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Archives for 167 – Women’s Roles in Churches of Christ


Please don’t confuse Jesus with our celebrities. 

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our politicians.

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our news organizations.

Please don’t confuse Jesus with our religious teachers, preachers, worship ministers, and pastors.

Jesus is the one who calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisioned regardless of their status or documentation. He’s the one who expects us to forgive our enemies, lay down our plans for others, and go the extra mile. He calls us to love others as he loves us. He builds bridges not walls. He gives justice to the oppressed and makes a way for the unheard. He seeks out those who others hate and grants them victory. He comforts all those who mourn. He delights in the children and severely rebukes those who mistreat them. He crosses party lines and overturns policies. He cares for all people regardless of where or how they live. He is not king of our politics, our congregation, or our country. He is King overall.

Make no mistake, if Jesus were starting his ministry in America right now he would not be popular with the celebrities, politicians, news outlets, or many of our churches. They would look for ways to silence him. They would try to trick him. They would hurl insults at him. They would build his cross. They would crucify him. 

Don’t confuse the Christ with the culture.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 is one of the pivotal scriptures in shaping our view of what women can and cannot do in the assembly. Interestingly enough, it isn’t really an assembly passage, although the instruction there certainly would govern what happens in the Christian assembly (church).

Before we start I want to tell you my intent. I am not going to tell you what to believe. That is between you and God. I am not going to attempt to force anything on anyone. I am going to tell you what is in the text and let you wrestle with it yourself.

Here is the text in question from several translations:

1984 NIV – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

2011 NIV – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

NASB – “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

KJV – “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

There is one word in the Greek text that is translated by 2-3 words in these English translations. The Greek word is “authentein” (which is an infinitive of authenteo) and the English translation of that word is in bold above.

Words Paul uses for authority

There are several words that get translated as “authority” in English translations. The NIV has 21 Greek words translated as “authority.” The word used most often is “exousia” (used nearly 100 times in the Greek New Testament). This word means to be in charge, have power or control.

Obviously the word in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not the word used most often. In fact the word in 1 Timothy 2:12 is only used once in the Greek New Testament. Once! Why did Paul change words? Would this make any difference in our view on women in the assembly?

What does this word mean?

Bauer gives it this definition, “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate”

Because we don’t get any other uses of this word in the New Testament, scholars have to look outside the Bible for help.

Here is info from a chart in “Women in the Church” by Kostenberger (who is a complimentarian and who believes that cultural influences are weighing on Christianity – which is certainly true and always has been so), p.78-79

Extra-biblical usages of authenteo over time
1 – “To rule, to reign sovereignly”
Used this way four times from 1 century BC to 6th century AD

2 – “To control, to dominate”
Used this way from four times from the second century AD to the 12th

2a – “To compel, to influence”
Used this way three times from 27 BC to 690 AD

2b – “In the middle voice – to be in effect, to have legal standing”
Used this way twice – in 235 AD and the 7th century AD

2c – “To domineer”
Used this way once by Chrsostom in 390AD

2d – “To grant authorization”
Used this way three times from 350-638 AD

3 – “To act independently”
Used this way three times from 390-6th century AD

3a – “To assume authority over”
Used this way three times from 390-9th century AD

3b – “To exercise one’s own jurisdiction”
Used this way four times from 2nd century AD to the 14th century AD

3c – “To flout the authority of”
Used this way twice – once in 690 and again in the 10th century AD

4 – “To be primarily responsible for, to instigate”
Used this way three times from 325 to 10th century AD

5 – “To commit murder”
Used this way once all the way over in the 10th century

The noun form of this word can mean murder but as you see above, the verb form under consideration, is rarely ever used that way and when it is, it is 900 years after Paul.

Remember, letters are situational/occassional. That means they are written to group of people with specific issues going on. I want to point out that for most of these definitions, we would all agree that in almost every instance, men shouldn’t do what this word means either. Read all of 1 Timothy to get an idea of what is going on with the women there. This is a necessary step for us to make application today. We cannot understand what a passage means for us now if we don’t also consider what it meant for its first audience.

What does Kostenberger conclude? That the only viable options based on the context are: 2, 2a, 3a, and 3c. Of those only 3a and possibly 2a do not contain a negative connotation in regard to the kind of actions the women are exhibiting.

Rejecting the “it’s just cultural” rationale

Whatever this word means I do not believe we dismiss it as some kind of cultural artifact. Everything is embedded with culture on some level. I believe that even things embedded with cultural meaning and value still have eternal truths we must learn and apply today.

From what you can see above, the word itself typically does have a negative meaning associated with it unlike typical words in Greek for authority. This is noted by Keener citing Scholer in “Paul, Women & Wives,” 108-109. Here is what Keener (an egalitarian) concludes on this matter,

“The evidence is not entirely clear, as Scholer observes, but Scholer is right that this is not Paul’s usual term for exercising authority. The context, which helps us reconstruct the situation, suggests that Paul may here be warning against a domineering use of authority, rather than merely any use of authority.” (p.109)

Here is the point I want to bring up and make you aware of. When people discuss this passage and apply it that rarely ever know that this is a word only used once that typically has a harsh edge to it – not the typical word use for authority.

Here are some questions to wrestle with. I am not going to attempt to tell you what to think. I want you to be informed.

Why did Paul use a different word here?

Did it have something to do with what women in Ephesus were doing?

If this is domineering, does that, as some scholars point out, also tie into the prohibition on teaching since women did teach in the early church, pray, etc – that possibly Paul is saying the teaching has a quality that is unacceptable in Ephesus and then gives a prohibition on it, not because they are women but because the women are the ones doing it (teach/have authority) in a way that is harmful to others?

I am not going to answer those questions for you but I do want you to ponder them.

