Invitation for Women to Participate Publicly in Worship

In our worship services, women are asked to sing, read Scripture, offer prayers, make announcements,and help with the Lord’s Supper. We present here our thinking concerning women’s participation in public worship.

Initially, please know that here, women are invited to participate in a public way. This visible ministry is not the result of women making demands on the elders or the congregation; rather, the elders have initiated and encouraged this transition.

We have examined the Scriptures because the Bible is our guide for faith and practice. We are more Biblically conservative than we are traditionally conservative. All things, even practices of long standing, are continually open to examination in the light of God’s word. This attitude toward faith and practice is very much what the Churches of Christ have claimed to be about for 200 years.

Historically, we in Churches of Christ have tended to focus on “proof-texts” to establish authoritative practices. Sometimes that means we lose the greater teachings found in the themes of Scripture and in the practices of the early church. With regard to the ministry of women in the church, we could study the place of women in the ministry of Jesus and the early church as recorded in Luke and Acts. We could note the place of Sapphira, Phoebe, Junias, and the prophet daughters of Philip, the evangelist. We could highlight the great teaching in Galatians 3:28 about Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women all being one in Christ Jesus. However at the end of the day, the proof-texts will come center-stage for many. With that in mind, let’s look at the three central passages in the discussion of the public roles of women, found in I Corinthians 11 and 14 and in I Timothy 2.

I Corinthians 11 describes two activities in the worship of the Corinthian church: the men and women praying and prophesying and their shameful behavior around the Lord’s Supper. In the section dealing with men and women praying and prophesying, we find language about headship and head coverings. Here, Paul argues like the rabbi he was. While there are many things to think about in this text, nothing here forbids men and women from praying and prophesying in the worship of the church as long as the men present themselves as men and the women present themselves as women. The women, like the men, are praying and prophesying in the public worship of the Corinthian church. In I Corinthians 14, some women are told to be silent. The word for “silent” in this section means “absolutely silent” — not a peep. Three groups are told to be absolutely silent in I Corinthians 14. The tongue- speaker is to be absolutely silent with his or her tongue speaking if no interpreter is present. The prophet is to silence his or her prophecy (remember the men and women are praying and prophesying in chapter 11) if two or three prophets have already spoken. The silence in both of these cases is absolute silence, but it is narrowly and specifically defined in this situation. The same conditions apply to the words given to a certain group of women in a certain situation. The women told to be silent are the women who can ask their husbands questions at home instead of disrupting worship with their questions. These disruptive wives needed to silence their questions to their husbands during worship and ask those same questions at home. Remember that the word for “woman” and the word for “wife” are the same word in Greek. “Wife” is the obvious meaning in this context, because only wives can ask husbands at home. This admonition is not a general call for all women to be absolutely silent in all worship contexts for all time, but rather it is a specific response to a specific problem involving specific sorts of speech (disruptive questions) at a specific time. If female silence were the meaning here, then women would not be allowed to make a sound in worship—not even to sing or to utter the great confession.

In I Timothy 2:2, Paul urges prayers on behalf of ruling powers so that Christians can live “quiet” lives of dignity. The word for “quiet” does not mean “absolute silence,” but “controlled, reserved, and restrained.” This word is not the same one used for “silence” in I Corinthians 14. Later in I Timothy 2:11 and 2:12, the word in 2:2 is used again, but in this context, translators rendered the word as “silence” or “silent” instead of maintaining the translation of the word in 2:2 earlier where it was “quiet.” In 2:11, we hear Paul’s teaching calling women to learn in peaceable quietness, not in silence.

We recognize that there are a variety of scholarly opinions about I Timothy 2:12. In this verse the sentence “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” contains a Greek construction, in which two words — “teach and have authority” — join to create one thought. Many believe the best understanding of this combination to mean “authoritarian teaching.” In this case the prohibition is against “bossy” or domineering teaching by women. Paul forbids this kind of teaching as he calls for Christian lives that are quiet, peaceful and self-controlled. Others find the common English translations of “teach or have authority over a man” to be accurate and to mean simply that only men should hold some “authoritative” positions, such as elders/shepherds and preachers. After studying the texts commonly considered to prohibit certain public roles for women in worship, we observed that these texts did not silence women to the extreme reflected in our past practices. So, while tradition may call for women to be silent in worship, there is evidence that Scripture does not call for such silence.

Therefore, the shepherds of the Springfield Church of Christ invite women to join with men in serving the church in public roles. In recognition that I Timothy 2:12 can reasonably be taken in different ways, women will not serve as preaching ministers or as elders here, but do serve in other public ways. Our hope is that the Springfield Church of Christ, as the Bride of Christ, will bring glory to God as godly women add their gifts and voices to her ministry.

This study and these conclusions are those of the Springfield Church of Christ. We would not propose that any other congregation adopt our practice based on this brief summary of a much wider, deeper study. This congregation has acted as an autonomous body of Christians. We respect our sister congregations who study these Scriptures and come to different conclusions. We honor all those congregations who, in the Spirit of unity and love, continue to search the Scriptures to bring the good news of Jesus to those around them.