These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.
When Nehemiah finished building the wall, he appointed gatekeepers to watch over the entrances to the city and Levitical singers to serve in the temple (Nehemiah 7:1). Most of these singers were descendants of Asaph, who was one of the leading musicians and a prophet from the time of David (1 Chronicles 16:7; 2 Chronicles 29:30) as well as the author of several Psalms (50 and 73, for example). The Levitical singers, including Asaph’s descendants, led the worship of Israel (2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15).
Nehemiah’s singers numbered two hundred and forty-five, and they included “both male and female” (Nehemiah 7:67). Women were part of the Levitical choir that led the worship of Israel at the temple. In other words, women were on the praise team!
Why did God incarnate as a male? That is a good question.
Perhaps we don’t really know. Nevertheless, given that God decided to become human, God must become a particular human. That is, God must dwell in the flesh in a particular geographical location, as a particular ethnicity, and as a particular sex. But the point is not that God in the flesh represents only male Jews who live in Palestine but that God in the flesh represents all humans. The incarnate Christ is the image of God, and we are all being conformed to the image of Christ whether male or female, whether Jew or Gentile, whether slave or free. The particularity of the incarnation, necessary for authentic existence as a human being, does not limit its meaning for all human beings.
Nevertheless, whatever reasons we might assign to God’s incarnation as a male, they do not imply that only males are gifted for leadership any more than God’s incarnation as a Jew implies that only Jews are gifted for leadership. Jesus, as human, represents all human beings.
In 1848, John R. Howard published what became a popular and influential sermon entitled “The Church of Christ Identified.” He listed the “original marks” of the true church, including such things as Christ as founder, no creed but the Bible, terms of admission (faith, repentance, confession, baptism), and weekly Lord’s supper. Interestingly, one of the marks “of the true church of Christ” was that it would be organized with “certain officers,” including “1. Bishops, or elders; 2. Deacons and deaconesses, 3. Evangelists.”
Howard was not alone but stating a common orthopraxy among congregations in the early Restoration Movement (or, Stone-Campbell Movement). Other advocates for deaconesses included Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Tolbert Fanning, Robert Richardson, Robert Milligan, Moses Lard, J. M. Barnes, E. G. Sewell, C. R. Nichol, G. C. Brewer, J. Ridley Stroop, and J. D. Thomas. This was a strong tradition within the Restoration Movement in the nineteenth century, but it died out in the early 20th century even though some prominent ministers thought it was an approved office in the church.
Why did it die out? The influence of David Lipscomb and J. W. McGarvey weighed heavily as they understood only men could serve as such. The rise of women’s suffrage and the emergence of the “New Woman” movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries probably shaped the response of churches who were threatened by those movements. They circled the wagons and excluded women from the diaconate. Yet, the church has always been filled with women deaconesses even if they were not permitted to wear the name. Churches may not have honored the office, but God still gave the gift.