Under a CENI approach, the Bible expresses God’s will that women should actively serve (what some call lead) in worship assemblies that include men and women—both men and women should read scripture, speak, teach, preach, lead prayer, lead singing, and otherwise actively serve in mixed worship assemblies, per CENI.

This will surprise many within the Churches of Christ, primarily because the vast majority of the Churches of Christ prohibit women from so serving and CENI is often associated with fundamentalism today .

This article introduces the basics of CENI (direct Command, binding or approved Example, and Necessary Inference)—an approach to determining God’s will via the Bible—and sets out the main scripture cited for prohibiting women from actively serving in a mixed worship assembly.  It then quotes 13 scripture passages that authorize women to actively serve in a mixed worship assembly under a CENI approach, considers their import, and concludes by discussing some implications.

CENI Introduced

CENI is a short-hand label signaling a certain methodology for determining God’s will via the Bible that is sometimes used within the Churches of Christ, particularly by fundamentalists.  CENI generally signals something more than simply analyzing scripture for commands, examples, and inferences, instead also signaling a distinct use of such analysis and of particular assumptions and standards to yield strict rules for life and church.

In general, such a CENI approach includes the view that unless an action is authorized in the Bible, it is a sin to engage in the action, and that no action is authorized unless the Bible (i) directly commands the action, (ii) sets out a binding (or approved) example of the action, or (iii) discusses matters such that it is a necessary inference that the action is commanded or approved.

In the view of some who apply CENI, it is not enough that the Bible sets out an example of the action in positive terms.  Instead, for them, such example is binding or approved under CENI only if Jesus or an apostle (Peter, Paul, etc.) indicates it is binding or approved.

A “necessary” inference is a difficult standard to meet under CENI—that the inference is reasonable or likely is not enough to make it necessary.  Instead, it is necessary only if “the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible” or “the implication in the premises is so strong that the conclusion is sure.”  ([1])

Essentially, under such a CENI approach, an action is a sin unless the Bible very clearly authorizes it.

CENI Use

CENI has been used to designate as unauthorized and sinful things like youth ministers, fellowship halls with a kitchen, children’s church, using multiple cups during communion, missionary societies, denominational names (like Baptist), clapping in church, and pianos in the worship assembly.

Some assert that CENI is the only way to know God’s will, arguing it is the only method of Biblical interpretation ordained by God, Jesus and Paul instructed us to use it, and there is no other method that removes “personal interpretation” from Biblical interpretation.  While we may not like what God’s will is shown to be through CENI, we are bound to follow God’s will instead of man-made doctrine, they declare.

Others roundly criticize the CENI hermeneutic and assert that it results in a legalistic, fear-based life and in an attempt to govern other people that God does not intend.  It is not the analyzing of scripture for commands, examples, and inferences that is criticized, nor is it the following of some commands, examples, and inferences that is criticized (following the example of Jesus is not criticized, for instance).  Instead, it is the distinct use of such analysis in combination with certain regulative assumptions and standards (such as that any action not very specifically authorized in the Bible is a sin) to proclaim and insist on various rules for everyone that is criticized.

This distinct use is criticized as reading all literary forms in the Bible like a rule book, ignoring grace and love, ignoring that we are made in God’s image, turning first-century culture into God’s divine will, emphasizing the often-informal words of men in letters over the example of Christ, devaluing Christ’s sacrifice, and (ironically) creating man-made doctrine.

CENI’s Use Today

CENI was a predominant approach within the Churches of Christ for decades.  The intensity has faded, but it is still applied strictly in many quarters.  Today, a tremendous number of people—probably including you—use all or some of CENI in their thinking without knowing it, as CENI’s elements are frequently repeated by their Sunday School teachers and fellow church members, mostly because that is what their teachers and members heard from their Sunday School teachers and other church members, and a passing on and reinforcement of tradition occurs.

CENI, its echoes, or some of its elements can today be found in many discussions within the Churches of Christ regarding topics like what the scripture “authorizes,” emulating “the New Testament church,” “the Biblical definition” of a term, and following “the pattern given” in the Bible.

CENI is certainly a very conservative approach.  What does its application say about women serving in the worship assembly?

Plain Meaning:  Women Prohibited From Speaking in the Assembly

Women actively serve in worship assemblies in which men are present in some Churches of Christ and in most colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ, but the vast majority of Churches of Christ prohibit women from actively serving in their worship assembly—women are not allowed to read scripture, lead prayer, serve at the communion table, lead singing, or preach.

This exclusion is viewed as God’s will as expressed in two passages, a typical English translation of which are:

  • “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”  (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) (NIV)
  • “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”  (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

The rule that women must not read scripture, lead prayer, preach, etc., in a mixed worship assembly is plainly and clearly set out in these passages and ought to be obeyed regardless of how we feel about it, as it is God’s will and we are called to demonstrate our faith and trust in God and in the Word of God by following this rule, according to many within the Churches of Christ.

