Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ


with 4 comments

I now want to look at one of the biggest issues in all of Christianity right now through the lens of love instead of the lens of law. I want to see what will happen if we let the Spirit lead us into an answer instead of the Scriptures. Remember, the Spirit will not lead us into a conclusion that is not loving toward God and others.


The churches of Christ have always taken a complimentarian approach to the subject of a woman’s role in the Church. This means that we have seen men and women as equal but created for different functions within the Body. For a woman to do a man’s function or for a man to do a woman’s function has always been deemed inappropriate. Although this may sound strange to some, this idea has been prominent throughout the entire history of the Church.

Our CENI hermeneutic also demands that we take Paul’s commands in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 as binding and authoritative for Christians today. Because of this, we have traditionally banned women from all leadership and speaking positions throughout our entire history.

Paul’s prohibitions specifically speak against a woman:

1.Speaking in the assemblies.

2.Teaching a man.

3.Having authority over a man.

We have generally extended these prohibitions to include:

1.Being a deacon.

2.Passing collection plates.

3.Teaching any male who is baptized.


There are many problems with the idea of complementarianism.

First, why would God give someone the ability to do something good and then tell them that they can’t do it? Certainly, men and women were created differently for different functions but does this include all functions? Aren’t the different functions based on biological differences and consist of what the other is not able to do?

It is ludicrous to think that women and men must have different functions in every way. Remember in the Garden of Eden, the woman was taken from the man. This means that she was part of him and he was part of her. They were truly one in the same way that the Trinity is three but also One. To say that men and women are to have completely different roles is the same as to say that the Father, Son, and Spirit must have completely different roles as well (which we know they don’t). There are definitely some differences, but men and women don’t have completely separate roles.

Our hearts are already telling us this anyway. How many church of Christ members have wives that work outside of the home? (most of them) How many wives vote? (nearly all) how many handle the finances? (many) How many teach the children the Scriptures in the home? (many)

Most of us, in our marriages, have thrown complementarianism out the proverbial window long ago and to our own gain. This is because our hearts are telling us that it simply isn’t true. We would not allow the sharing of roles in the home if we didn’t believe that it was the right thing to do.


So, what about Paul’s restrictions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2? Do we need to follow them today?

First we need to recognize that Paul is not talking to us in these letters. They were written to specific people in specific situations.

We must also remember that Paul lived in a very different culture than we do today. Men wanted their wives to be in separate roles in all areas of society. A woman that took her husband’s role was seen as a disgrace to him.


The main point that I am trying to make is that the correct answer in Paul’s day may be different than it would be today. Under law, the rules can’t change for anyone but under love they can. The rule that Paul gave to them to maintain the respect between wives and their husbands may have to change to maintain that same respect today.

This is because Paul (being a reasonable person) had a reason for giving this command. He did not just make it up or use it as a test of the Church’s loyalty. He made this command because unloving things were taking place between men and women in the Church and it was Paul’s responsibility to stop it. Wives were acting in ways that were disgraceful to their husbands by doing things (such as speaking in assemblies) that men today do not find offensive.

Since very few men would be offended by their wives teaching in the assembly, we should let them teach. The reason for Paul’s restriction is different from ours and thus we really have no basis for it besides trying to seek God’s favor through keeping rules.


It is sometimes, however, necessary to restrict someone (or a whole group of people) from serving in the assembly. Whenever someone is using their service as an unloving act toward someone else, that service is inappropriate. Some (both men and women) are too Spiritually immature to serve and should also be restricted. These matters should be decided with wisdom and with love being the ultimate goal.


Although there may be some places where we would keep the restriction (like foreign mission fields where women’s roles haven’t changed in society), I think we would be correct in allowing women the same functions as men in our congregations without exception.

The only reason that we have for keeping the restriction is pure legalism and doesn’t reflect the heart of God on the subject. Most of the Church is trapped in the pews when they could be working for the Kingdom with the gifts that God has graciously given them. This should horribly offend us and we should no longer allow our sisters in Christ to be restricted when there is no longer cause for it.

Maybe our hearts are telling us this is true because it actually is. We just need to learn to listen to the Spirit in our hearts instead of trying to follow a written code of our own making.


Written by freeinchrist

March 10, 2010 at 8:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. You begin with talking about a hermeneutic of love but this is never clearly defined and so remains quite ambiguous. And so this way of looking at things could justify the inclusion of any identity group.
    In the history of Christianity, there have been a good number of women who were deaconesses/Abbesses and/or great saints. Being those things is quite different than being a deacon, presbyter or bishop.
    Our CENI hermeneutic also demands that we take Paul’s commands in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 as binding and authoritative for Christians today. Because of this, we have traditionally banned women from all leadership and speaking positions throughout our entire history.

    You ask why would God give someone the ability to do something good and then tell them not to do it? But why would God give our first parents the ability to eat the fruit from the tree and not permit them to do it? Mere physical ability doesn’t translate into moral permissibility or appropriateness in the economia.

    Second, you are assuming that the ministry is just like any other job-a matter of physical and mental ability. Yet Paul speaks of a real gift being transmitted through the laying on of hands for the ministry. Consequently, it isn’t just a matter of biology.

    The woman being part of man in the Genesis account doesn’t amount to an identity of essence as in the Trinity since the persons of the Trinity aren’t two individual objects. More to the point, even in the Trinity, the Father eternally begets the Son and so is “greater” (not better) than the Son. And sure the persons of the Trinity do in fact have different roles both eternally and in the economy. The Father doesn’t become incarnate and die on a cross. The Son does not generate other persons as the Father does eternally either.

