David Lipscomb actively shaped the interpretation of scripture taught in Church of Christ congregations throughout the country for over 50 years, as “the single most influential person among Churches of Christ from 1865 until his death in 1917.”
He was the editor of the Gospel Advocate, the leading religious periodical read by those within the denomination during that time. He also co-founded and taught at the Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb University), whose students carried his teachings to their churches, and wrote commentaries on books of the Bible and other topics for Church of Christ audiences.
What did he teach about the role of women in society and church and about God’s view of women?
Let’s let Mr. Lipscomb tell you. Here are six categories of quotes from him:
- “It is wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion.”
- A “mother is doubtless prohibited by God from all public work because it would interfere with” child rearing, so God “cut her off from all other works that would distract” her from it.
- “As a rule,” a woman speaking in public “is wrong, hurtful to the moral, religious, and physical well-being of the human family.”
- “[A]ll public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place puts woman out of place, out of her God-given work.”
- “All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”
3. Better Get to Dusting
- “The word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well, when she fails to love and honor her husband, when she fails to love her children and guide the house.”
4. Blame the Worshiping Women
- “Where women most freely take part in public worship a much smaller portion of the people are religious than where they remain silent.”
5. Blame the Christian Mothers
- “The place at which above all others the Christian religion fails, is in that work committed especially to women, the raising and training of children.”
- “The gambling rooms, the whisky shops, the whore-houses, … the penitentiaries and prisons, are all … filled with the children of Christian mothers.”
- “Woman is not alone to blame for this failing. But home is her realm, her children her subjects.”
6. Women Had Their One Shot
- God’s message to women (referencing Eve) is “I suffered you to take the lead once; your strong emotional nature led you to violate God’s word and to shipwreck a world, I cannot again trust you to lead.”
- Women’s “unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature causing her to be easily deceived and to be ready to run after anything or body that might strike her fancy against reason and facts.”
Un-Biblical: Comparing What Lipscomb Said With the Bible
David Lipscomb said and did many admirable things, but these are not among them.
He was far off the mark with these sentiments. They contradict the Bible and reality. For example, going in reverse order addressed above—
6. Lipscomb said: God’s message to women after Eve is “I cannot again trust you to lead.”
But God said: Deborah, I want you to lead Israel. Miriam, I want you to co-lead the Israelites. Huldah, I want you to be a prophet and speak for me. Mary, I want you to give birth to and raise the Messiah. Philip’s daughters and other women, I want you to be prophets and speak for me. Junia, I want you to be an apostle. Phoebe, I want you to be a deacon. … ( cites below)
5. Lipscomb said: “Home is her realm ….”
But God said: Female (and male) have dominion over everything that creeps upon “the earth” and let both subdue “the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28).
4. Lipscomb said: “Where women most freely take part in public worship a much smaller portion of the people are religious than where they remain silent.”
But reality says: The Churches of Christ are near the bottom—fourth lowest—in attendance rate and percentage of members who say religion is very important to them among evangelical denominations / categories. In all the higher ones, women much more freely take part in public worship.
Joining the Churches of Christ in the bottom four are the other denominations that are the most restrictive relative to women’s roles in worship: the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church in America, and Independent Baptist. The two denominations at the top, in terms of attendance and members who say religion is very important, both have female preachers.
(Fig. 1: Percentage of members who said they attend services at least once a week, by denomination/category)
3. Lipscomb said: “The word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well ….”
But the Bible says: Martha’s sister Mary sat listening to Jesus, but “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
2. Lipscomb said: “All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”
But the Bible says: Anna, a prophet and servant of God, prophesied about Jesus to the public in the Temple. (Luke 2:36-38)
And God says: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy …. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)
1. Lipscomb said: A “mother is doubtless prohibited by God from all public work ….”
But the Bible says: The Proverbs 31 woman, a mother, “considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard…. She sees that her trading is profitable, …. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. …. [A]nd let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
Lipscomb’s views undergirded his interpretation of scripture relevant to women.
If you are about 45 – 70 years old, those in your grandparents’ generation who grew up in the Church of Christ were taught and sermonized by people who learned directly from Lipscomb (in person, via his writings, etc.).
Those in your grandparents’ generation were highly likely taught Lipscomb’s interpretations as the “Biblical” interpretation—and that any contrary view is “unbiblical.”
And your grandparents’ generation taught your parents’ generation. And your parents’ generation taught you.
Throughout, teachings from outside the Church of Christ were warned against as “denominational” and untrustworthy. Some edges were smoothed, language was updated, and sensitivity increased over the years, but if a teaching departed too much, then it was “unbiblical.” Before too long, anyone who disagrees is speaking contrary to God.
Maybe you did not learn the song (say it quickly) “the fruit of the spirit is not a woman talking in public.”
And maybe you never attended a VBS themed “God gave women their one chance to lead and they blew it.”
And maybe you did not have a class on how “all the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.” (or maybe you did)
But versions of Lipscomb’s scriptural interpretations almost certainly were taught to you as Biblical if you attended Churches of Christ.
It was probably not put to you as “this is what Lipscomb says.” It was probably put to you as “this is what the Bible says and means.”
These teachings of David Lipscomb on women — and those of Alexander Campbell, discussed in the last post — had a major impact and continue to have a major impact on what members of the Church of Christ call “Biblical” and “unbiblical” and how many now understand the Bible.
