theologically trained), by remuneration (they are not full-time, paid “ministers”), and by lifestyle (they are not considered overtly religious, but are primarily occupied with secular life). Notice that these qualifications are mostly negative. On the flip side of this coin, the clergy are defined positively with reference to the things mentioned above. As such, the clergy dominate the work and function of the various churches they “serve.”

A Departure From “The Faith”

During the first century, a century that had revealed to it “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b), Christ’s church existed exclusively without any clergy-laity distinctions. It was not until the second and third centuries, when rank apostasy had produced a man-made ecclesiastical order in the church, that a definite clergy-laity distinction clearly manifested itself. Such remains in place until now in many different denominations. This man-made innovation was the result of three major influences:

  1. a man-made molding of the original, godly structure of the New Testament church into the image of the secular structures of the Greek-Roman world which, incidentally, were not unlike the professional-lay distinctions we find in our own modern societies;
  2. the transference of the Old Testament priesthood model to the leadership of the church;
  3. the false, but popular, piety that elevated the Lord’s Supper to a mystery which required priestly administration. After all, if the utterly false idea of transubstantiation is believed (a doctrine that says the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread of the Lord’s Supper, when blessed, actually turn into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ), then it is only natural to think that special care and handling of such must be given by a select few who can correctly administer said “sacrament.”

However, and this is always the case, such developmental theology was the product of men and, therefore, did not reflect the truths taught in the New Testament.

The Lord Established Only One Church

Jesus Christ established only one church (sometimes referred to as a “body”) of which He, and He alone, is the Head (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; Colossians 1:18). Consequently, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), and this refers to the ascended and glorified Jesus, functions as this body’s High Priest and only Mediator (cf. the book of Hebrews). Thus, the church belonging to Christ needs no earthly mediator through which it offers its sacrifices, and any such vicarious system is a perversion of the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. As such, this universal body of believers has no earthly head or organizational structure. This means that all ecclesiastical structures, whether they be Catholic or Protestant, are not just extra-biblical, but anti-biblical as well. “In Him” (Colossians 2:10), and this is to say in connection with Jesus Christ, the church is complete, and because it is, it needs no exalted priestly caste, like the old Jewish system, to intercede or mediate on its behalf.

Nevertheless, the Lord instructed His called out group of people—that is, His church—to organize themselves into local congregations. These were sometimes referred to as “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). Consequently, within the pages of the New Testament, we can read about the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2), the churches of Galatia (cf. Galatians 1:2), the saints that made up the church at Ephesus (cf. Ephesians 1:1), Philippi (cf. Philippians 1:1), and Colosse (cf. Colossians 1:2). We can further read of churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (cf. Revelation 2-3). The men in these local congregations who had the “oversight” (the Greek word here is episkopeo, from which we derive the word “bishop”), were called “elders” in 1 Peter 5:1-5. The English word “elders” is translated from the Greek presbuteros, from which is derived the transliterated term “presbyters.” Therefore, an elder (or presbyter) was a bishop (that is, one who exercised oversight) in a local congregation. This is borne out by the immediate passage under consideration, and by others, like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, where the qualifications of these men are discussed in some detail.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, he calls these unique men “bishops,” but in Titus he refers to the same group of men as not just “bishops,” but also as “elders.” Consequently, the Scriptures make it clear that an elder and a bishop in local churches of Christ were not different offices (or functions), but were terms that described the maturity of the men (they were elders, or older men) who exercised the oversight (or bishopric) in a local congregation. In Peter’s instructions, we learn that these men were to “feed” the flock of God which was among them (cf. 1 Peter 5:2). The NKJV translates this word as “shepherd,” while the ASV says “tend.” The Greek word so translated is poimaino, from which we get the word “pastor.” So, according to the New Testament, the terms elder, bishop and pastor are used interchangeably of the same man, and are not titles, per se, but serve to describe who and what these men are in connection with the “flock,” or local church, of which they are members. But when those in these churches started changing the government of the local church, mimicking the Greek-Roman culture in which they lived, they developed an ecclesiastical order that conferred a higher ranking on a bishop than they did an elder, eventually granting to bishops oversight over more than the local church of which they were members.

Always A Plurality

On top of everything else, and this is going to be another big surprise for some of you, elders, bishops and pastors, who were the overseers of local churches of Christ, were always referred to in the Scriptures in the plural. In others words, when the apostle Paul was in Miletus and wanted to speak with the leaders of the Ephesian church, he sent and called for “the elders [plural] of the church” (Acts 20:17). This is not a surprise for the careful Bible student, for in Acts 14:23 we learn that Paul and Barnabas, in their second missionary journey, had “appointed elders [plural] in every church.” Also, in a letter written to Christians everywhere, James assumes the established order in every church would be “elders” (plural), for he instructed Christians, no matter where they were, to “call for the elders [plural] of the church” (James 5:14). One can conclude, then, that the New Testament order was that if a local church had elders (and this was not a given, for there would not always be men with the necessary qualifications), there would always be at least two of them.

Therefore, according to the New Testament, a local church that was scripturally and fully organized had a plurality of elders/bishops/pastors who exercised oversight in that local church. These men had to meet certain stringent qualifications (cf. 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) and be selected by the local church of which they were members (cf. Acts 6:3). Consequently, one man could not scripturally exercise oversight in a local church, as is done in many denominational churches today. It was not until the 2nd century, in the face of various heresies (Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing tendencies) that Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 50-110) argued for having a single bishop so that doctrinal unity could be maintained. By the time of the writings of Tertullian (A.D. 197-200), a structure for the church consisting of ordinary members who were served by a priestly or ecclesiastical order of bishops, presbyters and deacons, was already in place.

In the 3rd century, the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum in the East devoted five chapters to the office of bishop, claiming that bishops were “priests and prophets, and princes and leaders and kings, and mediators between God and his faithful, and receivers of the word, and preachers and proclaimers thereof, and knowers of the Scriptures and of the utterances of God, and witnesses of his will, who bears the sins of all, and are to give answer for all” (translated by R.H. Connolly [Oxford: Claredon Press, 1929], page 80).

Meanwhile in the West, Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage, and therefore a usurper of the biblically ordained government of the church, which recognized no earthly church government larger than that which was contained to the local church, modeled his church order on the civil orders of the rulers of the city of Carthage. In doing so:

  1. He made a clear distinction between the order of bishops and the laity.
  2. He sacralized the priesthood according to the Old Testament model of the sacrificial priesthood.
  3. He established a monolithic episcopate that was to be the same for all of Africa
  4. He linked ministry to sacrifice, again in the image of the Temple priesthood.
  5. He modeled the bishops in the image of the Roman senators.
  6. He consolidated the supposed ruling powers of the bishops through various means, such as episcopal conclaves.
  7. He further argued that anyone who separates from a bishop, separates from the church.

Consequently, in less than two centuries, the church, which was now to be identified with Christendom, had moved from a community of priests to a separate clergy that vicariously represented both the priestly and kingly rule of the people belonging to Christ.

According to the New Testament, however, the plurality of men who were appointed elders/bishops/pastors in local churches of Christ did not exercise their oversight “as being lords over” those who had been entrusted to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). In the chart below, one can see the erroneous view of the church as developed by man contrasted with the New Testament view.

R1C1 R1C1

Looking at this chart, it is easy to see the stark difference between what God ordained and what man ultimately created. Elders/bishops/pastors, although they are entrusted with the oversight of the local church, are not something other than or more than their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Accordingly, they exercise their oversight not as “lords,” but as “examples” of what pure, unadulterated Christianity is all about.

Even so, from the 4th to the 16th centuries, the clergy-laity distinction grew even worse. After his “conversion” in A.D. 312, and please note the quotation marks, the Roman emperor, Constantine, appointed bishops as civil magistrates throughout the Roman empire. He also organized the various churches into dioceses along the pattern of Roman regional districts. Furthermore, he consistently used the terms “clerical” and “cleric” to designate a privileged class. By the time of the Gregorian reform (A.D. 1057-1123), the structure of the entire Western (or Roman Catholic) Church was shaped by Roman Law. Therefore, in the period prior to the Protestant Reformation:

  1. the bishop of Rome came to be regarded as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed to be the church of Christ on earth;
  2. the language of worship ceased to be the language of the people;
  3. the clergy dressed differently and were prepared for ministry in a seminary;
  4. the clergy became celibate, and thus distant from the normal experiences of the laity;
  5. the cup, or fruit of the vine, was removed from the laity in the “Eucharist,” the term by which the Lord’s Supper came to be identified by the Romanists.

