Assembly Truth: The Place of Woman in the Assembly

Each assembly of God is characteristically marked by three things:

  1. The acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor 1:2, 12:3)
  2. The acknowledgment of the authority of Gods Word (1 Cor 10:11)
  3. The acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-7)

In considering the place given by the Word of God to our sisters in Christ, all three of these characteristics will be seen to have a relevance to the subject.

Silence of Women in Public Gatherings Enjoyed

In spite of much obfuscation on the part of many writers with various ecclesiastical backgrounds, the Word of God is clear as regards the position and public role our sisters may expect to occupy and fulfill in an assembly of believers gathered in Scriptural simplicity. Nothing could be more understandable than the words of Paul to Timothy, Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence (1 Tim 2:11.12). Likewise, the apostles words in 1 Cor 14:34 allow for no misinterpretation: Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak. The objections raised that it is permissible for the sister to take part audibly just as long as she does not usurp authority over the man by teaching appears less than honest. Likewise, when it is proposed that in commanding silence on the sisters part, Paul is discouraging idle gossip and not profitable ministry, unbiased expositions seems to suffer. In the first Scripture quoted, participating in public prayer is also forbidden (vs. 8). By no stretch of the imagination could it be said that prayer, in a mixed gathering of brethren and sisters, allows the woman to usurp authority over the man, yet Paul does not countenance this either but calls upon the males to pray in every place. As to the other objection, if unprofitable chatter is the object of the apostles prohibitions, is it not strange that only that of the ladies is being indicated? Are men not also liable to engage in this and are they then permitted to do what the sister is forbidden to do? An unprejudiced explanation of these Scriptures will allow Pauls words to stand just as they were written. In view of the references given, the broad scope of the curtailment must be acknowledged.

A Threefold Reason Given

A sincere and untrammeled faith does not ask for Divine reasons yet God does not leave His people in ignorance with regard to His purposes. Accordingly, Pauls instructions to the Corinthian believers in chapter eleven of his first epistle, throw much light on the whys and wherefores of conduct encouraged and, also, on the silence enjoined as noted above. His explanation, with these things in mind, takes a threefold form: (1) A creation order is indicated, (2) the instruction of angels is involved and, (3) the custom of the churches is invoked. In contrast to what prevailed among the Jews and Greeks of that day and, indeed, in general to the present, the woman is called upon to be covered in all the gatherings of the assembly. The first reason given is that of the priority of the man in the order of creation. The covering is meant to acknowledge this with the ultimate statement being made thereby that Christ is the head of every man. Since man, in His creation, is said to be the image and glory of God, he remains uncovered whereas the woman, having been created as the glory of man should have on her head a sign of being under authority. This, says Paul, is because of the angels. This second reason presented strongly implies that angelic beings are witnesses of and are instructed by the willing obedience of gathered saints as evidence of their compliance with the instructions given. It is further stated that in the gatherings, the uncovering of the man along with the covered head of the woman were the universal practice of the churches and no other custom prevailed. All of this is made unmistakably clear in verses 3-16 of I Corinthians 11.

Priestly Privilege

John, in his prologue to the Revelation, states Jesus Christ … hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father (1:6). What is, perhaps, a better rendering, a kingdom of priests is a categorical statement to the effect that there are no exceptions envisaged. All, brethren and sisters alike enjoy this position and privilege. The sole difference to be found here is not in position but in the exercise of the privilege. While the brother is allowed to exercise his priestly function in an audible way, the sister is commanded to do so inaudibly. Remember how Hannah in the near precincts of the temple prayed? She spake in her heart; only her lips moved but her voice was not heard (1 Sam 1:13). Was Hannah any the less a worshiper than the males whose voices could have been heard? A very relevant illustration of this is found in Leviticus 11. The priestly families were highly blest in this. They participated by divine right in the choicest of Israels offerings: the wave breast and the heave shoulder. This portion was to be theirs, and their sons, by a statute for ever. They were commanded to eat it in a clean place; thou and thy sons and thy daughters with thee (vs 14-15). No provision was made for wives or daughters of the priests to function in a public way but they enjoyed all the other privileges together with their male relatives.

Practical Considerations

Are our sisters, then, confined to a place where they cannot engage in service for God at all, except in this, apparently, negative way propounded? Even a cursory reading of the N.T. will show the fallacy of such thinking. The woman of Samaria was able to speak to the men of her village in a personal way (John 4). After Peters miraculous release from prison he went to Marys house where some were gathered to pray. Rhoda answered the door. Without entering into the house, Peter requested those gathered to go show these things to James, and to the brethren, none of whom were in attendance at the time, evidently. The whole atmosphere speaks of a gathering in a private home with none of the characteristics of a public assembly. So it was with the few women who met for prayer by the riverside in Philippi (Acts 16). They were following the normal custom of Jews when a quorum of male worshipers could not be found to form a synagogue. Titus reminds us that the aged women are to be teachers of good things (2:3). In none of these instances is there a hint given of public gatherings by sisters to accomplish the objects in view. Meetings for ministry allowing for the exclusive presence of the ladies are not suggested and far less are conferences or other more elaborate ways of gathering together. Private prayers together in the home, personal witness as occasion arises, domestic help for the young and inexperienced are all right and proper in the context of the public restrictions laid down as the outcome of mans original sin and rebellion. Extending help to young and harried mothers or to the ill and aged along with the spiritual encouragement that can be given at the same time is a very profitable avenue of service especially for those who are themselves keepers at home (Tit 2:5).

What then can be said of other spheres of activity? Few assemblies would deny that a very profitable ministry has been rendered by sisters engaging in Sunday School teaching or in having girls in a private way to the home on occasions other than Lords days. Some recommendations need to be offered even in these well-known and accepted situations. The classes in these instances should be exclusively of girls, except where a mixed group of pre-school age boys and girls are involved. In each instance, it is much to be desired that two sisters act together, especially so where separate classrooms or private homes are used. This is necessitated by the allegations of child abuse, often false, that have become so common in our day. The same necessity arises when brethren are teaching boys, of course. It is for the sake of the teachers themselves that such precautions today are needed. Sometimes, as an adjunct to S.S. or youth work, trips and excursions are made. None of these activities should ever be undertaken by one sister alone (nor by a brother individually either). The same practice is recommended when the busing of children is involved. Witnesses to the propriety of behavior should always be at hand.

There are endless opportunities for sisters, in their own divinely-given and Christ-honoring sphere, to help in the building up of the assembly. Apart entirely from the many services, normally undertaken by sisters at conferences and at fellowship gatherings (and let none make little of these most essential ministries), there are ways in which assembly matters will be furthered as sisters are given the responsibility to fulfill them. Many women are extremely capable in the use of computers. Their help in correspondence and, in other ways can relieve the brethren of time-consuming chores so that they can, in a public way, give themselves to the Word of God and prayer.

Let us ever keep in mind Pauls words to the Philippians: Help those women who labored with me in the gospel (4:3). Sisters in the assembly should be much encouraged to realize the large part they can and should play in the ministry of the saints.