Sources and Notes
Added 12/29/18: “God did not say women must not usurp authority over men and make public addresses only in religion, but in all things. If it is a violation of God’s law for them to teach the Bible to classes on Sunday, it is equally a violation for them to teach school through the week. If they may in a private way teach Apollos or other men through the week, they may teach them in the same way on Sunday. The most essential principle of understanding both man’s and woman’s work in the church (and we are in the church every day in the week) is a burning desire to do God’s will, and not our own.” GA (June 6, 1901). “Let the women keep silence in the churches,” etc., does not mean houses of worship, as though they could make speeches or public addresses to the same audiences outside of houses of worship. “The churches” may assemble in groves, halls, caves, or anywhere. I do not have to “bring forward” scripture to sustain the assertion that ‘the church and churches’ are ·mixed audiences.” I would as soon ask a man to produce scripture to prove that the sun shines or that water runs down hill. The churches or congregations of the saints are made up of men and women, boys and girls.” GA (August 8, 1901), 497-498. “Religiously and socially, woman’s entrance into public work has resulted disastrously to the people. It is contrary to God’s law written in her own being and his revealed will.” David Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, (October 13, 1892), page 644.
Added 10/30/19: David Lipscomb, “Woman and Her Work,” Gospel Advocate (October 13, 1892), page 644: “In all combinations there must be a head. God first made man in his own image, and gave him the precedence. Their order grew out of the order of nature ordained by God. To destroy that order is to introduce confusion and strife for supremacy into every household. When woman did take the lead she shipwrecked the world. And God said to her: “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” God has made it so. One or the other had to be head. God made the man such. That does not degrade woman. It takes her out of the sphere of publicity and of wild and corrupting ambition, and contaminating associations, and gives her the realm and sacredness of home as her domain, and entrusts to her the most sacred office God has ever bestowed on mortal—that of bearing, nursing and training immortals for his service and kingdom. For this he has gifted and fitted her. Whenever she steps into the public arena, she unfits herself for this sacred work, entrusted to her by God, and perverts the most sacred gifts bestowed on mortals.
There can be no doubt of the teaching of the Bible on the subject of woman’s work and position. God prohibits to her public position. In all the apostolic age there was not a woman presented in the role of public teacher. In all the history of the Old Testament not a provision for or call was on woman to assume the role of public teacher or ruler. They were, sometimes, both in Old and New Testament times, endowed with miraculous gifts. They were required to use these in private, not in public.
Only once or twice, in an abnormal condition of the Jewish people, when the men were unfaithful and rebellious, was woman permitted to assume for a time the position of leader. But God clearly forbids it, where woman has assumed’public position, the results have been such as disobedience to God would naturally bring.”
David Lipscomb, “Information Wanted on the ‘Woman Question,'” Gospel Advocate, (January 19, 1911) at 78-79: “All the reasons given and the facts stated condemn woman’s leadership in other places as well as in the church on Lord’s day. The thing condemned is woman’s being forward, making herself a leader of men and a public speaker out of harmony with childbearing. It is wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion. When and where it is right for a woman to speak or teach, it is right for her to teach the Bible. The teaching of the Bible, as a whole, assigns woman a quiet, at-home sphere; and when she steps out of it., she does harm and not good, and disarranges society as God established it. All public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place puts woman out of place, out of her God-given work. She is by nature and disposition suited to a quiet, retiring service. She may use these conditions to teach and develop her abilities and work as a teacher and instructor of all. She is strong and efficient in this sphere; out of it, she is out of place. When men fail to do their duty and neglect to teach and instruct. In the way of the Lord. as already noted, God has approved woman’s doing it in a modest, unassuming way. The limit and line of her work we are not able always to point out. With a modest, retiring spirit, she will have to decide her line of duty often for herself. She may teach children, women, and men in a quiet way. The Bible makes only one meeting on Lord’s day a necessary meeting, but both by precept and example it authorizes others to be held. (See the daily meetings of the Christians. (Acts 2: 43-47: 3: 1-10; 4: 1-5; 5: 4.2.) Indeed, the whole of the Acts of the Apostles is filled with examples of daily and constant meetings to learn the word of God. These are the examples for us to follow. Paul preached every day in the school of Tyrannus for two years, and insisted man should observe any time as suited to serve God. (Rom. 14.)
God forbids woman taking a leading public part in teaching people at any time; but she may in a quiet, modest way teach the Bible to men, women., and children, at home or a place of meeting. God has appointed but, one regular, necessary meeting on Lord’s day, where certain worship is to be performed. He allows other meetings for worship as his children may approve. But woman is; not permitted to take a leading part in any of them. She may instruct in a modest way where men fail to do it. All meetings of the church are church meetings. Some are for specific purposes; others, to teach, encourage. and help each other. Women ought to be modest at all of them. Men should be active to lead, and all things will work well. The trouble begins with the failure of men to do their duty. When woman takes a leading and public position in teaching and leading others, she steps out of the childbearing sphere, she ceases to bear children. The two spheres do not work together. Our women are ceasing to bear children and other peoples are displacing them. In a few years our people will be another people.”
Added: “R. C . Bell (The Way, 1903, 776): woman is not permitted to exercise dominion over man in any calling of life. When a woman gets her diploma to practice medicine, every Bible student knows that she is violating God’s holy law. When a woman secures a license to practice law, she is guilty of the same offense. When a woman mounts the lecture platform or steps into the pulpit or the public school room, she is disobeying God’s law and disobeying the promptings of her inner nature. When God gives his reason for woman’s subjection and quietness, he covers the whole ground and forbids her to work in any public capacity…She is not fitted to do anything publicly….Every public woman—lawyer, doctor, lecturer, preacher, teacher, clerk, sales girl and all—would then step from their post of public work into their father’s or husband’s home, where most of them prefer to be, and where God puts them….You are now no longer a public slave, but a companion and home-maker for man; you are now in the only place where your womanly influence has full play and power.” John Mark Hicks, http://johnmarkhicks.com/2017/07/06/suffrage-women-and-creation/.