In due course, the clergy-laity distinction became institutionalized in religious orders, priestly ordination, and the seminary system.

Clergy-Laity Distinction Continued Among The Protestants

Even the Protestant Reformation, with its call to recover “the priesthood of all believers,” did not succeed in reinstating the laity as one dignified people called to service by means of their membership in the church belonging to Christ. Why the full implications of “the priesthood of all believers” was not fully realized in the churches spawned by the Protestant Reformation is an interesting question. Some of the reasons why are as follows:

  1. The Reformation was primarily concerned with soteriology (i.e., salvation) than ecclesiology.
  2. The priesthood of all believers was interpreted according to its effect on individual salvation. But with regard to the collective religious experience, it was “business as usual.”
  3. The preacher or “Rev.” replaced the priest.
  4. The sermon became the central act of Protestant worship—the Protestant “Christ-event,” if you will. In turn, this gave the preacher the same clerical standing as the Catholic officiant at the Mass, even though he now wore a Geneva gown.
  5. The scholarship inferred in such a ministry ultimately succeeded in once again taking the Bible out of the hands of the layperson and putting it in the hands of the seminary-trained scholar.

In the evolution of Western society from A.D. 500 to 1500, a period referred to by some, and I think rightly so, as the “Dark Ages,” the common man (or layperson) had lost access to high culture and learning. As early as the 8th century, the language of scholarship and worship had ceased to be the language of the people, and was, instead, Latin.

Although the Reformation spawned denominations that took seriously the priesthood of all believers, like the Quakers, Moravians, Puritans, Baptists and Anabaptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ et al., which were all lay oriented, even these denominations—denominations that stemmed from the so-called “radical reformation”—have now gravitated to the pre-Reformation clergy-laity distinction.

These churches eventually adopted the Catholic seminary system. While exceptions do exist, the seminary system, which was fully developed by the 19th century, became the universal model for equipping a generation of “pastors,” thus ensuring their enculturation into a clerical culture. Today, theological education remains, for the most part, the exclusive preoccupation of those intending a career in “the ministry” (read clergy). Ordination is still retained almost universally for the full-time, supported, church worker. Most denominations still regard the ordination process as conferring a priestly character. Para-church organizations not withstanding, there are no denominations that ordain people to secular careers and missions. In fact, “lay” spirituality is something that is rarely taught and promoted. Although the Reformation rejected the two-level spirituality of the monastery and common Christian, Protestant spirituality, with few exceptions, has focused either on charismatic and mystical experiences, or on the deeper spiritual life of outstanding church leaders. Consequently, there has been little exploring of the holiness of the ordinary Christian in the totality of his or her life: eating, sleeping, working, buying and selling, playing, having sexual relations, and dying. It is clear, then, that in all these years Christendom has not become free of the Greek dualism that relegates bodily life to a lower, less important, even insignificant, level of existence.

When thinking about all this, it is imperative we recognize that the same cultural and social forces that were at work in Christendom during the sixteen centuries before the Protestant Reformation (secular management models; professional-lay analogies; the tendency to deal with outside threats by increasing central government) are still at work even today. Therefore, the fleshly predisposition to a clergy-laity model must be continuously fought by all who would honor the church for which Christ died—the “My church” of Matthew 16:18. Addressing the need to reject the current clergy-laity model, D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994), who was a Quaker, went so far as to call for a new Reformation:

Our opportunity for a big step lies in opening the ministry of the ordinary Christian in much the same manner that our ancestors opened Bible reading to the ordinary Christian. To do this means, in one sense, the inauguration of a new Reformation while in another it means the logical completion of the earlier Reformation in which the implications of the position taken were neither fully understood nor loyally followed (E. Trueblood, Your Other Vocation, page 32).

Abolishing the clergy-laity model and recovering the unique dignity of the whole people of God is — in theory as well as practice — a tall order indeed. Lord willing, it is precisely this glorious pursuit we’ll explore in the next article in this series.

Gender & Worship (Conclusion)

Femenism vs. God

I have frequently thought that if we would just get ourselves taught on this issue, emphasizing what the Bible says about the male and female roles, then a meeting of the whole congregation could be conducted in such a way that no one, male or female, would get out of line, and ultimately no one would feel left out of the process. But congregations that have tried this have not always met with positive results. Why? Because although it is certainly lawful for a woman to be in a business meeting of the church, it is not always expedient. The apostle Paul addressed this principle when he said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Being Lawful Doesn’t Equate With Expedient

What this means concerning the subject at hand is that although a combined meeting of men and women called to discuss church business is authorized, this does not mean it is mandatory, or even desirable. It all depends upon our attitudes, dispositions and, of course, our understanding of God’s word. Is our collective thinking up to speed on this, brotherhood wise? In other words, do most churches of Christ believe there is a “thus sayeth the Lord” for congregational business meetings? No. Are there some congregations that think there are? Yes. But even when a congregation concludes it does have authority to do so, even desiring to implement such a policy, are there reasons why such may not be expedient? Yes. For example, due to so many misconceptions that exist concerning this subject (some in the church and others in the culture), is there reason to think that some women might have a tendency to get out of their place in such meetings? And if they do get out of line, will the rest be willing to rebuke them, and take the necessary action if they don’t repent of their ungodly behavior? Or, might not a husband try to defend his wife even when it is clear to the rest that she has gotten out of her place? I hope you’re getting my point here. Yes, I believe the Scriptures teach conclusively that congregational business meetings are authorized and, therefore, can be conducted — and I would like to see this happen in more churches of Christ — but the pertinent question still remains: Is it expedient? Remember, just because something is lawful doesn’t automatically mean it is expedient, or that it truly edifies (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23).

Neither “Headship,” “Oversight,” Nor “Leadership” Authorizes Domination

I am the head of my wife and she, praise God, honors me as her lord (cf. 1 Peter 3:6). However, this does not mean that I run roughshod over her. In fact, I discuss with her every decision that directly impacts her life with me. We work as a husband and wife team. We discuss, or have discussed, most everything that relates to our life and work together. However, as the one who is in subjection, she defers to my judgment, as long as it is consistent with what God teaches in His word. This means that the ultimate authority for this relationship is not Allan Turner — it is, instead, Jesus Christ. This means that the delegated authority I have been given as my wife’s head must be exercised in view of the truths revealed in God’s Word. If I do not understand her needs (i.e., if I don’t “dwell with her according to knowledge,” 1 Peter 3:7), then I am not what the Lord requires me to be, and our prayers will be hindered. But how can I understand her if I’m not willing to discuss these needs with her? By the same token, how can the men of the congregation understand the needs of the congregation if they are not discussing these with the women members of the church?

If this is true, and I believe it is, and if elders are supposed to be the kinds of husbands we’ve just talked about, then how could an eldership, if one exists, exclude female members of the congregation from discussing the important business of the church? I think the only correct answer is: It couldn’t and it wouldn’t! However, I have heard that there are elderships exercising their “oversight”/“rule” in local churches at the expense of the male members of the congregation, in that they do not even meet with the men of the church to discuss congregational business. This is, in my understanding of things, just plain WRONG!

The apostle Peter, who was himself an elder, instructed elders to: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). What’s my point? Simply this: If elders are not to be lords of (or masters over) the flock which is among them, how can it be thought wise for them to never have a meeting with the members of the church? Unless the congregation is so small that it would be possible for the elders to discuss the matter with everyone in the church individually before making some major decision, then a business meeting with the church would seem not only appropriate, but sometimes mandatory.

How does this apply to the subject of congregational business meetings? Well, if elders ought not to run roughshod over the men of the congregation by never calling a business meeting with them, then why should those in a “men’s business meeting” feel justified in making significant/major decisions without the valuable input of the women of the congregation? Godly elders do not relinquish oversight of the local congregation when they consult with members in a business meeting anymore than a husband does when he consults his wife and children. Consequently, the men of the congregation do not relinquish their leadership, nor do the women they consult usurp their authority, be it in a business meeting or otherwise.

So, someone says, “Okay, then, we won’t object to women being in a business meeting as long as they remain silent.” In other words, such will concede to the women being informed by what takes place, but they refuse to permit them to inform the meeting, for to do so, they think, would cause them to either teach over or exercise authority over the men. This could happen, of course, but not necessarily so!

Remember, if you will, that sweet Priscilla, a godly Christian woman, along with her husband, “took [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). The KJV and the ASV translate this same Greek word as “expounded.” Most assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or exercising authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). Remember, also, that dear sister Phoebe was a servant (a “minister,” if you will) of the “church in Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1). Paul asked the church at Rome to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and [to] assist her in whatever business she has need of you: for she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (v. 2). Assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or usurping authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12).

