The Place of Women

Frank Holmes

Part 6 of 9 of the series Keep your Balance

‘Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God! king of the universe, who hath not made me a woman.’ So runs the Jewish office book, ‘Daily Prayers’. This is an evil saying which feeds the worm of pride in the male heart and is opposed to the spirit of both the Old and New Testaments. It should find no echo in the hearts of Christian men.

Our Lord was supported in His ministry by women who travelled with His party and gave material assistance. Paul refers to ‘those women which laboured with me in the gospel’. In his time women prayed and prophesied and he did not rebuke them, 1 Cor. 11. 4-5. At the same time Scripture commands women to be silent in the churches, and does not permit a woman ‘to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence’. There is no confusion error in logic here. A little clear, unbiased thinking reveals that the Scripture takes a balanced view of the place of women in church life. If only we were all as balanced!

To be frank, some men who take an extreme view of the matter and treat women with contempt, would be the first to fight for women’s rights if they themselves belonged to the opposite sex. Equally, some women who forget their modesty in these things would be the first to try to ‘keep women in their place’ if they belonged to the opposite sex.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the Bible forbids women to speak during the gatherings of the church. There is in fact a surprising agreement on this point between scholars of very different persuasions. Where a writer has no barrow to drive he generally accepts the fact that the ministry of women in the church is forbidden in Scripture. To illustrate this point we quote, without stopping to express here our general reaction to the publication, from the New English Bible;

‘As in all congregations of God’s people, women should not address the meeting. They have no licence to speak, but should keep their place as the law directs. If there is something they want to know they can ask their husbands at home. It is a shocking thing that a woman should address the congregation.’ ‘It is my desire, therefore, that everywhere prayers be said by the men of the congregation ... A woman must be a learner, listening quietly and with due submission.’

Now it may be that some turned to this new translation expecting to find some softening down of apostolic teaching on this question. Instead, the facts are stated rather bluntly.

If a person claims to believe the Bible, and yet is unwilling to accept its plain teaching on such a point as this, he will readily swallow a cheap, unscholarly interpretation, which involves the wresting of the Scriptures. The modernist is at least honest, for he says, ‘Obviously Paul wrote that, but it was just his prejudice against women’. Of course in this matter some believers are modernists.

It is an historical fact that these things were almost universally accepted in Christendom up to Queen Victoria’s reign. The few exceptions were largely enthusiastic movements marked by various excesses.

During Queen Victoria’s reign the spread of education and the employment of women in offices and factories promoted a new conception of womanhood. Some of the changes were good and simply an outworking of Christian principles. Others had no appeal to godly women. But, as so often happens, the church was expected to bring its practice into line with that of the world, regardless of Scripture. And weak Christians, in their usual hurry to be fashionable, brought forward various reasons why women should teach and govern in the church.

The Bible does not exclude women from public ministry in the gatherings of the church without giving a reason. It is better to accept the reasons of Scripture than to invent your own. Thus the Bible does not say that women are not to teach because there have been more false teachers among women than among men. Facts do not support that. What the Word of God says is: ‘For Adam was first formed then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression’.

It is not far us to question the decisions of God. He has decided that when the local church comes together women must not lead the worship or speak, because man had priority in creation and woman led the way in the Fall. We must accept this as we accept the fact of everyone’s involvement in Adam’s disobedience.

But Christian women must not be required to accept a heavier restraint than God had laid upon them. It is hard enough for a godly and gifted sister to sit silent whilst an ungifted and fleshly brother holds forth to no profit. She must not be prevented from doing the work which God has given her. Outside the gatherings of the assembly she has a large field. Who so well fitted to work among women as women? Who so likely to understand children?

Women who have no gift for public speaking often do a valuable work in private visitation and in providing hospitality in their own homes. Who can doubt that a great reward will be given for such unostentatious service?