A growing number of Church of Christ congregations have, after closely studying scripture, lifted their prohibition on women speaking in the worship assembly and teaching adult Sunday School.
Over half of the Church of Christ-affiliated colleges have also changed to allow women to speak in their worship services.
A list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ is maintained by Wiley Clarkson at Where the Spirit Leads.
Several congregations making this change published resources—videos of classes, sermons, Q&A sessions, and announcements, manuscripts discussing scripture, reference lists, decision statements, etc.—reflecting their scripture study.
Below is a list of 10 of them (there are more and these are in no particular order), including a link to such resources and a brief excerpt.
10 Examples of Congregations Making This Change
1. Sycamore View Church of Christ (Memphis, TN)
“We believe that to not move forward regarding both males and females fully participating in our worship settings is not in keeping with the practice and spirit of the New Testament record, nor is it in keeping with the calling of the Holy Spirit. …
We do want to clearly state that although the New Testament provides examples of women speaking, teaching, proclaiming, prophesying, and praying in the early church, we see that the specific roles of elder and evangelist (what we refer to as the role of our “full-time preacher”) were not open to both men and women. We will continue to follow that New Testament practice and example at Sycamore View.”
2. Southern Hills Church of Christ (Abilene, TX)
After “a 19-month period of prayer, study, reading, and discussion to try to make sense of this tension within the New Testament and in our own inconsistent practices … to the best of our understanding, the two restrictive texts in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 were originally intended to be specific responses to particular worship situations in Corinth and Ephesus. They were not originally intended to be universal declarations regarding worship for all churches for all times.
… Now, as one body, your shepherds bless and empower both men and women who have the desire and giftedness to participate in roles of service in our worship gatherings and in the life of our church. Our collective understanding of scripture leads us to affirm that the roles of elder and preaching minister will continue to be filled only by men. Aside from these two roles, … roles of service … previously filled only by men will now be filled at times by men, at times by women, and at times by both ….”
3. Providence Road Church of Christ (Charlotte, NC)
“… I Timothy 2:11-12 … At issue are the words “to teach” and “exercise authority.” The focus on authority seems clearer when we note that Paul directly follows this section with instructions about elders. They were the final teaching authority in the church. Again, we find that the authoritative teaching of church leadership, through the decisions of the elders on Biblical interpretation and through the preaching of the Word from the pulpit, seems to be at the core of Paul’s restrictions. …
In order for us to be as effective as possible in bring people to Jesus and using all the gifts available to the church, we believe it is the right thing at this time for us to remove the restrictions that have kept women from serving the Lord’s Supper, reading the scriptures and praying in our assemblies. We continue to believe that the role of elder or preacher is one that scripture calls for men to fill.”
4. Meadowbrook Church of Christ (Jackson, MS)
“At Meadowbrook, the elders are unified that female Christians in the congregation may serve in any role where they are gifted & willing except for the roles of Senior Minster/Preacher & Elder/Shepherd….
As one body, the elder group concluded that the Bible teaches full equality of men and women in status, giftedness, and opportunity for ministry and that the church is best served when men and women share responsibilities and serve together as complementary partners.
… Although we affirm full equality of men and women, we are also mindful of the flock. As such, the elders have agreed that 1) those who serve as elders and 2) the preaching minister are to be male only. Following the model of Acts 15, we have deferentially chosen to withhold these two roles for the sake of unity in our church family. …”
5. Glenwood Church of Christ (Tyler, TX)
“Other than the roles of preacher and elder, which are not under consideration by this eldership, we agree that scripture does permit increased roles for women in the worship service, and our services will begin to reflect that.
We want to assure you that the elders and staff are well aware of the need for sensitivity as any changes are made so as not to cause offense, if possible. We grieve for those who have already taken offense due to this study, some of whom have left our assemblies. The unity of this body as we work and worship together is crucial to our witness to the world around us for the sake of the gospel. We believe in encouraging each member to utilize their God-given gifts in worship. And service is also crucial to the spiritual development of this congregation. … Let’s continue our work together for the glory of God. Grace and peace to us all.”
6. Manhattan Church of Christ (New York, NY)
“We believe that the scriptures never intended to SILENCE women in general or in any aspect of the church’s work, public or private. Rather, the scriptures show that it is imperative that the church today make FULL USE of the spiritual gifts of both WOMEN and MEN….”
7. Oak Hills Church (San Antonio, TX)
“Following the report of the Coordinating Committee, the entire elder body (61 in total)
commenced a review and study …. [T]he complete body of elders was asked to consider and cast their vote on two issues:
1) Based on my study and understanding of scripture, women may serve in any and all areas of Oak Hills Church public worship.