We must go with Paul says. We must determine the meaning of what he said before we can apply it.Let’s actually look at what he wrote and form our conclusions. There are many things women are not allowed to do because the conversation is had like this word for authority is the same as the word he always uses.

Does anything change in your understanding of what women can or cannot do based on this word? Whatever this word means, women cannot/should not be doing it (and quite possibly men as well). Would violating this word keep women from praying, reading scripture, passing collection, doing announcements (We already dealt with the silence passages)?

Let us humbly and prayerfully consider these things.


These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Psalm 68 celebrates the movement of Israel from Egypt (v. 7) to Sinai (v. 8) and then victory in Canaan (vv. 9-14) whereupon God ascends to the throne on Mount Zion (vv. 15-18).

Paul uses Psalm 68 to describe the ascension and enthronement of Jesus in Ephesians 4:8. Jesus, released from the grave, ascended to the throne and gave gifts to the church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:11 reads: “The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings.” In the ancient Greek translation, the word “bore the tidings” is the same word as in the New Testament that describes “preaching the gospel” (euaggelizomenoi). They preached the good news.

In Hebrew, unlike in the Greek translation, that word is feminine. In other words, the Psalm envisions a great company of women who declare the good news! In the light of Paul’s application of Psalm 68 to the ascension of Christ, we may hear an echo of the gifting of women to preach the gospel.

New Testament

Why did Jesus choose only male apostles? This is a good and important question.

It seems rather obvious that twelve is a number that reflects Israel’s twelve patriarchs, the twelve sons of Jacob. Twelve male apostles underscores continuity with Israel and also the renewal of Israel.

The twelve apostles were free Jewish men, and the apostleship before Pentecost was limited to those categories. However, Pentecost changed this. While the twelve retained a unique honor in the Christian community, after Pentecost the gifting of apostles, prophets, and evangelists (preachers of the gospel) also extended to slave as well as free, Gentile as well as Jew, and women as well as men. The pouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, enlarged the community of gifted leadership from free Jewish men to even enslaved Gentile women.

The gifts given to the church in Ephesians 4 include apostles (Junia was an apostle, Romans 16:7), prophets (Philip’s daughters were prophets, Acts 21:9), and women preached the gospel (the men and women who were scattered went preaching the word, Acts 8:2-4).

Pentecost shifted the dynamics. Those once excluded were now included, and those once unchosen were now chosen. Slaves, Gentiles, and women were now empowered and gifted to participate in the mission of God.

History

C. R. Nichol, a renowned and beloved conservative among Churches of Christ, published an important book in 1938 entitled God’s Woman.

Nichol advocated for female deacons from 1 Timothy 3, underscored that women prayed and prophesied (taught!) in the public assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 11, and affirmed that women have the right to teach men in a Bible class when the church gathered. While he also taught a kind of patriarchy, he did not believe this eliminated the female voice from the assembly or excluded them from teaching men. His book, with a few exceptions, was well-received. But its views did not win out in the end, and most Churches of Christ silenced the female voice in the assembly and in teaching men (including, teaching eleven year old baptized males).

When it comes to being a church leader, sometimes it feels like a choice between the way we’ve always done it and the way of uncertainty.

It’s a choice that can leave you feeling lonely, like this young minister …

“For some time now I have felt somewhat alone in ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I have great relationships with a lot of different people, but when I look around at many churches they are dying out and greying out. Many of these churches lack a passion for making disciples and seem trapped by destructive legalism. In direct contrast, several of my peers in ministry are leaning into a view of God that is informed by their own vague feelings and impressions rather than by God’s word. It felt like my options in ministry were to captain a sinking ship, or to jump onto to a vessel that is rapidly careening off course. How could these be my only two options?”

If this is how you feel, you are not alone. But let’s first add one more item. Maybe you are also convinced that a focus on Sundays services, itself, is not enough –  that great preaching, praise, and programs will no longer cut it. Even if you add in ministering to the poor during the week, it still falls short.

If this viewpoint describes you, we can help.  

At the Renew Network…

  • Discipleship comes first. We help people like you champion relational discipleship as the core mission of the church.  We show how disciple making is the path laid out by Jesus himself both in his model of ministry and in his final command.
  • Relationships are vital. We are that band of brothers and sisters – that tribe of disciple making champions – which you long for and need. Renew’s vision is relational collaboration that equips millions of disciples, disciple makers, and church planters among all ethnicities. Notice that last word. We also believe God loves ethnic diversity, so our relationships feature that too.
  • Biblical theology matters. You want substance? That’s good. We are convinced that lasting disciple making movements are built on theology that requires disciple making. Dallas Willard put it succinctly: “The Jesus we preach and the gospel we uphold will determine the disciple we get.” The true Gospel calls for a faith that trusts and follows Jesus, gives him ongoing allegiance – it requires a faithful faith.

We can help you make the difference you hunger for in this world!

David Young, Dave Clayton, Rick Oster, Matt Dabbs, and other leaders known to Wineskins have jumped in. They join leaders from other diverse backgrounds such as Ralph Moore, the founder of the Hope Chapel Movement, Shodankeh Johnson the disciple-making movement leader in West Africa whose movement has reached over 700,000 people in 14 years and New Testament scholar Matthew Bates, whose books advocating discipleship are taking the scholarly world by storm. These are just a few of the champions of Renew Network.

