The Role of Women in the Lord’s Church — Will Hester

Over the last 28 years, we have seen a large contingent of the church that has taken an unscriptural stance on an important doctrinal question. Most would think that we would talk about instrumental music just by that statement. Although that issue is important to discuss, we are not talking about that doctrinal question at this time. The doctrinal question we will be attempting to answer is, “What is the role of women in the church of the Lord?” This question has plagued the church in many different ways. On one side you have those who believe women have no voice at all in the worship service. On the other side you have those who believe women can do anything a man can do in worship and maybe even more. The pertinent question that must be asked when studying this doctrinal position is, “What roles are women allowed to have through scripture within the confines of worship?”

The view of women within the Lord’s church has been tainted because the interpretation of certain passages has been tainted by denominationalism. We have seen that most liberal theologians have done eisegetical study, forcing a meaning into a text that is not intended by the author, with these texts. When we do this, we are creating our own narrative to suit our own version of Christianity. Did we die for the sins of the world? Did we purchase the church with our blood at Calvary? The answers are a resounding no! However, the way some of our friends view the Bible would make us believe that they think they did purchase the church. We are only interpreters and must be exegetical in our approach to the scripture. When you exegete a passage, you are literally being led to your conclusions about a certain Bible subject by following the text itself. Exegetical study is critical for viewing the texts of the Bible and discerning what the text says about doctrinal issues that we face.

As we go through this study, we will try to look at both sides in equal measure. Our goal is to view the arguments of both sides and try to formulate a conclusion of which argument holds with the biblical view of the role of women. We will also be looking at the different roles that women do have within the confines of scripture. The goal of this study is not to cause division but to allow for discussion and to show that we must use the Bible as our only guiding principle for faith and practice.

Arguments For An Expanded Role Of Women In Worship

The position for an expanded role of women in worship is the minority view in the Lords’ church; however, the proponents of this view have a very loud voice. These voices are being given an audience at some of our brotherhood school’s lectureships. Abilene Christian University, Lubbock Christian University, Lipscomb University, and Pepperdine University have decided that they will allow these views to be defended at their lectureships. We find that the Bible departments are bending to the whims of these men and women.

On Wednesday night of the 2018 Pepperdine Bible Lectures Don McLaughlin, preaching minister at the North Atlanta Church of Christ, gave the 7:00 pm keynote address on “1 Corinthians 12-14.” From this text, brother McLaughlin used for a subject “The Gift of the Spirit to the Body of Christ.” Twenty-two minutes into his lesson, Don uses a term that would be the calling card of the rest of his lesson. He coined the term, “hermeneutical segregation,” in speaking of “our” belief of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers.

He would ask the question, minutes later, “What is a woman’s body for?” Don attempts to answer his own question by stating, “It is for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…not for exploitation by men or women for financial and self gratification.” He then stated, “Let me take it a step farther. I am going to talk to the ladies. Women’s bodies are not for evaluation or comparison.” I agree with his assertion. A recurring problem we have in this country is “body-shaming.” In many instances, our society shames young women for not having a certain body type or for not being under a certain weight. However, Don does not stop there. He would state further, “I will say one more thing. We have lived under the false assumption that the Holy Spirit prefers male bodies to female bodies for leadership in the church. That did not arise from Scripture, but that is what WE put on Scripture.” As we will see later, his argument does not hold fast to what Scripture says.

One of the main arguments used by the proponents of an expanded role for women is, “We must take 1 Timothy 2:8-12 as cultural for the first century and not a command for us in the 21st century.” Patrick Mead, senior minister at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ, has been the biggest proprietor of this position in recent memory. He, along with a couple of others, wrote the document found on the Fourth Avenue website entitled, “Document on Women in Worship and Ministry.” In this document, we find that the authors make the statement, “Paul felt the need to address the situation in Ephesus with several commands, most of which we do not apply to ourselves or to our congregations.”