2) Based on my study and understanding of scripture, women may serve as elders of
the Oak Hills Church.
Issue one was decided in the affirmative by the elders, while issue two was not affirmed. While neither of the issues was decided by unanimous vote, both were determined by clear majorities. …”
8. Fourth Avenue Church of Christ (Franklin, TN)
“We believe the Bible and we desire to read it in context, always asking whether a statement is descriptive, normative, or authoritative. … [T]hey were meant to address specific concerns in a specific location and were not meant to apply to all women in every place throughout the centuries.
… [A] consistent, in context reading of scripture will not allow us to shut women out of public roles. For example, in First Timothy 2 … tells us that men are to pray with holy hands raised and that women are not to have elaborate hairstyles or jewelry. Most churches will tell you that those latter statements were not meant to limit how we pray or dress today. If so, then we must also believe that Paul’s statement on women teaching is also limited to the situation he was trying to address at the time. … Paul felt the need to address the situation in Ephesus with several commands, most of which we do not apply to ourselves or to our congregations.”
9. Highland Church of Christ (Abilene, TX)
“Paul’s instructions in l Timothy 2.8-15 are:
- Men lift up holy hands when they pray
- Women dress modestly and decently in suitable clothing
- Women not have their hair braided
- Women not to wear gold, pearls, or expensive clothes
- Women to do good works
- Women learn in silence
- Women not to teach or have authority over a man
- Women will be saved through childbearing, providing they continue in faith and holiness, with modesty
… Must we insist that all men lift up holy hands when they pray? … Must women not have their hair braided? Must women not wear gold, pearls, or expensive clothes? … When and where must women learn in silence-at home, at meals, visiting with friends, studying in classes, in Bible classes, in public assemblies, etc.? … If women do not have children, will they be lost? … [W]e have concluded that the instructions in I Timothy 2.8-15 are cultural and situational, not eternal truths. …
Most of those who left Highland refused to discuss this issue from the start. After much study and discussion, at least 95 percent of the members not only remained at Highland, but also enthusiastically supported the decisions the entire church decided upon.”
10. Springfield Church of Christ (Springfield, VA)
“… Timothy 2:12. … contains a Greek construction … — “teach and have authority” — join to create one thought. … [T]he prohibition is against “bossy” or domineering teaching by women. Paul forbids this kind of teaching …. Others find … [it] to mean simply that only men should hold some “authoritative” positions, such as elders/shepherds and preachers. … [W]e observed that these texts did not silence women to the extreme reflected in our past practices. So, while tradition may call for women to be silent in worship, there is evidence that Scripture does not call for such silence.
Therefore, the shepherds … invite women to join with men in serving the church in public roles. In recognition that I Timothy 2:12 can reasonably be taken in different ways, women will not serve as preaching ministers or as elders here, but do serve in other public ways. Our hope is that the Springfield Church of Christ, as the Bride of Christ, will bring glory to God as godly women add their gifts and voices to her ministry.”
Conclusion for Part 1
When did your congregation engage in a deep study and discussion of this issue—-one that did not simply consult sources designed to defend and confirm what your congregation already does, but instead took an objective, hard look at and used multiple resources fairly addressing both sides, that sought to understand reasons churches do not prohibit women from speaking, and that engaged in extended discussions about the topic with people who do not simply affirm what you already thought?
Who was it with? Was it congregation wide? What resources and people who discussed the “other side” did you use that were not inclined to confirm what you previously thought and did? How much time was spent engaged with them and talking about the scripture?
Or does (a) not wanting to take the time to study the issue in depth, (b) peer and denominational pressure to continue the practice, (c) fear that some adults might go to another church if it is brought up, (d) overly relying on decisions trusted men who came before made, (e) fear of finding out that current practice is wrong, or (f) insensitivity to sex discrimination due to its normalization in the church keep your congregation from discussing it?
Ironically, it is these 10 churches and others like them that will endure lots of criticism asserting these churches are (a) ignoring the meaning of scripture, (b) caving to cultural pressure, (c) putting attracting people ahead of God’s commands, (d) following man-made decisions rather than God’s, (e) engaged in sin, and (f) not paying attention to God’s will for women.
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Sources and Notes
For a discussion regarding scripture on this issue, see Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 22, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Timothy 2:12 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018).
A list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ is maintained by Wiley Clarkson at Where the Spirit Leads.
Picture from pixabay.com — by bearinthenorth.
Mark 12:29-31 (KJV): “29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
Note: The Highland discussion quoted is from early/mid 2000s discussion, not any current discussion (3/26).