Where Are “Apostate” Women Preachers Taking Us!?

Today’s post is a guest post by Bobby Valentine. He writes a blog as the Stoned-Campbell Disciple that is published on Wineskins.org .  Our church pulpits are slowly opening to women preachers as serious study is changing how we have traditionally discriminated against women using just two verses from the New Testament as justification keeping women out of the pulpits in our churches.  However, we conveniently forget that when the push to return to simple Christianity started growing in the late 18th Century, women  preachers  took an active role in pushing for that change.  Bobby explores that history for the Churches of Christ that grew out of the work of Alexander Campbell and others like him.

Bobby has been a valued friend on the internet and teacher for more than fifteen years.  This is posted with permission.


Where Are “Apostate” Women Preachers Taking Us!?

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Apostates!

Recently across the internet, and Facebook, it was asked “Where are Apostate Women Preachers Taking Us!?” And it was asked of me directly. My reaction was “no where!” No apostate woman preacher will be taking me anywhere was my thinking.

The question is, of course framed in the most poisonous way possible. The proper answer is “the same place apostate MEN take us!” But the questioner would want us to think that all women who think it is ok for a woman to teach or address men are apostates!

Humans are not apostate based on their gender. The vast majority, by far, of heretics in history have been MEN. Think of Aaron (Golden Calf), Jeroboam (idol shrines in Dan and Bethel), Judas (hello!), Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Valentinus, Marcion, Joseph Smith, John Thomas … All men.

But from a biblical angle, I suggest that women preachers may take us into revival and reformation like Huldah.

A courageous woman leader may lead us into deliverance and praise of God like Esther.
Some women may be ones who instruct the apostles themselves in the reality of the Gospel, like the Marys, Martha and Salome.

Perhaps some woman may instruct God’s people for many years like Anna (I wonder if Anna preached in the Huldah Gate of the temple) only to have God himself reward her by letting her see Jesus … what an endorsement of her ministry would you not say?

Sound Gospel Preachers … who Happen to be Women

Here are some forgotten non-apostate women on our family tree … Some people claim today that the church is just selling out to culture in letting women teach or preach. But the women listed here were hardly selling out to culture they were intensely counter-cultural and cutting against the grain. There was nothing “cultural” about their ministry at all.

1) When I first took “restoration history” I learned who Elias Smith was. He established the first religious paper in the country. He rejected creeds, etc and “had nothing to do with Campbell” (because he was before Campbell). What I was not told – maybe the teacher did not know – was that women preachers were common in the “Christian movement.” Nancy Cram (1776-1815) discovered her vocation as a proclaimer of God’s Good News in 1812. She led a revival, converted several preachers to the Christian movement and had an active and fruitful ministry with the Oneida Indians living in New York.

2) Abigail Roberts (1791-1841). Roberts was converted to the Lord under the preaching of Nancy Cram. She and her husband, Nathan, actually were searching for answers after the death of two children within months of each other. Cram pointed them to the Lord. She began teaching and preaching in 1816 but encountered bitter opposition from traditional Christian congregations and the wider culture too. But she called all to abandon party names, reject creeds for the Bible, that followers of the Messiah should be called simply Christians. One male preacher threatened to gag her then tar and feather her. Female preaching was wrong but violence against her was sound and true!! I can see Jesus scribbling in the dirt in front of such sound male preachers …

3) Nancy Mulkey. Back when I took that restoration history class we made a trip to Kentucky and visited Cane Ridge and the Old Mulkey Meeting House. Again we were taught how Stone and his friends called people to be basically like “us.” And how John Mulkey was of critical importance because without influence from Campbell he just went by the Bible. I was never told though that in that very meetinghouse how women preached. In fact Mulkey’s own daughter would preach after her father on a regular basis. In that day the female was not called “preacher” in Kentucky but an “exhorter.” Mulkey would preach a long lesson and Nancy would follow the “sermon” with an “exhortation” that would last as long as modern sermon – 20 to 30 minutes. Joseph Thomas, known as the White Pilgrim, relates in his Travel narrative visiting Mulkey’s congregation and described Nancy’s preaching, “She would arise with zeal on her countenance and fire in her eyes, and with a pathos that showed the depth of her soul and would pour forth an exhortation no brother could equal and brought tears from every feeling eye.”

4) Clara Hale Babcock (1850-1924). Babcock was the mother of six children and she and her husband united with the Stone-Campbell Movement in 1880. She was active in her community fighting the evils of whiskey and became president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She worked with churches in the mid-west in Illinois, North Dakota and even Ontario.

5) Sadie McCoy Crank (1863-1948). The ministry of Crank, long buried in obscurity and forgotten, was truly remarkable. Most of her ministry focused in Missouri. She planted almost 50 churches, led in the fundraising of 18 church buildings, and immersed nearly 7000 people during her preaching. She also performed a thousand funerals and 361 weddings. Born August 15, 1863 to members of the Primitive Baptist Church, she became bitter towards God at an early age. Apparently her supposedly devout father was an abusive alcoholic. She became a teacher and it was during that period that she renewed her faith in God and also began to question tenets of Calvinism. She became a leader in the Sunday School Movement and the Temperance Movement. In 1891, her mastery of the Bible became clear. She was teaching in Sunday School and fielding many questions. Sunday School was closed with a hymn and some one came forward. Confronted with a new situation she did not know what to do. So she took the person’s confession and not wanting to be out of line sent for a male preacher to baptize the individual. Sadie was asked to preach and she did and 96 people were baptized in her first protracted meeting. When she passed in 1948 these are some of the words that were said (and later printed): “Her total strength was devoted unreservedly to the service of Christ and humanity. She was sustained by an intelligent and well founded faith. In early life she passed through a period of serious doubt. A careful and thorough investigation of the basic truths of Christianity brought her assurance and peace. She became an alert and invincible champion of the Faith. When skeptics tried to storm the citadel of her Hope they found a Woman in the way … She built many church structures. But these were only means to a great end. Her constant purpose was the development of Christian character. Along the road she traveled are many living monuments of consecrated personality adoring the way on which she walked with God …”

6) Silena Moore Holman (1850-1915). Silena was the wife of T. P. Holman, an elder in the Church of Christ in Fayetteville, TN. A mere 80 miles or so from where I grew up in Florence. She was active in the Temperance Movement and suffrage Movement – they hung her portrait in the Tennessee State House in 1917 to honor her contributions. Holman published controversial articles in the Gospel Advocate under the editorship of David Lipscomb. First thing to be amazed at here is that Lipscomb actually published them. The Gospel Advocate today will not publish anyone that does not does not adhere to the unspoken creed. This actually has been true for sometime with the GA. But Lipscomb was made of hardier material. He was unafraid of discussion and printing things that he personally disagreed with. We are, after all, SEEKING the truth. There is no way anyone (and Lipscomb certainly never claimed this) could paint Holman as an apostate, unbeliever, liberal – she was a devoted wife and mother and was in the Gospel Advocate orbit of thinking. Given Lipscomb’s feelings about women’s roles in society it is stunning he published her regularly. In August 1888 her article “Let Your Women Keep Silence” graced the pages of the Gospel Advocate. She said that there would be little doubt about Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 if that was all the Bible said on the subject. Indeed in a series of articles she agreed that “man is the head of the woman” but she denied this means women are hidden from view. She rejected the reading of 1 Cor 11 that said women praying and teaching in the assembly was “private.” Indeed such a dichotomy between public and private was a modern contrivance she insisted. She writes “Suppose a dozen men and women were in my parlor and I talked to them of the gospel and exhorted them to obey it? Exactly how many would have to be added to that number to make my talk and exhortation a public instead of a private one?” She addressed the question multiple times, as late as 1913 just two years before her death the Advocate published her “The Woman Question.” Holman was widely respected for her abilities and work. When she died it was the famous T. B. Larimore who preached her funeral. He praised her for her devotion to family, her wonderful intelligence, her honorable life and her public leadership.

Where Sound Women Preachers May Take Us …

What happens if we examine the Scriptures, like the Bereans did, and find out that we are WRONG and that God has never systematically excluded women – because they are women – from preaching and teaching. There are a lot of them in the Bible if they are mere exceptions. But I do suspect that God would exclude apostate women just like he would apostate men.

When people ask me about women teaching, praying and exhorting and where it may lead us. I tell them, “historically it has led to more loving, caring and holistic ministry in the world and it has led thousands of people into eternal life. And it has even caused a great deal of Bible study.”

I would rather listen Nancy Cram proclaim the Gospel than listen to some male spout the heresy salvation by precision obedience. Apostate women preachers are no more dangerous than apostate men preachers. And right now there are probably more apostate men preachers than the reverse.

We selectively read the Bible. We need to stop.

We selectively remember history. We need to stop.

