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with this movement believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are no longer authoritative, having been superseded by Galatians 3:28, which they interpret not just to be speaking of salvation, but the entire gamut of congregational life — a life they believe to be gender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.