“Unity” called for by many Churches of Christ congregations in “women’s roles” discussions is unbiblical.  “Unity” is sometimes given as a reason not to lift prohibitions on women and girls in a congregation or not to consider it in the first place.  Or “unity” is encouraged after announcing a decision, often after announcing at least some continued prohibitions.

This two-part article introduces part of the problem by describing how such “unity” normally does not comport with the unity for which Jesus prays before his arrest and how such “unity” can harm parts of the congregation.

The unity for which Jesus prays emphasizes unity between future believers — current and future non-believers who will believe in the future, all who will believe — and the church and himself.  (John 17:17-23)  In stark contrast,  the “unity” sought by many congregations relative to women’s roles focuses exclusively on people currently in that congregation, often on maintaining members of the congregation.

Sex discrimination against women and girls, like racial discrimination, repulses.

Sex discrimination — prohibiting women and girls from various ways of serving God in the church, having young girls watch their moms and all women be discriminated against every Sunday for years, refusing leadership positions to women, …. — repels future believers from unity with the church, with other believers, and with Jesus.

Thus, prohibiting women and girls from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the church is contrary to that which Jesus asks because doing so repels future believers from unity.  Prohibiting them is contrary to the Biblical unity for which Jesus prays.

Current congregants are in a position to do something about this, to lift such prohibitions, to facilitate the unity Jesus asks for.

Scripture Calls For Women to Speak, Lead, Teach, Exercise Authority

A common claim in the Churches of Christ is that there are 3 verses that completely prohibit women from speaking, leading, teaching, and exercising authority in the assembly.  But there are more than 20 passages in the Bible asking women to speak to, lead, teach, and exercise authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere, and about 97% of Christianity reject this common claim in the Churches of Christ.  The Churches of Christ is virtually alone in so claiming.

If we follow Jesus’s example and seek unity for future believers with the church and him, and we follow scripture, then complete elimination of prohibitions against women and girls in the church is necessary.

A growing number of Churches of Christ, after studying scripture, are realizing such a prohibition is a tradition of man and not scriptural.  Calls of “unity” focused on current congregants is one of the ways a tradition of man is maintained.

Continuing to maintain any such prohibition one more day opposes that for which Jesus prays.

Jesus on Unity:  Unify with Future Believers

Jesus, after praying to God the Father for his disciples, said,

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  (John 17:17-23)

Jesus prays that may those who will believe in him — may non-believers who come to believe in Jesus — be brought to unity with those who believe and with him. 

He emphasizes that the unity that deserves our attention is not the unity that is just for present believers, but for those who will believe in the future—those who are now unbelievers but will believe, children who are not yet believers, the people who are not yet born and will become believers, etc. 

Jesus asks “May they also be in us.”  — “May they,” Jesus asks — those now and future unbelievers who come to believe — “also be in us.”

PLEASE Jesus prays—  “May they also be in us.”  May they also be united with the believers and me.

He prays that all of this is for the purpose of “so that they may be brought to complete unity.”

PLEASE For “complete unity.”

Those future believers.

Us on “Unity”:  Drive Away Future Believers With Sex Discrimination in the Church

And what are we doing?  Driving away those future believers — those now and future unbelievers who will come to believe — by sex discrimination, by insisting on a tradition of sex discrimination, out of fear, out of neglect, out of pride, out of tradition, out of … ?

When Church of Christ leaders speak of “unity” regarding women’s roles in the church, they are normally referring to unity among families currently attending the congregation, not to future believers not currently attending.  And they are typically referring to a desire for those families currently attending to get along, be happy, and not depart the congregation.  And the focus is often on the members and the long-time members in decision-making.

Such unity is often given overriding value, provided as a reason, for example, not to consider removing prohibitions on women and girls in the church.  “Unity” is sometimes given as a reason to continue prohibiting women from certain roles, such as preacher and elder.

In contrast, Jesus fervently prays this prayer right before the betrayal he knew was coming, immediately before that fateful kiss from Judas and his arrest.  (John 17-18)

For what does he ask?  Jesus asks for the unity of future believers — people who are now unbelievers (and people yet to be born) who will believe in Jesus — with the church and with Jesus.

Jesus’s prayer is a call to action.  A call to take affirmative steps to include those future believers in unity with the church and with Jesus, to take affirmative steps to include those beyond the congregation and to include those beyond the present when seeking unity.

Time for Unity, Time to Lift All Prohibitions Against Women and Girls

But discriminating against women and girls in the church does the opposite of unifying future believers with current ones and with Jesus.

Sex discrimination in the church stands between many of those future believers and current believers, blocking unity between them, as well as between many of those future believers and Jesus.

Keeping prohibitions on women’s service in the church is the opposite of the kind of unity Jesus asks for.

Elimination of such sex discrimination is necessary to eliminates a major barrier to the unity Jesus asks of us.

And the current believers are the ones who can do something about it.

That  is, the status quo of maintaining complete prohibitions on women from speaking may be preferred by traditionalists —- people who are already believers, long-time members of the church — but it is repelling and adverse to that which Jesus prays for:  that those who are not now believers but who might or will believe in Jesus in the future and who may be brought to complete unity with those who believe and with Jesus.

Jesus’s desire that we welcome future believers into unity calls for lifting all prohibitions against women and girls in the church as soon as possible.

Does This Mean Change Everything to the Way Future Believers Might Like?

Does this mean we should stop a cappella music, too, and everything that anyone, anywhere might not like?  No.

A cappella music does not repulse people from unity with the church or with Jesus. Sex discrimination and race discrimination by Christians, on the other hand, repulses people from unity with the church and with Jesus.

And people’s revulsion from Christians’ engaging in race discrimination and sex discrimination and being repulsed from unity with a group that engages in such actions is reasonable and rational.  That it is rational and reasonable for a person not to be unified with a group that engages in sex discrimination or in race discrimination seems undeniable.  Sex discrimination and race discrimination are not simply questions like the color of the drapes in the classroom.

Conclusion

It is past time for Churches of Christ members to ask their elders to revisit the scripture on this issue.  Jesus’s prayer seeks action.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with desiring that current congregants be nice to one another, love one another, remain part of the congregation, be happy, etc.  A problem arises, though, in thinking and acting as if that is where our desire should begin or end.

Hopefully, the unity desired — by any church in any situation, including situations involving consideration of women’s roles — is a unity around the gospel that brings eternal life and having love for one another and a unity around the love of Christ and a unity around doing what Jesus asks of us, not just for the current attendees, but for, as Jesus asks, future believers, as well.

Any form of sex discrimination in the church impairs what Jesus prays for, the unity of those future believers and for the world to “know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 20:20, 23)

 

 


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Sources & Notes

(for more on scripture, see sources in Sources & Notes)