I’ve had the privilege and challenge of preaching on this topic abroad in China and Stateside in the U.S. and have come to believe that this topic needs our renewed attention, not only from the standpoint of “orthodoxy”, but also from the standpoint of “orthopraxy” – in other words, not just for the sake of doctrine, but for the sake of proper fellowship and order in the Church.
So let me encourage you all to post your comments below so we can come together as a body united in common faith to discuss this challenging subect. And let me encourage us never to forget our love for one another when working this issue out.
THE BIBLICAL WITNESS
1st Corinthians 14:34-36 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. 35 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.
The two rebuttals that I’ve encountered the most regarding this scripture are:
1. This is cultural
2. This destroys women’s liberty and makes them nonparticipants
When something is cultural we expect to see appeals to cultural justifications for its actions. In China, for example, wearing a green hat is an insult to your spouse because it suggests that infidelity is underfoot. So I might write to a new fellow missionary and say “Chinese will look at green hats as disgraceful because it suggests adultery”, but I certainly would not write “it is sinful and adulterous to wear a green hat”.
In the major Biblical discourses on woman’s roles in the Church, we see no appeals to cultural contexts; instead, we see appeals to the commandments of the Lord and the Creation order.
So let’s take a wider look at this teaching and see what Paul says:
1st Corinthians 14:33-39 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 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. 35 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. 36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 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. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Paul appeals centrally to the law (v 36) and in a wider context to God’s order (v33). The emphasis here is that these things are founded in non-culturally influenced sources to establish God’s order in the Church according to the commandments of the Lord.
Now, when Paul appeals to the law for this teaching, he looks to something that was not based in culture to establish this teaching (for the Law did not come from culture, it was from God and ran counter to the culture of the day that they would have been familiar with). But, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the matter is made very simple for us when he wrote “these teachings are the commandments of the Lord” (v37).
LIBERTY DIMINISHED OR ESTABLISHED?
God never diminishes our liberty in Christ, he always establish it.
God’s order allows our liberty, fellowship, and joy to be experienced as God intended. This is about learning how God intended the body to grow and work together, not about reducing the role one member has and exalting another’s role. Each member of the body is placed by God for a specific purpose.
One of the most frequently overlooked ministries of the Church is the one entrusted to spiritually mature women:
Titus 2:1-5 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
Paul begins by appealing to those things which are “proper for sound doctrine”, and instructs women in the behavior and responsibilities they have as part of the body of Christ. Among the many ways women minister in the Church is that they are called to be “teachers of good things”.
The magnitude of this ministry cannot be overlooked:
- The care of women in the Church has been entrusted to spiritually mature women
- Combating the breakdown of marriages on the female side has been entrusted to spiritually mature women
- Teaching and supporting each other in raising faithful Christian children has been entrusted to spiritually mature women
- Teaching women how to have deep and pure spiritual lives has been enstrusted to spiritually mature women
Far from being non-participatory, these commandments are more active than most women in the Church today are.
If I were allowed to speak openly for a moment, I would plead with my sisters not to let yourselves be shamed out of taking the courageous stand in the faith that will be required of you if you are to take up ministry in the Church today!
We could go on and look at how women also are called to pray, prophesy, and evangelize; they can care for the sick, minister with hospitality, and give glory to God in worship! None of these things are in any way hindered by the commandments of the Lord. But a bond of vanity has been put on women that covets power to focus themselves on taking the authority of pastoring and teaching the general assembly that has been given to men as heads of the body. And that is where the unrighteous jealousy and envy has been planted in the body today.
I wasn’t even able to broach the vast revelation given to us in the Scriptures about the prophetic vision of Christ and the Church that married men and women have been entrusted with, or the unconditional love that is experienced when marriages embrace the order that God has established. I wasn’t able to look into the great power to win over a man who is disobedient without even uttering a single word that women have been promised by God when they walk in proper conduct before God. But I hope that we have been able to glimpse the urgency of this situation in which the Church finds itself in willing disobedience to God and how extensive the ministry women have been given truly is, a ministry which many women simply are not taking up!
I reiterate my encouragement that you may leave your comments below; I welcome the opportunity to talk these things out with you. I know there are certainly plenty of questions that I might not be able to answer off the top of my head, but, I also know that the joy of walking in obedience to God is worth the challenge of sifting through the confusion and chaos that has been thrust upon the Church today by generations of willing disobedience.
May the grace and peace of Christ truly abound towards you all, amen!