Yes, women may get “out of line” or “out of their place” in a meeting of the church to discuss business, and this must be guarded against by all involved. However, even men sometimes get “out of line” or “out of their place” in business meetings, and this is no less sinful than if women were to do so. Perhaps a reading of Philippians 2:1-8 at the start of business meetings would be beneficial to all involved.

Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

We must learn that when the apostle Paul said: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition [strife] or conceit [vainglory]; but in lowliness of mind [humility] let each esteem others better [more significant] than himself,” he wasn’t simply making a suggestion. He was, instead, giving a direct command! Christians are plainly taught to “submit…one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). Such godliness would eliminate the attitudes that wreak havoc in too many “men’s business meetings,” as it would with congregational business meetings, as well.

Authority Comes With Tremendous Responsibilities

My position/role with reference to the exercise of authority does not dictate my significance. The world may reason this way, but the gospel teaches that our glory, our worth, is measured by our personal conformity to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. Feminism argues that a woman cannot be “a serious person” unless she occupies a position of headship/authority. This kind of thinking does not come from “above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15). It reflects the mass stampede for power, recognition, status and prestige we see all around us in a lost and dying world. But the world’s reasoning is invalid. Authority does not authenticate me as a person made in the image of God. Authority is not a privilege to be exploited to build up my ego. Authority is a responsibility one bears for the benefit of others without regard for one’s self. This is the Christian view. In other words, my personal significance is not measured according to my rung on the ladder. Neither is my opportunity for personal fulfillment enlarged or diminished according to the role I have been assigned. If it is, then the goal of life degenerates into competition for power, and when this happens, then no one hungers and thirsts for the true fulfillment that comes only from doing righteousness. The ancient preacher said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13). Godly submission honors and glorifies God just as much as godly authority, and neither of these is easier than the other. For a woman to learn godly submission and for a man to learn godly leadership takes devotion and work. Devoted to God and the male-female roles He ordained, we work hard to exemplify these roles to the glory of God.

Contrary to what some think, the Bible does not teach that men are superior and that women are inferior. Thus, man’s authority is a responsibility, a God-given trust, for the good of all. It is not a right of man to exercise for his own self-exaltation or ego-satisfaction. And it is not so much a prerogative as it is a calling. It is, in fact, a duty, an obligation, a charge that God has given to man. It is unfortunate that sin has distorted both masculinity and femininity. Consequently, it is only “in Christ” that one can expect to learn what mature masculinity and mature femininity are all about.

“Authority,” whether in the home or church, is vested in men. However, any and all power associated with such authority recedes before its responsibility. In Matthew 20:25-26, the Bible says: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.’” Therefore, mature Christian masculinity views leadership/authority as an obligation to be borne (a sacred duty to be discharged for the good of others, if you will), not simply as a right to assert or power to exercise.

Conclusion

In conclusion, and in consideration of 1 Corinthians 14:40, which says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” it seems prudent that a meeting called to address the business of a church without elders would benefit from (1) an agenda of business to be discussed and (2) a presiding “chairman” to facilitate the meeting. If executed well, these would provide a means for all things to be done decently and in order. But to exclude women from such meetings, as is often done today, and to do so arguing that the Scriptures require it to be done this way, is simply not scriptural, in that it cannot be demonstrated that the Bible teaches any such thing!

However, and as I’ve already mentioned, a congregational meeting of men and women to discuss business, although scriptural, may simply not be deemed expedient. In that case, and consistent with the prohibitions of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, a men’s business meeting could be conducted. But because we are compelled to arrive at our conclusions by consensus, then how could it be appropriate to make decisions that affect a whole congregation without first considering what the women are thinking? I don’t think it can be, unless you buy into the argument that a “men’s business meeting” is the “ruling entity” for the church. However, and as I’ve pointed out in this series of articles, the Bible makes it clear that this is a function reserved for the eldership, and not a group of lesser qualified men. Therefore, some means will be necessary for “feeling the pulse” of the women who make up the congregation. In other words, it is important not only that the women are being told after the fact what happens in the men’s business meeting, but that they have genuine input prior to decisions being made.

If, then, women are not going to be allowed in the meeting, or if in the meeting they are not permitted to speak, then it seems reasonable/expedient that the men could assign a man to meet with the women prior to the men’s meeting, so as to make sure they had a feel for what the women were thinking, and all this for the ultimate purpose of reaching a consensus. The male, who would chair the meeting, could then report to the men what the women thought about the business matters at hand. This would require, or so it seems to me, an agenda of business to be provided to these women before or during their meeting. Then, not only would the women of the congregation be informed as to decisions that were being made, but they would also have genuine input into the decision making process, so that when a decision is finally made, it would indeed be by consensus.

In a congregation without elders, this is, in my judgment, the only scriptural avenue available. By “only scriptural avenue,” I do not mean the particular plan I have set forth here. What I mean is that, in lieu of elders, it seems to me that the only scriptural avenue we have open to us is to arrive at our decisions by consensus. To doubt, as some do, that a consensus is possible, one must lack faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ in shaping the hearts of both men and women. It is my prayer that the Lord will help us do His will in His way.

Please, think seriously about what I’ve said. And as you do, understand that in the absence of a humble spirit of love and mutual concern, there are no rules of order that can make a church without elders function for the Lord as He would have it. As Christians, our task, without sacrificing the truths taught in God’s word, is to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Without elders, a church is, at best, still “lacking” (Titus 1:5). All who make up such a church should be determined to be the kind of men and women who will one day allow them to appoint, from among themselves, godly men who will be both qualified and willing to take the “oversight” of the church, as God intended. They must be praying for and working toward that day, and the Lord will surely bless them as they endeavor to do His will in all things.

May the good Lord bless us all as we continue to humbly study His word.

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.

Gender & Worship (III)

feminism and goddess worship

According to Rosemary Radford Ruether: “Feminist theology must create a new textual base, a new canon…. Feminist theology cannot be done from the existing base of the Christian Bible” (Woman-guides: Readings Toward a Feminist Theology, p. ix). In other words, before society can be thoroughly feminized, the radical feminists know they must eliminate any influence the Bible has had on our society. In doing so, the feminists refer to pre-Christian, non-Christian, and so-called post-Christian religions that affirm the image of the Divine as male and female. For instance, Ruether´s book, Womanguides, is a collection of writings from the ancient Near East, Hebrew and Greek mythology, Christian Science, paganism, goddess worship, and the New Age movement. As Phyllis Trible wrote in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality: “A feminist who loves the Bible produces, in the thinking of many, an oxymoron…. After all, if no man can serve two masters, no woman can serve two authorities, a master called scripture and a mistress called feminism” (quoted in Mary A. Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, p. 109). These feminists, of course, do not just reject the Bible, but they reject the God of the Bible as well.

In her book, Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions, Naomi R. Goldenberg wrote: “‘God is going to change,’ I thought. We women are going to bring an end to God. As we take positions in government, in medicine, in law, in business, in the arts and, finally, in religion, we will be the end of Him. We will change the world so much that He won’t fit in anymore” (p. 3). According to the feminists, “If God is male, then the male is God” (Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, p. 9). Daly writes:

The symbol of the Father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered service to [patriarchal] society by making its mechanism for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in “his” heaven is a father ruling “his” people, then it is in the “nature” of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated (ibid., p. 13).

In rejecting Jehovah, the only true and living God, feminists sought a new symbol that would affirm the legitimacy of their revolutionary movement: the goddess. According to Mary A. Kassian:

Initially, feminists reacted with scorn to the goddess and goddess worship. Why would intelligent, self-defining women want to bow down to ancient idols of stone? But feminists learned that goddess worship was not worship of an external deity; it was, in essence, worship of oneself. The goddess was merely a symbol that acknowledged the legitimacy of self-worship (The Feminist Gospel, p. 159).

In modern feminism, Satan´s old Edenic lie, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4), has come full-cycle.

Those who have tried to be feminists without giving up the Bible (something that is quite impossible) have insisted on the use of inclusive language. Rejecting masculine pronouns as limiting one´s understanding of who God is, and citing His “feminine” characteristics, feminists feel justified in calling God “She” or “Mother.” And although feminists claim that using female as well as male pronouns to address God has de-sexualized Him, in effect, the opposite has occurred. When feminists switched from masculine to feminine in their description of God, they reduced God to sexuality. They actually presented an image of a deity who is bisexual or androgynous rather than one who transcends the polarity of the sexes. In addition, in renaming God as She/He, feminists have stripped God of independent, personalized existence. The Bible teaches that Jehovah is an individualized, personalized Being who has chosen to relate to His creation as “male.” He is not merely a “force,” as the pagans have traditionally identified Him. Nevertheless, in transforming Biblical feminine metaphors into a divine name for God, the feminists soon discovered that they needed to extend this practice to other metaphors as well, i.e., God ought to be understood as a “rock,” “eagle,” “door,” etc. As a result, His personality was further diffused to encompass all natural phenomena. Renaming God in a way other than He had named Himself has ultimately led the proponents of inclusive language to think of God as a force with no independent personality. This is evident by their reference to God as “He/She/It” (see Virginia Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine, p. 113).