We have unity in the midst of diversity because we all hold to 7 values:

  • Renewing by God’s Spirit – we believe that God is the author of renewal and he invites us to join him through prayer and fasting for the Holy Spirit’s work of renewal.
  • Following God’s Reliable Word – we have a high view of scripture and know that by it we learn the ways of God with lasting clarity and conviction.  
  • Surrendering to Jesus as Lord and King –Jesus is more than just Savior; he is Lord, and Messiah (King). He calls everyone to salvation (in eternity) and discipleship (in this life).
  • Championing Disciple Making – Jesus gave us the perfect model of disciple making and these same principles from the life of Jesus should be utilized as we make disciples today.
  • Loving Like Jesus – Jesus showed us the true meaning of love and taught us that sacrificial love is the distinguishing character trait of true disciples.
  • Living in Holiness – Jesus lived differently than the world, so his disciples and those in his church will live differently than the world.
  • Leading Courageously – Renewal is led by bold and courageous leaders – who make disciples, plant churches and create disciple making movements.

Join us!

Help us in our mission to renew the teachings of Jesus to fuel disciple making.  

Here are 3 ways to get started.

  1. Renew.org – get involved with our website and newsletter, where you will find practical material for everyday disciples in the form of blogs, videos, audios, book reviews, etc.
  • Coaching – consider hiring one of our coaches.  We coach church leaders, both men and women, ministers, and elders in disciple making. We help you with practical models and methods that you can start using tomorrow.
  • National Gathering – attend our national and regional gatherings to gain further  inspiration and vision. We will help you get connected to this great mission and vision and the people championing it.

We live in a time when cultural pressures are forcing us to face numerous difficulties and complexities when it comes to following Jesus. Traditional ways are less and less effective.

It is a lonely, frustrating path without a tribe that knows the way to go. Too many will end up bitter or will just give in or give up and compromise.

The journey focused on disciple making disciples is the best and right path in the 21st century. It is a renewal of the kingdom vision of Jesus and the beauty of the local church, as God intends.

Remember the minister we described in the beginning? After six months with Renew coaching, he wrote the following:

The relationship with my coach and the guys in my group has been one of the most encouraging things I have experienced this year. God showed me there are others who desire vibrant discipleship in a biblical way within the Renew Network. It has proven to be incredibly rewarding being a participant in a group and leading a group toward genuine discipleship.

Join us, as he did!

Come to renew.org, ask us for a disciple making coach, and most especially, join our Renew Gathering on November 6 in Nashville/Franklin, TN. You aren’t alone!

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

Miriam was both a prophet (Exodus 15:20) and a leader (Micah 6:4). She was one of the three people (along with Moses and Aaron) God sent to lead Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness (Micah 6:4). In addition, she served another role as well:  worship leader.

Once Israel crossed the sea and the Egyptian army was destroyed, Miriam took her tambourine and, with other women, played and danced before the Lord. And “Miriam,” the Bible says, “sang to them.”

Our English translations do not typically specify to whom the “them” refers. Most English readers, in my experience, presume it refers to the women. But the Hebrew text is clear: “them” is masculine. Miriam sang to the men (probably the whole congregation). In other words, Miriam led Israel’s first communal worship after the Exodus. Israel’s first worship leader was a woman!

New Testament

Eve is only named in two passages in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14. In both passages Eve is mentioned because she was deceived.

Because Eve was deceived, some have thought women are more easily deceived, perhaps (they say) due to their supposed emotional nature, natural instability, or weaker mind. But Paul offers no reason for why Eve was deceived; male interpreters have invented these dubious rationales.  In my experience men are deceived as often as women. In fact, the Bible regularly warns everyone about deception (e.g., Ephesians 5:6). Further, we might even say, Adam was weaker because he ate the fruit even though he was not deceived.

Paul uses Eve as a typology of deceived people. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 whole groups of people (men and women) were deceived like Eve. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Eve represents the women in the Ephesian congregation who had been deceived by false teachers. She illustrates the danger present when deceived women lead or teach. That same danger is true for men as well, but the specific situation in Ephesus involved deceived women—some had already been captured by Satan (1 Timothy 5:15). Paul is neither describing every woman nor the nature of women but identifying one woman from the Biblical story who was deceived in order to highlight the local problem in Ephesus. It is not a universal statement about women.

History

Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) was a leader in the conservative wing of the Churches of Christ. In fact, some believe he was the major force in the division of Churches of Christ from the Christian Church through his participation in the Sand Creek Address and Declaration in 1889. Those congregations announced their separation from other congregations who practiced “innovations and corruptions.”

At the same time, Sommer advocated for the “privileges” of women to participate in the public worship assemblies of the church. Though he was not egalitarian (e.g., he did not believe they should preach or rule (elders in the church), he encouraged women to lead prayer and read Scripture in the public assembly. Moreover, he encouraged women to “exhort” the congregation in the public assembly. “If a sister in good standing,” he wrote, “wish to arise in the congregation and offer an exhortation it is her privilege to do” (Octographic Review 44.34 [1901] 1). Apparently, such a practice was not an innovation. Typically, Churches of Christ do not permit any audible participation of women in the public assembly except singing and their good confession at baptism (or perhaps the occasional “amen”), but it has not always been so among us.

Note: I will admit, right from the beginning, that telling this story is difficult. It feels risky and vulnerable. My prayer is that my words are seasoned with grace and love. I will be honest. I will be real. And it may be uncomfortable at times, but I think the risk is worth it. I am deeply committed to the belief that we all have stories to share, and that our stories matter. We are all part of this narrative of God’s kingdom, and we are all on this journey of faith together. I love the church, and I love her people. This is my story as a woman in Churches of Christ called to ministry.