Interestingly enough, Lipscomb seems to indicate that he thought it was Biblical for women to teach men in Sunday School (a “mixed class”) because it was not when the entire assembly came together and he considered it more akin to in-home teaching than “public” speaking and not as having authority over a man (the man could choose to attend or not attend, after all). See, e.g., David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, Queries and Answers, ed. by M.C. Kurfees, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co. (1921), page 736 (“So I am sure that a woman may teach the Bible to old or young, male or female, at the meetinghouse, at home, at a neighbor’s house, on Sunday or Monday or any other day of the week, if they know less than she does, if she will do it in a quiet, modest, womanly way.”).
It is unclear to me, though, if David Lipscomb thought it Biblical to teach Sunday School to men on Sunday or not. At one point, it seems like his writings indicated the answer is yes, but this January 1911 article suggests to me that his answer is no, unless a woman can take a “non-leading part” in teaching men, which can occur if men fail to do it. It is unclear to me if a woman can take a “non-leading” part in other instances in Lipscomb’s view. In Queries and Answers, I am unsure what Lipscomb meant by “womanly” way. Did he mean “non-leading” (and maybe only if men fail to do it if we are talking about teaching men?). Queries and Answers seems to lean towards a mostly unqualified yes, but the January 1911 article tends to lean towards a heavily qualified yes or possibly a mostly no, it seems. It seems unclear. I think the better weight of the evidence leans towards a qualified yes.
Sewell seemed to consider getting together to study the Bible “private” activity. He seemed to oppose causing it “Sunday School” but encouraged doing it on the first day of the week, before the assembly. And he said that while it might keep the peace better for men to teach men the Bible in such a setting, scripture did not prohibit women from teaching men in such a setting. “To avoid any sort of ground for opposition or contention, it would likely be better for grown-up men to be taught by men, where there are such to teach. But, really, teaching a class to itself is private work, and not public, like speaking to a promiscuous crowd which is forbidden to women.” Sewell, Gospel Advocate (Jan. 17, 1907), page 41.
(Note that Lipscomb’s explanation on why 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 do not prohibit women from singing in the assembly is somewhat incoherent and contradictory, saying that there is an example in the OT of women singing. He ignores that there are examples of women speaking to groups of men and having authority over men (e.g., Huldah, Deborah). See Gospel Advocate (October 31, 1907), page 697)).
Also, note that J.W. McGarvey, another influential Church of Christ scholar active in the late 1800s and early 1900s, thought that 1 Corinthians 14, at least, did not bar modern women from speaking in the assembly.
“… From the time that sin entered into the world, and entered through woman, she has been placed in a retiring, dependent, and quiet position, and never has been put forward as a leader among men in any public capacity from the garden of Eden till now…This seems to have been a general decree for all time, for God has never varied from it an any age or dispensation….’Thy desire shall be to thy husband,’ is indicative of dependence—not in any slavish sense, but in the sense that she is to look to man as a leader and protector, and, in certain measure, supporter and provider. One large measure of woman’s happiness is in the very fact that she has in man some one to look to and depend upon and trust for her defense and well-being in life. ...God himself never changed this decree, and does not allow man to change it. … Christ never put one single woman forward as a public proclaimer of the gospel among men, nor did he place her a leader over men or for men publicly in any sense, but just the reverse.” E.G. Sewell, “What is Woman’s Work in the Church (Again)?,” Gospel Advocate (July 22, 1897), at 432.
Sources for article:
“… single most influential person …”: Richard T. Hughes, The Churches of Christ (Student Edition), Westport, Connecticut: Praeger (2001), page 76.
Lipscomb generally: Hughes, supra; Robert E. Hooper, “David Lipscomb (1831-1917),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. by Douglas A. Foster et al., Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2004), pages 480-482.
” … wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion”: David Lipscomb, Answer to “Information Wanted on the ‘Woman Question,'” Gospel Advocate 78, (January 19, 1911), page 78 ( “condemn woman’s leadership in other places as well as in the church on Lord’s day”) .
“… doubtless prohibited by God from all public work …”: David Lipscomb, “Women in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 6 (November 21, 1888), page 6
“cut her off from all other works …”: David Lipscomb, “Women in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 6 (November 21, 1888), page 6,
“As a rule, … wrong, hurtful …”: David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, Queries and Answers, ed. by M.C. Kurfees, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co. (1921), page 739.
“[A]ll public teaching and speaking on any subject at any place …”: David Lipscomb, Answer to “Information Wanted on the ‘Woman Question,'” Gospel Advocate 78, (January 19, 1911), page 78. If men fail to do their duty, though, “God has approved of women doing it in a modest, unassuming way.” Ibid.
“All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”: David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J.W. Shepherd, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company (1910), page 450. “That woman’s speaking, preaching, and engaging in public affairs would degrade society, I have no doubt. It would destroy the domestic life of our people and lead to anything else than good results.” Ibid., page 453.
“… word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well…”: David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J.W. Shepherd, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company (1910), pages 447-448.
“… Where women most freely take part in public worship a much smaller portion of the people are religious ….”: David Lipscomb, Queries and Answers, ed. by J.W. Shepherd, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company (1910), page 453.
“The place at which above all others the Christian religion fails, ….”: David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate (October 10, 1888), page 6-7.
“Woman is not alone to blame for this failing. But home is her realm….” David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate (October 10, 1888), page 6-7.
“[M]an is what his mother makes him. ….”: David Lipscomb, “Women in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 6 (November 21, 1888), page 6.
