THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH
Times have changed. Yes.
"One hundred years ago, today,
The man with powder in his gun,
Went out to hunt the deer.
But now the thing has changed somewhat,
And on another plan,
Goes out to hunt the man"
Mere customs may change without injury or loss. But divinely ordered conduct must be held inviolate by those whose hearts are ruled by the fear of God.
"The authority of Scripture means everything to Baptists. It is by this alone that they justify their tenacity as to the mode of baptism. Give up the doctrine of the absolute authority and inerrant character of the Scriptures and Baptists may allow any change in church polity that human wisdom seems to justify" (A. H. Strong).
"To say the very least, it is not Baptistic to distort the Bible into justification of any practice. Our glory has been that we have twisted our behavior, when it needed it, into conformity with the New Testament. We have always been willing to meet the Bible with open face and heart ready to obey its clear teaching. Let us do so here" (A. T. Robertson, Feminism, J. W. Porter, P. 110).
*We retain this quotation even though we are well aware that the writer later changed his position on feminism, and struggled to find justification for the popular view. Let our readers consider Professor Robertson's later position in the light of this quotation.
In speaking of woman's place in the church, we have reference to her place in the service of God as a church member. Therefore our discussion will have to do with more than the conduct of women in the public gatherings of the church. Our subject implies a truth that needs emphasis. That truth is that there is a place for women in the church.
Sometimes our opposition to unscriptural usurpations by women seems to create an impression that woman has no place in the church. This is far from true. She has a very important place, and a neglected one- neglected because so often she has been far more concerned with trying to take man's place than she has with filling her own God-given sphere. Woman's glory will be found in her own sphere. Her shame comes when she gets out of that sphere.
Let us note first:
I. THINGS WOMEN ARE FORBIDDEN TO DO
"I suffer not a woman to teach" (1 Tim. 2:12). The infinitive "to teach* is without an object and the passage means simply that women are not to occupy the office of teacher in the church. They may teach privately and informally, but not publicly and officially.
2. THEY ARE FORBIDDEN TO OFFER PUBLIC PRAYER
"I desire therefore that the men pray in every place (R.V. - 1 Tim. 2:8).
The Greek word for "men" is the word (aner) that distinguishes men from women and children, and not the generic word (anthropos). The article is also present before men, and, that of itself, would serve to distinguish men from women. Hence, although, as Fausset observes, the emphasis is not on "the men," but is on the matter of praying; yet the fact remains that the passage distinguishes the men from the women and limits praying in every place of public worship to the men. For the women the apostle gave other instructions (v. 9). This is in accord with every commentator or scholar of note.
4. THEY ARE FORBIDDEN EVEN TO SPEAK IN THE CHURCH
"As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church" (1 Cor. 14:34, 35). The reference here is to the public assemblies and not to the church building.
See 1 Cor. 11:3-10. It is quite evident that tins refers to public worship. It may be said that inasmuch as women are not allowed to prophesy, that this does not apply when women keep their places. But praying is mentioned also. And, although women are not to lead in public prayer, yet they should pray silently and thus participate in the worship. This passage by no means intimates that if a woman has long hair, this is all the covering she needs. Paul simply states that the fact that it is natural for women to have long hair is only an indication of the need of an additional covering. This covering is to be worn in public worship as a sign of the woman's subjection to her husband, or to man in general if the woman is unmarried.
*The phrase here quoted evidently gives the ground of the apostle's prohibition against women teaching publicly in the church, i. e., such involves them in having dominion over men. But the word for man here, as in the eighth verse, distinguishes men from women and children. Hence women are not forbidden to teach children apart from the public assembly and they are commanded to teach women, as we shall see later.
6. THEY ARE NOT TO APPEAR IN IMMODEST OR SHOWY APPAREL
See 1 Tim. 2:9, 10.
II. REASONS FOR THESE PROHIBITIONS
1. THE PRIORITY OF ADAM IN CREATION
2. THE DECEPTION OF THE WOMAN IN THE FALL
See 1 Tim. 2:14. The woman was beguiled by the serpent into thinking that the eating of the forbidden fruit would bring instead of banishment. Man partook of the fruit, but was not deceived. He knew what the consequences would be; and probably partook of the fruit because he preferred to be cast out with his wife rather than be separated from her. The deception of the woman in the fall shows the susceptibility of women to deception. This is not because of any general inferiority of women to men. It is because of a difference in temperament and nature. Woman's nature fits her for the home and for rearing children. To this end she has a very delicate temperament and a strongly emotional nature. Thus she is characteristically swayed more easily than a man. Her nature disposes her to come to conclusions by intuition rather than by candid consideration. All of these facts unfit women for public leadership or teaching. If there ever has been a woman preacher that has preached the truth, even on other things than the place of women, we have never known it.