CENI tells a different story …

It will surprise many to learn that under a CENI approach, the Bible expresses God’s will that women should actively serve (what some call lead) in mixed worship assemblies—that they should read scripture, lead prayer, preach, etc., in the Sunday morning assembly.

That is, many within the Churches of Christ will find it surprising that a faithful application of CENI—an approach associated with fundamentalist thinking—yields the rule that women should not be restricted from speaking, teaching, and otherwise fully serving in mixed worship assemblies.

This is contrary to expectations and different from the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 and is explained below.

13 Passages with CENI

Below are 13 scripture passages, each introduced through the lens of a CENI approach, that constitute direct commands, binding (or approved) examples, and necessary inferences for women to actively serve in a mixed worship assembly (to speak, preach, teach, lead prayer, read scripture, lead singing, etc.).

Approved examples of, or commands for, women—part of “the whole church,” “everyone,” “brothers and sisters,” and “all”—speaking, prophesying, singing a hymn, teaching, reading scripture, preaching, and having authority in a mixed worship assembly:

(1)    The Apostle Paul said, when “the whole church comes together … if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin …. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you!’”  (1 Cor 14:23-25; see also 1 Cor 11:5, 14:6, 20) (all scripture from NIV unless otherwise specified)

(2)    Paul said, when “brothers and sisters … come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. …” (1 Cor 14:26) (NIV)

(3)    Paul said, in the assembly, women and men, “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor 14:31; see also 14:23, 26, 39-40; 11:5; 1:1-2) (NIV)

Women commanded to speak, teach, speak scripture, and sing to men: 

(4)    Paul said, to women and men, “… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord ….” (Eph 5:18-20)

(5)    Paul said, to women and men, “… teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God ….” (Col 3:16)

Women (and men) commanded to teach everyone, everywhere (not just their own sex and not just outside a worship assembly) with a necessary inference of reading scripture and speaking about Christ: 

(6)    Jesus said “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ….” (Matt 28:19 (KJV))

Women commanded to serve all with speaking and other gifts with a command or necessary inference of no blanket exclusion as to time, place, or audience as they are commanded to do so “as one who speaks the very words of God”:

(7)   The Apostle Peter said, to women and men, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,”—not just other women—“as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.  If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. ….”  (1 Peter 4:10-11) (NIV)

Approved example of a woman praying and prophesying before a mixed group:

(8)  Joseph and Mary “marveled at what was said about [Jesus].  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel ….’  There was also a prophet, Anna ….  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:33-38; see also 1 Cor 11:5, 16)

Women commanded, as part of “every one,” to speak, including prophesying and praying, in a mixed assembly:

(9)    The Apostle Paul said, to women and men, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy … so that the church may be edified.”  (1 Cor 14:5; see also 1 Cor 1:1-2; 11:5; 14:23, 26, 39-40)  Speaking in tongues included prayer.  (e.g., 1 Cor 14:14 (“For if I pray in a tongue ….”))

Women commanded to pray out loud in a mixed assembly with an approved example and necessary inference from Paul wanting all to pray with “understanding” (out loud, regular way, not in tongues):  

(10)  The Apostle Paul, after telling women and men, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy,” describes “build[ing] up the church,” including telling them “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.  So what shall I do?  I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?  You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.”  (1 Cor 14:5, 12-17; see also 1:1-2; 14:6, 23, 26)

Approved example of a woman having authority over men and teaching assembled men about scripture and God’s message:

(11)  “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.  He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest [and others of his men]:  ‘Go and inquire of the Lord … about what is written in this book that has been found. ….’  [They] went to speak to the prophet Huldah, …. She said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  Tell the man who sent you to me … [teaching of prophecy given].”  (2 Kings 22:11-20)

Approved example of women speaking, praying, and prophesying in the churches:

(12)   The Apostle Paul said, “I praise you …. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head ….  Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? … For long hair is given to her as a covering.  If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”  (1 Cor 11:2, 4-5, 13-16)  “In the following … I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.  … I hear that when you come together as a church, … [discussing challenges then with their practice of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly].”  (1 Cor 11:17-34)

Command and approved example for women to speak to and teach assembled men about Christ and having authority over them (e.g., telling them what Christ wants them to do):  

(13)  Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, who said:  “’Go … to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘  Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ … she told them that he had said these things to her.”  (John 20:17-18)  “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:8-10)

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CENI Reveals Women Should Actively Serve in the Worship Assembly … 

Thus, the Bible tells women via CENI to …

  • prophesy (passages 1-3, 8, 9, 11, and 12 above = pr),
  • have “a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (2),
  • speak “with psalms, hymns, and songs” (4, 5),
  • lead singing (2, 4, 5, 7),
  • “go … and teach all” the Gospel (6),
  • speak to serve men and women “as one who speaks the very words of God” (7, pr),
  • preach (1-3, 6-9, 11-13),
  • lead prayer (8-10, 12),
  • speak in tongues (2, 9),
  • teach (1-3, 8, 11, 13, pr),
  • read scripture (2, 4-5, 7, 11, pr), and
  • have authority (7, 11, 13, all) …

… to and for men and women in the assembly.[2]

There are passages beyond these 13 with CENIs in a similar vein.

