Monday, January 10, 2011

House Church - What About Women?

I almost avoided this issue altogether because it can be an emotional and divisive one. However, I figured that would be a cop-out, so here goes:

We must first be aware of the difference between worth and role. The two are not the same. Regarding worth, God cares for men and women equally. We read in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Please keep in mind that this verse falls in the context of salvation, not role in the church.

That women have worth is also clear in that they are part of the church body, and the body needs all parts to function in order for the body as whole to work. Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:14-20, "For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."

In the life of the church women hold the same value as men. I can say from experience that if women were not actively involved in the life of the church, it would cease to function immediately.

But what about role? How does God's plan differ for men and women in this area?

From the beginning in Eden, we see that God gives Adam a helper in Eve. Throughout the bible we see men in positions of leadership. When it comes to the church, the positions of elder and deacon are reserved for men.

This in no way devalues women. It is simply God's plan for his church.

As the church gathers, God has roles for men's and women's involvement. We read verses that restrict women's speech. What is the reason for this? I'm not sure, although it's probably in place to force men to take the leadership role. If there is a problem, it is with the men, not the women.

We read two passages in I Corinthians that deal with role and speech:

I Corinthians 11:4-5, "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven."

I Corinthians 14:26-35, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."

We know that scripture does not contradict itself. Interestingly, the first passage above mentions women praying and prophesying. The second passage says that women should keep silent in the churches. What is going on?

I believe the first passage falls in the context of the church gathering and at the same time clearly allows for women to speak. The second passage, therefore, must be talking about a specific aspect of the gathering. In my opinion, Paul is telling the women that they are not to pass judgment upon prophecy given by a man. Instead, she is to ask her husband about it at home. This is the specific restriction.

We read something else in I Timothy 2:11-12. Paul says, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet."

Within the church family, women are given the opportunity to learn. However, they are not "to teach or to exercise authority over a man." This seems straight forward to me.

These verses encourage men to actively take leadership roles in the church. Let's remember something important: leadership in the bible takes the form of loving, sacrificial servanthood.

So what does all this look like in the house church? I can't speak for all house churches or even most, but I can describe our gatherings.

As we come together, I've noticed that the gatherings tend to have three parts. This is less purposeful than it is just what naturally happens. As the families arrive, the men tend to talk together in one place, the women talk and prepare the food in the kitchen, and the kids scatter to all corners of the house. After 20-30 minutes of this, we gradually make our way to the living room.

We generally sit in a big circle of sorts - yesterday's had 25 people. This is our time of prayer, singing, exhortation, scripture reading, teaching, etc. that attempts to follow the I Cor. 14 model. It is during this time that the restriction of women's speech comes most clearly into play. The ladies do not teach scripture or call into authority the speech of a man present. Other than that, they are free to speak. Frankly, I love to hear the ladies talk. They have a different perspective than I do on many things. I both want and need to hear what they have to say. Yesterday my wife Alice spoke for a few minutes about Satan attacking during preparations for the meeting. She pointed us to Ephesians 6. I was edified by this, and I could sense that others were as well.

Some families in our fellowship have a different interpretation of I Cor. 14 than Alice and I do. They choose to not have their wives speak at all during this portion of the gathering. We have discussed this, and have agreed that we can and should remain united even with these differences.

The third part of the meeting, and my favorite, is the Lord's Supper. And thank God for the women when it comes to this. If it was just us men, we would be eating bread, grape juice, and frozen pizza. Yesterday we had a spread with an Asian flair. It was fantastic. During this time we tend to gather in small groups and talk about our lives. There really is something about eating together that brings about both an intimacy and freedom of conversation (when your mouth isn't full, of course).

Let me quickly summarize this way: Women are created by God and are just as valued by God as men are. There can be no doubt or debate about this.

God has specific plans for his church that involve differing roles for men and women (as in marriage). Regarding the meeting, the bible indicates specific restrictions on women's speech. I'm convinced this has more to do with the faults of men (tendency toward slothfulness) than anything else. When these restrictions are followed, the gatherings can be extremely beneficial to all involved.

The church desperately needs all members of its family to contribute to body life. Women are of great significance. Without them, the church cannot function.

25 comments:

Jeffrey said...

Eric,

Pardon the topic hi-jack, but something just went "click" in my head when I read your post. Have you ever had a passage that just seems to cause a problem in your head every time you read it? 1 Cor 14:29-31 has always been that way for me. It has been a math issue. It says that "Two or three prophets should speak..." and then it says "For you can all prophesy in turn...". It only makes sense if Paul was talking about a small group.

I know: duh right?

Jeff

micah7 said...

