Celebrate the Church of Christ: Women Can Exalt Christ (Rom. 16:1-5)
Celebrate the Church of Christ:
Women Can Exalt Christ
The New Yorker magazine ran an article July 25, 2021 by writer Eliza Griswold entitled “The Unmaking of Biblical Womanhood.” Ms Griswold focused her article on the fight of a professor of medieval-history from Baylor University named Beth Allison Barr. Mrs. Barr has written a book titled “The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth.”
According to Professor Barr, the idea that women and men have equal value but different roles in Christianity is not a result of biblical teaching. Rather, it was invented in the twentieth century as a knee-jerk reaction to feminism that was gaining ground in the years after World War II.
Professor Barr’s book is the #1 Best seller on Amazon in the “Gender and Sexuality in Religious Studies” section. It was #8 in Christian Church History and #21 in Christian Evangelism. I bring up Barr and this article from The New Yorker to show that the issue of women’s role in the home and in the church is creating pressure on many religious groups.
The author of The New Yorker article writes that Professor Barr’s book is a “careful fact-based critique.” I’ll tell you in a moment how Professor Barr handles 1 Timothy 2. I don’t know if you have ever heard of Beth Moore - she is a popular speaker in the denominational world and she recently, in a very high-profile way, broke with the Southern Baptist Convention because she could not agree with that denomination’s view of the role of women. Rick Warren, with the very famous Saddleback Community Church, recently appointed three women pastors, and his church is now under investigation by the rules’ committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This is a question that is splitting denominations across the country and, actually, around the world. I won’t spend more time going into those details. According to one website, there are already 55 churches of Christ in the United States that have an expanded role of women in the church. If you include churches of Christ which use praise teams which have women on the praise team, then that number might be even higher.
Before we get to the two texts which limit the role of women in worship, let’s look at the broader picture. We start in the OT…
THE HOLY SPIRIT WOULD COME ON WOMEN AS WELL AS MEN:
In Numbers 11, Moses was getting worn out providing leadership for the people of Israel. So, God took the Holy Spirit who was on Moses and put him on 70 of the elders of Israel. Those elders began prophesying to show that they were under the influence of the Holy Spirit. On that occasion, in 11:29, Moses wished, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”
Fast forward a few hundred years and the prophet Joel turns Moses’ wish into a prophecy: “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). Clearly women would be filled with the Holy Spirit and would be able to prophesy just like men.
Fast forward another few hundred years and in Acts 2, when the church of Christ was started, this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled (Acts 2:16-21). On that day, the Holy Spirit fell on the twelve apostles but the apostle Peter makes the promise in Acts 2:39: “the promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Now, everyone who obeys the Gospel, even today, receives the Holy Spirit, men and women (Acts 5:32). But even in that day, not every man who received the Holy Spirit also had the ability to perform miracles. Some did. In the same way, in the NT times, every woman who obeyed Jesus Christ received the Holy Spirit but not all were able to perform miracles. Some did.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE NT CHURCH:
Let's take a look at women in the NT church (I dealt with women in the ministry of Jesus in my Sunday night sermon a few weeks ago in my sermon: “Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women”: https://livestream.com/swartzcreek/events/9026585/videos/224649809.
Female followers of Jesus, including His mom, were in the upper room in Acts 1:14 when the apostles had to choose someone to replace Judas. They were there, praying with the men.
The first explicit reference to women obeying the Gospel is in Acts 5:14 where Luke writes multitudes of women were becoming Christians.
In Acts 8:3, Saul of Tarsus dragged men and women out of their homes and put them into jail. In Acts 8:12, Philip was teaching and baptizing men and women in the Samaritan villages.
Tabitha, also named Dorcas, was an active member of the church of Christ in Joppa, according to Acts 9:36-42.
Timothy’s mom was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:1) and she led Timothy to become a follower of Christ. Timothy, we all know, became a constant and faithful friend of the apostle Paul.
In Acts 16, Lydia was a business woman from the city of Thyatira, who was leading a worship service in Philippi. The message of Paul opened Lydia’s heart and she led her household to be baptized into Christ and invited Paul and Silas, Timothy, and Luke to stay in her home in Philippi. When Paul and Silas got out of prison at the end of Acts 16, the new congregation of the church of Christ met together in Lydia’s house.
