Focusing on the Questions
By Wiley Clarkson
Becoming the Church of the 21st Century! Gal. 3:26-29
THE MESSAGE: Gal 3:26 fwd: 28-29In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ's family, then you are Abraham's famous "descendant," heirs according to the covenant promises.
Over the last several years in the Churches of Christ, we have heard a lot about past and present discrimination in regards to race (racism). Racial walls and barriers that have existed in many of our congregations, and Christian universities are being torn down and sincere apologies have been made where discrimination once existed but was never talked about. However, we still practice a form of discrimination that is equally as bad as discrimination based on race or class and is the oldest form of discrimination known to man. It began shortly after Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden of Eden and has continued over the centuries just as God told Eve it would. Racial barriers and gender barriers in our churches go hand in hand. How many centuries did it take for us to realize how wrong racial discrimination is at any level? How much longer will it take us to realize that gender discrimination at any level is also just as wrong? Christian universities such as Abilene Christian University and Pepperdine University over the last several years have opened the discussions on gender equality in the Churches of Christ by scheduling classes during their annual Bible Lectureships, but most churches are very slow to do so. Some individual churches have restudied gender after many years of refusing to open the discussion, and as a result of those studies, decided that traditional practices of restricting women is wrong.
Is God a respecter of persons? Is God a respecter of race? Is God a respecter of gender? Is God a respecter of life status? How did Jesus treat women involved in his ministry? How did the Apostle Paul view women and was he setting standards for all generations in his pastoral letters where some women are told to be silent or was he addressing specific situations in Corinth and Ephesus (and other churches in other cities) in reference to the customs, traditions, and civil laws of the First Century while handling the growing heresy of the earliest forms of Gnosticism that had infiltrated these churches by the middle of the 1st Century? Have we mistranslated, misunderstood, and misapplied what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 11-14 and 1 Tim. 2-3? Do we understand how and why the Apostle Paul used certain words in Greek that are used only one time in the entire New Testament and have we translated the sentence from the Greek properly in our present Bibles? Have we created a whole theology around two verses of Scripture disregarding other Scripture that is in opposition to those two verses? How should we view and apply Gal 3:28? Did a woman write one of the most profound and beautifully written letters in the New Testament? Who was Junia and was she an apostle? Can females teach, evangelize, minister, participate in worship, and serve in leadership today when they were restricted in the 1st Century by the customs and civil laws of a male dominated society that kept females uneducated and severely restricted? Were there really across the board restrictions on women being allowed to teach and be leaders in the First Century Church as our churches commonly teach now and is that total control authorized by God or have we just totally misunderstood what Paul was addressing when he wrote to the Corinthians and the Ephesians, especially when comparing these verses to other verses which indicate differently? How do these changes in viewing the position of women in the church effect marriage and should marriage and leadership in the church be viewed in the traditions of two thousand years as patriarchal, complementarian, egalitarian, a combination of two or more of the above, or none of the above? Should we interpret Scripture as what is written applies to all generations for all time, or should we interpret Scripture in the light of the historical context which may or may not apply to us today? Did God intend for the church to be locked into a pattern that tries to duplicate the 1st Century church in everything, especially regarding how the 1st Century Jewish and Roman societies viewed and treated women, or did God intend for the church to be flexible in its approach to the society it was in at any given time in history in order to become a "missional church" that was able to reach souls in whatever society or time frame the church existed in? There are many more questions that can be asked in search for truth regarding gender equality and inclusion but these are just a few that are asked and do not receive satisfactory answers from the traditional or so called conservative view point!