    If the standard is scripture then I can’t see how our hearts can trump scripture, especially since our hearts are affected by sin and scripture isn’t.
    As for your treatment on Paul, it seems quite possible that the reason among the Jews why a woman who took on her husbands role would be a matter of shame would be because of the way they understood scripture, rather than merely a cultural matter.
    Limiting Paul’s thought to his culture and time put us in a position to dispense with any restriction Paul puts forward. This same methodology is used to justify dispensing with Pauline condemnations of homosexual activity for example.

    Furthermore, your reading of Paul supposes that the church has essentially misread Paul for nearly two thousand years, which seems strained.

    I’d suggest actually spending some time in those bodies that permit women to serve as ordained ministers and see what its like. I find that those who favor this move have no real experience of what the consequences are. I was raised in such a body and what eventually happens is that anyone who either thinks otherwise on this issue or retains any traditional theology is eventually forced out. The underlying argument is that the person is not their body and so bodily differences can’t make a difference to office holders. This assumes a kind of Gnostic anthropology where the “real you” is not the body. But if this is so, not only is the idea of God becoming a man in danger, but the very same reasoning will permit homosexual ordination since what they do with their body doesn’t determine if the actions are “loving” or not. And then once women can represent Christ in the ministry then the traditional images become feminized so that you have images of a female crucified Christ and the Trinity is reimaged since those terms (Father, Son, etc.) are derived from a male dominated culture. Then you have Mother, Daughter and Spirit (or Womb). Then the prayers get changed to be “Our Mother” or the “Goddess.” If you think I exaggerate, I’d suggest you spend some time in those bodies that ordain women and see what its like. It would be wise to think about the consequences of your actions rather than focus on a desire for power.

    Perry Robinson

    March 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm

  2. Thanks for the comment. Now a few of my own.

    * I don’t doubt that our CENI hermeneutic requires us to take these as authoritative, I just doubt the CENI hermeneutic.

    * You are right that I didn’t clarify what a hermenuetic of love is (I’m not writing this for publication anyway so I rushed it a bit)

    * On the point about ability, I was more talking about God giving someone a gift like teaching than just an ability like being able to eat from the tree. I should have been clearer.

    * I would agree about ministry being a gift but it seems to be one that women have received.

    * Your point on the Trinity is a bit over my head but I still think that my point has validity.

    * The standard here is not really Scripture, it is love. We should be able to determine if a woman can be a teacher or not through principles (as I’m assuming Paul did). I could be wrong, but I don’t think that Paul is here speaking by direct revelation. I think that He is saying this because people need to hear it and don’t know it already (which shows that they likely had been allowing women to teach, maybe since the start of the Church in that area).

    * If a man being shamed by a woman teaching is based on Scripture and not culture, I fail to see what Scriptures could produce this idea.

    * I think it quite possible that the Church misread this verse for 2000 years because doctrine has been basically controlled by the Roman Catholics for 1500+ years of that 2000. When one group controlls doctrine with the sword, it can easily be misread. Also, throughout most of Christian history the common people couldn’t have even read a Bible if they had one so we had clergy control as well. The Scriptures have often been misread.

    * I think its a huge jump in logic from giving a woman the ability to give the Sunday morning sermon to Gnosticism. If this was your experience, I’m sorry but I don’t think this is very common. Also, is your God male? My Bible says that God is Spirit and made male and female in His image. Why masculine terms are used for God is beyond me but it seems that God is in some sense both male and female and neither. Just some thoughts.



    March 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  3. I am not asking about clarifying the hermeneutic of love, I am asking you to define love since there are many different notions of what constitutes love.

    A gift like teaching may be something that ordained ministers have too, but it doesn’t follow that that is everything that constitutes one for that office. So even if women have such a gift, it doesn’t follow that they should be ordained ministers. Prophetesses in the bible had such a gift, but it didn’t qualify them for the Levitical Priesthood.
    Other than that, I don’t know why you think women have received that gift. If you do, why not look at those bodies that have ordained women ministers and see how godly they are. The proof is in the pudding.

    If Paul’s theology is based on creation and the Trinity according to 1 Corinthians, (and it is) then I can’t see how your point is legitimate.

    If the standard is not Scripture but a vague notion of love, why do you need Scripture for any of your doctrines? If people didn’t know it already, then it might be something Paul is revealing to them. Second, if they don’t already know it and are allowing women to teach as ordained ministers then the prohibition can’t be due to their culture since their culture allows it. Consequently the claim that the prohibition was part of their culture is mistaken. Moreover, you don’t explain why they were doing it in Corinth and what the source of this practice was. I think a little investigation will reveal the source as being outside of Judaism and in paganism.

    As for men being shamed, how about Paul’s linking head coverings in worship to the order of creation.

    I think your reading of church history is highly skewed. First, Christianity was illegal for the first 300 years. The church in Rome wasn’t in a position to control much of anything. Even after that most of the control was in the hands of councils and not Rome exclusively. Furthermore, even after Christianity became the official religion of the state, there were plenty of churches far outside the reach of the Roman empire and none of them ordained women either. And some of those were founded by apostles personally.
    And if those well suited to the study of scripture through knowledge of its languages have misread it, so much the more reason to think that you have also and this reading is a product of your culture.

    The connection to Gnosticism isn’t a reach since the reasoning and position is fundamentally the same-your body is accidental to you as a person. This is the common belief and assumption across denominations of those who ordain women as well as practicing homosexuality, which is why one led to the other.

    And sure God is male. Don’t you think Jesus is a man and is God in the flesh?

    Thanks for the exchange.

    Perry Robinson

    March 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm

  4. Don’t mind the exchange either but it seems that there is too much ground between us to come to any agreement. I will keep studying these things and I’m sure you will too. For now, I will agree to disagree with you because, frankly, I have no idea how to find any common ground. Thanks for commenting.


    March 11, 2010 at 5:15 pm

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