III. ARGUMENTS AGAINST THESE PROHIBITIONS ANSWERED
Many arguments are brought by those who would escape and set aside the evident meaning of the passages already cited. We note the most prominent of these arguments. It is argued:-
The following cases are cited:
See judges 4:5. While Deborah did her judging in her own home (Judges 4:5), yet it is true that her place of leadership was inconsistent with New Testament prohibitions. But that by no means sets aside these prohibitions. We must not assume that all that was done by even the outstanding characters of the Bible was according to the will of God. And certainly we must not set aside the plain commands of God because some acted inconsistently with these commands.
Besides, what God permitted in the Old Testament dispensation is no standard by which to determine his will for the New Testament dispensation. He permitted polygamy, then regulated it by prescribing through Moses the necessity of a written divorcement; but finally, in the New Testament, there was a return to the original meaning and spirit of marriage, which permits divorce only for fornication (Matt. 19:3-9).
So it is with reference to the place of women. The New Testament reverts to the original order, despite that which God permitted in the Old Testament dispensation. And the prohibitions noticed apply to the church. Certainly, then, nothing permitted out of the church can annul them.
See Luke 2:36-38. There is no proof that Anna made a public address, and hence there is no proof that she violated 1 Tim. 2:12. She was not in the church, and hence did not violate 1 Cor. 14:34. It is evident that she simply spoke informally to those she saw around the temple. This is no violation of Scripture, as we shall see more clearly later. Besides, it is the commands of God and not conduct of Anna, or that of any other persons, that reveal God's will. Anna's conduct can no more be taken as a criterion than that of Deborah, or other erring characters.
(3) The Women that Helped Jesus and Paul.
See Luke 8:2, 3; Rom. 16:1, 2; Phil. 4:3. Mrs. M. B. Woodworth- Etter says:
"He and Phebe had been holding revivals together; now she is called to the city of Rome; Paul cannot go with her, but he is very careful of her reputation, and that she is treated with respect; he writes a letter of recommendation: 'I commend unto you Phebe, our sister, which is a servant of the church (which signifies a minister of the church) at Cenchrea, that ye receive her in the Lord as becometh saints and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you, for she has been a succourer of many and of myself also' (Rom. 16:1)." (Signs and Wonders, p.211).
This is a fair sample of the adding to and glaring misrepresentation of the Scripture by those who plead the example of the women mentioned above as an argument against the prohibitions Paul pronounced against women. There is not the slightest hint that any of these women preached or did anything else inconsistent with Paul's prohibitions. In the case of the women associated with Christ, it is plainly stated that they "ministered unto him of their substance." Phebe, and probably the other women that labored with Paul did the same to Paul. Some of them may have done personal work also.
(4) The women that were sent from the tomb of Jesus with a message for the apostles.
(5) The women of the church at Jerusalem on Pentecost.
Whatever speaking was done by the women that were members of the church and filled with the Spirit was done as they passed around among the people, and was the same informal witnessing that Anna did. The Spirit has never led women to violate His own prohibitions spoken through Paul, for He does not contradict Himself.
(6) The Samaritan Woman.
John 4:16. The only thing Jesus commanded this woman to do was to go call her husband. Whatever else she did was of her own accord and without necessary divine authority. However there is no indication that she did more than speak informally to those she met.
(7) Philip's Daughters.
See Acts 21:9. There is no record of Philip's daughters ever violating either the letter or the spirit of the prohibitions we have already noticed. Thus the objector has nothing to base his argument on. The fact that they were prophetesses by no means proves that they delivered public addresses or that they ever usurped authority over a man. In fact, while Paul was in the home of Philip, God sent a prophet all the way from Jerusalem to deliver a message to him.
(8) Prophetess in the last days.
See Acts 2:18. The fact that Philip's daughters were prophetesses and yet never, so far as we know, delivered a public address or usurped authority over men shows that this passage need not be taken as indicating anything in women more than their private witnessing. The burden of proof is on the objector and he has nothing to offer as proof.
(9) Priscilla and Aquila
See Acts 18:26. Priscilla did what is indicated here in the privacy of her own home and in conjunction with her husband. The Bible says nothing against the private witnessing of women. They may show the lost the way of salvation, or they may witness to the truth privately even to men. And certainly when the wife does this in conjunction with her husband, she is not getting out of her scriptural place.
(10) The Women Prophetesses at Corinth.
See 1 Cor. 11:5-16. The women at Corinth were committing two offences. Not only were they speaking in the church, but they were doing it with uncovered heads. Paul, in the chapter just referred to, corrected the latter. In the fourteenth chapter he corrects the former.