"If it was just us men, we would be eating bread, grape juice, and frozen pizza."

My conclusion from this is that more men need to learn how to cook. If you can read and boil water you can cook. It's just a matter of learning a few basic skills that anyone is capable of.

john said...

Eric, are you familiar with Jon Zens and his writings on women in the church ? I could send you a copy of an article he wrote about this if you like, I found it enlightening . I would need to email it as an attachment.If you would like it, send me an email and I will return it with the attachment. Regards, John Morris.

Eric said...

Jeff,

That's an interesting point. I think Paul's probably trying to regulate the number of speakers and the order of the process. So it has to be a small gathering. It sure works well in a home. Thanks for pointing it out.

Eric said...

Micah,

I could go for some of your lemon-garlic chicken right now.

Alice C. said...

My womanly input is that we need Micah in our house fellowship, to cook for all of us!

Eric said...

Alice,

An excellent idea!

Eric said...

John,

Thanks for the offer, but I'm familiar with what Zens has to say. I appreciate what Zens has to say, but I disagree with him on some important points.

Arthur Sido said...

Eric,

I have read Jon Zens work as well. I appreciate what he has to say but also disagree with his conclusions. I take a somewhat harder line on this and I am not as convinced that 1 Corinthians 11 is talking about the church gathering based on 1 Corithians 11:17 which seems to imply a transition from a universal topic to one more specific to the church gathering. When I look at 1 Corinthians 14: 14-20 coupled with 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 I don't see any wiggle room in the text. Rather than try to find a way around the text, I think we should cherish and honor the ways that women can and do serve in the church and get away from the notion that only the person speaking or recognized as "leading" has a meaningful role in the church.

Eric said...

Arthur,

Thanks for the input. Some of our folks believe as you do. What I am excited about is that in our fellowship we have remained united even with differing interpretations of I Cor. 14.

francisdrakeprivateer said...

Strange.
If my wife and I met with some friends for an evening meal, and we talked about things of the kingdom and shared communion together, it would be a wonderful occasion. This has been my experience.
We might do it again and invite a few more couples, and maybe some singles we all know. As we talk, it is clear that the Lord is present. Everyone, both men, and women, are strengthened, and all feel free to open their hearts to one another. Nobody decides the agenda, it just seems to flow with the presence of the Lord.

As we talk about it we realise that we are actually conducting church like it should be conducted.
At that point we also realise that next time we shall have to make sure that the women are silent.

Jeffrey said...

No matter how much we may say we're guided by the scriptures alone, we all have emotional hot-buttons. When those buttons are pressed, it's tempting to fall into experiential reasoning. It is around the issue of whether women should speak in the Church, that I see that happen the most.

Within the narrow context of this issue, it is really irrelevant whether we have experienced edification from the women in the church gathering or not. What is relevant is our understanding of what the Bible tells us to do.

Honestly, I don't know the correct interpretation of this passage, but the behavior and reasoning of folks while they discuss it never fails to fascinate me.

Jeff

Eric said...

Jeff,

I agree. This issue probably more than any other makes people respond emotionally. It probably has to do with the me-first, rights-driven culture we are a part of.

Al Shaw said...

Helpful piece, thank you.

I appreciate that it's a separate (though related topic), but will you be writing at some point about the issue of elders?

In particular, I'd be interested to hear whether you understand there to be a specific teaching role that (some) elders are to have, distinct from the "one-another" teaching that you refer to?

Thanks!

Eric said...

Al,

Thanks for your comment. I'm soon going to address leadership issues. As for teaching, it is an interesting subject. I'll try to incorporate that into these posts. God bless!

Jessica said...

this issue wasn't really a big deal for me until recently. I mean when you go "to church" it's easy to follow this, being a woman, don't be a preacher and you're covered right? Since he's the only guy doing all the talking anyhow. BUT when you go to a home fellowship, everyone's encouraged to participate. That's when things get tricky. Also it's a bit difficult to transition from this is fellowship time to time when a woman isn't allow to speak, know what I mean? I still have no idea about the whens and all that but just thought I'd jump in. By the way, I think that Micah is onto something! Bobby is actually a really good cook. Hence the Pigs in the Blankets last night. Not bad huh? Yeah, I think he's a keeper :)

Eric said...

Jessica,

This is a tough issue that, you are right, becomes a little more difficult in a home fellowship. Your speaking will depend on what you and Bobby believe about how women should be involved. You have a godly husband, so I would recommend that you follow his lead in this.

We all have to remember that whatever we say or do is to be for the edification of the church body. Also, please remember that you can be involved in many ways that do not involve teaching in the church setting. The church needs us all regardless of what role we play.

