Part I — Women In The Bible
The Old Testament teaches us much about the nature of God. It is the inspired record of God working out his eternal plan for us. From the Old Testament we learn about God’s long-suffering, loving, merciful nature. We see the beginning of his plan for our redemption. The God revealed to us in the Old Testament is the same God further revealed in the New Testament. Through Christ, we can see the promises of God more clearly than those who “welcomed them from a distance” (Heb. 11:13). Furthermore, in this era of God’s history, the Holy Spirit dwells in all who belong to his Son (Rom. 8:9). However, God is still the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We need to remember this truth as we study the Old Testament.
Monarchy, Polygamy and War
There are numerous practices recorded in the Old Testament which are not necessarily God-ordained or which are not necessarily the result of compliance with God’s law or ideal for his people. Monarchy, polygamy, and war are practices which most would agree are not favored by God. He may use those involved in such practices for his purposes, but the practices can still be sinful. The Old Testament faithfully reports the truth about those practices, about the people involved in such practices, about the working of God in spite of such practices, and about God’s use of the practices themselves.
God told Samuel that the peoples’ request for a king was not a rejection of Samuel but a rejection of God. He told Samuel to warn them about the dangers of having a king. But when the people would not listen, God allowed Samuel to give them a king (1 Sam. 8:4-22). This king was even anointed by God (1 Sam. 10:1). Is monarchy to be preferred over democracy and representative government today?
David had numerous wives and Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. In spite of this, God used these kings for his eternal purposes. Few would argue that polygamy or extra-marital affairs should be tolerated by the church today.
God used war many times in the Old Testament to fulfill his purpose. However, he often showed Israel by its victories and defeats that they should not trust in their own weapons and power for winning wars. Remember Gideon and his 300 men with trumpets and jars against the multitude of Midianites, Amalekites and all the people of the East (Jud. 7). When Israel did not rely on God, it was defeated over and over again by the Philistines. 1 Samuel 4-6 records a rout of Israel, the capturing of the ark of the covenant, and the fleeing of Israeli soldiers before the army of the Philistines. But in 1 Samuel 7, after Israel’s repentance, the Lord thundered with a mighty voice and threw the Philistines into confusion so that Israel could defeat them. Israel often forgot (as we often do today) the words David spoke when he met Goliath:
“that all the assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand” (1 Sam. 17:47).
The “arms” Israel was to lean on were God’s “everlasting arms,” not their own arms and weapons. It is the same for us today. We are not to rely on the bombs and electronic weapons systems of the United States, but the power of God. Though God uses war, it is not a human activity with which he is pleased. David was not allowed to build the Temple because he was involved in so many deaths — deaths that were the result of God being with him in battle (1 Chron. 28:3-4). God has made it clear that there will come a day when people will beat their swords into plowshares and when the lion will lie down with the lamb (Is. 2:4 and 11:6-9).
What about patriarchy? Is this the eternal, God-ordained way for God to deal with his people and for the exercise of earthly authority?
The creation stories in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 do not hint at any kind of patriarchy. The creation of humans is as male and female in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The woman is made as a suitable helper (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew word translated helper is often used in the Old Testament to refer to God as a helper. The first mention of any authority of the man over the woman is in Genesis 3:16, and this is a description of the results of the disobedience of the woman and man.
Is patriarchy the result of sin or is it God’s eternal purpose and plan for authority? The Old Testament writers recorded the events of history as they happened, not as they should have happened ideally. Thus, we read of the many wars by and against Israel, the many wives of David and Solomon, the good and bad kings of the divided kingdom, and the good and bad patriarchs.
Deborah, Miriam, and Esther show us that God works through female as well as male leadership.