For a similar approach to the partaking of idol feasts see 1 Cor. 8:10 and 10:14-21. In the first passage, Paul simply says that the Corinthian saints were to be careful lest the partaking of idol feasts offend those who could not see that an idol was nothing. But in the latter passage he condemns the eating of idol feasts as a thing wholly out of place for the Christian.
2. THAT GAL. 3:28 PROVES THAT THERE IS NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE SPHERE OF MEN AND THAT OF WOMEN
It displays very poor judgment for the advocates of the public speaking of women before mixed audiences to plead Paul against himself. If the passage under consideration teaches full sex equality and identity of sphere, then it also teaches race equality, and the intermarriage of the white and black races is justified. The passage teaches nothing more than that all are saved alike and that all have the same gracious relationship to Christ. "Race and sex have their respective gifts to be dedicated and used. The work and calling of the sexes continue different, although in Christ there is neither male nor female" (Ministry of Women).
This notion is wholly without foundation. The Greek word for "speak" is a common one for any kind of speaking.
But the prohibition of the asking of questions by women is only secondary to the prohibition against their speaking at all in the church.
5. THAT THIS PROHIBITION REFERS TO THE BUSINESS MEETINGS OF THE CHURCH
6. THAT, SINCE THE WOMAN IS TOLD TO ASK HER HUSBAND AT HOME ABOUT MATTERS SHE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND, THIS APPLIES ONLY TO MARRIED WOMEN
It would be queer indeed for Paul to prohibit the married woman to speak, while allowing the unmarried woman to do so; since married women are usually older and more judicious than single women. In this passage Paul gives his instructions to cover normal circumstances, not feeling it necessary to provide for exceptions. An unmarried woman may easily find some man whom she can ask concerning the things she does not understand.
7. THAT PAUL'S INSTRUCTIONS TO THE CORINTHIANS APPLIED ONLY TO THE CHURCH AT CORINTH
But Paul said (R. V. ): "As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches" (1 Cor. 14:34). It seems that it was only at Corinth that women were getting out of their place. In the above passage Paul instructed the church at Corinth to maintain the same order with reference to the women in public worship that was maintained in all the other churches.
8. THAT THE PROHIBITION AGAINST WOMEN IN PUBLIC WORSHIP APPLIED ONLY TO THE APOSTOLIC AGE
Objectors say that it was the common conception then that women who appeared in public unveiled and who performed any public function were of low character; and that it was for that reason that the apostle commanded women to be quiet and to wear veils. Thus the prohibitions are taken in the same light as Paul's exhortation to abstain from the eating of meat offered to idols; viz., in order to avoid offending others. Or, as A. T. Robertson says: "Many modern Christians feel that there were special conditions in Ephesus as in Corinth which called for strict regulations on the women which do not always apply now."
But such notions are clearly disproved by the fact that Paul gives his command for the silence of women as a command of the Lord. He does not say this with reference to abstinence from meat offered to idols. Then Paul grounds the prohibition against women's teaching on the priority of man in creation and the deception of the woman in the fall. Thus he shows that this prohibition is founded on the very nature of things, and therefore is abiding.
IV. THINGS WOMEN SHOULD DO
Having noticed what women are forbidden to do, let us now notice what they may and should do.
1. THEY SHOULD ATTEND PUBLIC WORSHIP
This is the duty of all saved people. Women should attend public worship to learn and to receive such spiritual blessings as may come from the worship. The soul of every saved person needs the healing, purifying, elevating influence of public worship.
These are also general duties, as well as privileges. Some would say that if a woman is not permitted to speak in the church, then she can't sing. But we must interpret Paul by the intentions manifest in the context. He was not discussing singing, but speaking. And while singing involves speaking; yet, technically, singing is not speaking.
3. THEY SHOULD GIVE OF THEIR MEANS
4. THEY ARE TO RECOGNIZE THE HOME AS THEIR CHIEF SPHERE OF ACTIVITY
Titus 2:5. It is here that woman is to find her chief work not only in caring for her own family, but in entertaining others (1 Tim. 5:9, 10). It is here and here alone that she can earn a prophet's reward by entertaining prophets (Matt. 10:41).
Titus 2:3-5. They are especially charged to teach young women practical home duties, but this Scripture does not limit their teaching to this. They are to be "teachers of good things" (v. 3), and the reason for their teaching, "that the Word of God be not blasphemed," open up a considerable field of instruction. We find nothing in the Scripture against the teaching of women and children alone by women at any time and at any place. The Scripture does not say that their teaching is to be done only in the home, nor does it say that they must teach only one at a time. To teach privately does not necessarily mean to teach only one at a time. See Luke 10:23.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the Scripture against women teaching Bible classes composed wholly of women or children, so long as they do it in subjection to the church pastor, and their own husbands. Those who would forbid women to teach women and children are simply adding to the Word of God.