Rejecting God as Father, the feminists have rejected Jesus Christ as Son. They have argued that Jesus´ maleness is inconsequential. In her book, Women & Worship, Sharon Neufer Emswiler surmised, “if the society had been reversed and Palestine had been a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy, surely God would have sent her Daughter” (p. 31). Therefore, feminists urge their followers to change their language about Christ. In doing so, they reject Son of Man, who they consider too masculine, and encourage the use of the Human One. But, of course, such theological shenanigans have serious consequences. The Son of Man is a title indicating that Jesus was divine and those who heard Him refer to Himself by this designation understood that He was really identifying Himself as the “Son of God” (Luke 22:69, 70). Whereas, the designation the Human One indicates that Jesus was merely an example of ideal selfhood or humanity. In other words, through the feminist theologians´ inclusive language, Christ is viewed as a model of the new humanity, the one sent by God to reveal to us what we can become, rather than God Almighty in the flesh, who took upon Himself the penalty for our sins.

There must be no mistake about it, radical feminism is anti-Bible, anti-God and anti-Christ. It does not liberate, rather it enslaves all those who embrace it to the bondage of sin. Conversely, it is the Bible, and the Bible alone, that contains the real hope for the liberation of women. Knowing the Truth makes one free indeed (John 8:32).

A Taste Of Heaven

The history of man and woman, as well as our own experiences, demonstrates the real problems created by the consequences of our first parents´ sins. The unity God intended for His creation was destroyed by those sins. As a result, the woman would desire to usurp man´s rule, and the man, if he was to rule, would do so with great difficulty. Add to these consequences our own sins, and the battle between the sexes has actually grown into a full-fledged war. The family, the very fabric of our society, is being destroyed today. Divorce is rampant. The so-called “traditional family structure” has been redefined to include unmarried couples and homosexual liaisons (they call each other “housemates” and “significant others”). So complete has been the transformation that today we just call the “married.”

In addition, the feminist goal, which is nothing short of social, political, and cultural revolution, has had a dramatic impact in our day. Whether we like to admit it or not, feminism has converted our culture to the feminist mind-set. In fact, the feminization of America is in full-swing. As a so-called “Biblical feminist” has noted: “Feminism since the early 1960s has begun to color interpersonal relations, the language we speak, family life, the educational system, child-rearing practices, politics, business, the mass media, religion, law, the judicial system, the cultural value system, and intellectual life” (quoted in Mary Pride, The Way Home, page 12).

Paradise Lost

As originally created, the male and female were to complete each other as they enabled one another to fulfill the God-ordained purpose of procreating and subduing the earth. Neither was to seek the other´s position, but as half of a whole they were to complement each other. When sin entered into the world, their distinctive roles were blurred and their harmonious relationship distorted. Instead of working together in unity, they began to compete with each other. Instead of reflecting the glory of God, they began to mirror the corruption of sin. Their original “oneness” was replaced by a power struggle that has continued in society ever since. This struggle, although it does not always manifest itself overtly, does, nevertheless, lie just below the surface in even the best of marriages.

Unfortunately, many men, even Christians, “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), have engaged in the practice of “lording it over” their wives. While on the other hand, many women, even Christians, have become “silly women laden with sins” (II Timothy 3:6) and have not willingly submitted to the headship of their husbands. It is sad but true that many Christians, both male and female, instead of “prov[ing] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1), are actually being guided by current secular values. Of course, we, of all people, ought to know that the answer to this problem is not to be found in current secular thought or even in so-called traditional thinking. Instead, the answer is to be found in God´s Word, the Bible. It is in this book that we will find the answer to our problem.

Paradise Restored

A part of the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that what was lost in the Garden of Eden can be restored in Christ. As faithful followers of the humble Galilean, the husband and wife can once again become the unit God intended them to be from the very beginning: the husband, the loving leader who “nourishes and cherishes” his wife as if she were his own body (Ephesians 5:28,29) and the wife, the suitable helper who willingly submits to her husband´s guidance, “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Such a relationship must be characterized by selflessness, yet it is only in Christ that one learns to crucify Self. It is only in Christ that one exchanges the egotistical “I am” of sinful pride for the loving guidance of the Great I Am. It is only in Christ that two people will live in the estate of matrimony as God truly intended. Does this mean that people who are not Christians are not married? No, of course not. Does it mean that a Christian cannot marry a non-Christian? Again, no. (Please note that I am not attempting to answer here the question of whether a Christian ought to marry a non-Christian.) Well, then, what does it mean? What it means is that without the restoration that comes in Christ, marriage will never be, nor can it ever be, what the Lord created it to be; namely, a relationship of unity that supersedes every other earthly relationship and in a very wonderful way reflects the unity that exists between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This Bible truth is a part of that light that illuminates a lost and dying world (Matthew 5:14). And it is this truth that functions as some of the salt that preserves our decaying society (Matthew 5:13). If Christians are not living this truth out in their lives on a regular basis, then they are no good to themselves or anyone else.

In Titus 2:5, the Word of God informs us that the younger women are to be taught to be “keepers at home” (KJV) or “homemakers” (NKJV). The Bible does not prohibit the wife from working outside the home, but it does teach that the home is to be her primary concern. It is unfortunate that the idea of homemaker is being much maligned in our present day society. It is tragic that young women and men are being taught that a female cannot really be happy as a homemaker. It is sad that young girls are being told they cannot be fulfilled unless they have a career that takes them away from their homemaking and child-rearing responsibilities. What is even more tragic is that many Christians have begun to incorporate these secular values into their own lifestyles.

Churches of Christ cannot be negligent in their responsibility to edify themselves concerning this important subject. We must realize that young Christians will not be taught their God-ordained roles, and the duties associated with them, by a secular system inundated by humanism. Churches owe it to their young people to pass on to them the richness of the husband and wife relationship as taught in God´s Word. Furthermore, as husbands and wives, we have the responsibility to live out our God-ordained roles before our children. But this is not enough! These roles must be reinforced by Bible classes that teach the duties and responsibilities, as well as the benefits, of the husband and wife relationship. In truth, we have not done a very good job with this subject, and it has definitely begun to show. The divorce rate among Christians, although much lower than that reflected in the world, is still much higher than anyone would have predicted just thirty years ago. Are we going to wait until the divorce rate among us begins to match the world´s before we do something about it? If not, then we had better get busy and lovingly teach on this extremely critical subject before we find ourselves overshadowed by the horror of darkness that is engulfing our society. Fellow Christians, we must let our lights shine.

The Wife And The Home

The place where God put the wife is the husband´s home (notice that I did not say house). The home is a unique kingdom all its own in the midst of a hostile world. It´s a stronghold amid life´s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary! The home is unique in that it is not built on the shifting sands of public life or cultural changes. The home is an institution (relationship might be a better word) that has special meaning and value because it has been especially ordained by God. It´s a place where peace, quietness, joy, love, purity, discipline, respect, obedience, and happiness is to dwell. It is the wife´s calling and her pleasure to build up for her husband a “world within the world,” and do her life´s work there. How happy and blessed is the woman who realizes just how great and rich a task and position God has given her! In this special relationship, the wife occupies a position of permanence, not novelty; constancy, not flux or change; peace, not antagonism or adversariness. In this relationship there are actual deeds, not just empty words; gentle persuasion, not arrogant commands; and, of course, love, not lust. All these are inspired and sustained by her love for her husband — this is the wife´s kingdom. “A virtuous woman [an excellent wife] is the crown of her husband” (Proverbs 12:4).

The traditional family, as defined by secular society, has assumed the husband to be the superior ruler and the wife to be the inferior servant. This is far to the right of what God has ordained in His Word. On the other hand, the feminist movement has swung the pendulum far to the left in denying the family structure and gender roles God has given. Let us, therefore, as Christians, strive for that golden mean set forth in God´s Word and let us “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s], that [we] may prove [to a lost and dying world] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

What, Then, Can Women Do In The Church?

