J. T. Hunsaker has a problem. The good brother from Dye, probably located in Missouri, doesn't know how to keep his congregation united. One elder feels so strongly that Paul's famous words in 1 Corinthians which instruct women to be silent in church apply even to the reading of Scripture during a mixed male and female Bible class, that he stays away from church over it. And, yet, brother Hunsaker is very uncomfortable with the elder's position. Not only does this restrictive view represent a novelty in Dye, but also his two fellow elders hold the contrary view and permit women to speak and read in Bible class. Hunsaker reasons, if the words of Paul were literally applied, might this not mean that women would not even be allowed to sing in public? What is he to do? To ask the women to be silent so that ecclesiastical peace and harmony can be re-established? In this situation the good brother seeks authoritative advice from the editor of the Gospel Advocate in Nashville, because the journal is widely read among church members. It's an anguished plea for immediate and detailed instruction.
Whether the reply Hunsaker receives from David Lipscomb is what he had expected is uncertain. There remains an air of indecisiveness throughout his answer. He is clear about one thing, that an elder who forsakes church assembly over any disputed matter is not fit to be an elder. But the question of the extent of women's involvement in church matters is by no means an easy one. Even for the seasoned editor, preacher, and teacher, "it is a difficult question to determine exactly the limit of the law forbidding women to teach or to usurp authority publicly." Lipscomb observes female involvement in the early church alongside instructions to silence and modesty. He argues that women should not teach and preach, neither should they be involved in administrative matters or public worship. This principle has for him absolute validity, although he is by no means as restrictive as the elder in Dye. In fact Lipscomb preserves a legitimate sphere for female activity in the church where a woman "may engage in those acts of service in the church assembly that she can do in a modest way, neither taking the lead, assuming authority or attracting public attention to herself."
To this twentieth-century observer it appears that Lipscomb narrows the historical record and range of female involvement in the early church a little too quickly. He also derives from the more strident gender subordination of the post- pauline Pastorals universal principles which are then used as the touchstone to interpret the restrictive passages of the pauline letters. In doing so, the more rigorous judgments are harmonized without any careful consideration of the specific contexts or with contrasting statements of the pauline corpus. And yet although Lipscomb claims hermeneutical certainty for the New Testament evidence, his answer remains curiously open-ended in view of such "an absolute and universal rule." In the end he has to admit that "there are difficulties in drawing this line, and for one man," as the elder in Dye had, "to say I draw the line here, and if you do not come exactly to by [sic; my?] standard, I will withdraw from you—is to show himself a bigot and to declare his utter unfitness for ruling the church of God."
After the editor had spoken, it remained to be seen whether his scrutinizing of the biblical record provided a satisfactory answer. Probably to everyone's surprise, a woman, Silena Moore Holman of Fayetteville, Tennessee, raised her voice and addressed the issue from a "woman's standpoint." EDITOR
by A. A. Hunsaker/David Lipscomb
(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 14 March 1888, 6–7)
(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 14 March 1888, 6–7)
Many things have come up between our brethren as differences which are causing deep gloom to the cause we all claim to love. That we are commanded to "speak the same things, be of the same mind and same judgment," we all admit, but yet with all these admonitions before us, we differ. Now, just to what extent we are to be a unit, is where the issue rests. I want to present you with a case in this congregation—Dye—and ask you to give us an answer through the Advocate as it is being read by many in this congregation. They have Lord's day worship every Lord's day, and they have a Bible class and it is conducted thus: The brethren and sisters are all in the class, they read and ask questions where there is anything they do not understand, and one of the elders claims that the sisters have no right to read, and to support this he quotes Paul, "I suffer not a woman to teach." "Let your women keep silent in the church" for it is a shame for a woman to speak." Now, this elder refuses to meet with the congregation—wont come out because they suffer the sisters to take part in this teaching.