We often find the most extreme example of something we dislike and then portray that as the norm and goal for all. Such is absurd and we need to stop.

I am thankful for Huldah, Miriam, Anna, Esther, Phoebe, Junia, Abigail, Nancy, and Silena.

Be blessed.

The Apostle to the Disciples?

Today is Resurrection Sunday for some or Easter for many. Which ever name you wish to apply to it, may your day be blessed.

It was early morning almost 2000 years ago when Mary went to the tomb and saw the risen Jesus. I would imagine she ran pretty fast back to the other disciples to tell them that Jesus had risen and that she had seen him. It was at the moment that Jesus appeared to Mary, Jesus blew Jewish laws and traditions away forever and brought the equality of women and men into focus in a way that the disciples could not imagine. It is because of their inspired writings that we can now understand some of the uniqueness of the time.

In Jewish laws and customs, women were not to be trusted to tell the truth. Men did not make announcements through women as women could not be believed. If a woman were to testify in a Jewish court of law, she would not be believed unless a minimum of two, and preferably three women, all said the same thing. In the same court, a man would be believed simply on his word. Women were just not believable.

Most Christians accept the view that an apostle is a person who saw and heard the risen Savior and was a disciple during his ministry. It’s a view we developed over the centuries to make it easier for us. When Jesus appeared to Mary, who then told the other disciples who were not very believing at that time, she saw and heard the risen Savior.  She full filled the basic requirement we set to be recognized as an apostle. It was at this moment that Jesus brought women into equal standing with men, something women had never known since the time Adam was expelled from the Garden. He made the announcement that would change the world forever through the most unbelievable of God’s creation, a woman in the eyes of Jewish men. Even though Jesus had chosen twelve men to specifically train to become apostles for taking his message and offer of salvation to a sinful world, it was an “un-trust worthy” Jewish woman to whom he actually made the announcement of his resurrection. It was not any of his eleven remaining chosen male disciples, but a female disciple who was probably with Jesus and his followers during much Jesus’ ministry.

How long will it take for the churches of Christ to realize that women and men are to share in all respects the responsibilities of taking that gospel message to the world and that, as immersed believers in Christ, they stand equal in the church without restrictions placed on them by the same thought processes of 2000 years ago? A very small number of churches have already. The number is very slowly growing. I hope I will live to see the day that the vast majority of churches of Christ are egalitarian in giftedness, worship, leadership, and service without any restrictions because of gender, wealth, or race. If my web site has helped Christians and churches become closer to the how Gal. 3:26-29 describes us, then I am grateful to God for the opportunity to serve him and give him the praise for the growth. It is the combination of each believer’s gifts, with all believers equal in the church, that will cause the church of Christ grow and reach those who do not know Jesus.

Pioneering Together: Welcoming a Female Minister

Today’s post will not be very long, because I am just going to publish a link with some basic information about the link and hope you will take the time to follow the link and read the post.

If you are a member of the acapella Churches of Christ, whether you are in leadership, ministry, or just a regular member, this is a post you need to read. Many churches are adding female ministers to their staffs as our churches as a whole are starting to realize women’s capabilities and rethink a lot of man made restrictions. It is ongoing process that will probably take a number of years to complete.  It is extremely important that when a female is added to the ministry staff that she is made to feel that she is indeed a part of the congregation. The writer of the article I will link you to “has been there-done that”. She speaks from having lived through what she writes. For those who do not know the author, Shannon C. Rains, who is my oldest daughter, this will be a good way to learn just a little about her and the challenges faced by women in ministry! She is planning two more articles so put a link in your favorites to be sure to remind you to read the t two articles. The article is published on the web site CHARIS and is titled “Pioneering Together: Welcoming a Female Minister” ( http://char.is/2015/07/16/pioneering-together-welcoming-a-female-minister/ ).

 

Pioneering Together: Welcoming a Female Minister  by Shannon Rains

In fifteen years of full-time ministry service, I have been the first and only female minister on two different church staffs. I know a thing or two about being the only female. …………………………………..

 

ABOUT CHARIS: (from their web site http://char.is/ )
CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

The CHARIS website is supported by Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX, USA), the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The purpose of CHARIS at ACU is to seek God’s blessings for a healthy relationship between the Christian college/university – its faculty, staff, and students – and the church heritage that gives identity and meaning to such a school. This underlying concern for Christian colleges/universities, and their relationship to the churches, is reflected in the form and content of the CHARIS website.

We Will Have No Divisions Among

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the last month or so, the church Linda and I love and have attended for the past fifteen years has been hearing sermons relating to unity.  We have received emails with scriptures that point to unity in the congregation.  Today, the scripture sent out to meditate on was this:

1 Corinthians 11:18 (NIV2011)

18  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 

Of course, there were several suggestions/questions we were to answer to ourselves and a suggestion to pray about.

  1. Read and reflect on the scripture.
  2. Answer these questions:  In what ways am I tempted to be slack or disobedient in following through with this resolution?
  3. What specific steps will I take to act on this commitment?
  4.  Ask God to reveal to you anything you do or fail to do in this area that could hinder the unity of this church.

In order to do what the daily devotional asks, I believe one has to read further through 1 Corinthians before taking on 2, 3, and 4. In verses 19-34, Paul explains exactly why he talks about the divisions and uses the communal meal which is followed by the Lord’s Supper as one example of this division that he has heard about.  In the process he corrects them.   In their worship practice, they are leaving some members out of the practice of taking the Lord’s Supper, which is causing a division.  Their division of some eating and taking the Lord’s Supper and leaving others out until later was wrong.  The thought of division does not end there.  Because of the way the Bible has been divided from the original manuscripts, we tend to stop reading at chapter 12.  We practice the description of how to take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and we often read these verses in our services.  However, we have a tendency to just stop the subject of division at the end of Chapter 11 and therein lies a problem of understanding just how far reaching Paul’s views of unscriptural division really are. It’s the old problem of not seeing the forest for the trees.  We loose out on what Paul is saying because we have added chapter and verse numbers and that tends to stop our thinking of the whole context when we reach the start of Chapter 12. In Chapter 12, Paul continues his thoughts on unity in the congregation.  He starts off by talking about the various types of spiritual gifts that are available to all believes in Christ.  He does not divide these gifts based on gender, race, or status in society but says they are given for a reason and each person receives gifts by the same Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NIV2011)

4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 

He then goes farther in his explanation of who can received these gifts that are to be used:

1 Corinthians 12:11-13 (NIV2011)

11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12  Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Please pay careful attention to verse 13!  He says everyone who is baptized is baptized by one Spirit to form one body!  He then proceeds to clarify further:  ..whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free…”.  Unlike the letter he wrote five years earlier to the Galations, he does not say “male and female” but he doesn’t have to say that.  When he used the words Jews or Gentiles, slave or free, those descriptions include males and females. He did not say just male Jews or just male Gentiles. Nor did he say just male slaves or just free males.  No where in 1 Corinthians, when Paul is speaking about unity and equality in Christ, does he limit or exclude women as a whole from anything in the worship.  Unfortunately, in the vast majority of Churches of Christ, including the one we are members of, these verses on unity are not recognized as including women, especially when a spiritual gift is that of  leadership or ministry.  Females are not allowed to lead in the worship in any way right down to young girls are not allowed to participate with young boys by handing out the attendance books in the worship service.  The limiting of females is not seen as a sticking point for unity in the congregation!  The spiritual gifts given to women by the Spirit, especially when they are leadership or ministry related, are not allowed to be used.  Unity means everyone has the right to use their spiritual gifts as given by the Spirit and stand equal with all other members of that congregation. Limiting the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whether it be leading a prayer in the worship, leading the Communion, preaching a sermon, or any other form of leadership where females are excluded, is division at its worst because it affects not just women but the whole congregation.

Galatians 3:28 (NIV2011) 28  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The prospects of achieving true unity will be greatly increased when it is based on 1 Cor 12:11-13 and Gal 3:26-29.

Inclusive or Exclusive

Generally speaking, many members of the Churches of Christ would say our fellowship of independent congregations is in a period of transition while most members would not be able to accurately describe where that transition is heading, or even agree on what it is to begin with.   Agree?  Disagree? Well, it’s really hard to disagree with the obvious.  There is a transition going on among the many congregations of the Churches of Christ and that really cannot be denied.  Attend a Bible Lectureship at one of our Christian universities such as ACU or Pepperdine and you will find classes and discussions from the traditional to the non-traditional in terms of theology, practice, teaching, leadership, and other areas.  Our independence among our congregations has made it possible to have lots of opinions based on bible study and it has opened doors of opportunity for some churches to re-evaluate where they have come from, where they are, and where they want to go in the 21st Century.  Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

A few years ago in the late 1990’s, Joe Beam wrote an article on how he viewed what was happening in the Churches of Christ.  At the time, Joe was a minister who was in demand as a guest speaker and he had the opportunity to visit many congregations and observe them while he was with them.  He now is the head of Beam Research Center.   The article he wrote that describes what he learned is available at the following link:  What is Happening To The Churches of Christ .  If you haven’t ever read the article, please take the time to read it.