There were not many people who obeyed Jesus Christ in the city of Athens, but Luke felt compelled to mention at least one of them, a woman named Damaris (Acts 17:4, 12, 34).
I want to also mention the role that Aquila’s wife, Priscilla, made in the proper teaching of Apollos in Acts 18. Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos teaching and he was not quite teaching the truth, so the two of them took Apollos aside privately and taught him more accurately (18:26). Three times Priscilla is mentioned before Aquila. I wonder if that suggests she had a more outgoing personality more than Aquila. But, my point is that she was involved in teaching a man, in a private setting, outside of worship.
I mentioned that the Holy Spirit empowered some women, as He did men, to prophesy. One of the deacons from Jerusalem, named Philip, had four daughters who were Christian prophetesses (Acts 21:9).
I want to direct your attention to Romans 16. As Paul writes this letter to the church of Christ in Rome, look at the number of women Paul specifically wants to greet who were coworkers with him in preaching the gospel:
16:1 - Phoebe - a “servant of the church” - You might see in a note in your Bible that “servant” can be translated “deaconess.” It is the feminine form of the word for “deacon.” The first time the Latin word for deaconess is used in a document called the Apostolic Constitutions dated around 390 A. D. So the early church did not have a special position for “deaconess” as the church did for men.
16:3 - Prisca is a shortened form of the name Priscilla, Aquila’s wife.
16:6 - Mary
16:7 - Junias, who apparently was related to Paul in some way, but she spent time in prison, probably because she was a Christian.
16:12 - Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis
16:15 - Julia and the sister of Nereus, who is not further named.
These were all women who had helped Paul in service to Christ so he has to send his greetings to them.
I mentioned Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:9 who were prophetesses. In 1 Corinthians 11:5, there were women in the church of Christ in Corinth who were praying and prophesying.
In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So clearly there is an equality of men and women in the eyes of God and we have seen sufficient evidence that women were very actively involved in the work of the churches of Christ in the first century.
Women are workers; they are servants; they are actively involved in sharing the gospel with others. One of the most inspiring examples, to me, of a Christian woman in more modern times in the churches of Christ is the missionary woman named Sarah Andrews. In the early 1900s, Sarah became a Christian at 13 years old and heard J. M. McCaleb speak about doing mission work in Japan. Sarah decided to go do mission work, as a single woman, at the age of 23. She moved to Tokyo, Japan. She opened a language school and taught English.
In her first year, she baptized 10 people. One of those was another woman, named Oki-San who became a life-long friend of Sarah. They moved to Okitsu on Sugura Bay, a town of 8,600 people. In 1923, when an earthquake hit, Sarah served the injured in the name of Christ. During World War II, Sarah Andrews was placed in a concentration camp near Yokohama. That experience had a serve negative impact on Sarah’s health.
At one point, when Sarah was visiting her family in Tennessee - and back in those days, missionaries did not come back home but once every 5-10 years - she was in poor health and her family tried to talk her into staying in America. Sarah responded: “I can do more there on a cot than here on my feet.” She returned to Japan. She died after suffering a stroke in 1962. She had started 8 congregations of the churches of Christ.
There is not much that Christian women cannot do. But there is one: they cannot be in a leadership role in the church.
TWO PASSAGES EXPLICITLY LIMIT THE ROLE OF WOMEN:
Before we look at those two passages, in that article in The New Yorker, the author introduces us to another writer and critic of the biblical view of the role of women in the church, Rachel Held Evans. In 2012, Mrs Evans wrote a book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In that book, she says she spent a year trying to perform all the tasks that Scripture lays out for a godly woman, to demonstrate the ridiculousness of taking the Bible literally. What did she do? Well, she tried to live the teachings of the book of Leviticus in her life so that she slept in a tent while she was having her monthly cycle. And, because Proverbs says men are to be praised in the gates, she stood at her city limit sign holding a sign calling her husband “awesome.” I mention this to show just what ridiculous lengths people will go to in order to set aside the plain teachings of the word of God.