The linked articles and studies, the books that are downloadable on this web site, and the reading recommendations you will find listed below will help you find answers to these questions. No one single source answers every question. There are also other sources of information available that are not listed here. There is a large and still growing library of resources in the religious world on gender repression and gender equality. Some sources attempt to answer only one or two questions with in depth research and discussion, while other sources attack the problem in generalities that are easily understandable by almost anyone choosing to study this subject. Of course, our single most important resource should always be the Bible and we need to look to Scripture for examples as to how God viewed viewed the role of women in the Old Testament and if he put them in leadership roles or kept them in secondary roles to man. Most importantly, we need to take a very careful look at how Jesus treated females in light of the Jewish customs and laws, and how he used women in particular to reveal who he was. Jesus bucked the system in regards to women right from the start of his ministry. The very first missionary of Jesus to go to a people who knew nothing about Jesus was the Samaritan woman at the well. The person who was the first to declare that Jesus had risen from the grave was a woman when a woman in the 1st Century could not even testify at a trial because the male population of that time considered all women to be incapable of telling the truth! Women were not allowed to become highly educated in any of the first century societies. In the 21st Century, we push hard for our daughters to become educated to the Nth degree in what ever field of study and future employment they wish to choose, and at the same time we push a First Century societal concept in the church that women are never educated enough to compete with a man or to lead and teach men in a Church of Christ. In the vast majority of our congregations, a woman could be President of the United States but would not be allowed to teach, preach, or be a leader of the congregation because they must remain "silent" in the worship and are not allowed to teach a male who is already a Christian. Many churches extend that all the way down to if a boy of ten (10) years of age is baptized, he must then be under male instruction only. We need to know exactly how we should understand what the Apostle Paul taught in the light of the latest archaeological and theological research into customs, laws, ancient language, etc, and how that applies to us as we live under different customs, different civil laws, and use a different language in the 21st Century. We need to look at how language has changed over 2000 years and how we are to understand the ancient language and word meanings compared to the modern translation. In many of our churches, we simply disregard a number of customs such as the holy kiss, foot washing, raising holy hands, etc, saying that they were just customs of the 1st Century church so we can disregard them now. We then turn around and say that women being silent in the worship is not a custom when we clearly know that this was indeed a custom of the society. Where does that leave us today in regards to gender? Is gender restriction something that is a human custom or a God command? Why are we so afraid to re-evaluate our traditional views of Scripture when the Churches of Christ came into existence because of a re-evaluating of traditional beliefs of main line protestant churches over two hundred years ago?
We have a very strong tendency to take a very literal and legalistic understanding of our present English translations from the ancient Greek regarding what Paul said without understanding the historical customs and the civil laws of the 1st Century in Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and most areas of the near East and without understanding how those 1st Century conditions should or should not effect us in the 21st Century. The correct translation of some Greek words Paul used is still not totally understood and to properly understand what Paul was saying, we have to possess some idea of the historical usage of those words, how he would have viewed a particular situation within the framework of the laws and customs that he and the 1st Century Church lived in, who he was writing to, why he was writing to them in the first place, and why he chose words in the Greek language that are used no where else in the Bible. Bobby Valentine, in one of his articles I have on my website, tells us about translation fossils. Translation fossils refer to the power of tradition in the retention of renderings that have long been regarded as suspect because of new knowledge, yet the new knowledge does not make its way into the translation process. We have a surprising number of these translation fossils and some of them show up when looking at the traditional way of viewing gender and gender equality in the church. We have to look at our own modern translations where there are obvious translation problems because of these translation fossils that set up false understandings of Scripture that can be used to carry on the patternistic, ultra legalistic practice of gender repression.
The attempts to understand the roles women should have in the Churches of Christ in the 21st Century are not new to our generation. Sister Selina Moore Holman (please follow the link for a wonderful biography by Al Maxey of this beautiful Christian woman) was a woman who lived one hundred and fifty years before our present time. She took on the male controlled Church of Christ and some of its strongest leaders. She wrote many articles and letters to the Gospel Advocate and church leaders in her life. Some of her writings and the replies she received will give you an idea that the same concerns being voiced today were being voiced over one hundred and twenty five years ago. The Restoration Movement, which includes the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches, and the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, was an outgrowth of a reform movement toward simple biblical Christianity and unity that started in the late 18th Century. It became more organized and distinct during the early years of the 19th Century under the guidance of men such as Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone. It had women directly involved with the early growth of this movement. It was less than 80 years old at the time Sister Holman wrote to the Gospel Advocate. It was not until 1906 that the U.S. Government officially recognized the Church of Christ as a religious movement in the U.S.A. In the mid 20th Century, a forth major group of churches formed from these three groups and is known as the International Churches of Christ. Of those four, only the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ has fully opened its doors to women in all areas of ministry and that has just been in the last several decades. Sadly, the other three groups have lagged behind and have created many artificial barriers to prevent women from moving into ministry of any form. A very small number of congregations in each group have moved away from the silencing of women and recognized the importance of women using their gifts. The only form of ministry that has, so far, really been generally recognized as open to women in the Churches of Christ is children's ministry, which began to be a ministry field for women in the mid 1990's. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, women have started becoming included on a very limited basis in Family Ministry for families with children. Children's ministry began for women because of the traditional belief that this particular avenue of ministry does not violate the belief that a woman cannot be in a position of authority over a baptized male of any age! The woman serving as a children's minister is only ministering to children under the age of ten where only a few children have been baptized, so she does not violate any of the supposed restrictions. In 2017, a small number of churches have begun accepting women in preaching roles and an even smaller number include them in the role of elder/shepherd.