Some will say that the setting of passages 6-8 and 11-13 is not in “the” assembly in the sense of “the church.”  Some argue passage 12 is not in a mixed assembly but evidence strongly points to it being in the full church (see commentary on the various passages in Sources & Notes below).  There is little disputing that passages 8, 11, and 13 depict mixed groups who are praising or striving to serve God, so the distinction seems strained.  The remaining two (6 and 7, the Great Commission and serving “as one who speaks the very words of God”) on their face apply to all reasonable—and maybe unreasonable—times and places.  A few will argue passages 4-5 do not refer to in the assembly, but even very conservative Church of Christ scholars say they do (see Sources & Notes below).

“Plainly” Diverted …

Oddly, many of the same people who ostensibly apply CENI—which emphasizes an analytical view of interpretation—take an extremely non-analytical view of the two passages used to exclude women from speaking in the assembly, 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15.

Instead, they often simply quote parts of certain English translations of the two and declare them to “plainly” or “clearly” state God’s will even though:

(a)  the briefest study of those verses reveals they do not have the “plain” meaning (for instance, women, while in the churches, both sing and ask to be prayed for and baptized even though the verses say “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, ….  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.”)—instead, those verses have a “technical,” “special,” or “highly contextual” meaning, one requiring interpretative study (one such study is here);

(b)  even very conservative scholars—e.g., Wayne Jackson, Everett Ferguson, John  Piper, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, …—do not advocate that they have their “plain” meaning (see endnote [3] in Sources & Notes); and

(c)  other scripture, including the 13 passages above, and Church-of-Christ practice directly contradict a “plain meaning” interpretation of those two passages, suggesting the “plain meaning” interpretation is incorrect (see an introduction here).

The Plain-Meaning Approach is Not a CENI approach

Such people are not truly applying the CENI approach because, among other things, they are

(a) not determining what commands, examples, and inferences are actually contained in 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 in the first place, choosing instead to hew to “plain meaning,” knowing that the verses do not have their plain meaning (one conservative Church of Christ scholar explains that use of CENI is valid “after we have used other principles of hermeneutics to understand its meaning” and that the first step is “determining what the passage meant to those who first received it”[4]);

(b) favoring the Church of Christ tradition of excluding women over and above scripture like the 13 discussed above when a CENI approach is supposed to reject man-made doctrine for the Bible’s instructions; and

(c)  rejecting using scriptural analysis to determine what 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15 mean when CENI requires an analytical approach (e.g., to determine inferences, to determine if an example is authorized, to determine if an inference is “necessary,” etc.).

Scriptural analysis reveals it is highly likely the verses in these passages said to exclude women mean:

  • 1 Cor 14:34-35:  Married women are asked not to speak disruptive questions (maybe questions about prophecy and judging it); instead they are supposed to ask their husbands at home.  To do otherwise causes a disgrace.  (analysis here and here)
  • 1 Tim 2:12:  I do not permit a woman to teach uninformed, false doctrine that disturbs the peace and that involves an exercise of seized power in a domineering way that creates conflict with a man; instead, any teaching, etc., must be peaceful.  (analysis here)

Multiple Churches of Christ and other churches, colleges, and Biblical scholars, through careful study of the Bible, have concluded that 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 have such meanings or similar meanings (and not the plain meaning of what is reflected in many common English translations).[5]  Such meanings do not call for the exclusion of women from actively serving in the worship assembly.

Conclusion

Thus a CENI approach shows it is God’s will that women actively serve—what some call lead—in a mixed worship assembly by leading prayer, reading scripture, preaching, leading singing, etc.  Since a CENI approach is one of the—if not the—strictest hermeunetic approaches to scripture, it stands to reason that if a CENI approach shows women ought to actively serve in the worship assembly, then women ought to actively serve in the worship assembly.

Simply citing plain meaning and relying on tradition regarding scripture might be easy but it does not constitute a yearning for and truly seeking God’s will in scripture, under a CENI approach or any other.

And it does not constitute loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” nor does asserting restrictions using scripture in such a manner constitute loving “your neighbor as yourself.”  Commands, no doubt!  (The Greatest Commandment, Matthew 22:37-40.)

Moreover, prohibiting a woman from fully serving in the assembly blocks her from loving—worshiping—the Lord her God with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her mind, as Christ asked her to do.  And it blocks her from loving her neighbor as herself, from serving her neighbor in the assembly, as Christ asked her to do.  Commands, no doubt!  

The main question is that now that you know the Bible—and even CENIs—shows it is God’s will that women actively serve in the worship assembly by leading prayer, reading scripture, preaching, leading singing, etc., what are you going to do?

 

 


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Additional commentary on each of the 13 passages can be found in the (lengthy!) Sources & Notes section.

Sources & Notes

 

All scripture quoted is from the NIV translation unless otherwise specified.