The Place and Part of Women

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We are living in days when the grotesque concept of “unisex” is gaining ground in the political and social spheres of our land, and is being increasingly adopted as the accepted practice in our society. And what is developing steadily in the outside world has repercussions which are sadly being felt in some assemblies as well. It is ever the policy of the Evil One to disrupt the divine order laid down by God for assembly practice, and also to erode the clear lines of relativity divinely set in creation’s structure.

A careful reading of the Genesis account of human origins will show that Man, in the full sense of the term, is constituted of two complementary units, mutually necessary for the ideal functioning of that which represents the apex of God’s earthly creation — the male and the female. Scripturally and biologically, as well as functionally, man and woman are diverse and distinguished in a marked way. Adam found in Eve “an help” who was suited to his needs. It was not that Eve was inferior to him, but that she was constitutionally and functionally quite different from him.

It is probably true to say that in the male of the species the characteristics of the spirit predominate, whereas in the female the qualities of the soul are more pronounced. Man is more governed by his intelligence than is woman, who moves more readily in response to her affections. It was indeed their uncharacteristic behaviour — their reversal of roles — that brought about the tragedy of the fall. Adam allowed his heart to rule his head. Eve usurped the place of authority given to Adam as God’s visible representative and federal head of the earthly creation. She was seduced when she relied upon her personal judgment, instead of conferring with Adam on the subtle proposition presented by Satan in serpent-guise.

Now Paul, in his inspired writings, goes back to those primal days of human history — back to the basics of antiquity — and shows that the divine order and the relativities between the sexes in the assembly, God’s new creation, stem from the creation order and the transgression order. Failure to grasp the underlying principles of the case causes even some elder brethren to question Paul’s teaching on the different places and diverse functions of males and females within the ambit of the assembly, when they permit (and sometimes encourage) the sisters to lead the gathered saints in prayer or praise. For the one who is vocal in the church is speaking on behalf of the priestly company engaged in corporate worship or prayer. When a sister does so, she cuts right across the divine instructions regarding her place of subjection to the males.

The exponents of the new liberalism in our society to-day would undoubtedly rate the apostle Paul as a fighter for a lost cause. Ignorant men have even accounted the Lord’s chosen apostle a woman hater of the first magnitude. Let us, who revere the holy Word of God, realize that the teachings of Paul in connection with order in the assembly are not the outmoded whims of an unenlightened individual, but the inspired revelation of the Almighty God. Paul, incidentally, was no woman-hater; far from it, as his writings clearly show. Neither are the principles he propounded now obsolescent, however out of fashion a misguided modern society may consider them to be.

We do well to remember that the saints when gathered unto the Name of the Lord Jesus, and in accordance with New Testament principles, constitute a local expression of God’s house, the Church. God expects His Word to be obeyed, His Will to prevail, and His order to be maintained in His own house. To do things our way in His house may incur governmental consequences; see 1 Cor. 11. 29-32.

Therefore when considering the relative positions and functions of men and women in the church, it is necessary to understand the reasons which lie behind the prescribed practices. In this article it is the attitude and activities of the sisters which fall within our terms of reference, so we must concentrate on them here. Generally speaking the relevant teaching may be grouped under three main headings, namely:

  1. The Dress of the women.
  2. The Demeanour of the women.
  3. The Deportment the women. Let us comment briefly on each of these divisions:

Their Dress

Both positive and negative guidance is given regarding this matter. Their dress has to be modest and becoming. They have to attire themselves in a manner suited to those who profess godliness — who practise piety. Not with plaited hair (elaborate hair-styles) or gold or pearls or opulent apparel. Their adorning, in a word, should be of a spiritual and moral kind, displaying itself in good works, 1 Tim. 2. 9-11. It has not to be of the skin-deep variety, simply superficial in character. What could be more explicit than these instructions? How can their meaning be mistaken?

Their Demeanour

Then, two words sum up the demeanour of the women which is well-pleasing to God — “sobriety” and “shamefacedness” (or, modesty). That somewhat misleading word “shamefacedness” has been defined as meaning “the inner grace which recoils from anything unseemly or impure”. How completely different is such demeanour from that displayed by worldly women of our time. And yet who can deny that this is the divine pattern for spiritual sisters, however contrary to, and despised by, our sophisticated society it may seem. In this, as in other things, conformation to the extreme fashions of a godless age is strongly condemned in God’s Word, Rom. 12. 2.

Their Deportment

The principles governing the functions of the women in the church are really as clear as daylight. Note how specific they are:

  1. The women are not permitted to teach in the church, 1 Cor. 14. 34.
  2. They are not permitted to speak, “for it is a shame for women to speak in the church”, 1 Cor. 14. 35.
  3. They are to learn in silence, 1 Tim. 2. 11.
  4. They are to be in “all subjection”, 1 Tim. 2. 11.
  5. They are not to usurp authority over the males, 1 Tim. 2. 12.
  6. They are to be in silence, 1 Cor. 14. 34; 1 Tim. 2. 12.
  7. They are to be under obedience, “as also saith the law”, 1 Cor. 14. 34.
  8. They are to wear a head-covering (the token or sign of being in subjection to the man), 1 Cor. 11. 2-16.

Paul advances two scriptural reasons for the divine prohibitions mentioned above, which return to root principles.

  1. Because of the order in creation. In this the male had the place of primacy. Eve came second in creation’s timesequence.
  2. Because of the order in transgression. Eve was first seduced; but Adam later partook of the forbidden fruit with his eyes wide open. He did it deliberately, aware of the consequences, because of his affection for his then fallen Eve. The woman was deluded by the serpent, but the man was not. Adam disobeyed God because he loved his wife.

Thus the woman’s place in creation determines her position in the local church; and her part in the fall fixes her function in the church, 1 Tim. 2. 11-14. Moreover, the relative places of male and female in creation set forth the truth of something surpassingly wonderful, to wit, the relationship of Christ and the Church. It is evident, therefore, that the place of subjection assigned to the woman is foreshadowed by creation, the fall, and the law.

Perhaps we ought to refer now to two Scriptures which may appear to be contradictory, but which, of course, are not so. In 1 Corinthians 11. 5 permission is given to women to pray and prophesy. But where they have to operate in this way is not stated; whereas in 1 Corinthians 14. 34 there is the definite prohibition of public ministry in the church. The logical deduction then is that women were allowed to pray or prophesy outside the sphere of the assembly — in private, in the home, or in the course of personal contacts. Scriptural examples of this are not wanting, (a) There were, for instance, the women who laboured with Pau! in the gospel, Phil. 4. 3, no doubt helping the converts, instructing them privately in the truth of God’s Word, as well as attending to the temporal needs of the apostle himself, (b) Priscilla, along with Aquila her husband, expounded to Apollos in their home “the way of God more perfectly”, Acts 18. 26. (c) Phebe was a ministering servant (lit. a deaconess) of the church at Cenchrea, Rom. 16. 1-2.

Many other services, too, come within the range of the ministry of women, who not infrequently by their fidelity and prayerful influence form the moral backbone of the local assembly. Truly how indispensable they are!

We are conscious that this article affords but scanty comment on a subject which is too seldom dealt with in public ministry in these days. But may we conclude by saying, that some of the choicest Christians we have the privilege of knowing are godly sisters, who willingly accept the place the Lord has assigned to them, and the fragrance of their lives is a delight to those who come into contact with them — and, without doubt, to the Lord Himself.

End of the series.

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