It is my opinion that the issue of women's roles in the teaching, worship, ministry, and leadership of the Churches of Christ (not to mention most fundamental and evangelical style congregations) will be the single most discussed issue in the first few years of the 21st. The present homosexual issues, which have been on top of the hot topic list, will actually be a very minor issue compared to the gender issue in the next few years. Homosexuality in the pulpit is something that is brought up on a regular basis when discussions take place regarding women in the pulpit. It's usually included with what is called the "slippery slope argument", which is a form of straw-man argument. The argument states that if we allow women in the pulpit, then homosexuals preaching from the pulpit will follow shortly. It is a false argument presented to draw attention away from the real topic of discussion For those who do not know what a straw-man argument is, the following is a definition from Wikipedia:
A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
Unfortunately male homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, child molesters, and wife abusers have already been preaching from our pulpits for many years, regardless of whether it is Church of Christ, Catholic, Protestant, and non-denominational/independent. They are usually secretive until exposed. Some have been removed from the pulpit for their sinful lifestyles and others are serving prison terms for their crimes and sins against children and women. However, those who push the slippery slope argument usually will not talk about these already known problems! There are other straw-man arguments that come up but the one that is the most ridiculous is the "if we let women preach, the next thing that will occur is we will let homosexuals preach!"
Individual Christians, as well as whole churches, have already begun expressing their opinions and taking action to correct this issue of inequality and injustice regarding gender equality in the church. However, others who are convinced that women are to be in subjection or submission to men, under the control of men, are digging deep trenches to fight a war of no-change from the status quo, totally disregarding new historical and grammatical knowledge that makes far more sense than previously held knowledge. They are continuing to hold to traditional ideas based in the views of women that came from the patriarchal society of the time when the letters and gospels were being written and the translation from the original Greek was controlled by men who, whether they could admit it to themselves or not, had an agenda of maintaining their male only control. My web site is dedicated to providing basic information on gender equality and inclusivity, "Gender Justice" as another gender equality site for the Churches of Christ labels the movement, with links to other web sites, and churches that are in support of the Gender Equality and Inclusivity. Some of our congregations in the Churches of Christ have taken definite steps to correct this injustice. For a directory of Churches of Christ who have become gender inclusive or fully biblical egalitarian, click on Gender Inclussive Churches of Christ. Universities such as Abilene Christian and Pepperdine are now exploring gender equality and inclusivity in classes at their annual lectureships. There are many Christians who have become privately very supportive of equality and inclusivity who will not publically state their beliefs because of the fear of being publically attacked and labeled as liberal, feminist, heretical, divisive, and so on by the legalistic and patternistic side of our Churches of Christ. However, when a congregation of the Lord's church practices a Galations 3:26-28 concept of equality, the legalistic and patternistic thinking that is so common in churches that do practice this gender inequality, is squashed by the love that results from a truly grace centered congregation where everyone has equality to worship and work using whatever gifts and skills that are supplied by God. Women who are experiencing this egalitarian inclusivity report a much happier and fulfilling experience in their worship and their private Christian lives.
Having three daughters, one of whom has spent more than 13 years in Children and Family Ministry and who will complete her Doctor of Ministry degree in 2018, and two precious granddaughters ages fourteen and six, makes this an issue that is very close to my heart. The fourteen year old granddaughter is starting to understand why we believe it is wrong, if not openly sinful, to restrict women in God's kingdom. What I saw happen to my oldest daughter started her career in Children's and Family Ministry has just reinforced my view that the present practice by our all male leadership of restricting the roles of females in our churches is not scripturally supportable and just plain wrong, if not sinful. My daughter was fortunate and finally found the still fairly rare Church of Christ congregation that actively supported her ministry and appreciated the effort she puts into the ministry, even though they still restrict women in general. She has now moved into instructing future children ministers at a Christian university and occasionally preaches at the congregation her family is a part of. The discrimination and restrictions on women in the church must be brought to an end if we truly want the church of Jesus Christ to become what He has shown us it should be. What I pray for is that our future generations will never have to feel the frustration and limitations that many of our older women, wives, daughters, and even some of our grand daughters feel now, and that our children and grandchildren, male and female together, will someday be able to work and worship in equality before God in the Churches of Christ with each person being able to use the gifts God has given them for the growth of the Kingdom of God. We have made great strides in the areas of race and social status equality in the the churches of Christ, but we are still, in 2017, like babies trying to learn to crawl. We are pushing up from the floor on all fours and starting to rock forward and backwards trying to learn how to crawl in relations to true gender equality. Crawling is the first step to walking because it brings about coordination of the different limbs. It is an issue we cannot just jump up and run with. We have a few congregations that have started using women. It is similar to the crawling stage of a baby. They are just the arms and legs supporting the body as it rocks back and forth. How long will it take for the other arm and then the legs to move the body to move forward in true spiritual growth in this area is not predictable. As it is with a baby when they start to crawl, walking usually comes quickly after they learn to crawl, but crawling takes time as the baby has to gain strength and coordination. The walking leads to running and the whole world opens up before the child because of its new found mobility. Although my true home to come is in Heaven where we will all worship our God and Savior with equal status before them, I pray that God will allow me to live on this Earth long enough to see real gains in equality of gender in the Churches of Christ. The move towards that goal has begun. We consider the Church of Christ to be God's kingdom on Earth yet we have a very long ways to go before we realize the equality that will exit in Heaven and on the new Earth after Christ's return. Oh, what a wonderful day that will be when that becomes reality!