The text of 1 Timothy 2:8-12 states, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” The view of these scriptures as just being “cultural” to the first century is not a new phenomenon; however, for many years it was just a dominating denominational view.

A point of contention within this text, according to the proponents of this view, is the translation of two Greek words used by Paul in verse 12. The first Greek word, which is a very uncommon word, is “αὐθεντεῖν” (authentein). This word comes from the verb, αὐθεντέω (authenteo), which carries an idea of “having authority over, to be domineering, and having full power.” Those who have a feministic view of where they believe the church should be going take this word as the key to this passage. In their estimation, verse 12 only pertains to a cultural problem in the church at Ephesus. It is only to be taken to the conclusion of being for the relationship in the home and not the church.

The second Greek word, which only occurs in the New Testament four times, is ἡσυχίᾳ (hesuchia). This word carries the idea of “being calm, being in silence or having a stillness in ones’ life as a believer.” Brother Thomas Robinson, Senior Minister at the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York, wrote a study guide entitled, “A Community Without Barriers.” In his study guide he references this Greek word and says the following, “Again, the phrases translated by the RSV ‘learn in silence’ and ‘keep silent’ both use the Greek word hesychia which means ‘quietness’ rather than ‘silence.’” He would further state, “Quietness is not silence.” As we will see, it is not so cut and dry as he tries to make it out to be.

Another main argument from the proponents of this position is, “What do you do with Phoebe, the deaconess that Paul mentions?” The singular point that is focused upon is the Greek word “διάκονος” (diakonos). This word carries the idea of “a person who is a servant and is set to serve.” The main push of this argument is that “diakonos” can be translated as “deacon.” With the revelation of this information, they translate that word as “deaconess.” Romans 16:1 in the New King James version states, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” They view these verses as the key to view the scriptures in a brand new light.

A final major argument comes from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which states, “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.” Thomas Robinson writes of this passage, “Here, as elsewhere, Paul judged the actions of the community not by a rigid standard of required conduct that was eternal and unchanging. Rather, what mattered to Paul (because it matters to God) was the souls and salvation of people.” He further states in his study guide, “In our day and in our context, the kind of shame and disgrace that Paul wanted the church to avoid is more likely to come upon the church by silencing women (and thereby indicating that they are somehow inferior to men) than by allowing women to use all the gifts that the Spirit has given them.” As it seems, the narrative that they want to portray is one of tolerance and equality. In their view, the roles of women and men are similar and equal to each other. The perspective given is, “To stay relevant with the times, then we must embrace all progressive cultural narratives.”

Arguments for a Biblical and Less Inclusive Role for Women in Worship

The position that this author takes, like so many in the Lords’ church, is that women have specific roles they must take in the makeup of the church; however, they are not to step outside of the parameters of Scripture. We have seen our more “progressive” brethren are willing to forcibly insert a meaning into texts that are not there. When they do this, then they are misleading scores of people with their view of scripture.

The passage in 1 Timothy 2:8-12 gives us the first indication of what we are to look for in defining the role of women. David Lipscomb explains the text of verse 11 by stating, “The position of women in public worship is a quiet learner in manner, yielding submission in all lawful respects to the position God had placed man as leader of the worship in the public assembly of the church.” Lipscomb would further state, regarding verse 12, “The point guarded against here is woman’s assuming authority over man…this is the only reason given why it is wrong.” Brother Lipscomb is not taking a male chauvinistic approach to the passage, but he is taking a clear and concise role that is defined through Scripture.

Brother Robinson tries to point out that hesuchia means only “quietness” and it cannot mean silence. According to Strong’s Concordance, which is one of the most reliable concordances one can own, hesuchia means “silence” in verse 11. As we have seen, the misdirection used by the proponents of an expanded role for women is prevalent. In order to fit their view of Scripture into the box, they must change the way words are defined to change the narrative.

The Greek word authentein means, “to have authority over or to be domineering.” We cannot overlook that this word means what it means. Although there have been many cases where people have tried to change the definition, it remains constant that the original meaning is what we have shown. In verse 12, Paul is not just addressing a cultural problem. Paul is addressing the church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is addressing a wider issue. Women, in church and at home, must be submissive to men and not exercise authority over them as well.