I am at a loss to know just what to do in this case; for I never have before heard the right of the sisters engaging in the worship, or in reading in the Bible class, called in question. You will please tell us just what limit—if any limit—to put on the "I suffer not a woman to teach, for it is a shame for them to speak in the church. Let them keep silent." Now if we take this literally, with no exceptions, would it not prohibit women from singing in the worship? If not, why not? And then what is the duty of the elders toward the elder that refuses to come, because the sisters take part in this? Two of the elders think different from the one. For the sake of harmony should we ask the sisters to give up their part in it, and let the men read and the women listen? Answer immediately and oblige us. Give us a good long lesson on it.
T. J. HUNSAKER.
A question that presents itself, first to my mind, is, that a man who abandons the worship of God because /7/ things do not work to suit him—is not fit for an elder. The prevalent idea, that a man is at liberty to forsake the assembly of the saints, and the worship of the church because things do not go to suit his idea—is contrary to the teaching of God's word and destructive of all church harmony. If all men do this we can never have a church. No church is conducted so as to suit the ideas of all. Indeed I never knew a church that was in all respects conducted to suit the ideas of any one. If men and women are to quit the service of the church, when this or that does not suit them, all church order and church work are gone.
The apostles dealt with churches with very great evils in them. The Corinthian church had a man living with his own father's wife. The church was sustaining him in it, until Paul commanded them to put him away from them. He did not intimate any emergency in which a man can withdraw from a church of Christ. A mistake in the application of a law of God does not unchristianize a church that makes the mistake. It is only a deliberate setting aside of the law or the adoption of a practice they know there is neither precept regarding or example authorizing, in the Scriptures. This is deliberate rejection of God as law-maker—this unchristianizes a church. Changes a church of God into a synagogue of Satan.
But the mistake of the application of a law cannot work this fatal result, else there is no church of God on earth. It is a difficult question to determine exactly the limit of the law forbidding women to teach or to usurp authority publicly. It is clear women must teach privately or be condemned. They must teach their children—they must teach their husbands who are more ignorant than they. They must do this not in an assuming, authoritative way—but in a modest deferential manner—just as a child may and must teach its parents. It is not only right for a woman to teach her own family, but others also. Priscilla united with Aquilla in teaching Apollos, an eloquent preacher, Philip the evangelist one of the seven, had four daughters who prophesied. They did not get up before promiscuous assembles, but they in the presence of men and women—their brethren and sisters, among them Paul, prophesied.
Then the Spirit 1 Cor. xi, tells the woman who prays, she must have her head covered—while this praying was not public prayer in the church assembly, it was clearly when some were present. She may not have spoken audibly, yet she prayed and those present saw she did it.
Then Acts xvi: 14, Paul went out of the city to the river bank where prayer was wont to be made, and spoke to the women, who were assembled there, and Lydia's heart was opened to receive the truth. The context clearly shows that women were here assembled apart from men for mutual prayer—God sent Paul to teach them. These show that women may assemble together for mutual prayer and edification. The examples show they could teach and prophesy with some men present. Now the point is, how far may this go—before they violate the law given to Timothy, and by Peter, "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the men, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed then Eve. And Adam was not in the transgression, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." "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 saith the law. And if they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church." 1 Cor. xiv: 34. This seems to me, given as it is, an absolute and universal rule. We can find nothing in the context or occasion that would modify it by temporary or local surroundings. The reason given is one of universal application. It must then have such a reference as not to conflict with the clear examples and teachings of the apostles in other places. We know of no limit, save this, it prohibits women assuming the position of public teacher or preacher, of assuming authority in the management of church affairs, of conducting the worship of the church. But she may in a modest quiet manner teach the gospel to her own family—in a quiet social way, in an assembling of the children and others for studying and learning the will of God, and may engage in those acts of service in the church assembly that she can do in a modest way, neither taking the lead, assuming authority or attracting public attention to herself. This is my judgment as to the line between the permissable and prohibited. But there are difficulties in drawing this line, and for one man to say I draw the line here, and if you do not come exactly to by standard, I will withdraw from you—is to show himself a bigot and to declare his utter unfitness for ruling the church of God. They are not to lord it over God's heritage, but they are to rule in love and by fidelity, in example and precept to the teachings of the Master[.] If the language is pressed literally on all occasions when brethren meet for worship, a woman can not sing or open her mouth or do anything else where brethren and sisters meet.
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