In the article, Joe has developed a graphic representation that describes what he sees happening among the Churches of Christ about 16 years ago.  He does a fairly accurate job of nailing how things were at the time.  He also describes each element he uses in the graphic he designed and ties these descriptions to our congregations.  It’s highly probably that you will recognize yourself and your congregation in one or more of these descriptions and on the graphic.

Yesterday, in response to a question he was asked on his Facebook page, he reposted the article.  I found it quite refreshing to re-read.  However, I also noticed something that was quite interesting.  At the time he wrote the article, the movement for gender inclusion and gender equality was just in its infancy.  You could literally count on two hands the number of known Churches of Christ who were gender inclusive and the number of churches who were egalitarian you could count on one hand.  It was not a factor in the original article.  It was also about this same time that I first started studying much deeper into the subject of Christian gender equality.  However, for some reason, I never gave much thought to Joe’s article and his graphic during my own study for the next decade, which has inclusion and exclusion beneath the base line.  Joe saw this inclusion and exclusion as pertaining to other Christians and congregations, denominations and independents.  However, when Joe republished his article yesterday, it hit me that the line is even more accurate if we say the chart applies to Gender Inclusion and Gender Exclusion.  Without realizing it in 1999, Joe had drawn a chart that accurately portrayed the gender inclusion movement in the Churches of Christ, and probably other Christian fellowships as well.  In a sense, he became a little prophetic in his article with out realizing.  His graphic chart shown below is from his article.  He titles it “Types of Congregations”.

 

Church of Christ State
Types of Congregations

Using Joe’s chart, simply add the word “gender” to Inclusion and Exclusion and you have an almost perfect description of where we presently stand in the Gender Inclusion/Egalitarian movement.  It describes the churches and their members who are moving toward or away from gender freedom, inclusion, and equality.  I  would place the churches in the “Innovative/Cautious” category as those churches who are progressive in many areas but are only studying gender inclusion.  They are hesitant at present to take the step because of fear of loosing members. They are aware of the potential of loss because of our traditions and choose not to move further because of those who would leave if that next step toward gender inclusion was taken.   The churches classified as “Innovative/Open” are the churches who have accepted gender inclusion at various levels, being more inclusive as the line moves to the left,  while leaving the traditional eldership and pulpit ministries reserved for men. They are otherwise very progressive and open to trying new ventures and ideas in worship, including adding instrumental services to their a cappela services, which has traditionally been a No-No in the extreme, especially for the churches to the right of center. The churches classified as “Left Wing/Exsasperated-Inclusive” are the churches who have made and implemented the decision to treat women as being equal with men in God’s eyes.  They view church service as being gift based rather than gender based and are open to women using those gifts,  whether it be as shepherds/elders, preaching ministers, teachers, right on down to just being a quiet worshiper. These churches are rejecting some traditions of the Churches of Christ as being a wrong interpretation and application of scripture or a practice based in man’s traditions rather that God’s word. They are aware of the possibility of loosing members because of the change but they go ahead believing they are moving closer to God’s original intent in scripture regarding gender equality.  Going the other direction to the right side of the line, we have “Exclusion” in various degrees.  In the “Traditional Churches/Searching” we see the main line Churches of Christ discussing the possibility of studying new views on gender while holding to traditional complementarian practice.  The next category to the right is the  “Traditional/Satisfied” churches.  They are the main line traditional middle of the road churches who are happy where they are at and will fight hard to not open up discussion of gender.  They tend to be strongly complementarian, maybe even slightly patriarchal for a few.  The “Right Wing/Zealots” would be much more patriarchal in practice, including in marriage, and would restrict women even more, strongly believing in and practicing “required silence” and “required submission to men” of women in mixed bible classes.  They may even be so restrictive as to not allow a woman to read scripture in a mixed bible class taught by a man out of fear that by allowing a woman to read scripture, she is teaching a man and violating 1 Tim 2.  I have been in a church where this was the standard practice!

Joe, without realizing it back then, drew the perfect graphic representation of where we are in 2015!  Again, I urge you to read Joe’s original article to increase your understanding of the original graph.  It’s an excellent and still applicable sixteen year old article and it will be worth your time to read it. Then after reading his article, come back to my post and read it again!

The Tresspass of the Tray Pass by Al Maxey

In today’s blog, I’m sharing the most recent “Reflections by Al Maxey”.   Al is a long time web friend and brother in Christ who is the minister and an elder at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  He and I have discussed many opinions and topics over the years.  In his latest reflections, he looks at women serving on the Lord’s Table in worship. This is something that has been denied to women in the Churches of Christ for the last century. Historically speaking, we have overlooked the fact that in the early years of the restoration movement, women did far more than we will admit, including preaching and serving the Lord’s Supper. One book I have in my library which was published in 1903, just three years of so before the Churches of Christ were officially recognized by the US government, talks about how to serve communion in small start up churches and specifically includes women as giving communion talks and preaching sermons.  I hope you enjoy reading Al has on this subject and I hope that if you believe that a woman cannot give a communion talk or serve communion by passing trays front to back, this article will cause you to re-evaluate your position.

REFLECTIONS
by Al Maxey
Issue #646 ——- January 29, 2015
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Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet
broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
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The Trespass of the Tray Pass
Is Serving Communion Gender Exclusive?

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), the 28th President of the United States, couldn’t have been more correct when he astutely observed: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” The world about us is filled with people who resist change; so also is the church. Some have become so comfortable with their customs, so taken with their traditions, that they are truly convicted that their denominational preferences and practices are nothing other than divine precepts. Their way is God’s way, and questioning or challenging their convictions is a sure-fire way to experience the full outpouring of their wrath. The German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) rightly declared, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” The English author Samuel Butler (1835-1902) agreed, saying, “It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held, and not in the dogma or want of dogma, that the danger lies.” Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), also a German philosopher, and one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment, was of the view that “the birth of reality” could not occur without being preceded by “the death of dogma.”
Too many saints have become set in their ways, which inevitably results in a calcification of conviction that renders change virtually impossible. To even hint at change in the presence of such persons will unleash their fury, for rigid religiosity is greatly threatened by those who seek to promote change, even if said changes are reasonable and responsible and in no way contrary to God’s inspired revelation of His will for our lives. Over the course of almost 40 years of ministry I have had a good many individuals come into my office red in the face with fury because of some change, or proposed change, to “the way we’ve always done it.” Invariably, they will emphatically declare, “I can’t prove you wrong from the Bible” (which, frankly, is partly why they are so upset), “but I don’t like it!!” Our likes and dislikes are not really the issue when it comes to saintly service, however; rather, it is His likes or dislikes. Most of what Christians fight over are little more than personal or party preferences, perceptions and practices (most of which, quite honestly, are never even addressed in Scripture). We deduce much, and then demand more! Where the Bible is silent, we have much to say! And it is over these assumptions, deductions and inferences (many of which are far from “necessary”), which we in time tend to elevate to the status of LAW, and about which we can’t seem to hold our tongues, that we condemn and castigate all others who dare to differ with us. Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) nailed it when he stated, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and who won’t change the subject.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) observed, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Brethren, I dare to believe we can do better than this! We do not need to live our lives frozen in our self-made religious ruts. It is time to break free. To do this, we need to place on the table our every conviction and practice, and then carefully examine it in light of God’s Word and Will to determine if said conviction or practice is human tradition or divine Truth. If the former, then let’s treat it as such, rather than regarding it as a “salvation issue.” There is nothing wrong with Christians embracing various and varying religious traditions. What is wrong is when these preferences are elevated to precepts, and when disciples then seek to bind them upon all others as conditions of fellowship and salvation. Our Christian experience is not a mindless goose-stepping to the dictates of dogma, or a bowing to the “patternistic preferences and practices” of previous generations and cultures, but rather a personal walk of faith, hand-in-hand with our Lord, in quiet confidence that He loves and accepts us because of who we are, rather than because of what we may or may not do patternistically in a Sunday morning “worship service” (a phrase never found in the NT, by the way).
The beauty of Christianity is that it is not frozen in any one time or place. The children of God can easily express their faith and love within any culture or society, at any time, in any location, and in a wide variety of ways. We don’t have to look like one another; we only have to look like Him. He has set us free from the limitations of LAW, and He has released us to simply LOVE. The how (method) is not as important as the why (motivation) = we love because He first loved us. When His children obsess over rules and regulations and rituals, they have entirely missed the point. Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion, He came to reestablish a relationship. Thus, the Christian experience is not about what we do for Him inside a church building, but rather what He has done for us inside our hearts and minds, which we then reflect daily as we lovingly serve Him and others. His Spirit is transforming us into His image (i.e., into the likeness of His Son Jesus, who declared, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father”). Jesus is what God looks and acts like “with skin on,” thus we are called to imitate Him, allowing the indwelling Spirit to transform our attitudes and actions according to our Great Pattern (Jesus). This we do in our bodies, not in our buildings; this we do in our “service of worship” (Rom. 12:1) every hour of every day, rather than in a “worship service” an hour a week. Once we understand the distinction we will cease our striving with one another. Until then, we shall continue condemning our spiritual siblings for failing to perceive as perfectly as we do the “pattern” of “true worship” that must be “practiced perfectly” within a building on Sunday morning. God help us!! And may God forgive us for our fratricidal factional fanaticism over such foolishness!

