This is a topic that I really believe is so critical for the church to deal with today. I’ve had the privilege and challenge of preaching on this topic off and on over the last several years, but have had little occasion to write about this topic until now. Let me encourage you all to post your comments and talk this topic out so we can come together as a body united in common faith. And let me also encourage you not to allow personal opinion to get heated and create schisms in the body. I know from first hand experience as I’ve taught through these things that this topic can get pretty heated, but it also does not have to. So let me encourage us all never to forget our love for one another when working this issue out.
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
~1st Corinthians 14:34-36
Two of the concerns that I’ve encountered the most regarding this scripture are:
1. This is cultural
2. This destroys women’s liberty and makes them nonparticipants
So let me first encourage my sisters out there by saying that God’s teachings never diminish our liberty in Christ, they always establish it. When a Church understands and walks in God’s order, the liberty, fellowship, and joy is free to be experienced and functions as God intended it. So my hope is that we won’t dismiss God’s order in the Church based on the fear that it may somehow diminish our liberty in Christ. It is appropriate to remember that the liberty of Christ is free from sin and runs unhindered in righteousness (Romans 6:20), but the liberty of the devil is bound by sin unto disobedience (Romans 6:12). As the children of God, therefore, we’re here to establish the liberty of Christ, not the liberty of the devil.
Now we come to the assertion that this is merely cultural. I believe this is ungrounded because of the text itself. I have always believed that the passages that are not given to us as commands are written as optional exhortations like 1st Corinthians 7:6. The Holy Spirit knew the trials we would face and did not place stumbling blocks before our feet. In both my own personal life and my experience ministering, I have noticed that most often it is our carnal ambitions that make it so hard to understand God’s Word because we are trying to fit our desires into His word (which doesn’t work).
I want to address the idea that this teaching is just cultural first.
If something were cultural we would expect that the justification given for such a thing would appeal to cultural context. For example, in China, wearing a green hat means that you are cheating on your wife with a mistress. So, if I were to write instructions to a fellow missionary planning to come to China I would appeal to him saying that “it is disgraceful in China to wear a free hat because it suggests adultery”. I certainly would not write and say “it is sinful and adulterous to wear a green hat”!
Now, let us take a wider look at this teaching and see what Paul says:
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
~1st Corinthians 14:33-39
Paul appeals centrally to the law (v 36) and in a wider context to God’s order (v33). The emphasis here is that these things are founded in a non-culturally influenced source to establish God’s order in the Church according to the commandments of the Lord.
This took time for me to wrestle with within my faith when I first began to be become aware of this teaching, but that is what I believe all matters of obedience boil down to for us: faith is what we are testing in these matters. Can we trust God for what He tells us to do? Unfortunately, Satan likes to mask doubt with intellectual enlightenment to make it seem more sophisticated, but, in the end, the fruit is the same: disobedience.
My wife and I have been kicked out onto the streets with nowhere to live for teaching this, and we’ve been looked down on and treated like barbarians for adhering to God’s word on this, but, we cannot let these things move us if we are to trust in God and follow His Son! It must be only God that moves us, not cultural forces, nor the fires of trial and persecution.
Now, when Paul appeals to the law for this teaching, he looks to something that was not based in culture to establish this teaching (for the Law did not come from culture, it was from God and ran counter to the culture of the day that they would have been familiar with). But, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the matter is made very simple for us when he wrote “these teachings are the commandments of the Lord” (v37).
There have been many volumes written on the cultural context’s of Paul’s day, but I do not believe we need to look into the Corinthian culture to answer whether or not these teachings are cultural or commandments for the whole church; Paul answers it for us, “acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of the Lord”.
LIBERTY DIMINISHED OR ESTABLISHED?
Once an assembly is set in order they then begin to grow in the liberty that these commandments establish. Ironically enough, the Church is not free to experience the liberty of Christ that these commandments establish until they have acknowledged them by faith and set themselves in order. It is then that we begin to experience the liberty of Christ in these things!
To be honest my intent here is not to give you in one post what takes months of teaching and many more months of patient and loving followup care to establish and understand; my objective here is to get your attention and open your eyes to a teaching that we need in the Church, a teaching that many people in the Church, maybe even you yourself, are living in active and willing disobedience to. I want you to see how urgent this is for the Church to see and address because I do truly believe that it is not anyone’s desire to live in disobedience to God, if they love Him. So, in writing this, I am appealing to your love for God and to your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ as a child of God.
But there are a few things we can look at regarding the liberty of Christ that is established, not diminished, in these commandments.
But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
Again, Paul begins by appealing to those things which are “proper for sound doctrine”, and instructs women in the behavior and responsibilities they have as part of the body of Christ. Among the many ways women minister in the Church is that they are called to be “teachers of good things”.
I have always found it ironic that one of the most common concerns about this teaching is that it makes women nonparticipants in the Church when, in reality, it establishes their participation with a very extensive and challenging ministry! In fact, if you look at the Church today, these things that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to the care of women, to minister them expertly, are areas in which the Church is lacking the most! We’re all familiar with the statistics that infidelity is skyrocketing in the Church, many newlywed girls often express frustration in knowing how to transition into their new life as a wife (and often have no role models to look to for support), they struggle in raising children, and we’re very aware that many of our children are falling away from the faith. Indeed, we are in desperate need for women to teach the truth about being “chaste” in the Church today. I see so many young girls in the Church that carry themselves sensually, and this is a disgrace! I’ve also heard atheists mock the Church because of this. Words fail to express the urgency of how desperately we need women to step up within the Church to take up the ministries that God has entrusted to them.
Far from being non-participatory, these commandments are more active than most women in the Church today are.
If I were allowed to speak openly for a moment, I would plead with my sisters not to let yourselves be shamed out of taking the courageous stand in the faith that will be required of you if you are to take up ministry in the Church today!
We could go on and look at how women also are called to pray, prophesy, and evangelize; they can care for the sick, minister with hospitality, and give glory to God in worship! None of these things are in any way hindered by the commandments of the Lord. But a bond of vanity has been put on women that covets power to focus themselves on taking the authority of pastoring and teaching the general assembly that has been given to men as heads of the body. And that is where the unrighteous jealousy and envy has been planted in the body today.
I wasn’t even able to broach the vast revelation given to us in the Scriptures about the prophetic vision of Christ and the Church that married men and women have been entrusted with, or the unconditional love that is experienced when marriages embrace the order that God has established. I wasn’t able to look into the great power to win over a man who is disobedient without even uttering a single word that women have been promised by God when they walk in proper conduct before God. But I hope that we have been able to glimpse the urgency of this situation in which the Church finds itself in willing disobedience to God and how extensive the ministry women have been given truly is, a ministry which many women simply are not taking up!
I reiterate my encouragement that you may leave your comments below; I welcome the opportunity to talk these things out with you. I know there are certainly plenty of questions that I might not be able to answer off the top of my head, but, I also know that the joy of walking in obedience to God is worth the challenge of sifting through the confusion and chaos that has been thrust upon the Church today by generations of willing disobedience.
May the grace and peace of Christ truly abound towards you all, amen!