I grew up in the Church of Christ, born in 1980. As a child the implied narrative was that only men preached, taught adults, or spoke and participated in worship gatherings. Women taught kids and worked in dozens of other different ways, but if it involved passing a communion tray, leading prayers, or teaching the word of God to all the people of God – that was only a role for men. This was starkly highlighted when I (loosely) participated in the Lads to Leaders and Leaderettes program. Just the name – “Leaderettes,” speaks volumes about the Church of Christ ethic regarding women. When I was a little older, in youth group, I was always a bit of a Bible nerd – I really liked studying the Bible, being in class, and learning. I was the one who took notes as a 13-year-old and asked for Max Lucado books for Christmas. And I was a pretty avid Bible reader. I probably read the whole Bible at least a couple of times throughout high school. And so it was confusing to read texts like Genesis 1 in which both male and female were created in the image of God, and Galatians 3 where “there is no male and female” in Christ, and I Corinthians 11 where it is presumed that women are praying and prophesying in public, and then to read I Timothy 2 and the instruction that women are to be silent and not teach or have authority over men. But we didn’t really talk about these texts in church, what they meant, or how to interpret them. It was, always, just the “way things were:” male leadership in all areas of teaching/preaching/leading in any way publicly. I had zero examples of women doing any of those things in public spaces in which men were around, and honestly, I had no imagination for it being any other way.

In high school, I attended an ecumenical Christian school, which still had a strong view of male leadership, but was also very open to women leading in public spaces (worship leading, prayer, testimony, and preaching – although they didn’t necessarily call it preaching). But again, all of my Bible teachers were men. This began opening my eyes and my heart to the nudge of the Holy Spirit in realizing that maybe things aren’t as black and white as they seem. There was a much wider Christian world out there that I didn’t know existed.

I entered college an elementary ed major. I am not sure what led me down that road, but I very quickly discovered that it wasn’t my elementary ed classes that sparked life in me, it was my Bible classes, a required piece of my Christian college experience. I didn’t know what I was going to do long term, but I knew this was the space I wanted to spend the next four years in. I changed my major to Bible and Communication, and I often received the question: what are you going to do with that, which simply emphasized the point that women don’t “belong” in this space. I can guarantee you that all of my male-Bible-major counterparts did not receive that question asked in that way. I began answering (deferring) the question by saying, “Go to grad school.” It was in college, through my own study and reading, that I began exploring the various ways the texts about women in the Bible are interpreted, and I realized that there was a whole conversation out there that I didn’t even know existed. I held those things in my heart, and pressed forward, not knowing or fully understanding where God might be leading me.

I met and married my husband, Brian, while in college, and he was a fellow Bible major – we were super Bible nerds together. We kicked around dreams of church planting and mission work, and ended up in Petoskey for three years doing youth ministry together. We moved back to Rochester so that Brian could begin grad school, and I began working in the church office, mostly assisting in ministry related projects. We moved to Lansing shortly after, and I also began grad school, studying New Testament and Theology, which is what I always intended to do, eventually. It was during my first semester of grad work that I took my first preaching class, a requirement of the program. That was a watershed moment for me – to sit in a room of all men and hear things like: “that was a beautiful sermon; you are really gifted,” and to explore the possibility that maybe I do actually have a voice. It became evident that I had to figure out what it meant that my real, lived experience spoke a different story than the narrative I had lived in up until that point. I knew, during my Master’s Program, that I would eventually land back in school for a terminal degree. Why? Because the academy is my safe space – it is a space in which I am affirmed and encouraged to explore my gifts. And, I had a hunch that teaching (not kids, adults!) might be in my future.

I began to understand that this isn’t a conversation about “roles;” it is a conversation about justice – I am not a “problem” to be solved. I am a real, living, human person, created in the image of God, with a story and a calling and a promise that the Spirit of God has been poured out in and on me too. My eyes were opened to the wide vistas of biblical interpretation, and the even wider vistas of theological possibility. My thoughts and questions, during that time, looked like this:

  • The Bible is one way to know God; it’s not the only way – the Spirit is working in us, through creation, and in ways we can’t even imagine.
  • We are inconsistent in our hermeneutics – the ways we interpret and apply scripture – we are quick to apply the so-called “plain” meaning (which doesn’t actually exist – every reading of scripture is an interpretation) in some instances, but not in others. (In texts like I Tim 2, we gloss over the whole first part of the chapter, assuming that lifting holy hands and the ban against gold jewelry and braided hair do not apply to us.)
  • We also apply strange logic: for example, why would it be okay for a woman to teach children who are more vulnerable, but not grown men who can better discern? Or why is it okay for a woman to pray in other times/spaces but not our “sacred” hour on Sunday? Who decided on those boundaries and where did they come from?
  • The gospel’s wildly inclusive nature is the major narrative in the early church – the early church struggled with Gentile inclusion, and the church continues to struggle with racial, ethnic, socio economic, gender, (the list could continue) justice – this is not a new problem. And so, I came to believe that if the gospel is good news for anyone, it has to be good news for everyone. I think that looks like longer tables with more chairs.
  • And so, I wondered, is there a place for me and my gifts in church – my church?

Our stint in Lansing only lasted two years, but in that two years, my daughter, Sophie, was born. I will tell you that all of a sudden, this question of gender and the church became even more real and urgent. Would my daughter grow up the way I did? In a church in which the implied (and sometimes quite explicit) narrative is that your gender determines which gifts you are given and which gifts are practiced?

In the years I was away in Lansing, a lot of conversations happened in my home church – hard conversations. By the time we moved back to Rochester in 2008, the doors had cracked open. I was invited to be on an adult teaching team for the first time in 2009 – ten years ago, now. I spent four weeks and at least 30 hours in study and preparation for that 45-minute class. I remember Brian (my husband) telling me about his first sermon when he was 14 or 15 – an hour long sermon entitled “25 reasons why you should read the Bible,” and I can recall so many other preacher friends citing similar tales of their “early days” preaching and teaching in which they roll their eyes and talk about how “bad” they were. You see, when you are a woman in a Church of Christ, you haven’t been given opportunities to “fail” graciously in front of a group of people. I was a 29-year-old woman; graduate degree educated, having never so much as read a scripture in public at church. It’s a lot of pressure, especially when the church is used to college professors (from next door at Rochester College). I wasn’t the first woman to speak publicly at Rochester Church, but I was well aware of the wounds of others who had come before me. All I could think was, “Better not screw this up or I will screw it up for us all – all the women.” Ironically, the class was on Judges, and the assigned text for that day was the story of Deborah and Jael. I was walking alongside some pretty incredible, systems-subverting women.

