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Women Preachers in the Churches of Christ

On July 7, 2013, the Stamford church of Christ in Connecticut introduced their new "Minister in Residence," who is a woman. I know nothing of this congregation other than a few things I read on their website. They declare themselves to be "fully gender-egalitarian" as a result of studying Scripture "in the light of its original intent and historical context." Likewise, I know nothing of their new minister other than what I read on a website that advocates for women to be ministers in the churches of Christ. According to the report, she is highly educated and very skilled in preaching.

The announcement made by the Stamford church describes the arrival of their new minister as a landmark event for them because she is a woman. (The quotations that follow are from this announcement unless noted otherwise.) The Senior Pulpit Minister, who made the announcement and introduced the new Minister in Residence, also described this appointment as much needed progress for the churches of Christ. He lamented that "too many churches are being held back by the traditional views of just one or two of elders" and that there are many ministers and members who agree with making such "progress" but are afraid to say anything. With regret, he explained that many talented women were leaving the churches of Christ because there are no jobs for them there and no opportunities for them to make use of their skills in ministry and preaching. He declared the Stamford church's intention to "end patterns of prejudice and discrimination that bring shame to churches in our time." Boldly, he predicted that "one day almost all churches will be gender egalitarian" and that those who will resist will rapidly decline.

After reading these things, I am deeply saddened by what this could mean for the Lord's church. What I have to say is not in any way a personal attack on the individuals involved in this particular congregation, whom I do not know and will not even name here. Instead, I am compelled to answer the charges that are made in this announcement against the "traditional views," which I believe are the Scriptural views. These charges are indicative of the intense cultural pressure that is bearing on the Lord's church and demanding that it must depart from the traditions of Scripture. This pressure is succeeding in changing not only the church but also the home and individual Christians into conformity with the world. It is this that brings me sadness and portends further apostasy from the word of God in the future. Where will it stop?

The announcement of the Stamford church addressed two passages of Scripture "that restrict women's participation in public worship -- 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15." According to its explanation, these passages are not applicable today because they "address specific circumstances in the particular cultural context of their original first-century audiences." Those who disagree with this explanation are accused of "not studying the Bible," "not doing their homework," not seeking "the original intent of Scripture," and not seeking "to understand Scripture in its historical context."

These are false charges, for the historical contexts for both of these passages extend far beyond the first century. In 1Corinthians 14:33-35, the Scripture ties the tradition of women subjecting themselves to the Law of Moses, which predated the first century by 1,400 years. Concerning 1Timothy 2:9-15, consider the reasons given for the prohibition against women teaching men in verses 13 and 14:

For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

These reasons are not based on first century culture, but rather they go back to the very beginning of creation. Indeed, the Scriptural traditions governing the relations of men and women are not the product of any isolated period of culture, but rather they are founded on historical events recorded in Scripture and the divinely appointed order of men and women that has existed from the beginning.

Concerning the original intent of Scripture, the Scripture itself declares its intent: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2Tim. 3:16-17). There is nothing in this intent that negates the plain meanings of 1Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1Timothy 2:9-15.

I readily acknowledge that there are some elements of antiquated culture recorded in the Scriptures (wearing tunics, washing feet, anointing with oil, etc.), and I agree that understanding the context of any passage of Scripture is essential to making the proper application. However, the principles of Scripture are timeless and unchanging. The principles of 1Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1Timothy 2:9-15 are founded on the order that God established from the beginning, and no period of culture changes them. This issue has nothing to do with whether women are talented or capable, and it is not about prejudice, discrimination, or inequality. It is about respecting God's will and following His word. God has set roles, boundaries, and limitations for both men and women (see Tit. 2:1-8 for example). Let us not be offended at the principles of God's word nor try to change them, but rather let us unashamedly embrace them to the glory of our Lord. May the "daughters of Sarah" continue to "do what is right without being frightened by any fear" (1Pet. 3:6).

Stacey E. Durham




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