As for cooking, I'm clueless. We men really need the ladies for this one. However, if Bobby can cook, then all the better.

Sjur Jansen said...

From a house church in Norway without hierarchy:

Eric, it is important to check what the Greek words in the NT means. Bibles in English and in Norwegian have some weaknesses.

English Bible says head, but the Greek word is source or origin. Paul talks about the creation, the man is the origin of woman. Jesus is our source/origin, therefore he is called kephale (or “head” in English Bibles). That does not mean boss. Jesus is also a king, that is a boss, but we must not mix the logic here. A man is not king of his wife.

Must women wear scarves to signal that the man is the boss? No, check the Greek, Paul says that women should wear their own authority and freedom on the head. He also says that hair is good enough.

We must also look at the society around Paul when he is writing. Prostitutes and female priests had their hair cut off. There were also Gnostics who believed that women should rule over men. They believed that women in the creation learned a secret they should teach men. When Paul writes, we see hints that there are such groups he argues against.

Should women not teach men? If I remember correct, the Greek word in use, is meaning to rule or murder. May be Paul was trying to stop the theology from Gnostic women.

Should a woman be a man's helper? The argument is taken from creation story. But the same word “helper” is also used about God. The word is mostly used about persons higher up in the hierarchy that is helping persons at a lower step in the hierarchy.

When Paul is writing about deacons, he is talking about men. If we are in a hurry, the conclusion would be: "women can not be a deacon". But another place in the Bible Paul is writing about Phoebe, and he uses the word deacon. The answer is: Both women and men can be deacons. The same logic can be used about elders.

It's much more to say about this, but my conclusion is: The Bible message is: Equality between men and woman in marriage and church.

That does not mean that women and men always have the same interests or think identical. But it means that none of them shall have religious monopoly (to speak, to baptise, to be an elder) or have hierarchic power over others.

Eric said...

Sjur,

What do you think of Paul's instruction to women in Ephesians 5:22-24, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands."?

Sjur Jansen said...

The word “submit” is a weak English translation. The Greek word mean in the civil life: to support, or to support someone for a common cause. It had a different meaning in the military, a hierarchic meaning, but Christians were not a military organization.

I think the translators 500 years ago looked on their hierarchical churches and marriages and then chose a wrong English translation. Today, we must check if the translated word fits the Christian landscape in NT. The landscape is about love, about helping each other, to support each other, about non-hierarchy, about friendship. Military words do not fit into the landscape. But “support” fits as good as “to be an servant”. So, when the Greek word mean support, the job is easy, we can translate it support.

The Greek text is available in two editions here. I have not checked witch version that is most common or credible. But some versions use the word "support", other versions use the word “own” (it is two different Greek words, that’s make the translation job harder).

Greek does not distinguish between a man and a husband, and not between a woman and a wife. But the context is clear that in this case it is about husband and wife. I think translators should be as close to the Greek text as possible and choose man and woman, not husband and wife. In this case it does not turn or twist the meaning, but other places in the Bible the text can be wrong because translators are “helping” the reader too much.

The Greek word kephale do not mean leader, it means source or origins, not head, except sometimes it means the actually head (the physical skeleton).

The English word church is also incorrect because it is easy to associate it with an organization. It was the king James (not some theologians) that ordered the translators to use the word church when they translated the word ecclesia.

The text can be translated like this:

"Women, support (or own) their men, so you support (or own) the Lord. For man is the source (or origin) of the woman as Christ is the source (or origin) of the group (of Christians), his body, and is himself its Savior. As the group (of Christians) support (or own) Christ, so should also women support (or own) their men in everything."

The word “own” is more like the s in “It is Peter’s car”. The meaning can be like this: As a woman are strongly connected with/to (I am weak in English prepositions) the Lord, the same way they should be strongly connected to their men.

The text can be understood non-hierarchical and support equality between man and woman in church and marriage.

By the way. Texts in NT about woman and men sometimes talk about marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian. That is important to check. It opens an arena of new understanding. But sometimes we cannot know what kind of marriage the text is talking about.

When you copied this Bible text, why did you not copy the first sentence? “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” The sentence must belong some place, either in the church (with both men and women) or in marriage (with both men and women) or both places (with both men and women). Even if you choose the military understanding of the Greek word, it points out to be non-hierarchical because of the special use of “another” or “each other”.

Eric said...

Sjur,

Thanks for your input. I think we see things a bit differently because we are reading different translations. I'm glad for the conversation.

Piper Hudmon said...