The answer to the question posed above is “Plenty!” Women are not second-class citizens of the kingdom of God (cf. Galatians 3:28). Consequently, they do not function as inferior members of the local church. They are priests, as are the male members of the church. As such, they do not need male mediation to carry out their sacrifices. In other words, because they are not excluded from our worship assemblies, nor are they prevented from offering their sacrifices or worship in these assemblies, their service to the Lord is not encumbered by their God-ordained roles of submission. Therefore, I find it disappointing that so many Christian men think they have the right to regularly exclude women from congregational decisions. So, it is to the subject of our so-called “business meetings” that we’ll turn our attention in part IV of this study.

Gender & Worship (II)

Male and Female Roles

Within liberal institutional churches of Christ, there is a movement that openly advocates and practices what it calls “gender justice.” A current web site located at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=gal328.org%20CofC is representative of this movement. Their definition of what they mean by “gender justice” is found on the front page of their site, and reads:

In general, gender justice means recognizing that men and women are created by God, redeemed by Christ, and gifted by the Spirit truly without distinction or partiality. In Christian community, gender justice means encouraging both men and women to exercise their Spirit-given gifts in the church´s work, worship, and leadership, and celebrating the truth that the Spirit grants such gifts without respect to gender. Concretely, gender justice in the Church of Christ includes opening traditionally masculine leadership roles and activities (deacon, elder, minister, worship leader, preacher, teacher, etc.) to women, and encouraging men to discover and cultivate their gifts for activities traditionally performed by women.

Having spent some time reading the material on this web site, it is clear that those affiliated with this movement believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are no longer authoritative, having been superseded by Galatians 3:28, which they interpret not just to be speaking of salvation, but the entire gamut of congregational life — a life they believe to be gender neutral. Their egalitarianism is further represented by the following:

The two passages of Scripture most often referred to on this topic are found in lst Corinthians 14 and lst Timothy 2. We have concluded that these passages, and those of a similar nature elsewhere, are to be understood in the context of their communities. The writers of the New Testament had specific concerns when they wrote the epistles to those building the church and where the circumstances are not replicated the admonitions do not hold. Paul´s word to the Galatians, we are all one in Christ, remains as the final word. It is with this spirit in mind that we have sought to use the gifts of all in our community in our worship to God (http://www.brooklinechurch.org/public-worship/).

Back in January of 1991, The Spiritual Sword, a publication that represents our more conservative institutional brethren, quoted the following document of the Bering Drive church of Christ in Houston, Texas:

On July 31, 1988, the elders presented a statement to the Bering family concerning the use of spiritual gifts by both men and women expressing our conviction that it is scriptural and appropriate for sisters, as well as brothers, to serve in Sunday morning worship roles of ushering, greeting visitors, receiving the offering, reading scriptures, leading prayers, leading singing, and serving communion (Report on Women´s Participation in Public Worship, March 5, 1989).

So, it cannot be denied that some of our liberal institutional brethren have been boldly marching down the path of egalitarianism for some time now. I suspect they will eventually complete their journey in some liberal denominational church. However, the journey they have contemplated and have now undertaken reflects the cultural flood of changes that are not just crashing against churches of Christ today, but will eventually inundate, and sweep away forever, many who have taken their eyes off the objective standard of God´s word and, as a result, have lost their biblical world view. But we must also be aware that it is not just our more liberal brethren who are on this journey.

Based on what I´ve heard from the “horse´s mouth,” along with what I´ve been told by others, I believe it safe to say that some “conservative” brethren are beginning to tinker with the scriptural limitations placed on women in the church. I´ve even talked with some who believe the scope of women´s participation in worship ought to be significantly broadened. These argue there are absolutely no restrictions placed on a woman in our assemblies except that she cannot teach or exercise authority over a man, and therefore ushering, distributing the Lord´s supper, passing the collection plate, et cetera, are perfectly acceptable. These, they claim, do not place women in a position of teaching or exercising authority over men. Instead, they argue, these jobs only place women in positions of service, and service is consistent with women´s God-ordained roles.

Such, Of Course, Is A “Non Sequitur”

Non sequitur is a Latin term that literally means “it does not follow,” and this is usually used to refer to something that does not follow from that which was expressed immediately before. So, I agree with these folks that there are no restrictions on women in our assemblies except that they cannot  teach or exercise authority over men. However, it does not follow that women can do the tasks mentioned and, on doing so, not violate the restrictions placed upon them by the Scriptures.

In truth, all work done in the church, whether by evangelists, elders, or whoever, is “service.” For example, when elders exercise the oversight of a local congregation, they do so as servants. In fact, if elders were to exercise themselves as “lords over those entrusted to them, and not as servants who will give an account to the Lord,” they would be conducting themselves in direct disobedience to the truths taught in 1 Peter 5:3.

By the same token, evangelists, who have an obligation “to set in order the things that are lacking,” even appointing elders in every church when there are men who are qualified (Titus 1:5), they do so as servants, not lords. Therefore, the concept of “evangelistic oversight” is a man-made doctrine designed to permit the evangelist to exercise unauthorized control over the church. I have seen my liberal brethren practice this over and over again in foreign evangelism. It may even appear that this man-made method provides a more efficient way to get things done before elders can be appointed. In fact, in a church without elders, too many “conservative” brethren try to force a preacher into this role. Nevertheless, it is totally inconsistent with what is taught in God´s word.

An evangelist serves not by exercising any kind of “evangelist oversight,” but by preaching and teaching the word and setting a proper example. Yes, and it bears repeating, there certainly are brethren who want the evangelist to exercise evangelistic oversight, and there are even preachers who like to operate this way, but again, there is absolutely no authority for it in God´s word.

Thus, for someone to argue that a woman is not out of her God-ordained place when she is doing these things because she is exercising herself as a servant, would, in effect, be an argument for a woman to serve as an elder or evangelist. And if not, why not?

This, of course, is not what these more conservative brethren actually want. Giving them the benefit of every doubt, it appears that what they really want to do is to not bind on their sisters in Christ those things God hasn´t bound. I am sympathetic to this disposition, but I do not believe this can be done by making arguments that, scripturally speaking, will not “hold water” — arguments that, in fact, wind up loosening where God hasn´t loosed.

The Issue Of Male Leadership

It is my belief that the “silence” and “submission” required of women “in the church” prohibits them from exercising leadership in the general assemblies of the saints. When we see 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as parallel passages, then one understands that women are not required to remain absolutely silent in our assemblies, but are, instead, not to speak or act beyond the point of being in subjection to male leadership. When women do “teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12), they have sinned. Notice, if you will, that the coordinating conjunction “or” connects “teach” and “have authority.” What this is saying is that a woman cannot, when it comes to the teaching of doctrine, either teach “over” or exercise authority “over” a man. Consequently, this passage does not prohibit a woman from teaching or exercising authority in the local church — what it restricts is her doing so “over a man.”

Women are fully authorized to teach doctrine to children and other women, and when they do so, they do so with authority. Their students, whether they be children or other women, are required to be “in silence,” just as they are when men are teaching, preaching and leading the church. So once again, the restriction placed on women in the church is not that they can´t teach or exercise authority, for they both can and do. The restrictions are that they cannot teach or exercise authority “over a man.” Thus, when women take the lead in assemblies of the saints where men are present, no matter in what capacity they do so, they have sinned. This I believe to be the clear, consistent and unequivocal teaching of 1 Corinthains 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. When speaking to this same point, Paul had earlier told the Corinthians that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). When male leadership in the church is challenged and circumvented by women, sin has occurred.

The Bishop And The Female Preacher

Years ago, I received an invitation to visit and preach for a Pentecostal group meeting in a store front in Ybor City, which at the time was a rather run-down, crime-infested area of Tampa, Florida. The church´s “Bishop” and his entourage had made a rather dramatic and unexpected entry at the very end of a week-long gospel meeting we were having at the church of which I was a member. To make a rather long story short, Charles Goodall, who was the preacher for the congregation, and I were eventually invited to attend the “Bishop´s church” and preach.