The question of Phoebe is one that has caused much strife and division. Brother Lipscomb states in his commentary on Romans, “Some think she was a publicly recognized deaconess, but we find no recognition in Scriptures of any such class.” He would further state, “Many women did, however, voluntarily devote themselves in a womanly way to teaching and to those who preached, waiting on the sick and doing whatever work presented itself for them to do. Phoebe was one of this class.” I could not agree more with these statements regarding Phoebe. The word diakonos in Romans 16:1 is properly rendered in most translations as “servant.” Phoebe was a servant of the church and devoted herself to taking care of the people of the church. As a Christian, she understood her role and was “commended by Paul for her service,” according to Brother Lipscomb.

When we look at 1 Corinthians 14:34ff in light of everything we have seen thus far with other passages, we see that the progressive view is not the view that should be taken. Brother Lipscomb writes of verse 34, “No instruction in the New Testament is more positive than this; it is positive, explicit and universal; and however plausible maybe the reasons which are urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take an active part in conducting public worship, yet the authority of the inspired apostle remains positive and his meaning cannot be misunderstood.” This passage is not one to be taken just on a basis of cultural stigmas. We must remember that Paul, like all the writers in the Bible, were fully inspired and that they were given the words to write from God. Brother Lipscomb would continue, “He looks at it from every viewpoint, forbids it altogether, and shows that from every consideration it was to regarded as improper for them to take any active part in conducting the public service.”

Biblical Roles For Women

As we all know, there are five acts of public worship. These are singing, praying, preaching, giving and observing the Lord’s Supper. These acts of worship are important to the church and how we are to give praise to our Father. The Bible clearly indicates that we all must actively participate in these to be pleasing to God.

The question that remains is, “What roles, if any, do women have in the structure of the church?” This is a great question and it must be answered with the Bible and, most importantly, it must be answered with great care. The women of the church have a vital role to play in the church!

One role women must take on is a participant in the worship itself. What does this mean? Do women take leader roles? As we have seen, they do not take on the role of the leader; however, they must give their being to the worship of God. When we come together to partake of the emblems of the Lord’s supper, we all must participate. When we sing songs of praise, we all must “sing and make melody with our hearts to God.” When we pray, we all must give our thoughts and praise to God through prayer. When the preacher is preaching, we all must give our attention to the speaker and listen to the sermon being taught. When we give of our means, we all must give of what we have been blessed with each first day of the week.

The women of the church can also take on the role of mentors to the young ladies of the congregation. They can give pertinent skills training and advice for girls. This is also a Biblical concept. Titus 2:3-5 states that the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” This passage gives the women of the congregation insight into what God is looking for from the ladies of the church.

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is not just a statement for men, but it is also for women. Some of the most brilliant preachers in our brotherhood would not have been the men they were, had it not been for the women who stood beside them or the ones that taught them. Someone might ask, “Wait, I thought women were not allowed to teach and now you are saying they can?” We are all to teach and bring souls to Christ every day because that is a primary function of being a Christian; however, the roles must be understood. If we are the kind of Christians we must be under the New Covenant, then those around us will be taught just by our example. Women can have a much greater influence in some respects than men can have in certain areas.

For too long, we in the mainstream” have been silent on the roles women play in the church and vocal against what they cannot do. May we continue to search the Scriptures, train women to be confidant in their roles, and train churches to understand there are many roles women have which do not compromise Scripture for the sake of cultural relevancy!

Will is married to Sarah and is the minister of the Pleasant View congregation in Skullbone, TN.

Editor’s Note:  This online edition of brother Hester’s article contains the full text of the article.  Through an editorial mistake, a section of his article was accidentally left out of the printed edition of the September issue.  The fault for that omission is mine alone, and for that I apologize to brother Hester and to the reader.  — Jon Mitchell, editor 

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