Here’s what I discovered: teaching gave me LIFE. I felt fully alive in a classroom, and there was no denying that this was part of my vocation – my calling. I graduated with my Master’s shortly after, and began teaching Intro to Biblical Literature classes at Rochester College. I remember teaching once at church, seven years ago, in the auditorium, 7 months pregnant, fully mic’d, no denying my female-ness or my voice fully present for all to hear, and feeling like, “okay, we’ve gotten somewhere.”

Since then, in the middle of raising babies, journeying with my husband in his ministry, and contributing to our family’s living by working a variety of jobs, I ignored all of the ways women are still not offered a seat at the table in the same ways men are. I’ve ignored the systems of power that make decisions for and about women without including the voices of women. I’ve tried to be at peace with an all-male “ministry” staff and an all-female “office” staff when truthfully, the messy work of ministry eclipses all of our defined boundaries and titles. I sighed and moved on each time I submitted a woman’s name for the eldership hoping that at least it would open the long-buried conversation about gender justice, and I did my best to move and work in a church system I didn’t agree with, but in which I was choosing to submit.

I became comfortable in my role as occasional teacher until a moment two years ago when what I thought would be a given (a request to preach at a Holy Week Service at my church) was a rejection. This was another watershed moment for me. I don’t know if I was more hurt that the answer was no, or that I thought the answer would be yes. That experience stirred up a lot of deeply buried emotions, and I felt raw and exposed. For several weeks after that “no,” I wrestled with God. I had a renewed angst about the place of women in the church – specifically my church, that I had buried for several years. I felt like I had two choices: bury it for good or pursue my calling more deeply.

There was a moment, when visiting friends later that spring, that I attended their church, and a woman happened to be preaching that day. I cried through the entire service. She read this quote, from Sarah Bessey, who says: “I often say that when I preach, I’m preaching two messages: there is the one I prepared and prayed and laboured to deliver and then there is the one I’m preaching by simply preaching it as a woman. So when I minister from a pulpit, absolutely there is the sermon I prepared but there is also the sermon of my presence. The sermon of my presence is sub-text declaring that God calls women to preach the resurrection, too, that God honours [God’s] daughters, that we aren’t disqualified in the Kingdom of God, that no one is “more equal” than anyone else. Sometimes that second sermon is the one that disrupts the most: it requires people to grapple with their presuppositions and prejudices at times.” I decided that it was the time to go back to school, my safe space, to try and figure out what God is up to with me.

Last July, as I shared my journey with my new grad school cohort and the woman who would become my spiritual director, I began to understand my journey as a woman called into ministry as the “uphill climb.” God has been tugging for 30 years, offering an arm to cling to on this journey upward. Kilimanjaro, a literal mountain I climbed in early 2017, became a beautiful metaphor for me. Just this past February, I preached for my grad cohort in the quiet, peaceful chapel on Lipscomb’s campus. One of my fellow students, who is a preacher in a church that has ordained women for over 100 years, but who still faces massive resistance because of her gender, through tears spoke the words over me: “Beth, you are a preacher.” And friends, as affirming as those words are, they are simultaneously painful because it doesn’t feel like that will ever be a reality for me. Because, you see, another thing I have been called to, at least for now, is that I am to “remain in this house, eating what is set before you.” So many women, called into ministry, have to make the choice to lean in or lean out; both are important, God-centered choices. I have chosen for now, to lean in – lean into the tradition that raised me. So, for now, this is my choice to submit, not because someone told me I have too, — that’s not biblical submission – but because I am choosing to follow the way of Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to use to his own advantage. And submission doesn’t look like laying low and hoping things just work out. It means actively seeking, serving, listening, and being available to the movement and Spirit of God who I believe is working in the church for the good of the kingdom. And my choice to submit looks different than others’ choices to submit. For some of my friends in ministry submission to their calling looks like moving out of the environments that restrict them and into new spaces that more fully welcome them. God is working in it all.

I believe with every breath in me that all of our freedom in Christ is wrapped up in my freedom as a woman in Christ, with the freedom of all marginalized people. We will never experience the fullness of the kingdom until the barriers are torn down and buried. This isn’t just about me; this is about women everywhere in the world. It’s about God’s dream for humanity. Carolyn Custis James talks about how Gen 1:26-28 is God’s “vision casting” for the world – humanity created in the image of God to care for and tend the whole earth, and how the rest of scripture must be understood in light of the vision God is casting here. Our identity is as image bearers and partners in mission in the world with God. We’ve somehow missed this, and de-emphasized this vision, this visionary calling for all of us to partner with God, in the ways God has called and gifted each one of us. We need everyone – we need everyone’s gifts, talents, passions, and abilities. And here’s the thing: there is no hierarchy of gifts – it all matters; it all belongs. I have been in spaces and have suspected that women can feel like because I want to teach or preach or lead worship that I devalue the gifts and ways women have traditionally served in the church. May it never be so! A kingdom of inclusivity looks like men and women serving together in ALL areas of church ministry. It gives me LIFE to see men teaching in the children’s ministry. It gives me LIFE to see men working alongside women behind the scenes. Because you know what, not all men are passionate or gifted in serving “up front.” Their gifts are discovered behind the scenes. An ethic of full equality means that we are all freer to discover who God has uniquely created us to be. Where would any of us be if it weren’t for the dedicated women who have served God in the church for hundreds of years, baking cookies, rocking babies, and teaching littles to sing “Jesus loves me.” God honors those gifts. And my desire to teach and preach doesn’t negate that – it’s simply widening the possibilities for the kingdom. There is space at the table for us all.