“I suffered you to take the lead once….”: David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate 6 (October 10, 1888), page 6 (Lipscomb’s fullest exegesis is here, expressed in a sarcastic manner in places).
Women’s “unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature …”: David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate 6 (October 10, 1888), page 6.
: Judges 4:4-24; Micah 6:4; Num 12:1-15; 2 Kings 22:11-20; Acts 2:15-21; 1 Cor 11:4-5, 16; Acts 21:8-9; Rom 16:7; Rom 16:1-2.
I am appreciative of JoAnne Toews, Ernst Rollmann, and Professor John Mark Hicks making these sources accessible via the internet, without which I might not have noticed some of the above-quoted statements by David Lipscomb: See generally
(Fig. 2: Percentage of members who said religion was very important to them, by denomination)
The Pew graphics are from this 2014 study from Pew Research: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/churches-of-christ/
It appears to me that all of the other twelve denominations / categories listed have more female participation in the worship service than the Church of Christ denomination (it would be difficult to have less). I am aware of this study of denominational views on women in church leadership — http://www2.cbeinternational.org/new/E-Journal/2007/07spring/denominations%20first%20installment–FINAL.pdf — but know that it is incomplete.
- Assemblies of God — https://ag.org/Beliefs/Topics-Index/The-Role-of-Women-in-Ministry (full participation — “After examining the various translations and interpretations of biblical passages relating to the role of women in the first-century church, and desiring to apply biblical principles to contemporary church practice, we conclude that we cannot find convincing evidence that the ministry of women is restricted according to some sacred or immutable principle.”)
- Church of God (Cleveland, TN) — http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/news/2010/08/church-of-god-ays-women-can-be.php and https://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/570-news/featured-news/11656-church-of-god-debates-role-of-women (women serve as pastors, in the worship service, preachers, on local congregational boards, but not as bishops)
- Church of the Nazarene (full participation — “The Church of the Nazarene supports the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church and affirms the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene, including the offices of both elder and deacon.”) http://nazarene.org/theology-women-ministry
- Independent Baptist (Evangelical Trad.): https://www.gotquestions.org/Independent-Baptists.html
- Interdenominational (Evangelical Trad.)
- Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (“women ought not hold the authoritative teaching office in the church–that is, the office of pastor. Women are allowed to
hold other offices in the church [(including deacon and elder)], as long as these offices do not involve the one holding them in carrying out the distinctive functions of the pastoral office.”; can read scripture, but generally cannot administer communion; cannot preach; no ordination) https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=3286
- Nondenominational charismatic
- Nondenominational evangelical
- Nondenominational fundamentalist
- Presbyterian Church in America: Refuses ordination to women in roles of elder and deacon. http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/june/pca-goes-back-to-where-it-started-womens-ordination.html; see e.g., http://www.oakwoodpca.org/ministries/womens-ministry/elders-position-on-women-in-ministry/ (“Oakwood opens some roles in its public worship service to laity, both men and women, including leading the congregation in singing, taking up offerings, reading Scripture, and making announcements.”).
- Seventh-day Adventist (women participate fully in worship services, and North American churches and others ordain women, but the international body does not recognize the ordination of women; in 2015, the international body rejected ordination of women by a vote of 1381 to 977 —https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/seventh-day-adventists-vote-against-female-ordination/2015/07/08/42920f7e-25c8-11e5-b77f-eb13a215f593_story.html?utm_term=.325cdd2008b5)
- Southern Baptist Convention http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1088/ (excluding women from roles requiring ordination only; otherwise leaving to congregations
Updated. Also see (Catholic): https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/07/22/im-catholic-woman-who-was-allowed-preach-mass-until-it-was-banned?fbclid=IwAR1wI1IjX17n8v2VITBloOaecNpIsCfoQ_ryCq01lCRCS9gpOvTJjkF4PcM
Greek Orthodox (aka Eastern Orthodox): women in the Greek Orthodox church at least read scripture (the epistles) during the worship service, lead singing, and teach men and middle school and high school aged boys in Sunday School. See, e.g., http://www.allsaintscbg.org/our-faith/12-things-i-wish-i-knew; https://www.goarch.org/-/the-role-of-women-in-the-church
My understanding is that the Greek Orthodox has women leading singing, leading chanting, reading scripture, etc., in services, but generally not functions it deems reserved for ordained offices, as it centers around altar practice. Its doctrine in this regard, to my understanding, centers around ordination and the altar, whereas Churches of Christ doctrine (patriarchal traditionalism), for example, as to prohibitions, emphasizes both prohibitions on function (prohibitions on speaking, authority, teaching, …) and ordination (prohibitions on serving in the office of elder / deacon). Greek Orthodox appears to distinguish the priesthood of all believers function from the ordained office of priest (everyone can be part of the priesthood of all believers, but only men can be ordained priests) and to emphasize apostolic succession for the ordained role of bishop. Altar-related functions are generally limited to bishops, priests, and deacons (deacons when authorized by the priest). Only men are ordained in these three ordained offices in the Greek Orthodox church, so as a result only men carry out the functions reserved for those ordained offices (Eucharist, etc.). I am no expert on Greek Orthodox doctrine and practice.
“… undergirded …”: See, e.g., David Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, Queries and Answers, ed. by M.C. Kurfees, Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Co. (1921), page 739 (“Woman’s work in life is to bear and train children”; “[I]t is wrong for woman to engage in any work or calling that is not in harmony with her life work, and … scripture are to be translated in harmony with these truths.” (referring to 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2)); David Lipscomb, “Woman’s Station and Work,” Gospel Advocate 6 (October 10, 1888), page 6-7 (“Until she trains them to be loyal and true to her religion and her God, it is simply shameful folly as well as treason to herself, her children, her race, and her God, to seek to occupy man’s field of labor.”).