There is presently a slowly growing trend towards gender inclusive congregations in the Churches of Christ. As these congregations make themselves known, I will add them to my page Gender Inclusive Churches of Christ. In my discussions with others on this subject, I have found there are Churches of Christ in the US that have been gender inclusive or Christian egalitarian for a number of years but have not made themselves publically known because of the ridicule and blasting they would receive from other segments of the Churches of Christ who cannot accept the idea of women speaking and taking an active role in the teaching, worship, and leadership of the congregation. If you know of one of these congregations that is not listed, please forward it to me so that I can list it.
My wife and I hope and pray the articles and links listed to the left will help you start to understand the importance of removing barriers based on gender and help you to make an educated and wise decision on this issue. What I have gathered here is just a very small sample of the research and study being put into Gender Equality. Some of the articles and studies are unique on to this web site and not available anywhere else and some are either reproduced here with the author's permission or linked directly to display either in the reading frame or a unique window. After reading and studying what we have available on this site, we hope you will also come to the realization that the Churches of Christ in general need to change their practices towards the females to be more in line with God's Word. Too many women who have heard God calling them into a life of full time ministry or volunteer service have been deeply hurt by the denial of their gifts and have had the spirit quenched in them because of the attitude of male superiority that prevails over most Churches of Christ. There is more than enough information available just through this web page alone to make for very in depth study and intelligent decision making. However, there are volumes of serious study published in print and on the web seriously questioning traditional translation techniques and the present understanding of these passages regarding women in the church. We love the Churches of Christ and the people who are part of these independent churches! It is our prayer that you will join with those of us who are traveling the less traveled road of gender equality and support true gender equality and inclusivity before God and in His church. We need to make this the most traveled road of all! As Floyd E. Rose said,
"It is an idea whose time has come."
The studies, articles, links, book recommendations, and churches listed on this site are directed specifically to the Restoration Movement churches, which include the Churches of Christ, where my family's spiritual heritage is. However, they apply equally to all Christian churches, regardless of denomination or non-denomination. Most of the information is from writers in the Churches of Christ. The rest of the information is from writers who are members of other denominations who are also struggling with the same issues. Some of the articles are only available through this web site while the rest are available elsewhere and are either linked and display directly in the main window or a new window, or they have been reproduced on this web site with the permission of the authors or specific web sites on which they were originally published. No single web site has all the information available on this subject. For information on the "Restoration Movement" churches which include the Church of Christ, the Independent Christian Church, the Christian Church (disciples of Christ), the following link will supply a historical perspective: The Restoration Movement
You will not find any recommendations regarding study material for the traditional patriarchal view or the complementarian view, a latter 20th century politically correct patriarchal doctrine of the role of women in the church which a false doctrine not found in scripture. These views are held by most traditional, conservative, Old Path, and non-institutional Churches of Christ. Most of the readers of this site will have been thoroughly indoctrinated to that particular belief for many years.
If you are a supporter of gender equality and inclusivity in the Churches of Christ or any Christian church, denomination or non-denomination, who has written or taught on this subject and would like to have a place to publish your work, please email me. I will be happy to read what you have written and if it fits into the overall purpose of my web pages on Gender Equality, I would love to publish it here. This is especially important if you are associated with the Churches of Christ. My web site, http://www.wherethespiritleads.org, is entirely funded by our own personal funds. We do not accept money from anyone nor do we accept any form of paid advertising in support of this web site. It is a work of love for our Savior Jesus Christ and the Churches of Christ..
Grace and peace to all who are in Jesus Christ
Wiley and Linda Clarkson