I came across an excerpt from a sermon by Vincent VanGogh (yes, the painter) a couple of years ago, and it has become sacred to me as a way to understand my journey:

“I once saw a beautiful picture: it was a landscape, in the evening. Far in the distance, on the right, hills, blue in the evening mist. Above the hills, a glorious sunset, with the grey clouds edged with silver and gold and purple. The landscape is flatland or heath, covered with grass; the grass-stalks are yellow because it was autumn. A road crosses the landscape, leading to a high mountain far, far away; on the summit of the mountain, a city, lit by the glow of the setting sun. Along the road goes a pilgrim, his staff in his hand. He has been on his way for a very long time and is very tired. And then he encounters a woman, or a figure in black, reminiscent of St. Paul’s phrase: ‘in sorrow, yet ever joyful’. This angel of God has been stationed there to keep up the spirits of the pilgrims and answer their questions. And the pilgrim asks: ‘Does the road wind uphill all the way?’ To which comes the reply: ‘Yes, to the very end.’ And he asks another question: ‘Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?’ And the reply is: ’From morn to night, my friend.’ And the pilgrim goes on, in sorrow, yet ever joyful.”

This article is intended to get information in front of you for your own study and consideration. I pose a few questions in this article that I also hope you will wrestle with in an effort to have a view on this issue that is coherent, consistent and most importantly – biblical.

There are two passages in the New Testament that instruct women to be silent.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 says this,

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

1 Corinthians 14:34 says this,

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

The words for silence in in 1 Tim 2:11 is Hesuchia (ησυχια). It can mean quiet or silent.

Here are the other times it is used in the New Testament:

Acts 21:40 – “After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic”

Acts 22:2 – “When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.”

1 Tim 1:11, 12 – above

2 Thess 3:12 – “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.

There is a related word to ησυχια that also appears in 1 Timothy 2. This word is ησυχιος and it is in verse 2 – “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Keep in mind, words have a range of meaning and in this instance it is from quiet or still to completely silent. The context helps us understand which one to use. You see the word translated anything from stop (speaking) to settle down to quiet to silent. Context is key and as always translation always requires interpretation. Crowds don’t get perfectly silent (Acts 21, 22). Christians living in the world won’t be perfectly silent (1 Tim 2:2), which is why we get the translation “quiet.” Do any of these instances require absolute silence?

Whatever we think on these things we need to attempt to have consistent application. As it stands in the traditional view we say women must be silent but what we mean is up front on the stage. We mean in the worship assembly not in Bible class. Women can sing. They can greet. No one is going to stop them from shouting “Amen!” during the sermon. Women are not silent in our assemblies and neither were they in the first century. Look at 1 Cor 11 where women are instructed on how to pray and prophesy in the context of the assembly. Some have inferred that Paul is instructing women on how to do that only with a group of another women but that isn’t obvious at all from the text. That view of chapter 11 has to be constructed from chapter 14 and 1 Tim 2 retrofitted back on 1 Cor 11:2-6. I am not saying that isn’t a valid approach. I am saying our having to create an assembly of women to make 1 Cor 11 work for us isn’t at all obvious in the text itself.

We uphold the silence of women in the assembly per 1 Tim 2:11-12 and 1 Cor 14:34 (a different word in Greek – we will get to next) but we then select when women can and cannot actually speak. Reading scripture – no. Greet – yes. Sing – yes. Pass communion – no. Some of these involve complete silence. None of those involve teaching. We are left with women not having positions of authority (how would communion passing be affected by any of Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Tim 2?). More on that in a later post. But we need to think through why we do what we do and why we allow and prohibit what we allow and prohibit. We need to make sure it all aligns biblically and is consistent in application. Are we at all consistent on this issue in traditional practice?

Let’s look at 1 Cor 14 next.

In 1 Cor 14:34 Paul uses a different word for silent – sigao (σιγαω). This word can mean silence or stillness. This word is used about a dozen times in the Greek New Testament. You can see some of the uses here –

Mt 26:63, Mk 14:61; Lk 9:36, 19:40; 20:26; Ac 12:17; 13:41; 15:12; Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 14:28, 14:30, 14:34.

You will notice three of those usages are in 1 Cor 14, our target passage. That is very important because context is important. Whatever you do with the silence of women, make sure you hear Paul’s whole point in both passages. Paul doesn’t just throw soundbites at you. He makes lengthier points that unfold over multiple chapters. We need to pay attention to more than a prooftext.

Here are all the uses of this word in that chapter,

1 Cor 14:27-28 – “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.”

1 Cor 14:29-30 – “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.” (the implication of someone who is speaking being silent is them stopping – same word as “silent/quiet” in Greek).

1 Cor 14:34-35 – “Women] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

What we see in 1 Cor 14 is Paul giving order to the worship service. Apparently the Corinthians had a quiet a raucous worship service with people interrupting each other. Prophets butting in on each other. Tongue speakers having a revelation come when someone else was already busy speaking in a tongue. Apparently women were blurting out questions in the middle of the sermon (don’t you have husbands to go home and ask these things?)

Paul is giving instruction to bring order to the assembly through all of chapter 14. He instructs prophets when to speak and when to be silent. He instructs tongue speakers when to speak and when to be silent (again the same word in Greek as he uses toward the women in 14:34.