(Note added 4/15/18: Some of Lipscomb’s comments on women came in response to letters to the editor and articles by Selina Moore Holman published in Lipscomb’s Gospel Advocate on several occasions from 1888 to 1896 that disagreed with Lipscomb’s views (one other article by her on the topic was published there in 1913). Some urge that publishing views on the other side of an issue is to Lipscomb’s credit, but I am not so sure what Lipscomb thought he was doing in publishing her articles was allowing disagreement for fairness purposes or the like, at least at first, though. It is clear he thought he was proving his own point by publishing her, for example, when he leads off his response with “if we will read … the article from sister Holman …, we can find a pretty good reason why the Lord did not suffer a woman to teach and lead in his church. When she wants a thing so, her strong emotional nature … will … have it that way …. [Women’s] unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature causing her to be easily deceived and to be ready to run after anything or body that might strike her fancy against reason and facts. This is still strongly woman’s characteristic, as the article of our sister plainly shows.” See October 10, 1888, Gospeal Advocate, supra. He is quite patronizing and condescending to Holman in places. The point of this article is not Lipscomb’s motivations, but is instead the impact his teachings on women had and continues to have.)
Dr. John Mark Hicks has written a paper discussing some of the debates over women speaking in the assembly, women’s roles, etc., in the Churches of Christ in the late 1800s – early 1900s time frame. See John Mark Hicks, “Privilege or Silence? The “Woman Question” in Churches of Christ, 1897-1907,” http://johnmarkhicks.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/04/privilege-or-silence1.doc (accessed November 7, 2019) (discussing the issue and practices relative to whether women have the “privilege” (to participate audibly in the assembly) or must they be in “silence” (wholly silent except for singing) between (a) northern or the “Sommer Tradition” or “Indiana Tradition” (e.g., Octographic Review), (b) the southern churches the “Tennessee Tradition” (Gospel Advocate, The Way), and (c) the western churches the “Texas Tradition” (Firm Foundation): All three (at least the editors) generally held: “(1) women are not permitted to preach the word publicly (as evangelists in the field or authoritative speakers in the assembly), (2) women are not permitted to exercise ruling authority in churches as elders or bishops, and (3) women should avoid participation in the various societies associated with the progressives.” The (b) Tennessee tradition held women “should not speak publicly anywhere. Not only should they not function as elders in the church, they should not become business leaders, presidents, or school teachers.” In the (a) Indiana tradition, “Daniel Sommer … advocated for the privileges of women in the assembly and in the work of the church (e.g., deaconesses). His article, “Woman’s Religious Duties and Privileges in Public,” summarizes his perspective. … He thought it a woman’s privilege to “publicly read in audible tones a portion of Scripture” in the assembly as long as she did not comment, apply or enforce “its meaning” since she would thereby become a “public teacher” which 1 Timothy 2:12 forbade. However, “it is a woman’s privilege to teach a class in a meeting house” since the class is not the publicly assembled congregation. … since exhortation and teaching are different, even during the assembly, “if a sister in good standing wishes to arise in a congregation and offer an exhortation it is her privilege to do so.” A woman’s privilege, then, includes audible prayer in the assembly, public reading of Scripture in the assembly, teaching a Bible class of men, women and/or children, and public exhortation of the assembly.”… There was, among some, a shared cultural assumption about the exclusion of women from public society. But this did not undermine female participation in the assembly . …” The (c) Texas tradition, was diverse. “J. W. Chism—an early leader in the Texas Tradition—contended … that “Paul expressly” approved audible female participation in the assembly through prayer and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 11. While a woman may not “take the field as an evangelist, nor any other work of authority,” she may “in a subordinate place…sing, pray and prophesy, and that, too, in the assembly.” Chism challenged the Gospel Advocate on the issue. J. W. Chism, “Woman’s Work in the Church,” Gospel Advocate 45 (16 July 1903) 450. … He interpreted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as a prohibition against disruptive women who interrupted the assembly with their questions. … C. R. Nichol … book God’s Woman created quite a stir in 1938 … reflective of earlier debates in the Texas Tradition … believed … 1 Corinthians 14 only prohibited those who interrupted prophets with their interrogatories … consistent with Daniel Sommer’s, including the promotion of deaconesses and female Bible class teachers with men present. … many, like the editor of the Firm Foundation, objected to deaconesses in the church. While Texas ultimately came to similar conclusions as the Tennessee Tradition …, the Texas situation—unlike Tennessee and Indiana—was complex rather than monolithic, …. The Texas Tradition finally closed ranks with the Tennessee Tradition ….”)
Lipscomb’s only child, a son, died at the age of 9 months. See Hooper, supra, page 480. He and his wife were unable to have other children and took in foster children. Ibid.
Here’s an outline of my understanding on history of how we ended up as one of the few denominations that completely prohibit women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the assembly / as just 3-4% of Christianity that does this:
The short version, 1800s-now, of my view of the history of how this came to be:
David Lipscomb thought they ought to be completely prohibited from speaking publicly and having authority over men everywhere (in church, public, government, workplace, convention halls, … on any subject); he based that on an interpretation of female inferiority and blaming her (Eve) for sin. His view largely comported with the interpretation of the Roman Catholic church’s doctrine on the issue over the past many centuries.