Upon arrival, we were warmly received and invited to sit up on the dais with the “Bishop,” who was presiding over, and clearly in charge of, the service. In fact, the entire worship service was directed to the “Bishop” who nodded and smiled his approval of all that transpired up to the Goodall and Turner soliloquies, for that´s when things got a little more testy. Afterward, they admitted that what we preached was what the Bible said, alright, but the problem, according to them, was that we had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and because we hadn´t, we were not able to properly teach the “spirit of the letter,” which meant that the scriptures Charles and I used in our sermons, if you took them at face value, clearly condemned their practices. If we had been “Holy Spirit baptized men,” they claimed, then we would have been able to properly interpret the Scriptures. In other words, they didn´t need to change; we simply needed to get the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

But here´s my point. During the service, a woman preacher stood up and read, and then attempted to expound, the Scriptures. When it was pointed out to the “Bishop” and his congregation that she did so in violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, he just smiled and said to the pleasure of all those assembled that night that we were very much mistaken, because acting within his capacity as the “Bishop,” which was to oversee everything that went on in that church, he had given her permission to preach, therefore, she had not gotten out of her place, but was, in fact, “in submission.” When it was pointed out to him that, contrary to the Scriptures, she had taught and exercised authority over every man present, he countered that it appeared we were woefully ignorant of a “Bishop´s authority,” and if, of course, we had actually been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and evidenced it by speaking in tongues, then we would surely know about these kind of things.

Therefore, I find it sad that some of my brethren are now acting a bit like that denominational “bishop,” believing they can authorize a woman to do those things God´s word clearly says she can´t. Even if scripturally qualified and ordained elders granted women the permission to teach or exercise authority over men in the assemblies of the saints, this would not make it right, any more than elders could grant permission for these same women to cheat, lie, or commit adultery, and I am surprised that those who claim to cherish the “old paths” have so readily left the objective standard of God´s word in favor of their subjective and collective think-sos.

But Where Does It Say They Can´t?

But someone says, “But where does it say a woman can´t usher, pass the emblems, take up the collection, et cetera, without exercising authority over a man?” However, and this will no doubt sound too harsh to some, if we´re going to start giving credence to unlearned and immature questions, then we might as well be prepared to be defeated by those who ask: “Where is the passage that says a woman “can´t be” an elder, preacher, et cetera?” You see, there isn´t any one passage that says so literally, just like there isn´t a passage that specifically says, “He that believes and is not baptized shall be lost.” Even so, we know the Bible teaches a person needs to be baptized in order to be saved (cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16). Likewise, we know 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are very much a part of the New Testament and, because they are, women are prohibited from exercising authority over men. This means women are not permitted to take leadership roles especially when the whole church is assembled for worship, as well as other assemblies where men are present. (I realize this is what some are referring to when they use “the assembly” nomenclature, but I continue to think such a distinction is inaccurate and actually serves to perpetuate some of the misunderstandings and misapplications previously mentioned, for a woman is not free from the restrictions of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 just because she is not in a Lord´s Day assembly.)

When the “How can a woman serving the church be exercising authority over men” argument is scripturally demolished, then one should have no problem understanding that the prohibition against women in the assemblies of the saints is not just that they cannot teach over men, but they cannot exercise authority over them as well. The woman´s role does not entail leading an assembly where men are present, and for her to do so, no matter what the capacity, would clearly seem to be a violation of her God-given role. To argue, as some do, that a woman could serve as an usher, take up the collection, or serve the Lord´s supper, fails to appreciate that these tasks are to be done by males in the congregation as they exercise their God-given leadership roles. No one, not even a scripturally-ordained eldership, has the authority to abrogate what God has said about this in His word.

Women, Christ, And The Church

It is most unfortunate that so much effort over the years has needed to be devoted to “keeping women in their place.” This reality, for all those egalitarians out there, is equally the fault of both men and women who have so easily fallen into sin and degradation, which has, in turn, both caused and perpetuated the perversion and distortion of God´s created order. The “Battle of the Sexes” that has ensued has, perhaps more than any other thing, manifested the sinfulness of all mankind, both male and female. This sinfulness has run the gamut from women as inferior chattel who must be kept in their place as second-class human beings, second-class citizens of the community at large, and second-class initiates of the kingdom of God, to women as superior, as taught by the goddess worshipers, practitioners of Wicca, and the high priestesses and acolytes of radical feminism. In between all these is the egalitarianism that has ushered us into the twenty-first century. It is undeniable that egalitarianism is pervasive in our culture, and so is the fact that it is now having an untoward effect on churches of Christ.

In the midst of all this, the Lord left His church here to function as salt and light to a lost and dying world (Matthew 5:13-16). But in order to do this, it must function as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This is facilitated by both men and women, who are all fully-vested participants in the household of God, the church of the living God, the “My church” of Matthew 16:18.

The fact that male leadership is not to be usurped by women in no way impinges upon their much needed participation in the church, any more than the church, which is subject to its head, Jesus Christ, is impaired by His headship. Indeed, the whole church, far from being limited by the Lord´s headship, actually understands itself to be empowered by it.

This, too, ought to be the way women view their service under male leadership in the church, realizing that “service under” correctly reflects the idea that the Greek word hupotage, which is translated “subjection” in 1 Timothy 2:11, conveys. A form of this word (hupotasso) is translated “to be submissive” in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and means literally “to be under obedience, or to be put under another.” So, far from being diminished or impaired by male leadership, godly women are actually exalted and empowered by it.

Some Things My Wife Taught Me About The Church

Back in high school, my wife, Anita, was a member of the National Honor Society. But to say, “I wasn´t!,” is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I was so busy with other things (like playing sports, talking to the girls and eating my lunch), that I barely graduated at all, winding up taking a course in summer school to do so. Nevertheless, several years later, and even though she had two years of college on me, she married me anyway. Think about it. Here was this girl who had been just about “Miss Everything” in high school, willingly submitting herself, including her independence, her name, her destiny, and even her will, to me, her husband. In doing so, my lovely wife and faithful companion became a partaker of that submissive and quiet spirit which she has so graciously hid in her heart all these many years, the spirit which Peter said was “very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). This is the true femininity that was epitomized not in mother Eve, who rebelled against God and sinfully exercised authority over her husband, but by the virgin Mary, who became the mother of Jesus, when she said so unselfishly, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

I am not betraying any confidence I have in Anita by telling you that her subjection to me has not always been easy for her. This is so not just because of her own sinfulness, although this has sometimes been the case. More often than not, though, it has been because of my own ignorance and sin, which has in turn made her already difficult job of submitting an even more Herculean task.

I am most ashamed of those times when I, through my own selfishness, ignorance and sin, have made her already challenging task an even heavier burden. Blinded by my own sinfulness, I couldn´t always see this at the time, but the stronger and more mature I became, the more I recognized the errors of my ways. It grieves me deeply that I have sometimes blamed her for the failures associated with my own imperfect headship. Even so, and in spite of all this, she has demonstrated herself to be a virtuous wife whose worth to me has been “far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10).

Christ´s Headship Is Faultless

Now, I said all that to say this: A wife´s faithful submission to her husband does not make her just a “worthy woman” in her husband´s eyes, but it serves as a fitting example of what the Lord expects from those who make up His church. This is made clear in Ephesians 5:22-24, which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Yes, it is unfortunate that wives´ submission to their husbands is all too frequently made more difficult, or even impaired, by the faulty and imperfect headship exercised by their husbands. This, however, is not true of Christ´s headship, for Jesus simply does not make any mistakes. Therefore, when we who comprise His earthly body fail to faithfully submit to Him as our head, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The faithful wife who responds willingly and lovingly to her feminine duties and responsibilities, honors not just God, her husband, her family, her church, and herself, but she functions as a beautiful example to a lost and dying world what it really means to be a Christian — namely, the faithful submission of our wills to our spiritual head, Jesus Christ, “in all things.” In an egalitarian culture such as ours, this powerful example is sorely missing. Therefore, just think how tragic it is that even some Christians, and I´m talking of both men and women here, fail to recognize and practice the God-ordained headship-submission pattern taught in the Bible.

Christ, The Example Par Excellence

It will seem ironic to many that the Sovereign of the universe and the absolute Head of the church has Himself always been in subjection. Let me demonstrate: Prior to coming into this world, Jesus is identified in John 1:1 as the Divine Logos, or Word of God, who was not only Deity Himself, but was also, and at the same time, in an intimate relationship with Deity. I don´t have the time nor space here to have a more detailed discussion of the nature of Deity. But for those of you who may be interested in such a study, please see my article entitled “God With A Capital ‘G,’” which is located here.

Suffice it to say that in that one state of being God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4), there are three distinctly different personalities: the Father, the Son or Word, and the Holy Spirit. Each one of these personalities shares fully the one essence, nature, or state of being God. Everything involved in being Deity is possessed by each of these personalities. In other words, the Bible teaches there is one, and only one, God; but it just as plainly teaches that the Father is God (John 6:27; Galatians 1:1; Philippians 2:11), the Son is God (John 10:30; 20:28), and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3,4).