One such area of fanatical foolishness involves man’s effort to legislate and regulate who may or may not “serve at the Lord’s Table.” As I was growing up within the group known as “Churches of Christ,” it was impressed upon us time and time again that ONLY men and baptized boys could “wait on the Table.” Even then, one had to abide by a rather strict “dress code” (suit and tie, preferably), and I have seen men who were scheduled to serve told at the last minute that they would not be allowed to do so because they weren’t “properly attired to stand at the Lord’s Table.” I have seen men “taken aside” after the “worship service” and chewed out royally for passing the tray with the wine (i.e., unfermented Welch’s grape juice served in thimbles) before passing the tray with the bread (crackers). In Hawaii, when I was preaching there (1992 to 1998), I remember the time someone put white grape juice in the little cups rather than red grape juice (the person later said that the former was on sale, thus they were simply trying to be good stewards of “the Lord’s money”). There was a meeting hastily called to deal with this “trespass of the laws governing the Lord’s Supper.” I have dealt with a good many such illustrations in my book “One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution, and Extremism.” One of the big issues facing many congregations today within my faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as “Churches of Christ”), and there are probably other denominations struggling with it as well, is: May women serve at the Lord’s Table? Phrased another way: May women stand in the presence of the congregation and pass the Communion trays to those assembled? This might almost seem silly to some reading this, but let me assure you that it is HUGE among “us” in the “one true church.” The lines are being drawn in the sand throughout “our brotherhood,” and the fussing, fighting and fragmenting is becoming increasingly intense. What a woman may or may not do inside our buildings during that “sacred hour” on Sunday morning, and to some extent at other times and occasions as well, is one of the primary points of contention these days between brethren.
More and more congregations within the group “Church of Christ” are now realizing, after much study of God’s Word, that we have for far too long suppressed the service of our sisters-in-Christ, and these congregations are making changes to correct this, taking steps to become far more “gender inclusive” (i.e., including their women in areas of service that were previously prohibited). Thus, women are saying prayers before the assembled saints, they are leading singing, they are becoming preaching interns (I applaud Patrick Mead in Tennessee for showing courage in this area), they are teaching classes in which men are present, they are leading small groups, and they are serving at the Lord’s Table, just to name a few. In my view, this is way overdue!! Yet, we must be realists and acknowledge the fact that no tradition goes quietly and no change, even though needed, comes easily. Any transition from “the way we have always done it” to something different will always be stressful, and even somewhat painful. Growth, both physical and spiritual, will generally be accompanied by “growing pains.” The more we are able to distinguish between tradition and Truth, however, the less painful these transitions become. Truth is eternal and does not change; traditions, on the other hand, must be subject to change, otherwise those who cling to them as though they were Truth itself will over time become less and less relevant to the society and culture in which they live. Again, the beauty of our Christian faith is that it can be expressed in any culture, whether past, present or future, whether primitive or modern; the expression of our faith is not frozen in the practices of any one culture. Yet, when we elevate tradition to the status of Truth, when we make our practices LAW, we impose limitations upon our faith and its expression that were never intended by our Lord. This, I firmly believe, we have done with our observance of the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist).

In this issue of my weekly Reflections I would like to take a close look at just one of the many traditions that has come to be associated with the memorial event known to many as the Lord’s Supper: the tradition that “serving at the Table” is a male only privilege and responsibility. Women may partake of the elements (the bread and wine), they may even prepare them, and they most certainly may clean up afterward, but they must never, ever “stand at the table” and then walk up and down the aisles, passing these elements to others. For them to do so would be “usurping the authority” of the men. Brethren, there is so much wrong with this thinking that it is hard to know where to begin in exposing it as foolish and fallacious. Perhaps the place to start is to point out what many seem to be unaware of: the New Testament writings say absolutely nothing about how this event is to be administered, or who may do so. In fact, there is nothing about tables, trays, pews, buildings, or about who is to take these trays from these tables and pass them to the pews in these buildings. NONE of this is ever mentioned. And there is a reason for that. The early disciples did not have church buildings; they did not sit in pews facing forward to pulpits and tables with trays; they did not have individuals passing trays up and down aisles. Instead, they met as family in homes (or in the temple courts, or even at times in synagogues), and as family they sat at the table where food was present, and at some point in the course of the meal (whether it be a common meal, or a meal of fellowship — which later came to be known as the love feast, or the agape feast) they would take some of the bread present and some of the wine in remembrance of the truth that they were a spiritual family, united as one, and that their Lord and Savior was the one who brought this about through His sacrifice on their behalf. If anyone served at this family gathering around this family table, it was most likely the women. Yet, there was no standing formally behind some table stacked with trays. It was all very simple, very informal, very meaningful: brothers and sisters at the table together sharing in a moment of remembrance. Over the past 2000 years man has taken something simple and beautiful and transformed it into a religious ritual that has become regulated by traditions elevated to LAW, the particulars of which we have fought and fragmented over for centuries (as I document in my book mentioned above). It is, frankly, shameful.

Thankfully, more and more disciples of Jesus Christ are waking up to what we have done with this memorial, and they are boldly advocating responsible change in how we perceive and practice the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes is allowing women to serve during this event by passing the trays to those assembled. I won’t take the time in this present study to examine this practice in other denominations, but want to restrict my thoughts to our own faith-heritage (Churches of Christ). In preparation for this study, I sent out a Special Request for Input to my readers (which number in the tens of thousands), and the response was tremendous. I received many hundreds of responses from all over the world. What I found encouraging was the fact that out of these many hundreds of responses, there were only about five that viewed this change negatively!! Those who felt the presence of women at the Lord’s Table was acceptable was 99% of those who responded. I also learned that this is being practiced in Churches of Christ far more than I realized. Let me share with you some of these responses. I’ll arrange them in various categories that will deal with the various aspects of this practice that need to be addressed.

Those Who Object
As I noted above, there were five people who strongly objected to allowing women to pass the trays to their brothers and sisters in a Sunday morning “worship service.” One person wrote, “The biggest problem I have seen is that the more women move forward to take on such roles, the more men allow them to do so, then shrinking back in their own service. I believe we can see quite clearly the consequences of women taking over many positions in our society that once belonged to men. We are moving toward a unisex society, and I am not sure that is God’s design. As Paul said: all things may be lawful, but not all things are profitable.” Another person wrote, “There is an epidemic of gender and role confusion in society today that is leaking into the church. We have to take a stand against it and encourage men to take the leadership roles and ‘own’ them.” There is no question that some people (whether in the church, or in society at large) are more than willing to retreat from their responsibilities and let someone else assume them. This can be said of both men and women with regard to any number of issues. Yes, there may well be sinful motives behind women passing the trays (on the part of both men and women), but that does not address the act itself. Is a woman serving at the Table, and passing trays, a sinful act in and of itself? If the hearts of those serving (both men and women) are right in the sight of God, if there are no sinful motives behind this act, is the act itself sinful? This was not addressed. It’s the “slippery slope” defense: the act itself may not be wrong, BUT what would this lead to in the future? This is the “fear factor” that some are experiencing.
The late John Waddey, in an article titled “Should Women Be Used In Serving Communion To The Assembly?,” said, “If elders can get the ladies into this public role, they will then push for additional opportunities for them. … We describe such an action as stepping onto the slippery slope.” He stated, “Their highest authority for these changes is the theology of the Feminist Movement.” Waddey then concluded his article by calling us all to “seek and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein” (Jer. 6:16). The “old paths,” of course, would be forbidding women any form of participation in the Sunday “worship service.” One individual wrote, “If you let them pass Communion trays, the next thing you know they’ll want to be elders and preachers!” A minister in Tennessee says, “The handling of trays is not really the issue. The question is one of leadership in the church. God ordained men to be the leaders, and that which chips away at this is what is dangerous at best and sinful at worst.” Yet, one must ask here: in what way is the passing of trays “leadership”? In what way are these servers (whether men or women) leading? There is no leadership or authority bestowed on these servers. A noted author wrote, “Even under the most cautious interpretations of 1 Cor. 14:34-36 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15, the prohibitions are against women speaking, teaching, and exercising authority. Passing out Communion trays violates none of these.” One brother summed it up this way: “Jewish society was patriarchal. Men call the shots; men are in charge. In the church, men make the decisions. My position is for biblical patriarchy.”