In both prophets and tongue speakers we recognize Paul is instructing against specific disorder in the Corinthians’ assembly. That does have universal, non-cultural application. We can’t just say this is cultural, ignore it. We should also embrace an orderly, understandable worship service just as Paul instructed. I am bothered by those who try to find ways to discount Paul’s instruction here or say that what he writes next about women is a textual variant so maybe he never wrote it. Let’s accept that Paul wrote all of 1 Cor 14 (even the variant is in all the manuscripts, if my understanding is correct) and deal with it as it stands.

Then we get to the women in 14:34-35 – what is Paul doing there? Is he doing the same thing he was doing with prophets and tongue speakers – giving instructions on order in the Corinthian assembly given a particular problem they were having – shouting things out rather than asking at home to retain order in the assembly (which men shouldn’t do either, by the way), which we should learn from as well? Or is Paul giving a universal prohibition against all women speaking at any and all times in the assembly (which he didn’t do with prophets or tongue speakers)? That has been the traditional interpretation (except of course singing, greeting, etc – where they are not actually silent in the assembly). We should note that he does construct his instruction to the women a bit differently than the other two situations by not giving them a “when” to do it instruction. He did that back in 11, it seems to me. We end up having to wrestle with whether or not we read chapter 11:2-6 through 14:34-35 or the other way around and how to make a consistent view that fits both passages. The women’s assembly is something people have created to smooth this over but that is not at all clear from the text.

Is Paul, like he has done throughout the chapter, also mentioning a specific situation he is correcting in regard to prophets, tongue speakers and finally the women in the Corinthian assembly because Paul does write this with a particular problem in mind that we find in 14:35 – “If they want to inquire about something they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

That question is for you to wrestle with.

I want you to form your own, educated, contextual opinions, about what Paul wrote here and then what that means for us today. I won’t tell you what to think. I believe you are smart enough to think through it for yourself and come to informed conclusions that take into account more than a soundbite or out of context passage.

Blessings

ACU Summit is back again September 15-18 with the theme “Sorrow, Hope, and Joy: Life in the Mountains and Valleys of the Psalms.” Our five theme speakers will guide us through the ups and downs of life as they correspond with the Psalms.

This year, attendees can choose from 20 different daytime Pathways to find the sessions that suit them best.

Here are highlights:

  • Summit will open with a joint concert by the ACU Alumni Chorus and the ACU A Capella at 6:20 p.m. Sunday at University Church of Christ, 733 E.N. 16th St, adjacent to the ACU campus. The concert will lead into worship and the opening lecture by Mike Cope. Cope is the Director of Ministry Outreach for Pepperdine University. Our other theme speakers are Mo Isom, nationally sought after speaker and New York Times Bestselling author of “Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot”; Beverly Ross, speaker and leader for women’s ministries as well as founder and Executive Director for Wise County Christian Counseling; Shane Wood, one of Christian Standard’s “40 Leaders Under 40” and author of “Between Two Trees: Our Transformation from Death to Life”; and Steven Moore , associate English professor and director of the McNair Scholars Program. Full biographies for the speakers are located at acu.edu/summit.
  • Twenty-one pathways will provide ample opportunities for attendees to hear discussion about their personal areas of service. Topics include: Leadership; Center for Ancient and Religious Texts; Discipleship in a Multicultural Society; Congregational Leadership; Racial Reconciliation; Small Church; Worship; Formation of Young Adults; Biblical Storytelling; Moral Meaning of Work; Beyond Red and Blue; Growing Young; Intergenerational Church; Holy Spirit; and Social Justice.
  • Join us for the Abilene premiere of Finding Home In Boomtown , directed by Matt Maxwell (’07) at the Summit Film Festival. In the nation’s 2nd wealthiest city, a West Texas oilman sets out to downsize and refocus his family’s life in order to build a tiny house community for the homeless. Matt Maxwell is a filmmaker in West Texas. Prior to his move to Midland, he lived in Los Angeles where he worked in reality television and in the office of The Kennedy/Marshall Company. Following the showing, the Social Justice pathway will host a Q&A session with the director and pathway presenters.
  • The Enneagram pathway is back! On Monday and Tuesday, Enneagram Teachers Chelsea Sargeant and Carson Reed will lead five sessions first introducing the Enneagram, then explaining the next steps for using it. Monday night, they will host an Enneagram Panel, featuring representation from all nine types and time for Q&A from the audience.
  • Many pathways will host Conversation Corners at the end of the day. These sessions will allow speakers to interact with each other and the attendees for an immersive experience.
  • Our Wednesday Mini-Pathway offerings are loaded with information and encouragement. Randy Harris will host “Living Out the Gospel in a Secular Age”; Jason Byassee will host “Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis”; Eddie Sharp and Cheryl Bacon will host “Comfort When the Shadow Falls:
  • Encouraging the Dying and Those Affected by Grief”; and Brad East, Mitch East, and Bradley Steele will host “A Third Way for Churches of Christ.” For descriptions of these and other sessions, check out acu.edu/summit.
  • ACU Press will bring several of its most popular published authors to speak on topics from their books.

Please mark your calendars and plan to join us on the campus September 15-18 for the 113th Annual Summit!

The Author – Dr. Heather Heflin Hodges
Photo “My Loneliest Place on Earth

Author’s note: This research was birthed out of my own trauma as well as my experience ministering to other women in our tribe who are hurting and who report that their pain is directly related to being in churches of Christ. While we continue to discuss what a woman’s “role” in the church can or cannot be, I want to spend a short time focusing on the repercussions of how we have treated women in churches of Christ.