Even so, it must be understood that although the Bible says that God is three persons in one essence (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14), it does not teach “Tritheism” (i.e., three Gods). As Roy Lanier, Sr. wrote in his book, The Timeless Trinity: “We do not affirm that one God is three Gods; we affirm that there is but one infinite Spirit Being, but within that one Spirit essence there are three personal distinctions, each of which may be, and is, called God; each capable of loving and being loved by the others; each having a distinct, but not separate, part to play in the creation and salvation of man” (p. 46).

And what was the Divine Logos´ role? It was, quite simply, to leave heaven and the relationship He had enjoyed with His Father and the Holy Spirit throughout eternity and to enter into this world by taking upon Himself flesh, living and ultimately dying as a perfectly sinless man so that all mankind could have the opportunity to be redeemed, and all this at His Father´s behest. You see, the Bible depicts the scheme of redemption as the Father´s idea. The Father, of His own free will, decided to send His Son into this world for the redemption of mankind. The Son, of His own free will, responded positively to His Father’s decision when He came to this earth and experienced death for fallen humanity. Finally, the Holy Spirit, of His own volition, came to this earth to do the bidding of both the Father and the Son. And although it must be understood that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were, and are, all involved in man’s redemption, nevertheless, each person in the Godhead had work to do that was unique only to Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:1,2). When one reads the Bible, these truths are clear. (By clear, I do not mean that I think it is easy for finite creatures to understand how this “threeness” is rooted in the divine essence. On the contrary, by clear, I simply mean that the doctrine of the triune nature of God is clearly taught in the Bible.)

The “division of labor” that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, concerns itself principally with the different works done by the three persons of the Godhead in relation to the scheme of redemption. For example, the Bible depicts God the Father as foreknowing and choosing the plan whereby man could be redeemed (cf. Romans 8:29). In His role or work, the Father is never portrayed as being the One sent. On the contrary, the Father sends the Son and the Spirit (John 5:37; 14:26; 20:21). In turn, the Holy Spirit is involved in the work of sanctification (I Peter 1:1,2), and He is also the agent of inspiration (John 16:13; II Peter 1:21).

Of course, it is the works of Jesus, the Son of God, which receive most of the attention in the New Testament. This is because it is He who “became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Consequently, it was only the Son who experienced death for us. It was only the Son who was resurrected from the dead, taken bodily into heaven, and seated at the Father´s right hand. It is only the Son who is the High Priest and Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14). And last, but certainly not least, it is the Son of God enfleshed who is the example par excellence of what humble submission is all about.

Jesus was the righteous suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who by His sacrificial death would “justify many” (v. 11). Therefore, speaking to followers of Christ who were being called upon to “submit” (v. 13) and be “submissive” (v. 18), it doesn´t surprise us to hear the apostle Peter reminding Christians that Christ also suffered on their behalf, leaving them an example they should thankfully and faithfully follow (cf. 1 Peter 2:21).

The Humble Servant Exalted

In the context of this study, it is important to note that the Lord´s submission to God, the Father, did not rob Him of His Divine essence. While submitting to His Father´s will, He was, is, and always will be, Deity. While here on earth, He still knew He was “equal with God” (Philippians 2:7), even though “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (v. 8). Even though He submissively obeyed His Father in all things, He never — not one single time — quit being God, “For in Him [dwelt] all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

If the Lord´s submission to His Father´s will did not denigrate His status as Deity, then why do feminists argue that the submission required of women in the home and church is somehow demeaning to their status as human beings? What, pray tell, is demeaning about faithful submission? When one is thinking biblically, nothing! But radical feminists and others of their ilk are simply not thinking biblically. In fact, they think of the Bible and the God who claimed to have caused it to be written as the enemy. I’ll have more to say about this, Lord willing, in part III of this study.

Gender & Worship

There are serious differences over the role of women in public worship, along with the part they are to play in church leadership. The egalitarian (or feminist) position, and I have known several Christian women who take it, argues that God’s original intent was for gender to be irrelevant with reference to leadership roles in both the home and the church. One effect of Adam´s sin, they argue, was to replace this original equality with the male domination and female submission structure in play today. Consequently, it is claimed that one of the counter-effects of the Lord’s work on the cross was to abolish this sinful system, at least in His church, and restore the egalitarianism God originally intended. Using Galatians 3:28 as their proof-text, they claim that women may serve the church as elders, deacons, and preachers.

Although the Christians I have known who take the egalitarian position would not go quite this far, nevertheless, they have sought what they consider to be a more active role for women in worship. At the moment, this position does not appear to be much of a threat to the Lord’s church, although there are pockets of it here and there. Even so, it is true that big things often start as something small and seemingly insignificant. It is, therefore, imperative that we consider this issue before it becomes a major problem.

The other position, the one I believe the Bible teaches, is called complementarianism (or hierarchicalism), and teaches that God’s original intention for the human race, established at creation, is clearly stated in 1 Cor. 11:3, which says, “the head of woman is man.” In other words, the male-female/headship-submission structure did not originate with the Fall, but was, in fact, only distorted by it. Consequently, Jesus’ work on the cross did not abolish male headship and establish egalitarianism. Instead, Gal. 3:28, which is the sugar-stick of the feminists, speaks to the equality of males and females concerning salvation (viz., all have equal access to it), and not to every situation of life. Contrary to what the egalitarians believe and think, this verse was never meant to apply to the issue of role distinctions. The headship and submission roles are still assigned to husbands and wives respectively (cf. Eph. 5:22-24), and women are prohibited from serving in roles which would require them to teach or have authority over a man (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12).

For many today, including the egalitarians mentioned above, such a position is not only much too restrictive and inconsistent with the egalitarian spirit of the age, but it actually demeans womanhood. To tell you the truth, short of conversion, I really don´t think it will be possible to convince these folks otherwise. However, and this is the point of this article, I do think the restrictions many churches of Christ place on women add to the perception that women are being thought of as second-class citizens of the kingdom of God. Therefore, it is this kind of thinking to which we now turn our attention.

Women’s Silence

1 Cor. 14:34-35 says: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (NKJV). Some argue that Paul is dealing with a cultural issue at Corinth that is not an issue for us today. Others, believing that tongue speaking and prophesying have ceased, argue that the particular conditions that restricted women from speaking in the assemblies of the saints are not in force today. Yet others think that because Paul said “let them ask their own husbands at home” (v. 35), it is only the wives of the prophets who are prohibited from speaking in the church. Still others, like myself, believe that although the exact circumstances mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are not in play today, nevertheless, the principle—namely, a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man in the assemblies of the saints (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12)—is still in force today. In other words, the principle of a woman’s silence in the assemblies of the saints is the same in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as it is in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, and this principle has in no way been superseded by Gal. 3:28, as feminists, egalitarians, liberals, and other deconstructionists claim. What Paul said in all three of these passages is totally consistent, and certainly not contradictory as some contend, and is therefore the objective standard for all New Testament Christians, whether in the first century or the twenty-first.

Unfortunately, too many Christians over the years have believed that the silence Paul enjoins upon women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is absolute. A cursory reading of what Paul said seems to support such a view. Consequently, some brethren have no problem prohibiting women from teaching classes that the church provides for women and children (there are still those around who believe these must be taught by men). These same folks have prohibited women from speaking in Bible  classes, even when it is to ask a question or seek clarification. Thankfully, this is not a majority opinion, but it is held by some brethren, and I mention it here because I believe it to be related to the next interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12, which does, in fact, appear to be the majority position of those who make up conservative, non-institutional churches of Christ.

“The Assembly” Argument

Many brethren argue that the silence required of women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 has to do with “the assembly” (with the definite emphasis on the “the”), and not when the church is disassembled for age- or subject-related Bible classes. Consequently, the argument goes, when the whole church is assembled for worship, and this is what they are calling  “the assembly,” women must be silent and not speak. On the other hand, when the church is divided into classes, which is not “the assembly,” women may ask questions and make comments consistent with learning, but only so long as they do not teach or exercise authority over the men in the class (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12). This is what I will be calling “the assembly” argument — an argument I believe is not altogether sound.

I contend that the silence of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 does not refer to only “the assembly” (viz., the whole church called together for worship), but to any and all assemblies of the church, whether it be a Lord’s day assembly called to partake of the Lord´s supper and other such acts of worship and devotion, or an assembly called to study the word, or even an assembly of the whole church called together to consider some matter of “business” (cf. Acts 6:3). This means that I believe the principle of women’s silence taught in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12 are, as far as the principle they articulate, actually parallel passages. Consider, if you will, the following illustration, as I believe it will aid you in seeing this for yourself.