He was over-the-top influential for 50 years in the formative time of the CoC; his view spread and became dominant, squashing some dissent here and there; and the vast majority of CoC folks have been defending the application of his view as “the word of God” using whatever argument might justify doing what we have always done ever since (the practice stayed the same while the arguments to justify it changed), with it even growing more prohibitive than what Lipscomb said through the early/mid part of the 20th century (arguably, he would allow women to teach men in Sunday School — this is not crystal clear) . There have been some dissents here and there over the years but nothing caught on. Mostly, with some exceptions, we’ve been a “don’t hire / fire if they are not ‘sound’” kind of bunch, with this issue being a litmus test. Only those who have this view and will not teach otherwise got hired mostly. It’s on the standard questionnaire.
It has been a bit of a rear-guard defense, as the CoC mostly gave up on teaching that it is a sin for women to speak publicly or have authority over men outside church. In other words, in liberalized a bit through the 20th century to be limited to the assembly, probably out of necessity. BUT what you see instead in many places is that church leaders stay silent on that point (they teach that women can’t have authority over men in church and just don’t say one way or another about the rest of it.)
I know less about this, and have not researched this as much, but my understanding is that women’s active participation in the worship assembly (not ordination) began more or less immediately upon the Reformation and the existence of the printing press — getting away from the top-down grip the Roman Catholic church had on doctrine and getting the scripture in the hands of the people — and ordination of women began in spots not long after. Quakers and churches in the Restoration Movement at least ordained women in the 1800s in the U.S. Assemblies of God did in the 1930s. Methodists in the 1950s. Several other mainline denominations in the 1970s. Other evangelical denominations in the 20th century, too. Southern Baptists did for a while in the 60s and 70s. I don’t know when the Roman Catholic church first had women start leading singing, reading scripture, etc., in mass. They still don’t ordain. In other words, women were leading singing, reading scripture, etc., in these that ordain all along, but were not given “offices” as ordained ministers until those times.
Today, CoC folks are still defending a practice intended to restrict women everywhere (the workplace, speaking in public, ….) on any subject that the CoC adopted in the 1800s on a foundation comprising female inequality and distrust of women —– but are defending it in one place (the worship assembly/Sunday School rooms) using new arguments that don’t square with the practice. For good reason, this hasn’t caught on with other denominations to attract more to such a doctrine. And the issue remains one that preachers are fearful of raising, fearful of being fired, not hired, hurting their chances of ever working again, etc. So, that’s how we got to our 3-4% and stay there, I think.
Longer outline, further back…. –
The Roman Catholic church interpreted scripture (1 Tim 2:12) to say women should not teach or have authority over men *** anywhere *** in public — in church, in government, in the military, in public, in a public forum, …. anywhere … because:
1) Women are inferior to men because (a) she was created second (Eve after Adam), reflecting inferiority and (b) women do not fully bear the image of God.
2) Eve (and by implication, all women) is to be blamed for all evil and death in the world, and women are more susceptible to sin, deception, and error than men, and thus their place is solely in the home, in private settings, and with the children and not in public places of teaching or authority.
(See, e.g., pp. 160-163 of Kevin Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Part I,”, Evangelical Quarterly 72:2 (2000))
This was the “traditional view” for centuries and centuries.
The above view, except, as far as I can tell, the image of God part, came to be the dominating Churches of Christ view. There was some difference of opinion within the Texas tradition and the Northern Tradition.
In other words, the foundation of the Churches of Christ practice on this, what we practice today, comprises female inequality and distrust of women.
You can see this view reflected in what Churches of Christ foundational leaders said in the 1800s and early 1900s, the formative time of the Churches of Christ.
+ “Adam was first …, then Eve. … He is first and she is second. He is senior and she is junior. They are, therefore, neither equal in rank nor in age.”
+ “His lordship was earth wide, her queenship is naturally and rightfully only house wide.”
+ “It is in quite as good taste with us … to assign to women their task at home.”
+ “It is wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion.”
+ “All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”
+ God’s message to women (referencing Eve) is “I suffered you to take the lead once; your strong emotional nature led you to violate God’s word and to shipwreck a world, I cannot again trust you to lead.”
+ Women’s “unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature causing her to be easily deceived and to be ready to run after anything or body that might strike her fancy against reason and facts.”
Lipscomb dominated for 50+ years, GA editor, built and taught at a preaching school that sent preachers everywhere, …..
Relatively quickly after the Reformation women began serving in the assemblies and began being ordained in the 1600s.
Literacy rates were low. The printing press was invented not that long before and scripture became accessible to the masses..
In the U.S. (est. 1776), Quakers, the Restoration Movement from which the Church of Christ springs (look up Clara Celestia Hale Babcock, for example), and others ordained women at least by the 1800s.
But they were squashed by Lipscomb et al.
Denominations ordaining women picked up more in the late 1800s and then through the 1900s.
Lipscomb died around 1920.
We continued defending what Lipscomb said. There were some dissents but they did not seem to make much of a dent.
Sometime after Lipscomb’s death, it looks to me like it is around WW II time, but it is unclear to me, we liberalized a bit. The general view of the restriction on women under scripture began to narrow, to just the worship assembly and the home (and not the workplace).
But we kept defending his view relative to the worship service.
Other evangelical denominations ordained women. Assemblies of God began in the 1930s.
In the early 90s, Everett Ferguson and his wife published an article (together in the GA) and an article (just him in RQ) trying to justify this by arguing that “everywhere” (panti topo) in 1 Tim 2:8 doesn’t mean “everywhere” but instead means just one specific place, the worship assembly, and that the reference there made the entire passage the same / similar scope as 1 Cor 14:34-35, directed to the assembly.
