Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, one of the largest Churches of Christ congregations in the United States, announced this month that both women and men will preach in its worship services.  Previously, it prohibited women from preaching.  After scripture study, the elders found “scripture supported a woman preaching in our assembly,” reports Loretta Fulton in a special to the Abilene Reporter News, part of the USA Today Network.

Women Preaching Elsewhere in Church of Christ Settings

Fulton reports on two other Church of Christ congregations in which women preach in the same article, The Refuge Church of Christ and the Minter Lane Church of Christ.

Women preach in chapel at most Church of Christ colleges now, while a minority—including Faulkner and Freed-Hardeman— still completely prohibit women from not only preaching but also from leading singing, reading scripture, and leading prayer in their chapel services when men are present.

Churches of Christ Nearly Alone in Christianity in Prohibiting Women This Way

The vast majority of Churches of Christ completely prohibit women from speaking and leading in their worship services and from teaching men and boys over the age of 10 in Sunday School.

The Churches of Christ are nearly alone in Christianity in completely prohibiting women and girls this way.  Some denominations do not ordain women as senior pastors or priests, but they generally do not completely prohibit women from reading scripture, leading singing, teaching Sunday School, and similar roles — and from preaching in some cases.

Many evangelical denominations (e.g., Assemblies of God, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene) and nearly all mainline denominations (e.g., Methodist) ordain female pastors.

Hardly any denomination in Christianity completely bans women from speaking and serving up front like the Churches of Christ does.

It is common in Islam to completely prohibit women from speaking and leading in its worship service.  But it is not uniformly done in Islam.

Growing Recognition of Long-Term Harm to Young Girls; Reports of Trauma

A recent study found that having only male congregational-leaders causes long-term harm to many of the young girls in the congregation.  It reported that adult women who had only male congregational-leaders growing up had, as an effect, (1) lower self-esteem (associated with more depression and anxiety), (2) less education, (3) higher unemployment, and (4) more of an authoritarian and judgmental view of God (associated with negative psychological health), on average, than men and than women who had influential female congregational-leaders growing up.

In another recent survey, an alarmingly high percentage of women in the Churches of Christ reported symptoms of trauma.

Growing Number of Churches of Christ Changed

Like Highland Church of Christ, a growing number of Churches of Christ congregations studied scripture and changed after concluding that prohibiting women and girls in this manner is simply following a tradition of man and is contrary to God’s word.  Highland made this particular determination years ago during studies and decided now is the time for implementation.

Many of the changing congregations found that Churches of Christ have given woefully insufficient attention to the great amount of scripture that asks women to speak to, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere.  And they concluded that when the few sentences to which people point to support the tradition of completely prohibiting women from speaking (1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12) are read in context, they do not mean women are completely prohibited from speaking.

Wrestling With Sin And Some Questions

Many people have concluded it is immoral and a sin to participate in worship services in which women and young girls are prohibited from speaking.

Is it moral to participate in a worship service in which black people are prohibited from speaking because of their race?

Then how can it be moral to participate in a service in which women and young girls are prohibited from speaking because of their sex, some of them ask?

(Remember, some Christians think a few sentences in the Bible mean God commands black people not to have authority over white people—the so-called Curse of Ham, Genesis 9:20-27—just like some Christians think a few sentences in the Bible mean God commands women to be prohibited from speaking in the worship service.)

Jesus asks women and men to love (worship) God with all their heart, mind, and soul and to love (serve) their neighbor.  This is the Greatest Commandment.   (Mark 12:28-31)

Isn’t blocking women from worshiping God with all their heart, mind, and soul, and loving and serving their neighbor in the worship service blocking women from doing what Jesus asks?  If women are blocked from leading singing, helping with communion, offering communion remarks, etc., they are blocked from worshiping with all their heart, mind, and soul and from serving their neighbor.

We are going to join in blocking women and young girls from doing what Jesus asks them to do —- joining in having women and girls instead stay silent and seated based on their sex?

And when God asks women over and over again in the Bible to speak to, lead, teach, and exercise authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere, isn’t blocking women from doing so a sin?  (click on the over and over link for 20+ scripture passages)

We are going to join in blocking women and young girls from doing what God asks them to do —- joining in having women and girls instead stay silent and seated based on their sex?

Would joining in having people stay silent and seated based on their race be immoral and a sin?

Christ’s Example 

Christ is the Word, sent into the world.  (John 1)  And Christ asks us to follow his example.  (John 13:13-16)

The first people to which the Word revealed the good news of the resurrection were women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.”  (John 20:16-17; Matt 28:9)

The Word revealed the resurrection to them, spoke Mary’s name, said “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” and told them “Do not be afraid.”  (John 20:16-17; Matthew 28:10).  