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul deals with the roles of women in the church. He talks about dress, praying in public, and leadership. These passages have sparked wild debate, some of which has resulted in lively and scholarly discussion, while some has resulted in division and denominational superiority.
Paul specifically says, “I do not permit women to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Most scholars agree that Paul is not discussing using authority, but usurping it. I do not believe this passage is a blanket statement forbidding women from using the gift of teaching in the church.
Even if this was the case in 1 Timothy 2:12, we do not find these same admonitions in other letters from Paul, indicating that this may be a specific response to a specific problem. Craig Keener believes that Paul was specifically referring to “unlearned” women who were spreading false teaching throughout Ephesus. Paul’s use of such strong language indicates that it is the abuse or the “stealing” of authority that is out of bounds.
We must not take this one passage, or any one passage, and build our entire belief system. Books and commentaries have been written explaining the nuanced language the underlying meaning of Paul’s words. This passage, and others, should be viewed in light of the entire Bible.
The biggest problem with interpreting this passage in 1 Timothy as excluding women from leadership roles in the church is that Paul clearly commended women for their grace and skill in leadership in other epistlest’s important to remember that the New Testament was written during a patriarchal time in human history. Therefore, there are fewer references to women. However, there is clear evidence that influential women were involved in spreading the gospel and building the church.
Romans 16 lists several women who occupied important positions in the church, including Phoebe, who is described as a minister, deacon or servant, depending on how you translate the word diakonos. Paul also commends Priscilla, who is actually mentioned before her husband in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Priscilla and her husband were instrumental in teaching Apollos and Paul called them both his “fellow workers.” In the book of Philippians, Paul encouraged Eudioa and Syntyche, two women, to agree in the Lord, noting that they had labored with him in the gospel. 1 Corinthians 11:5 discusses women praying and prophesizing within the worship service.
Paul didn’t approach ministry in every city in exactly the same manner. Instead, he tailored his approach to the context. In Acts 16, Paul built the evangelistic work on a preexisting prayer group led by an upper-class professional woman named Lydia. When people came into the church, they did not replace Lydia’s leadership. In the book of Philippians (written to the church discussed in Acts 16), Paul urged two women leaders to agree in the Lord. In this church, there wasn’t a discussion about women teaching or leading, because it wasn’t culturally appropriate. Women in leadership was simply not an issue in this church.
There are many examples in the Old Testament of women leaders and ministers. Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15). Deborah was the leader of a nation (Judges 4-5). Esther was an advocate who saved her people.
Nowhere in the New Testament, does God imply that certain spiritual gifts are given exclusively to men. 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 indicates that both men and women in the early church had the gift of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12:18, Paul describes properly equipped women who were appointed to teach. “No restriction is mentioned in the numerous references to teachers and teaching in the Epistles except in 1 Timothy 2:12, where it is required that learning precede teaching,” writes Gilbert Bilezikian.
In most cases, those who forbid women to teach in the church based on Paul’s words in 1 Timothy, do not require women to wear the head coverings described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. –M. Lukaszewski

Eric said...

Piper,

Thanks for your comment. I'm curious, is what you have posted entirely a quote? I'm trying to understand what you believe personally.

Piper Hudmon said...

This is something that I have prayed for revelation on and also researched in the natural in order to gain a clearer understanding of God's true instruction and heart in this matter. I truly desire to be obedient and believe that it is obedience that is the key to living a Kingdom lifestyle. My goal in taking on this particular subject as a research and prayerful meditation topic is not to prove a point, or get any worldly satisfaction out of having it come out one way or the other, because my way truly is to do what God instructs...period. As a successful school teacher, I know beyond any doubt that I have been endowed with the gift of teaching. This is not anything for me to boast of as it is a gift. I believe that God's gifts are without repentance and can be used in a myriad of settings and forums, but I can't believe that He would have me sit idly by, regardless of the setting, if I am able to impart knowledge and a clearer understanding of a Biblical principle Truths when the Bible discloses that the very thing Christians perish from is "lack of knowledge." I believe that in a marriage, the husband must be the head of the household and that, when God is at the center, this works beautifully; but I have yet to be shown in the Spiritual or in the natural compelling evidence that females teaching spiritual truths is contradictory to God's plan, God's Word (when taken in context and with the proper interpretation), or to any role outlined in the early Church model. Thank you so very much for your response. The reason I posted the segment by Michael Lukaszewski earlier today is this: I was led to by the Holy Spirit :) Keep up your wonderful work and Truth-seeking...be Blessed!

Adam Dean said...

Hey, Eric, just wanted to say I should've read this post first, I didn't realize you had another one on the subject of women talking. I think I pretty well agree with your take on the whole matter, women aren't forbidden to speak at all times, but they are forbidden to teach and to take leadership roles (exercising authority) over men.