Leadership and Authority
A brother in Florida wrote, “I guess we have to determine if those serving the emblems are in a position of authority when doing so, and if a woman serving the emblems in some way usurps the authority of the men in the congregation.” This is an insightful question. Is the person passing a tray thereby a “leader with authority” in the church? Is the 12-year-old boy at the Table a leader in the church by virtue of his position behind the Table? It seems to me this is a feeble attempt to find something/anything to justify one’s position on women at the Table. The reality is: there is nothing in the act of passing trays that involves either leadership or authority. A minister wrote, “The fact that we have somehow turned this into a question of ‘leadership’ or ‘authority’ seems terribly misguided to me. They are serving. We have to realize that this particular issue has absolutely nothing to do with leadership/authority, and everything to do with service.” A friend in Louisiana said, “For more than 50 years I have read the NT and can’t find any reason women should not be serving Communion. There is no logical way serving crackers and grape juice to brothers and sisters in Christ usurps authority, or in some way is leading men. That is a stretch, if you stop and think about it. The longer we facilitate error in the form of closely held traditions is how long we enable others to be less than what God would have them be.”

The Lord has called us all to be servants, and we are to develop a heart for service. Jesus is the one who has “all authority, both in heaven and on earth,” and He authorizes His followers (both men and women) to serve. Passing trays is an act of service; it is not an act of leadership, but servantship. A brother who served as a leader with Eastern European Missions wrote, “I know of no passage in Scripture that directly addresses this, except for those that are taken to require male spiritual leadership — though I fail to see what passing Communion trays silently has to do with spiritual leadership.” An author/lecturer in Kentucky, whom I have met a number of times at the Tulsa Workshop, wrote, “A woman serving Communion is serving, it is NOT leading. Good grief. We are so steeped in tradition that we can’t even think straight.” Another reader wrote, “I attend White’s Ferry Road church in West Monroe, Louisiana (yes, where all the Robertsons from Duck Dynasty attend). We have just started a Bible class titled ‘The Woman’s Role,’ where we are examining these issues. Personally, I think women serving at the Lord’s Table is just that: serving. How someone could be against that boggles my mind.” Yet another reader stated, “I think the whole debate over the ‘serving’ of Communion and passing of trays is ludicrous. There is no ‘ruling over’ or ‘leadership’ in passing a tray down the aisle.” A reader wrote, “A woman aiding in the Lord’s Supper in any way, to me, would be a sign of service unto others, not a sign of ‘authority’ over anyone.” Sadly, we have allowed our tradition of males passing trays to assume the mantle of LAW. Thus, a violation of this manmade tradition is viewed as a violation of God’s Will. Those who declare only men may pass trays are now obligated to demonstrate from the Scriptures where it declares women are excluded from this act of service. If they can’t, then they must acknowledge that their view is tradition, not Truth. It is a fact, even though they can’t seem to admit it, that there is no place in the Bible that even mentions our present day practice of passing trays, much less who may do so! Yet, we allow our tradition to rule and exclude. As one reader put it: “If we could only get our traditional phobias out of the way, it would be obvious that these are positions of service, not positions of authority or leadership.”

Laughing through the Tears
When we make ludicrous laws they will inevitably lead to ludicrous behavior. If our “male only at the Table” regulation is embraced as divine command (as it is in many congregations), one will encounter some strange attitudes and actions in the enforcing of this “law.” Let me share with you a few that were sent to me. These are true accounts, and are so ridiculous that our first reaction may be to laugh. However, upon reflection, our laughter may be followed by tears of sorrow and frustration for such lunacy. The thinking behind such ludicrous legislation seems to center around whether a woman is seated or standing; in a pew or behind the Table and then in the aisle. If she is seated and passes the tray to the person next to her, that is okay; if she stands and passes the tray to the person next to her, and that person is a man, she has usurped his authority over her, she has assumed leadership in the church, and she is sinning. Seriously?! And people teach this with a straight face? Notice the following accounts I received:
• “One Sunday, when the middle of the row on a particular pew was vacant, a woman on the end took the tray, stood and walked to the person down the pew and passed it off to him. When we (the servers) got to the back of the auditorium, one of the servers said, ‘We need to serve both sides of that row, because we can’t have a woman serving the Lord’s Supper’.”
• “When I was preaching for a small congregation in Ontario in the late 70’s, several members put forward the idea that we let the women pass the elements. I objected. However, when challenged, I could not come up with a Scriptural reason why that would be wrong. However, being the smart preacher that I was, I told them that we might lose our support from a church in Detroit. That did it. The women backed off. Yeehaw!”
• “Women have been ‘passing the trays’ for years in our churches — they just do it from a seated position in the pews. The running joke at our congregation is that women can pass the trays east & west, just not north & south.”
• “Some go to great extremes to keep women from serving the Communion. Many years ago, as part of our remembrance in the Lord’s Supper, I asked each person to serve the one next to them as each element was to be partaken. Each person was to partake and then take the tray and turn to the person next to them and serve them. During this, there was one woman that I am aware of who refused to take the tray and serve the man next to her, so her husband had to reach across her and serve the man sitting beside her. This is a real extreme case, I realize, but had I not instructed each one to serve the one next to them, I’m sure this woman would have passed the tray down the row with no second thought.”
• “I worship at a pretty traditional congregation. Our preacher addressed this topic in a conversation with a few friends. He said that a nice looking lady might be attractively dressed and when she bent over to pass the tray someone might be distracted. I did not verbalize my first thought: that the contribution might go up if we had several women doing that! Also, I heard the other day that some people would not take Communion if a woman sitting next to them in the pew passed the tray to them. I am 72 years old and started going to the Church of Christ the first week I got out of the delivery room. I had never heard of that one!”
• “I remember one Sunday in the late 90’s. The building had long center pews in the middle of the auditorium. On this Sunday two couples sat at each end, with the sisters on the inside. When the Supper was passed, one sister got up and walked over to the other along the pew and gave her the Supper. I saw it as a moment of service. An elder there was extremely upset that this had happened, however, and said she was ‘usurping authority.'”
• A woman author and lecturer wrote, “Al, here’s the answer: As long as her butt cheeks are touching the flat portion of the pew, a woman may assist in the serving of Communion without fear of making God angry. It’s when she is standing that she is hell bound, unless, of course, she is sitting too far from the next recipient and must rise to pass the emblems. In which case the Lord will surely have mercy on her soul for doing a man’s job. Hey, here’s a thought: why doesn’t a man specifically take the emblems to EACH member to ensure the salvation of the feminine souls in such delicate situations?”
• “I was told by a preacher, ‘If a woman passed me the tray from the aisle, I would let it fall on the floor.’ I asked him, ‘But, doesn’t your wife hand you the tray when it comes from her direction down the pew?’ He replied, unabashedly I might add, “Yes, but a MAN touched the tray first!’ I love this man, who has now gone on to be with the Lord, but I thought this was quite legalistic and would not serve to advance the kingdom of God in any way.”
• A dear brother, who has his D.Min. degree, wrote, “In the last congregation where I served as an evangelist, a woman could pass trays east/west (side to side) but not north/south (front to back, back to front, down the aisle). It was frowned upon if a woman ‘stood and walked east or west’ with the tray to serve a person on the other end of the row. They needed to slide down the pew to pass it, or, better yet, they should just return it to the male server. The women prepared the trays and delivered them to the assembly area and then collected them after the service, yet they were not allowed to do anything in the assembly between the first amen and the last amen except sit down and shut up. Have we become the Pharisees of our age, making law where there is no instruction or mandate? Drawing lines of fellowship where Christ died for unity?”
• “I recall that one time the tray of bread had reached the end of the aisle and the server assigned to that row was still waiting for the tray to be passed near the front of the auditorium. A woman was sitting at the end of the previous aisle, holding the tray and waiting for the server to come get it. Finally, rather than keep waiting, she stood up and started across the aisle to pass it to the next row of people. She barely got two steps into the aisle before three ushers came running over to her to take the tray out of her hands. In their zeal to get to her, they upset the tray and some of the emblems fell to the floor. I wish I could say that their zeal was prompted by a gentlemanly spirit, but, alas, it was prompted by their fear that the Lord might strike someone dead for allowing a woman to pass the tray of bread. While there was a humorous element to this incident, it was also quite sad!”