Mrs. Evans did that stunt to show just how ridiculous it is to take the Bible literally. But, after ignoring the entire context of the Bible, she actually showed how ridiculous she was, blinded by her agenda.
Again, from The New Yorker, part of the reason why Professor Barr left biblical teaching was because she was led to believe, by Dr. James Dobson, that the husband was to “make all important decisions.” Is that what biblical headship means? Is that all spiritual leadership is - making all the important decisions? If that’s what her understanding is, then she has a shallow understanding of leadership in general, and biblical leadership in particular. Do the Scriptures teach that a godly husband “makes all important decisions”? No, certainly not. What does leadership mean, then? It means the husband is responsible for all the decisions that are made. If a husband makes an important decision without consulting his wife - and probably his kids for that matter - then he’s an idiot and perhaps blinded by male chauvinism. Leadership does not mean “making all the important decisions.” That’s not what the Bible teaches.
But the Bible does teach that men are to be the leaders in the church and in the home. Let’s just take a few moments to look at two passages:
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 - “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” In the context, the word “churches” refers to the assembly of the church for worship. Paul says women cannot speak but are to subject themselves to the leadership of the men. If they have questions, they can ask their husbands at home. In that society, women generally were married, so they had a husband to ask. The “response” to this text is that since there are single women in the church who do not have a husband to ask at home, therefore, this text does not apply today. But that absolutely does not follow.
The second major text is 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Now, before we look at the text, let me tell you what Professor Barr says about this text in The New Yorker article. She says the “order of creation argument is just silliness.” The author of the article summarizes Professor Barr’s position: “Paul enumerates a set of rules that appear to grant men authority over their wives, to order women to be silent in the church, and to forbid them from teaching the word of God. …when they are placed in their proper historical context. She says that Paul is not listing Jesus’ commandments in these passages, but rather, Roman laws; afterward, he often contradicts or subverts them.”
Now, you read 1 Timothy 2 and see if Paul is teaching Roman laws, or if he is presenting a law from Christ…? Let me remind you that in that 1 Corinthians 14 context (ver. 37), Paul says that the things he is writing are the “commandments of the Lord.”
Now, for 1 Timothy 2:8-15…
What the argument has become now, from 1 Timothy 2, is that men no longer lift up holy hands (vs 8), and women’s taste in “modesty” (vs 9) have changed from the 1st century to now. Consequently, the role of women has changed, culturally speaking, from the 1st century until today. The cultural context of 1 Timothy 2, according to the modern view, is the false teaching Paul is warning Timothy to fight, in such passages as 5:13 and 2 Tim. 3:6-7 (Marshall, 167).
The questions we need to ask ourselves, in light of the modern position on this text, are: 1.) Does Paul limit a woman’s role in the public assembly of the church? 2.) Does he intend for this limitation to be “for all time”?
The issue that these brethren, as well as many others, confuse is the difference between inherent equality and assigned roles. You may have a faithful, dedicated Christian man who is married but if he does not have children, he cannot be a deacon. That doesn’t mean he is inferior to a man who is a deacon. It means he cannot be qualified to be a deacon until he has children (1 Tim. 2:12). Likewise, you may have a man who is married and has children and is a good leader in his home, but until his children become believers (Titus 1:6), he cannot be an elder. That doesn’t mean that he is inferior to a man is an elder. It simply means that he is not qualified to be an elder unless or until his children become Christians.
That is not hard to understand. Women have equality with men, inherently through Jesus Christ - Galatians 3:28. But, inherent equality does not mean that everyone has the same role to serve in the church of Christ.
Brauch also wrote: “For what is it about gender which militates against the full expression of the Creator’s gifts of heart and mind and spirit?” I can tell you. What was it about catfish that militates against it being used as food by the ancient Israelite nation? It was classified as an “unclean” animal simply on the basis of God’s revealed will (Lev. 11). In verse 47, God told Israel to “make a distinction between the unclean and the clean.” So, catfish were unclean for the stated reason that God said they were unclean. God gave men the role of leadership both in the home and in the church and we must recognize that fact for no other reason than God said so.
Take home message: Women may exalt Christ publicly and privately, within the confines of the authority of Jesus Christ Himself.