(ironic and illustrating, I think, btw, that Ferguson argues that the everyday, ho-hum term for “everywhere” – panti topo — means one very, very specific place, while this highly unusual, used only once in the Bible term — authentein – in 1 Tim 2:12 means very broadly all forms of authority, per Ferguson instead of the very specific form of authority and teaching about which Paul said he was writing Timothy at the beginning of the letter (1 Tim 1:1-8, teaching of false doctrine while acting like a teacher of the law (high authority) while not knowing what they are talking about). It would be amusing if it didn’t harm so many people.)
Southern Baptists started ordaining women in the 60s I think. In the early 80s, with the Moral Majority push, the fundamentalists took over the Southern Baptist Convention and voted to no longer ordain them. Several groups broke off.
They just prohibited relative to ordained roles, pastor and deacon in their arrangement (not as to speaking, teaching, or leading altogether).
The push was on in the 70s and 80s to justify all that and a whole “equal in dignity and worth, just different roles” theory developed to justify it via Piper, Grudem, Council on Biblical Manhood, etc. This was new.
Churches of Christ folks adopted pieces of that because there were reams written on it. But we were still just doing the same thing we had been doing since the 1800s.
Over the years, in the GA and in the churches, the practice isn’t discussed much and when it is, it isn’t addressed with resources that do anything but cheer on what we are doing.
Today, folks are still defending the practice in the worship assembly the CoC adopted in the 1800s on a foundation comprising female inequality and distrust of women & people today are using other arguments to defend it that don’t square with the practice but keep defending us it anyway.
Defense is a key word. We want ourselves and the good folks who came before us and who are around us to have been doing and to be doing the right thing. So defend, defend, defend, instead of an objective look.
And that’s an outline of our history, as I see, in a nutshell. I’ve left a bunch out and it’s long already …..
I will add that history also shows that complementarian arguments that egalitarians are merely trying to conform to culture is shown false by the historical record.
First, “the culture” was heavily discriminatory against women and girls at the time the Bible was written and in the centuries after. Women were viewed as inferior. The Bible was counter-culture in that respect, showing women leading, speaking to, having authority over, and teaching men.
But secular culture influenced the actions of church leaders and they, beginning in the 2nd century, taught that women were inferior, sin-causing, and deceivable and interpreted a couple of passages in the Bible to exclude women’s service in the church. Catholic leaders sustained this and incorporated it into its doctrine, and the Catholic church had a monopoly on doctrine for centuries.
Thus, church culture became like secular culture.
This article discusses some of the origins of that anti-female secular culture:
The secular culture through those centuries continued to proclaim women as inferior and treat them as such. The origin of much of this is discussed here: https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/ancient-roots-western-sexism?platform=hootsuite
And the Christian leaders through those centuries continued to proclaim women as inferior and treat them as such.
There were some female leaders, following scripture and engaging in counter-secular-culture and counter-church-culture activities, through those centuries. See, e.g., https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/are-egalitarians-giving-contemporary-culture
But the Catholic church continued to have hegemony on church doctrine, which proclaimed women and girls inferior and prohibited them from church leadership.
Then, as described above, the Protestant Reformation kicked off, about 500 years ago.
Secular culture was still the same — anti-female — but women began to be ordained, based on scripture.
Secular culture was still the same — anti-female — in the 18th century, but women continued to be ordained and even some in the Churches of Christ spoke out that scripture asks for female participation.
The Churches of Christ adjusted its doctrine on women, to accommodate women working outside the home, being supervisors in the workplace, etc., in the 1940s-1960s.
Today, secular culture is still discriminatory against women. That is why there have been laws passed and why there are so many efforts made to counter discrimination against women. So things are changing in secular culture, to uphold equality of women.
J.W. McGarvey and Phillip Y. Pendleton on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans (1916), pp. 142 – 144): “[This is usually regarded as a very difficult passage, but the difficulties are more seeming than real, if we regard it as a general rule. Paul gives two reasons why the women should keep silence: 1. The Old Testament law made her subject to her husband,  and hence not a teacher, but a pupil. 2. The customs of the age made it a shameful thing for a woman to speak in public. Of these, of course, the first is the weightier, and yet we find exceptions to the rule in both dispensations. There were several prophetesses who exercised their gifts in public (Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Isa. 8:3; Neh. 6:14; Luke 1:41, 42; 2:36-38; Acts 21:9). Moreover, the fullness of prophetic endowment granted to the New Testament church was matter of prophecy (Acts 2:17), and Paul himself gives directions as to the attire of women when exercising the prophetic office in the church (ch. 11:5). Paul’s rule, then, admits of exceptions. Some would do away with the rule entirely as obsolete on the ground that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28); but this is undoubtedly unwarranted, for while the gospel emancipated woman, it did not change her natural relation so as to make her the equal of man. The powers of woman have become so developed, and her privileges have been so extended in gospel lands, that it is no longer shameful for her to speak in public; but the failing of one reason is not the cessation of both. The Christian conscience has therefore interpreted Paul’s rule rightly when it applies it generally, and admits of exceptions. The gift of prophecy no longer exists in the church, but, by the law of analogy, those women who have a marked ability, either for exhortation or instruction, are permitted to speak in the churches. Moreover, the apostle is speaking of the regular, formal meeting of the church; and it is doubtful if his law was ever intended to apply to informal gatherings such as prayer-meetings, etc. There is some weight to the comment that to understand the apostle we should know the ignorance, garrulity and degradation of Oriental women. Again, women are indeed subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 2:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1). The law is permanent, but the application of it may vary. If man universally gives the woman permission to speak, she is free from the law in this respect.] 36 What? [An exclamation of indignation] was it from you that the word of God went forth? or came it unto you alone? [Becoming  puffed up by the fullness of their spiritual gifts, the Corinthians were acting as if they were the parent church and only church. They were assuming the right to set precedent and dictate customs, when it was their duty to conform to the precedents and customs established before they came into existence. Their pretensions needed this indignant rebuke. Others were to be considered besides themselves, others who had sounded out the word which they had received–1 Thess. 1:8]. 37 If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. 38 But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant. [Since Paul’s words were dictated by the Spirit of God, any one filled with that Spirit would be guided to recognize his words as of divine authority, for the Spirit would not say one thing to one man and another to another. But if any man was so incorrigibly obstinate as to refuse to be enlightened by what the Spirit spoke through the apostle, there was no further appeal to be made to him (Matt. 15:14; 1 Tim. 6:3-5). Paul’s test is still of force. Whoso professes to be inspired, yet contradicts what the Spirit of God has already said in the New Testament, is self-convicted. These verses mark the division between Catholics and Protestants. The former say in effect that the Spirit-filled prophets at Corinth could modify, alter, and even deny what was spoken by the Spirit-filled Paul; for they hold that the pope can change the Scriptures to suit himself. But Protestants hold that a man shows himself to be led of the Spirit of God when he assents and conforms to that which has been spoken by men of undoubted inspiration.] 39 Wherefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 But let all things be done decently and in order. [Paul concludes with a recapitulation. The higher gift is to be sought and the lower gift is not to be prohibited. But as a caution against the abuse of the lower gift, he lays down that rule of order and decorum which the church has too often forgotten to her sorrow.]”
David Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, Vol. XV, No. 38 (September 25, 1873), p. 910: “ln the worship each one is to do what under the guidance of the elders he is fitted to perform. His talents must be cultivated. A very common and hurtful error is that the bishops or elders are to do all the worship, and to attend to all the cases of necessity
iu the community. This is a mistake fatal to the life of the church. Their duty is to direct the younger in the conduct of both the worship and the work of the congregation. Every member ought to be called upon to read a verse, sing a hymn, pray, give thanks— ask or answer a question of Scripture teaching, report a case of need, relieve one, visit the sick, report some one needing Scripture teaching, confess a wrong or be sent to minister to the necessity of some one suffering. ….”
David Lipscomb, “Queries,” Gospel Advocate, Vol. XVIII, No. 45 (November 16, 1876), pp. 1110-1111 (appears to refer to the “quiet meeting” or a meeting “with our Lord’s Day meeting” — sounds akin to Sunday School or a Bible Class or a group discussion, rather than the public assembly)
Note Restoration Library online at Tennessee Bible College: https://www.tn-biblecollege.edu/resources/restoration-history-library/
As an aside, while David Lipscomb is known for a pacifist approach, I am not completely confident it wasn’t motivated at least in part by trying to get the Northern Christians not to go to war against the South or to allow the South to continue in its ways. See, e.g., the Gospel Advocates from 1860 and 1861, e.g., 1861 No. 2.
All scripture quoted is from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise indicated.
The wife of noble character described in Proverbs 31 is responsible for a lot more than cleaning the house and raising children!
31:16 – she buys a field and plants a vineyard.
31:20 -she extends her hand to the poor and reaches out to the needy.
31:24 – she makes linen garments and sales them.
31:26 – she opens her mouth with wisdom and loving instruction is on her tongue.
31:31 – give her credit for what she has accomplished and let her works praise her in the city gates.
In The Gospel of John, after the disciples argued over status, Jesus washed their feet, an act of service. Today I see Christian women leading major services efforts and personally providing for those in need. What would Jesus say is more important, leading worship or leading in serving those in need?
Thanks for your comment. No doubt! v.31 is interesting, too, because a lot of the interpreters favoring excluding women writing in the late 1800s and early 1900s say that part of what underlies their interpretations is the “Biblical mandate for women to avoid publicity.” (they say that, not me!) I think a lot of that grows out of men’s uncomfort with women increasing their public role — public and growing involvement in the temperence movement, women seeking the right to vote, etc.
On whether Jesus would say leading worship or leading in serving those in need is more important — He would definintely say something much
more insightful than what I would have to offer. My instinct was to say the latter, immediately. But here’s a go at a better answer….
I had two thoughts. The first is Matthew 22:36-39:
““Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
So, “Love your God” — worship, I suppose — is rather important, even compared with loving your neighbor.
My second thought is that you’ve asked a trick question!
Leading worship ** is ** leading in serving those in need. There are plenty in need in the pews. Leading worship is another form of service.
So I think he would say, yes, they are more important 🙂
While you came at it a little different, I was trying to make two points with the question. 1) Women lead in very important Christian roles today and to the degree everything we do as Christians, should be and is a type of worship, they lead in worship. 2) Leading in worship is not a “status” or “rank”. Men do not have a higher status by leading in worship services. Service and an attitude of selflessness, whether in worship (services) or in service (worship) would have an equivalent level of importance. Much of the disagreement we have on women’s roles would not create issues if we all had that unselfish attitude. IMHO
Thank you Tom. Insightful comments. On 1, agreed, indeed, they do!
On 2, yes, agreed, what we call “leading worship” is not supposed to be a status or rank.
If folks viewed it the same as you, that “leading worship” is not a status or rank, then much of the issue would resolve.
Understanding “leading worship” as an act of service that people do for one another, with an attitude of selflessness, is a great way to look at it.
I appreciate the research and time you have put into shedding light onto this sensitive subject. As a woman raised in the Church of Christ who is just now discovering her voice, I thank you.
Thank you for those kind words, April. I appreciate them very much.
And I am very glad to hear that you are discovering your voice!