The Priesthood of All Believers
A minister in California wrote: “My comment on this issue is actually a question: Why in the world is this even an issue? The Bible says zero about ‘serving Communion,’ let alone who is ‘allowed’ to do it. There is simply NO biblical teaching on this matter. Those who make up rules to govern this event are just ‘speaking where the Bible is silent’.” Where the Bible has spoken, however, it characterizes the members of the Body of Christ as priests in service to the Lord, and that includes both male and female. It is the priesthood of ALL believers, not just the males. Thus, we ALL “serve at the altar” within the new “temple.” In Revelation 1:6 we are informed that “He has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” “He has made us a kingdom, priests to serve our God” (Rev. 5:10). Peter writes, “You, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We are ALL priests in this kingdom of our Lord, and we ALL serve. Long ago there was racial and national exclusion (no Gentiles), and also gender exclusion (no women). Jesus, however, has come to tear down those walls of exclusion, making us all ONE in Him. This was even shown to be coming by the OT prophet Joel: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). Gender inclusive, not gender exclusive. The apostle Peter told the crowds on the day of Pentecost that this prophesy had now come to pass. “You are ALL sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. … There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28).

We are now living under “a better covenant,” one which has unshackled us and set us free. Worldly distinctions no longer apply in our spiritual walk with the Lord, nor do they apply in our service to Him and to others. The priesthood of this new covenant is not restricted to any particular tribe or any particular gender. ALL who are in Him serve in His kingdom as priests. Yet I fear too many have rebuilt the walls of exclusion that Jesus shed His blood to bring down. We have told a good portion of His people that they are not “fit to serve” as a priest at His table in His kingdom. Christianity is all about family loving and serving one another, and inviting others to come be a part of this One Family through faith. Even in the early church, the Communion was part of a meal enjoyed in fellowship with one’s physical and spiritual family, where some of the bread and wine at the table were consumed in memory of the one who made this new life possible. There was no table with trays at the front of an auditorium in a large building; there were no men in suits standing behind it, then passing the trays to pews of people all staring silently forward. There was family at the table; it was informal; there was no “issue” about who stood where or who passed what. Those “issues” are the result of institutionalizing the Family of God, turning simple memorials into highly regulated sacraments. We are literally fussing and fighting over practices and procedures unknown to the early disciples of Christ.

A minister in New Jersey had this to say, “I seriously doubt local congregations in the first century observed the meal as a ‘sip and crumb’ as we do today, nor did they serve from a central ‘table’ to ‘members’ in an auditorium or sanctuary. In fact, if they observed a meal in a home it was probably the women who did the preparation and the serving. To me this is just another squabble over traditions that have developed over centuries. … This is just another example of Christianity being ‘church focused,’ and churches being ‘Sunday focused,’ and Sunday being focused on who does what inside a building during a one hour program. When our lives are filled with service 24/7, we will cease worrying about who can stand or sit or pass trays from left to right, but not from pew to pew. I have to wonder if God is laughing at our silliness, or crying over our sinfulness! And He gave His Son’s blood for this?!” I like what the following reader wrote, “I really believe this has only become an ‘issue’ because of the traditional setup of a church building with pews lined up in it and a stage up front for the ‘paid performers.’ If we were still meeting in homes, as the early church did, this question would not even come up. In my house at dinner when I ask for the rolls to be passed my way, who passes the rolls? Whoever is sitting closest to the rolls, regardless of gender or age.”

A very well-known leader within Churches of Christ, whose name you would recognize immediately, nailed it when he said, “Al, isn’t it ironic that our heritage says we ‘speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent,’ and yet we draw lines, split churches, and disfellowship brethren over who may pass trays (something about which the Bible is completely silent)? Even the casual student of the Bible knows that we do not have a single procedural example or command for how to ‘serve’ the Lord’s Supper. The first called out members of the Body of Christ met in homes. Do we really believe that the women who prepared the bread and wine for the supper didn’t serve it? Do we really believe they took a seat and turned the serving over to the men? If we do, where is the clear biblical passage that so states? This is nothing but a Pharisaical tradition. Thanks, Al, for bringing this issue up for discussion. Truth has nothing to fear, but, sadly, some seem to fear the truth.” Brethren, it is time we were honest with ourselves. The reality is: much of what we do in a “worship service” is nothing more than traditions formulated over the years by mere men. Many of these traditions are good, and I’m not even advocating that they be terminated. I only ask that we acknowledge them for what they are, and cease trying to elevate them to something they were never intended to be. Women passing trays, serving at the Table during the Lord’s Supper, may indeed be a violation of tradition in certain denominations, but it is NOT a violation of Truth, nor is it contrary to the will of our Father. Those who believe it is a violation of Truth and a setting aside of God’s will are now obligated to provide the proof in the form of the NT passage that clearly validates their claim. As we wait for that proof to be provided (and it never will be, for no such passage exists), let us cease our strife over these petty partisan particulars of manmade traditions, and let us begin learning anew to love one another in the Family of God. To our sisters in the faith, our fellow priests in the kingdom, our fellow servants and servers … Welcome to the Table in the home of our Father. You’ve been missed!

Greek —— and Women

Today’s post is be a friend of mine, Bobby Vallentine.  It is an excellent article on translation of 2000 year old Greek into modern English, especially where gender is concerned. It will challenge your thinking if you think that everything is black and white when it comes to translating scripture.

manuscript

GREEK and WOMEN

Much controversy has been aroused recently by those troublesome women. What a nicer world it would be without all those Eves!! I kid of course but we all know that women have been the center of controversy in some quarters of Churches of Christ these days. I have participated in that to some degree. For some the matter is simply “case closed.” Nothing on earth could change their mind. It is claimed, as I was reminded just yesterday, that the Bible is “stunningly clear” on this issue and “you have to be rebellious or stupid to not see the plain teaching of Paul.” The comment, directed to me, caught me off guard. I do not think I am either stupid nor rebellious and desire nothing more than to serve God whatever the cost.

In my conversation, I pointed out that in the history of interpretation, passages such a 1 Cor 11, 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2, have all been rather controversial, even among those who ended up with the view of this brother. The texts were not and have not been regarded as either “simple” or “plain” but rather complex and often hard to fit with the rest of Scripture. A great deal of ink in the history of the church has been expended “explaining” one way or another what Paul means in these texts. It is in fact quite arrogant to simply declare that these texts are “plain” and “straight forward.” Briefly I want to bring up just the matter of translation … an enterprise traditionally done exclusively by MEN.

When those who declare that the texts are “stunningly clear” they betray their ignorance of the issues. Translation is a very difficult process and those that think they can go to Strong’s Concordance and then pontificate on what the meaning of verse is, well it is bold to say the least. In the original Greek manuscripts there is no punctuation, no word divisions, no verse numbers, no chapter divisions. All of these things we take for granted were added centuries and in some cases millennia after the first century AD. Word division and grammar can, and does, change the meaning of a sentence. Words sometimes have genuinely contested meanings. After all we are talking about a dead language and words 2000 years old. One of the issues is how to translate (the question of translation depends on the meaning of the Greek) First Corinthians 11.3. Here the word “kephale” and “aner” are at issue. kephale is a hotly debated word. There is a massive difference between “the man is the ruler of the woman” and “the husband is the source of the wife.” aner can mean either man or husband. The ink that has been spilled on kephale fills a library. The word has BOTH meanings and how should it be translated? To pointificate that it is “stunningly plain” is absurd. And it is clear that “aner” means “husband” in this context and not simply men in general. The NRSV gets that part correct.

Further in this same chapter we come to 1 Corinthians 11.10 where the NIV reads “the woman ought to have a SIGN OF authority on her head.” In fact most English translations have something quite similar. But the Greek text does not even have the word “sign” in the text! Paul says “the wife ought to have exousian on her head.” She ought to have AUTHORITY on her head. The old Calvinists of the Geneva Bible were not feminists when they translated 1 Cor 11.10 as “Therefore oght ye women to have POWER on her head.” That sounds very different doesn’t it? Where does this interpretive gloss come from that says a woman must have a sign of authority on her head? Paul said only that she should have power or authority on her head. Big difference.

Again down in v.16 we read “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God” (NIV). The issue is how we understand “toioutos” which the NIV renders as “other.” This word occurs 56 other times in the NT, 30 of them in Paul, and not once is this word translated as “other” in any of those places. The proper rendering is “such.” To see the difference consider Romans 1.32, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do SUCH things deserve death …” Insert the word “other” in that sentence and see how it radically changes the meaning. But the “such practice” in v. 16 is not the practice of the veil but the practice of contentiousness!! The practice that does not exist in any of God’s churches is not that women do not go without veils anywhere but that in God’s church there is no such thing as contentiousness.