Women in the New Testament
The New Testament was written in a time when most women were little more than property. Some were required to wear veils in public. The majority had little education and few rights. Thousands of years of patriarchy had taken its toll. If there were to be a change, female leadership would have to emerge slowly. Both Jesus and Paul set the stage for the advancement of women. Jesus had women supporters and followers. Paul worked side-by-side with women missionaries, teachers, leaders, and apostles. Paul lists a few in Romans 16: Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia (a feminine name translated for years as masculine—Junia was probably referred to as an apostle, Romans 16:7), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche labored side-by-side with Paul (Phil. 4:3). Paul declared that in Christ was neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Yet today, despite these examples, we have interpreted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as describing God’s eternal principles, while we have reduced Galatians 3:28 to a reference for who can be saved.
However, from the context of each passage, it is Galatians 3:28 that states the eternal principle, while 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are obviously addressed to specific and temporary situations. In Galatians 3:28 Paul is describing the results of the gospel: in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. He was not just saying that Greeks, slaves, and women could be saved; no one doubted that. He was saying that in Christ the old distinctions of power, authority, and inequality were not to be made.
In 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul refers to women praying, therefore, the “silence” of 1 Corinthians 14:34 must not be literal. In 1 Timothy 2:12, it appears that Paul is trying to correct an abuse of authority, not give instructions to every female in the church for all time.
The Results of the Gospel
Paul learned from his conversion to Christ to no longer regard anyone from a human point of view (2 Cor. 5:16). He told the Corinthians that in Christ they were a “new creation,” This meant that the old ways had passed away (2 Cor. 5:17). The old ways included not only the old law, but such things as polygamy, patriarchy, and all types of immorality (sins of commission and omission). Galatians 2:11-21 and Ephesians 2:11-22 illustrate that one of the results of the gospel is the breakdown of the conflict between different races and nationalities. Paul made it clear that Christians were not only saved, but they (including Peter—whom Paul opposed to his face for not eating with Gentiles) were to treat the Gentiles as equals. Being part of the new creation does not end with our personal justification, it has social consequences. If the gospel had social consequences for the relationship of Jews and Gentiles, it makes sense that the gospel has social consequences for the relationship of men and women. Galatians 3:28 describes those consequences, not just who can be saved.
Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 45-49 tell us that the things that came by the first Adam were done away with by the second Adam, Christ. Sin came from Adam and Eve and the serpent’s influence on them. Their sin resulted in the curse of the ground, pain in childbirth, and the role of the husbands over their wives (Genesis 3:14-19). We do all we technologically can to reduce toil in farming and pain in childbirth, why not do all we can to reduce rule of husbands over their wives?
Part II — Women In The Church Today
The churches’ advocacy for the equality of women does not have to be just an influence of the “Feminist Movement” or the desire to imitate current culture. It can be based on an understanding of eternal biblical principles and a desire to realize more fully the results of the New Creation instead of the results of the Fall.
Today’s church lives with the inconsistency of accepting the equality of men and women in some areas but not others. Most Christians believe it is appropriate for women to sing “in church,” the silence of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 notwithstanding. Most believe women can attend “church” without a veil, the admonition of 1 Corinthians 11:5 notwithstanding. Many Christians think it appropriate for women to lead prayer or singing, or to teach. Some even believe women can preach or hold office in “the church.” But most conservative evangelical churches stop short of full equality for women, though many claim that women and men are equal with different roles. Interestingly, the role differences usually involve men having the final authority, or holding certain “offices,” or being given certain gifts; hardly equality in the way we usually use the term.
My own denomination, the Church of Christ, stops far short of most evangelical churches in the roles it allows women. Most Churches of Christ do not allow women to pray aloud or even serve communion (which has become a sign of authority rather than a service). Some Churches of Christ do not allow women to make prayer requests aloud “in church.” Some do not allow women to attend business meetings. Teaching classes of male adults or even baptized male children is usually not allowed.
But the Church of Christ is far from consistent. Women can teach adult males through the writing of articles. They can lead prayers in small groups or in a home, though some churches would not go even that far. Most Churches of Christ allow women to read Scriptures in a class setting but not “in church.”