Christ said to them:  “’Go … to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ (John 20:17)  “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee ….” (Matt 28:10)

Mary Magdalene went to the assembled disciples and spoke to and taught them: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ … she told them that he had said these things to her.”  (John 20:17-18; see also Luke 24:9, 33; John 20:10, 19))

Christ thus tells women to go tell assembled men what the Word revealed to the women and what the Word wants the men to do.

But those who insist women not preach and teach to men tell women not to go tell assembled men what the Word revealed to the women and what the Word wants the men to do.

And those who dismiss this as “just” delivering or relaying a message denigrate what the message was, who the message was from, the occasion, and its importance.  The arrogance of dismissing it as “just” delivering a message is incredible.  The value of this simple message is incalculable.  This simple message preached ought never be met by such arrogance.

And the Greek terms for preacher simply mean a herald (a messenger bringing news), messenger, announcer, proclaimer, or the like in any event.  In other words, that Mary was a messenger bringing news of the gospel truth of Christ’s resurrection exactly means that she was a preacher, exactly as that term was used in the New Testament.  People insisting on more are putting their modern, non-New Testament, non-Biblical definition of preacher onto the matter.

Christ told women to go preach to men.  What are you doing?

Concluding Questions

So, in addition to the questions above, I will ask what example does Christ give us and are we following it?

And will we — Churches of Christ congregations — acknowledge that discriminating against women and girls this way is a sin, apologize to the women and girls in our congregations, repent, and change?

And if a congregation does not change or is not diligently working towards change in this regard, how can someone who realizes these things continue participating in good conscious, whether for their daughter or themselves or the people around them?


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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).

For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:12, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: 1 Timothy 2:12, “Teach or Usurp Authority” (Part 3),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 9, 2019).

For a discussion regarding female elders, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 3, 2019).

A list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ is maintained by Wiley Clarkson at Where the Spirit Leads.

This complete ban finds its roots in a substantial segment of the movement’s insistence through the 1800s and early 1900s on a traditional, narrow interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12, that women are prohibited from speaking, teaching, or having authority over men anywhere in public—-in the workplace, in government, in the military, in church, in conferences, in public, anywhere.  In the 20th century, the denomination narrowed it to apply just in the church, but pockets argue today it extends further.

Some are also not surprised about a negative, long-term impact of having young girls watch their moms and their female friends and themselves be barred from highly valued leadership and service solely due to their sex every Sunday for years and years.  It would come as no surprise that having young girls watch their moms and their female friends and themselves be discriminated against every Sunday for years would have a negative impact on those girls.  And having men and boys watch young girls be discriminated against in the church would, of course, impact how those young girls are treated in the workforce by those men and boys.

On other denominations, for example Baptist history on women preaching and ordination of women:  https://religionnews.com/2019/06/27/should-southern-baptist-women-be-preachers-a-centuries-old-controversy-finds-new-life/

(Before you dismiss this with thinking the Bible tells me so, remember that only a tiny percentage of Christians think that God commands women are completely prohibited from speaking and leading in the worship service.  I think around 4% of U.S. Christianity engages in this practice.  I suspect that that the percentage of Christians that believe in the Curse of Ham is smaller, but is not negligible.  It might approach that number. I hope it does not.)

I think it is about 4-5% of U.S. Christianity that completely excludes women from speaking and leading in the worship service, the lions share of which is the Churches of Christ. Most Amish and Primitive Baptist, some conservative Mennonite, a part of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, and Plymouth Brethren do the same as the CoC, is my understanding, but they are tiny groups. A much larger portion of the IFB comes close but generally allows women to lead singing by singing solos or in small groups up front. The only religious group of size besides Churches of Christ that *completely* excludes women from speaking and leading in the worship service that I could find is Islam, and it is not a monolithic practice for Islam — it’s cultural. My understanding is that most of the Orthodox faith traditions allow women to read scripture in their worship service, for example. If you know of anything different or any to add or take away from this list, or have any comments on it, I would appreciate hearing from you.  Please contact me via the Contact page.  Thank you.

See these passages for use of “preach” translated from the base word “talk” or “speak” / laleo:

Acts 14:25
Mark 2:2
Acts 13:42
Acts 8:25
Acts 11:19
Acts 16:6

Added 10/1: Many evangelical denominations (e.g., Assemblies of God, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene) and nearly all mainline denominations (e.g., Methodist) ordain female pastors.  See sources/notes here.

Updates:  9/17 1:19 pm (clarified timing of Highland’s decision); 9/20 8:06 am (made Wrestling section more readable; added last concluding question; clean up); 9/21 10:49 pm (removed Harding from list with Freed in light of comment, but unclear whether belongs or not; asked for clarification but not yet received); 10/5 added last two paragraphs to Christ’s example section and parenthetical.

Image by Lisa Runnells — Greyerbaby-2323 at Pixabay