There are many things about the texts declared to be “stunningly clear” that are not clear at all. It makes a huge difference if one thinks that MEN are the RULER of WOMEN or that HUSBANDS are the SOURCE of the WIFE (Adam btw was the source of Eve!! which is the back story here). It makes a gigantic difference if one thinks Paul is saying there is not OTHER practice than veiling women or there is no SUCH practice as contentiousness. And one is forced to ask why the ALL Male translators would render a word in 1 Cor 11, regarding women, that they do not a single solitary time anywhere else. What caused them to do this? And it makes a huge difference if you think a woman/wife should have POWER/AUTHORITY on her head or the woman/wife shall have a SIGN OF authority on her head. And we have only, literally, scratched the complexity of some of the issues here. Like consistently translating sigato and the whole textual issue of 1 Cor 14.34ff (it is misplaced in the entire “Western” tradition of biblical manuscripts). It is very complex. etc etc etc.

So anyway, as I think about this beautiful day today in the sunny desert I thought I would just show that sometimes things we think are “stunningly clear,” and you have to be nearly depraved to think differently, just aint so!! Dogmatism is the enemy of Spiritual growth and biblical learning. Sometimes we have to say, you know what I just did not know that and I understand why and how you see it differently than I do. In fact some of the questions force me to suggest that sometimes it is not grammar that leads to a certain translation but unconscious bias! Study the picture. It is “p46.” p46 is “Papyrus 46″ which is one of the earliest witnesses to the Epistles of Paul dating to about AD 200. Please note the words or lack of words (no divisions). Blessings and have a great Shabbat

Race and Gender Discrimination in the Church

Over the last fifteen years, the churches of Christ have made a real effort to become a Christian fellowship that welcomes all people of all races.  We  finalized realized in the mid 1990’s that God does not see the color of one’s skin and the persistence of race discrimination over the years that has existed in the American churches of Christ, which has it’s roots in the Deep South of the early 1800’s, has been increasingly purged from our congregations.  Racial discrimination is a practice that cannot be allowed in our churches if we are to seek and save the lost in a dying world outside our doors.  Unfortunately, our roots in the 19th Century Deep South have held tight in the hard ground of traditionalism, rather than Biblical truth.  Females are still treated as lesser individuals, regardless of their age, race, and social position, much the same way that races other than White were treated over the centuries.

The rest of today’s blog is a blog post by a friend of mine, Marg Mowczko, who lives 100kms north of Sydney, Australia.  We have known each other for a few years.  Her web site is http://newlife.id.au/ .  I would add one more book to Marg’s recommended reading.  That book is “An Idea Whose Time is Come”, written by Floyd E. Rose, and African-American minister in the churches of Christ.  He places gender discrimination as just as bad as the racial discrimination that he has known as an African-American.

Race and Gender Discrimination in the Church by Marg Mowczsko

Bus station in Birmington, Alabama 1956, Gordon Parks

I find it difficult to believe that discrimination on the basis of race has been declared immoral and illegal in Australia (and other western-style nations) only in my lifetime. Moreover, it is shocking to me that previous generations often used Scripture to condone ignorant and hateful attitudes of racial prejudice and racial superiority. It is a tragedy that the western Church has been rightly recognised in the past as being one of the most racist institutions. Thankfully, this situation is changing for the better.

I also find it difficult to believe that in contemporary Church life, women are still discriminated against on the basis of gender. Women are excluded from many ministries that involve public speaking, teaching or leadership. At best, women are seen as God’s second choice for ministry, men usually being preferred. It bothers me that some Christians use Scripture to condone and support discrimination and prejudice against women in ministry. Sadly, this prejudice seems to be strengthening in some churches.

Today I was reading chapter 3 of Eugene A. Nida’s book entitled Customs and Culture: Anthropology and Christian Missions (Harper and Brothers: Pasadena, 1954). Although this book is dated in several respects, I was struck by the paragraph I’ve quoted below.

This quote was about people adversely affected by racism, however, it could also be applicable to women adversely affected by the problem of gender discrimination in the Church. I have copied Nida’s words and included my own in square brackets.

They [women] do not care for paternalistic pampering – sometimes more deeply resented than outright slurs – nor do they [women] want to be subjected to galling restrictions. If only people were accepted for what they are or could be, there would be no problem; but to know that something over which one has no control – namely, one’s biologically inherited appearance [or gender] – is forever a bar to the realization of an ideal, this is what hurts and hurts deeply. (p71)

Hierarchical Complementarians do not like it when Christian Egalitarians (like myself) compare their views with racism, but I cannot help but see the similarities. The fact of the matter is that in many churches women are treated as second-class citizens, and men are regarded as their spiritual superiors and leaders.

Complementarians have failed to understand and embrace the complete and comprehensive equality and inclusiveness that the New Covenant has brought for all people (Gal 3:28). Instead they focus on a very few verses which seem to disallow women from public speaking and teaching. [I have written about these few verses. See my Related Articles below.]

Complementarians insist that men and women are “equal but different”. I maintain that men and women are “different and equal – no buts!” There is a vital difference between these two ideologies. One binds women, the other frees women.

As I have stated many times before: I think Christians should be very cautious about restricting godly, capable and called women from any ministry. The gospel of Jesus will progress faster and more effectively if Christian men and women can work together as equals, sharing ministry responsibilities according to personal temperaments, talents and abilities, and not according to preconceived gender roles. Gifted men and women need to be encouraged in ministry, and not hindered or restricted.

Further Reading: http://www.fether.net/2009/11/02/sound-familiar/

Image is a photo of a finely dressed mother and daughter standing below a “Colored Entrance” sign at a bus station in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956. The photo was was taken by Gordon Parks, one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, Parks left behind a body of work that documents race relations, poverty, civil rights and urban life. Via BlackPast.org
In many churches, women and girls like this mother and daughter are still discriminated against simply because they are female.

Related Articles

Gender Division Divides the Church
Role or Rank?
Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders
Women, Teaching and Deception
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Old Testament Priests and New Testament Ministers

Finding my Place: On Women in the Kingdom by Joy Clarkson

Today’s post is not going to be from me (at least not the majority of it!). I want to share a blog post by my niece, Joy Clarkson. Her blog is “Joyness the Brave”. She writes about finding her place in a male controlled Christianity, something I have heard from other women talk about numerous times in my years in dealing with the subject of gender equality or gender inclusion in the Churches of Christ. This subject, gender inclusion or biblical gender equality, has become a hot topic in the Churches of Christ in just the last several years.  The topic has moved to the front of the line when it comes to discussion topics and the topics of musical instruments in worship, homosexuality, and a few others have now dropped almost to the end of the list.  I predicted this would occur a few years ago.  No, I am not psychic or privileged to special knowledge.  It is just common sense that is in that prediction.  When people are kept under any form of bondage, whether it is because of gender, social status, or race, then that practice serves to push it forward.  This is happening in the Churches of Christ.   Of course, these thoughts or feelings are not limited to the fellowship that myself and my family are associated with. Joy is not a member of the Churches of Christ SOF (sign out front) that my family belongs to but she is a part of the church of Christ in a much larger sense, one that encompasses all of the different parts of Christianity. I find it quite interesting that in much of, if not the vast majority of, Christianity that women in the free world where freedom of worship actually exists under the protection of the US Constitution, are still kept silent by the minority of the membership–the men. We continue to struggle with this issue because many men are just not listening to the women.  Most male controlled churches have simply said women cannot do anything that takes away a man’s God given right to leadership. However, that statement is so far out of agreement with Scripture that one cannot help but wonder if these restrictive churches really read and listen to what God says or question why Scripture doesn’t agree with itself when talking about gender. The answer to part of that lies in the translation of the Greek, which Joy mentions in her post. Her post reveals how many women are thinking and feeling in a post-post modern world. How can we expect women to not feel left out or wonder where they really belong when we keep them silent and use them as pew warmers in the worship. Here is what Joy wrote:

“Finding My Place: On Women in the Kingdom”  by Joy Clarkson

To me, early mornings have always been a holy time. I was an RA this past school year, and as often as could, I would wake up before the sun to enjoy the quiet of an unbroken morning before the day began. One morning, I snuck out of bed to do just that.

I tip-toed out of my room trying to not wake my roommate. She stirred, and for a breathless moment, I thought she might wake…but she rolled over, and her covers returned to rising and falling to the steady rhythm of her breath.

The hallways were empty and quiet as I went to boil water for tea, and only as I walked back with a warm cuppa, did I see a few girls emerge from their rooms, sleepily resolute, sport shorts and yawns, on their way to Track practice.

I slipped back into my room, and on to my captained bed to peer out the window as the first rays of sun shot out behind the silhouettes of stately palm trees. Palm trees. We’re not in Colorado anymore, I laughed to myself.