It is the “in church” rules which warp the logic of the distinctions of what women are allowed to do and not do. This warped logic is very harmful to the church. It says that we have “church” rules and everyday life rules. It encourages us to not bring Christian values into our everyday life. Having one set of rules for “church” and one for the world, or even for “after church” is not justified in the Bible, and contribute to a lack of understanding of the nature of the Christian Way which permeates every moment of our life.
We are willing to allow equality in some areas (mainly outside the church), but we are sure to maintain male control in our churches. Why? Is it because we believe this is God’s eternal way, or is it because both males and females are afraid of giving up male control? Because we have accepted equality in so many areas, I believe we are holding on to inequality in the church out of fear — fear of worldly influence, fear of the unknown, and fear of a loss of identity.
What We Accept
We have given up veils. We accept education for girls and women, and our daughters are growing up in an educational environment of equality. Even Christian schools allow girls to run for student council, to deliver speeches, and to participate in sports. A majority of Christian women work outside of the home and expect equal pay for equal work. We allow Christian women professors in Christian colleges to teach college males everything from biology to Shakespeare. Many men answer to women bosses. We have Christian women who are bank presidents, school principals, district attorneys, police officers, soldiers, and government representatives. In our daily lives, Church of Christ women vote, receive Ph.D.’ s, supervise males and females, lead, teach, instruct, serve, counsel, plan, and give.
Yet when women walk through our church doors, they suddenly become second-class citizens. They may be college professors, but they are usually not allowed to teach an adult Sunday school class to both sexes. They may have risked their lives for our country as soldiers, but they cannot serve communion or even pass the collection basket in our churches. They may offer leadership and wise counsel Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday they must be quiet.
Recently I read the following announcement in a church bulletin: “Our potluck will be at noon, today, and men, our meeting to discuss our work at (City) will follow immediately.” How long will women with leadership gifts and wise counsel continue to be content cooking for potlucks and washing the dishes, while the men discuss the “church business?” How long can we continue to make decisions without the input of women in our meetings? How long will we quench the gifts of preaching, teaching, exhorting, and leading in our female members? How long will we be comfortable in worship services where women with insights into God’s Word are kept silent?
How long will we be comfortable being served communion by men and boys, while the woman next to us, who is given responsibility outside the church doors, is never allowed to participate in serving the communion except to pass the bread and cup to the person next to her? This may sound like a small and unimportant type of participation, but our omission of women in this weekly observance is a vivid, visual sign to visitors and to our young girls that they are not equal when it comes to public church participation. It is symbolic of a deeper problem. We are uncomfortable with any kind of visual leadership by women. How long will those men who know in their hearts that the treatment of women in the church has been wrong, continue to be silent?
How long before our women see the inconsistency and move to where they can use all of their Holy Spirit-given gifts, not just the gifts we have decided they may use? If the women do not leave, you can be sure the girls with leadership gifts will not stay after they grow up. The church will not have any credibility if we continue to accept equality for women everywhere but in the church. Honesty and consistency demand that if we do not allow women leaders in the church, we cannot accept women leaders in the world. Because for the Christian there is no Christian/world dichotomy in the way we live.
We cannot live one way six days a week and then suddenly change when we enter through the church doors. And this is where our understanding of the nature of the church fails. There is not one set of rules for our daily lives and a different set for the church. We are supposed to be the church seven days a week. The nature of our lives does not change when we are in “church activities” and when we are at work or home. We are who we are — in church, at home, and in the work place. We do not leave our gifts at the church door. We are the new creation moment-by-moment, and we worship moment-by-moment, not just in “worship services” (Romans 12:1).
In Christ, we do not have to fear loss of our identity. As pan of the new creation, we no longer regard ourselves or others from the old human point of view. Instead, we slowly learn to discern who we really are through Christ’s eyes, eliminating distinctions based upon race, economic status, or gender.
The church will only reach the level of maturity which Paul describes in Ephesians 4:7-13 when we realize the eternal principle of Galatians 3:28 and fully utilize all the gifts of women in our churches. Therefore, let us create a church atmosphere where all are free to use their gifts given by God. When our churches create an environment where all of its members may use all of their gifts, then the church will be on its way to being all it was intended to be!