On Women Speaking In the Church
From The Baptist Magazine, April 1815
Having lately been led to question the propriety of sisters speaking in the church of Christ; I beg through your Miscellany to state my reasons for this; in order, that if these are unscriptural, I may be corrected by some of your numerous readers: but if, on the other hand, they appear to be founded in the will of Christ, that His wisdom and will may correct the past, and influence the future practice of those who, heretofore, have been in the habit of judging and acting otherwise.
I begin then by assuring your readers, that my change of mind upon this subject, has not been owing to any cross or disgust I have received by that practice, which I now disapprove; but so far as I know, owing to what I consider as the plain meaning of the luminous language of the law of Christ. I once thought that to prevent their speaking would, in some instances, lead to lording it over their consciences; at which my heart revolted; and, I trust, I would no less dread it still. At that time also, when I gave countenance to this practice, I was willing to think that its prohibition in I Corinthians XIV:34 referred only to their teaching in the church; but believing, as I now do, that the prohibition is unlimited, I conceive it to be unscriptural for them to speak in the church at all, not only by teaching, or by prayer, leading the devotions of the church, but by professing their repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or their future contrition and confidence: by imparting necessary information on any matter: in giving testimony to confirm any fact: in asking or answering any question: or by verbally assenting to, or dissenting from, any proposition there. Having thus candidly stated my convictions, I now request to refer your readers to that source of divine authority, whence they arise, in I Corinthians XIV:34-35. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.
Let you women KEEP silence, in the churches. This
prohibition seems fitted to make the most persuaded and determined upon the other side, pause and ponder whether they possess evidence of sufficient weight to overbalance this, and to draw them in an opposite direction; and especially, as it is forbidden in another still more peremptory, for it is not permitted for them to speak; and followed up by a third, but they are commanded to be under obedience, and all these riveted on our consciences by a confirming reference to the Old Testament revelation, as also saith the law. To attempt any comment upon these expressions of the authority of Christ, would be more likely to throw dark over them, than light upon them, and deprive them of their edge, rather than to give them efficacy. But some are willing to believe from Paul’s having just been speaking of prophesying, that women are hereby only prohibited from teaching. I confess there might have been some shadow of reason for limiting it to this, had not the apostle extended it, by adding in verse 35, And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home.
Here Paul does not represent the woman as designing to teach, but as desiring to learn, and still he continues the prohibition. Surely in a more humble and submissive situation, our sisters cannot be seen; yet their desire to learn, however urgent and devout, cannot be gratified at present, if in order thereunto, it be necessary for them to make any verbal enquiry in the church of God; this is not treating a female, or her case, with lightness; nor saying, If any woman be ignorant, let her be ignorant: No, it is the very reverse; for while the wisdom and authority of God for her own sake, shuts one door upon her in public, he opens a more suitable one for her in private, and enjoins upon her to improve it, Let her ask her husband AT HOME.
This appears to me to be a wise, generous, and condescending, provision, for the satisfaction of sisters, in connection with kind attention to female diffidence and modesty, and at the same time a salutary check upon that forwardness which is seldom useful, and never amiable, or engaging, in females. Indeed the chief object of the interdict seems to be the preservation of the honour and reputation of the female character, For it is a shame for a woman TO SPEAK IN THE CHURCH. Publicity is not her sphere of action, or influence, it is contrary to her nature, and for her to speak in the church is indelicate, for as it comports not with her make as a creature, so neither with that shamefacedness, which she must cultivate as a Christian; but is a violation of that modesty which is the ornament of the sex, and especially of “women professing godliness.” Such seems to me to be the decision of Him, Who has purchased them with His blood, converted them by His grace, claims them as His own, and commands them to be conformed to His will.
Upon no subject in the Word of God does there seem to be such a combination of evidence and authority, in so small a compass, nor is the applications with which it is enforced less worthy of attention; doubtless it was necessary, in order to check the evil,
therefore he asks, “What! came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?” Hereby he seems to put them in mind that they were not the patterns to other churches; But ought to be followers of the churches which in Judea were in Christ, to whom God had first revealed His will, how they were to behave themselves in the house of God, and who had no such custom; and then adds, If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
But if these principles are just, it may be asked, “How is the mind of the woman to be obtained? If they do indeed exhibit the mind of Christ, we must find means to follow them; and here, as in many other things in the house of God, wisdom is profitable to direct. Only let me suggest, that as she is directed to obtain information in “private” because it is a shame for her to speak in the church, should we not, for the same reason, receive information from her in private also, “in all things,” in which it is necessary to know her mind, and let that be faithfully reported to the church? This is giving her an opportunity more suited to her, fully to state her mind; and in the issue, for the church more fully to know it. And in assenting to, or dissenting from, any proposition, she may unite with the church, in the usual method “of lifting up the hand,” which, by the way, seems to have been the primitive practice in such cases, see II Corinthians VIII:19, when the word chosen, in the original, signifies, to stretch out, or to lift up the hand. If Christ has thus made His commandment to accord with the nature of the woman, then let neither male nor female, promote discord between them.
This essay begins as a letter to the editor but does not have a signature of the writer.
[From The Baptist Magazine, April 1815, pp. 150-152; via Internet. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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