Parallel Passages

1 Corinthians 14 1 Timothy 2
“for they are not permitted to speak” (34) “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” (12)
“but they are to be submissive” (35) “but to be in silence” (12)
“if they want to learn something” (35) “Let a woman learn” (11)
“let them ask their own husbands at home” (35) “in silence with all submission” (11)
“as the law also says” (34) Adam and Eve in creation and sin (13-14)

Consequently, the restriction placed on women that prevented them from teaching or having authority over men prohibited them from exercising whatever teaching gifts the Holy Spirit may have given them when the exercise of such gifts would put them in competition with men. This is what I understand Paul to be teaching in 1 Cor. 14:34-35. The teaching of God’s word, and this from the very beginning, was that women, at least in the home and church, were to be in subjection to, and not in competition with, men. Paul makes this clear when he says that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Therefore, and according to the law of God, women are to “keep silent in the churches” when their failure to do so would cause them to interfere with men´s God-given roles.

Contrary to what the egalitarians argue, the issue here is not one of competence or ability (i.e., Paul is not demeaning nor denigrating women), as I’m sure that many of the women prophets were quite capable. Maybe some of them were even more capable, when it came to their God-given abilities, than some men, but again, this is not the issue. The issue was one of roles, and as God has not granted women the right to teach or exercise authority over men, they were to “keep silent in the churches.” This silence was just as silent as the male prophets had to be when God revealed something “to another who sits by” (1 Cor. 14:29). It was just as silent as a male tongue-speaker had to be if there was no male interpreter who could interpret what he was saying (cf. vv.27-28).

Could any of these continue to speak where and when they were authorized? Certainly. Their being “silent” only related to the God-ordained tasks being regulated. Women could sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), make confession of sin (1 Jn. 1:9), as well as make the good confession of faith in the presence of “many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Thankfully, and I believe correctly, many churches of Christ permit women to do all these things. However, this is not the proof that this is what 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is actually teaching. But it does serve to demonstrate that most brethren today recognize that the limitations placed on women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is qualified by the passages mentioned above. (Understanding this is key to understanding the argument I am making, so I´ll have more to say about this in a moment.)

Discounting the exercise of the miraculous gifts that were in play when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, gifts that are no longer being exercised today, the consistent principle being invoked for all times in these verses is that the Lord does not permit women to teach or exercise authority over men “in the church.” And although it may be true — based on what Paul said about the order of creation — that this principle may actually be broader than the church, I don´t think anyone can be dogmatic about this, as it is clear from the context that Paul said what he said so that Timothy would “know how [he] ought to conduct [himself] in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

So, then, does the “be silent” principle mean that a woman must be absolutely silent in the assemblies of the saints, as some have taught? Or, instead, does it mean that women are prevented from engaging in certain actions — namely, teaching or exercising authority over a man? These questions serve as the crux of the matter, as I see it. If women are to be absolutely silent in our assemblies, then it is not permissible for them to participate in congregational singing, for to do so, according to Eph. 5:19, involves “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Therefore, if every form of speaking in the church is “shameful” for a woman (cf. 1 Cor. 14:35), then it would clearly be wrong for women to engage in congregational singing, would it not? But if it is not wrong for women to engage in congregational singing, which Paul makes clear is a form of  “speaking,” and I don´t know of any brethren who would argue that it is wrong, then the passage does not prohibit women from speaking in the church in every case.

The Principle Of Qualification

To properly interpret Scripture, it is important for the Bible student to be familiar with the principle of qualification. And what, you say, is the principle of qualification? Let me begin with an illustration. If we can imagine the Bible as a great symphony orchestra, and the Holy Spirit as its Arturo Toscanini, then just as the orchestra plays the notes the great conductor desires, so the Bible, with its great assortment of instruments, produces the message the Holy Spirit wants. When orchestrated or arranged, we have the entire symphony or word of God, as the case may be. Just as each instrumentalist’s part becomes fully clear when played in relation to all the other parts, so any one passage of the Bible becomes clear in its relationship to all other passages. This means that if we hold an interpretation of one passage that contradicts another, at least one of these passages is being interpreted incorrectly. The Holy Spirit does not — indeed cannot — disagree with Himself. For example, one passage cannot be saying we are saved by faith alone (cf. Rom. 3:28), if there is another clear passage that says we are not saved by faith only (cf. Jas. 2:24). Therefore, passages where the obvious meaning is clear help us to understand passages that are sometimes less clear. Because the Bible makes it clear that it is the sum total of God´s word that is the truth on any one subject (cf. Psa. 119:160, NAS), we know that comparing scripture with scripture helps us to understand that one passage can actually qualify another.

So, what exactly do I mean by “qualify”? Simply this: one passage can, in fact, limit or restrict another. Although a qualification may, at first, appear to be a contradiction or denial of a passage, it is not. A qualification merely sets the particular passage in perspective by applying additional information about the topic under discussion.  Thus, Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, which we have traditionally understood to authorize congregational singing, do not contradict 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12; they simply qualify them. In other words, Paul´s prohibition against women speaking in church did not exclude them from “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as Ephesians 5:19 authorizes, or “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” as Col. 3:16 commands.

Therefore, and specifically because scripture does not contradict scripture, the shameful speaking that Paul, in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, associated with women “in church” is not absolute, but qualified. If so, and I simply do not see how it can be denied, then citing 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as if it is an absolute blanket over women speaking in “the assembly” just does not hold water; that is, it is not a sound biblical argument (please excuse my mixed metaphors here).

Women are authorized not only to speak in our assemblies, but to teach and admonish as well. Are there limitations? Yes. Have brethren always correctly discerned these limitations? No. Some, misinterpreting 1 Cor. 14:34-35 have bound where God hasn’t bound; others, in their misunderstanding of this and other passages, have loosed where God hasn’t loosed. Both are wrong, and are extremes to be avoided.

Binding Where God Hasn’t Bound

I know of New Testament Christians who believe that when a woman is permitted to publicly confess her faith in an assembly of the saints, she has violated 1 Cor. 14:34-35. This is either because they are blindly following tradition (i.e., “This is the way we’ve always done it.”), or because they have failed to appreciate the principle of qualification, or perhaps both. Ironically, these same folks regularly preach and teach that in order to be saved one must confess the resurrected Jesus as Lord (cf. Rom. 10:9). But Paul goes on to say in the very next verse that this confession is to be made “with the mouth.” Thus, when women are prohibited from making a verbal confession in an assembly, then not only do these who bind this violate Rom. 10:10, they also violate the truth taught in Gal 3:28, which is that salvation is an equal opportunity endeavor, open to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.

Those who so teach ought to seriously consider the admonition the apostle Paul made in the very context of 1 Cor. 14:34-35, for in verses 36 thru 38, he said: “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is  ignorant, let him be ignorant.” This is, of course, a sharp rebuke, but one that was much needed. No one has the right to supersede or abridge the divinely revealed word, and the Corinthians were acting like they had permission to do so. Such arrogance and ignorance, if it can´t be effectively admonished and rebuked, needs to be exposed for what it is. In other words, if one, after being taught on this, is determined to be ignorant, “let him be ignorant,” Paul says. It is unfortunate, but true, that some brethren, even those who we would call “sound” on the institutional question, are determined to prevent the preaching and teaching of the truth on this subject and are, therefore, content to be ignorant on this issue. Therefore, they should be identified as arrogant and ignorant people who are in rebellion against God. Because such plainness of speech isn’t considered by many to be very “nice,” it is hard to find a group of Christians who are willing to do what Paul said. Why, then, are we dismayed that the arrogant and ignorant all too frequently “rule” or control a local church?

Loosening Where God Hasn’t Loosed

On the other hand, and in some cases in reaction to the ignorance mentioned above, some brethren have begun to thrust women into positions that cause them to violate the principles of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12. In other words, they are loosening where God has not loosed. It is the opposite extreme from those who bind where God hasn’t bound, but it is equally as wrong.

Ironically, and not just incidentally, I have known those who argue that binding where God hasn’t bound is better than loosening where God hasn’t loosed. Their defense, if you can believe it, is that binding  is more “conservative” than loosening. Such is, of course, exactly the position of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus in Matthew 12:1-2. In the Lord’s response to their charge that He was permitting His disciples to violate the law of Moses by plucking the heads of grain as they walked through the grain-field on the Sabbath, Jesus made it clear that His disciples were not violating the law of Moses, but only the man-made restrictions placed on the Jews by their Rabbinic traditions. Clearly then, binding where God hasn’t bound is just as wrong as loosening where He hasn’t loosed, and it is to this loosening that we will turn our attention in part II of this study.