The research is crystal clear, how churches of Christ have treated women has caused trauma. Regardless of one’s particular beliefs, theology, hermeneutics, or ecclesiology we cannot deny the experiences of women who self-report pain. Their story is their story, and it cannot be ignored, rewritten, or taken from them. I want this research to speak for itself, knowing that within every study or survey exists many flaws. This research is flawed but embedded within it is Truth. I embarked on this journey out of shear curiosity. I was not trying to prove or disprove a theory but to simply ask, listen, and learn. My prayer now is that you, my dearest brothers and sisters, may read on with the same curiosity, empathy, and openness to the stories of others. May we never stop asking hard questions nor be afraid of challenging answers. Soli Deo Gloria! – Heather

Summary

In September of 2018, data were gathered from 516 women to evaluate their self-reported trauma symptoms as a result of being part of churches of Christ. Of the women surveyed 52% reported none to mild trauma symptoms while 48% reported moderate to extremely severe symptoms. The research found that 78% of all respondents experienced one or more trauma symptoms within the past month of the survey as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.”

Methodology

The instrument used for the research was the civilian version of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-C.) The PCL-C is a 17-item self-report checklist of PTSD symptoms based closely on the DSM-IV criteria. Respondents rated each item from 1 (“not at all”) to 5 (“extremely”) to indicate the degree to which they have been bothered by that particular symptom over the past month. A total symptom severity score (range = 17-85) was obtained by summing the scores from each of the 17 items. This research assessed the respondents’ scores in the following manner:

  • 0 – 17    No Symptoms
  • 18 – 31   Mild
  • 32 – 44   Moderate
  • 45 – 57   Severe            
  • 58 – 85   Extremely Severe

Please note: The gold standard for diagnosing PTSD is a structured clinical interview such as the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The PCL-C was used in this survey as a research tool and was not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms.

The respondents were given the following information about the survey, “This survey is designed to explore self-reported trauma and stress by women as a result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ. This is an independent social sciences study conducted by Dr. Heather Hodges for the purpose of researching the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.”

Findings

Of the 516 women surveyed, 71% have been part of churches of Christ for over 20 years, 25.53% have served as a paid minister for churches of Christ, and 21.3% are or have been married to a church of Christ minister.

When asked to self-report any trauma symptoms 22.09% reported an absence of trauma symptoms, 30% reported mild symptoms, 18.41% reported moderate symptoms, 16.08% reported severe symptoms and 13.37% reported extremely severe symptoms.

Results of PCL-C survey completed September 2018, by 516 women in churches of Christ.

Conclusion

This research finds that roughly half of women surveyed report moderate to extremely severe trauma symptoms as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.” One-third of the 516 women surveyed report mild symptoms and only 22% of the women surveyed reported no symptoms.

Implications

The implications and ramifications of this research are broad and far-ranging. Part – 2 will delve more deeply into individual responses as well as suggestions for how we can help women heal who experience trauma as a result of being part of churches of Christ.

Future Research

More research is needed to accurately assess the severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women as a result of being part of churches of Christ. I suspect that the degree of self-reported trauma is correlated to whether a woman in churches of Christ feels that her particular spiritual gifts were fully utilized or not. Future research could ask, “To what degree have you felt your spiritual gifts have been utilized by the church of Christ?” “Have you ever been restricted from using your spiritual gifts because of your gender?”

An updated version of the PCL was published in 2018 and is based on the DSM-5 criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Any further research could utilize this expanded and updated tool.

These are brief: one tidbit each from the Hebrew Bible, the writings of the New Testament, and from the history of Churches of Christ.

Hebrew Bible

In Genesis 4:1, Eve explodes on the scene East of Eden as one who is already subverting the “man will rule over the woman” script of Genesis 3:16. She names a man!

Eve produced (qanah) a man (ish) with the help of Yahweh. Cain (qayin) is the noun form of qanah, and he is called an ish rather than a child, or a human, or a boy. Eve gave birth to a man, and named the man. Just as Adam named the woman (ishah) “Eve” after God questioned them in the Garden, now Eve names a man (ish) whom she has brought into the world with the help of Yahweh.

This anticipates Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 where he recognizes the mutual reciprocity between male and female rather than the domination of male over female: “in the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman for just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.”

New Testament

In Christ, Paul writes, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and there is neither slave nor free. Then he also adds a third pair: there is neither male and female. There is no “nor” as in the first two pairs but the conjunction “and.” Why the difference?

Paul writes “male and female” (arsen kai thēlu), which is the precise language that appears in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis 1:27. This is not typical language for Paul who only uses “female” in Romans 1 and nowhere else. He drew it directly from the Genesis 1 creation account. In other words, Paul recalls the creation of humanity as male and female.

This appeal to creation is important because what Paul describes as “in Christ” is part of the “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). This new world renews the partnership of the original creation when “God blessed them” and told “them” to co-create and co-shepherd God’s good creation. In other words, the equality and partnership envisioned in Genesis 1:26-28 is renewed in the new creation.

History

In the nineteenth century, many leading teachers among the churches of Christ believed that 1 Timothy 2:12 had universal application. It was not limited to the assemblies of the church but applied to the whole of society. Consequently, 1 Timothy 2:12 was used to deny women the vote, oppose public speaking by women in any social situation, and reject any kind of public leadership on the part of women.

If the traditional interpretation is correct, they had a point. If the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:12 is rooted in some kind of “order of creation” (a kind of primogeniture), then it applies universally—whether in the assemblies of the church or in political assemblies. Whatever is rooted in creation applies to every aspect of human life.

It would seem a consistent application of 1 Timothy 2:12—if one thinks this contains a timeless prohibition—excludes women from any public leadership or authority, whether in the church or in society. That is how our “forefathers” read it until women were given the right to vote, hold political office, sit on juries, and become Presidents of universities. Then, we no longer believed that, adjusted our interpretation, and decided that the text only applied to assemblies of the church while continuing to ground the prohibition in some kind of “creation order.”

More next week.

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