I gingerly picked up my Bible from the desk beneath my bed. Dog-eared pages and bright highlighted areas waved at me as I flipped through the chapters of my old friend. That morning I read 2 Timothy, one of my favorite books of the Bible. I love it for it’s tenderness, truthfulness, bravery, and most importantly, for its steady gaze at the hope and glory that Paul seemed to see so vividly.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Suddenly, my peace felt broken. Hadn’t I read this verse dozens of times? It is about discipleship. Why am I bothered? I thought.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Men.

My stomach sunk. The feeling I can come closest to describing it as, is the feeling when you see someone smiling and waving, and you enthusiastically wave back, only to be met with a grimace– the wave was not for you. And this passage was not for me; I am not a man.

I felt left out.

It seemed juvenile, the desire to be included, but there it was, rising up in me. I certainly have no vendetta against men, and no desire to be one. I only wanted to know that there was a place for me in the Kingdom. I wanted to know that I was not a existential afterthought. I want to know your story, Lord! I want to be a witness!

I tried to rationalize.

It’s only cultural! Paul just wrote that out of a cultural motivation, I said to myself. But instantly my mind rebutted: God is expressed through culture, but it does not contain Him. After all, if this is His Holy Word, then couldn’t he have avoided a cultural confusion of this magnitude? Yes, He could. This left me in a quandary.

The morning had broken.

I finished 2 Timothy that morning, but a cloudiness hung over my reading, and I carried a half formed question in my mind that day, and into the months to come.

I have always identified a bit with Éowyn in Lord of the Rings. She is a great, noble, and gracious lady radiating with true loveliness (all things I aspire to be), who has watched her Kingdom fall under darkness. She loves the legacy of the good Kings of Gondor, and is jealous for them to conquer the darkness that is eating away at her land. The great battle comes, the good and prophesied King has returned, her kindgom seems to be on the brink of doom, and she wants to fight for it. To be in the thick. I believe her motivation is not to gain glory, but to play a part in the preservation of the precious place she loves most. And yet, she feels forgotten.

In a profound passage she says to Aragorn:

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house.”

Éowyn’s part to play in the story of Lord of the Rings is beautiful and honorable, but I will not spoil it in case any of my readers have not read it (… and I mean… if you haven’t… get on that.) She represents to me, both a desire I feel in my heart to follow my King, and a struggle in finding a place to belong in the fight for the True Kingdom.

I have always felt that her story understood me and my desire to be in the thick of living for the Kingdom of God. I have always been something of a all or nothing believer. When, after doubting and struggle, I came to realize the King Jesus had laid down his life to save me, and raised up to give me hope and power, I knew that I must live my whole life following Him. I wanted to sit at his feet and be taught by him, and when He rises to follow Him wherever he goes.

But, doubts creep in. Often, I felt a small voice follow me around saying

“You can be a Christian, but the really important jobs are to be left to Men of God.”

“When Jesus said that, he wasn’t really addressing women.”

“You are too strong.”

The voices say my love for Christ, while not unrequited, is perhaps a bit over enthusiastic or misguided. Perhaps I should be less passionate, and more meek.

In my heart, I always know these whisperings are not true. They flit about like a buzzing fly. I bat at them, but they return. I would swat them dead, but a tiny doubt tells me perhaps they are the truth.

But isn’t that exactly how the deceiver would work? Convince a heart bound to Christ and His Cross that, because they are a woman, they’re actions would not have quite as significant repercussions, that their voice is not as important, that they would be better off retiring to the fate of the second class saved.

But it is a lie.

The more I press into scripture as a whole, the more I am aware that There is a place for Women in the Kingdom of God.

Not lesser, not weaker, not to be hushed and pushed aside. Nor to be masculinzed in the name of equality. No. When I look for Women in the Kingdom of God, this is what I see.

Hannah: A persistent pursuer of God and his blessing, a good and faithful mother.

Esther: A beautiful woman, knowledgeable in foreign policy, fervent in prayer, wise and diplomatic, acting to stop a genocide without thought to her own safety.

Deborah: A judge of discernment, a leader, a victor in battle.

Rehab: A woman experienced in the hard life of oppressive lands, a prostitute, yet with such faith and cunning, that she was counted in the line of Christ.

Writer of Proverbs 31: A poet, a master of words, a wise mother, a provider.

Anna: A prophet faithfully waiting for the Messiah.

Mary: A brave strong young girl with such a developed character and deep investment in scripture that her response to the angel was immediate, faithful and brave submission, and a poem unmatchably rich in scriptural references and trust in the faithfulness of the God she had a personal faith in.

Phillip’s Daughters: Recorded evangelists in the early church.

And with these I barely begin to scratch the surface of the women who are impactfully present in the story of the Kingdom. Indeed, the very first people to discover Christ’s empty tomb were women– and incredible fact in a day when women could not even testify in court.

But that is the way of the Kingdom. Though the world in it’s shifting shadows frequently chooses people to whom they say “you are not as important,” Christ does not. The Kingdom is about Christ, and He is not a respecter of what mankind deem valuable or not. In the gospels he repeatedly addresses women personally, calling to their deepest needs and beliefs, honoring them in a way almost unheard of in that era.

And, He calls to me today, and to all women who would faithfully follow Him. The call to “Die to yourself pick up your cross and follow me” is every bit as much a call to my heart as it was to Paul’s, or Peter’s, or Mary’s.

Let me end by bringing to my kitchen nook table, about a week ago. My father, brother, and I sat munching away at a summer salad, as everyone else was out for the evening. A quiet cool was descending on the hot day, and the sun smiled sleepily through the stained glass hanging in the bay window. We were enjoying the comfortable rhythm of silence and chatting that comes from a lifelong knowledge of one another.

“I came upon something interesting today,” Said my dad, water glass in hand.

“You know I’ve been writing this small group leader’s guide, and I am using the passage from 2 Timothy, where he talks about discipleship, so I decided to look it up in Greek. You know how it translates to something like ‘entrust these things to worthy men?’ Well, I looked it up, and the words is ‘anthropos’ which in almost all other cases is a gender neutral word for ‘human being’ or ‘people.’ So it really ought to be “entrust these to worthy ‘people’.”

I felt a rush of relief, and prick of reminder. God had heard my question that morning, and taught me, and is continuing to teach me that, yes…

I do have a place.

John Piper and the churches of Christ

In the churches of Christ, the name John Piper has very little recognition among the members in general, nor does it have recognition among those who are more tuned into theological study and current events such as our ministers and leaders.  Ask a preacher or elder who John Piper is and the most common answer is “I have no idea.”. Piper is not a member of the churches of Christ so little attention is given to him by leaders, ministers, or members. However, since 1986, John Piper has had a heavy influence on a theological belief that he and several other men created and named when they formed the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). It is called Complementarianism and many of our congregations have adopted this practice in the place of the more biblically supported New Testament egalitarian practice or the Old Testament and very “traditional position” of patriarchal or male only leadership of church and marriage, which many members, if pressed to answer, would say is out of place in today’s society and churches. They have bought into the complementarian supposition that men and women are equal in God’s eyes but different in God’s eyes. This concept is applied in a way that says even though women are equally gifted as men, they cannot use their gifts if it places them in a position of leadership or ministry to men because they are different from men and they must be submissive to the male gender, both in the church and the marriage. The interesting thing is that they believe the Bible teaches this one sided submission but really do not understand it as its founder presented it in 1986. In recent years, there has been a low key approach in the churches of Christ to Piper’s teaching on the submission of women to men in abusive church and family relationships, without realizing where this teaching originates and the problems that exist when complementarian practice is the basis of leadership in both the church and the marriage. John Piper has said publically that a wife should stay with an abusive husband, no matter how bad the abuse is, if she wants to be pleasing to God, and that she must live with that abuse as she is called to be totally submissive to her husband (one way submission). Part of that submission is also included in the idea that a woman cannot teach a baptized male in a church setting, regardless of age and knowledge levels of both the female and the male. Unfortunately, these beliefs have infected most congregations in the churches of Christ. The following article is about John Piper and how some of the complementarian beliefs that the CBMW espouses foster, feed, and support husband to wife abuse in the marriage. The concept also applies to how male church leaders can abuse women in the church, not in a physical way, but in a spiritual way that can make them feel they are next to worthless in the church.

How John Piper’s theology allows domestic violence

July 11, 2014 by :  “All evil begins with a lie.  Theological lies are just like any other kind of lie: they permit a wide range of abuse.  I asked Savvy, who was indoctrinated in John Piper’s theology from a young age, to share a concern she has with Piper’s theology as it relates to domestic abuse. She succinctly lays out issues that should give every Christian leader pause. Not everything that is said to be “biblical” is biblical. Notice how spiritual abuse leads to these ugly ends.”