Very little is known about our good Sister Silena (1850–1915), the wife of Dr. T.P. Holman, an elder in Fayetteville, Lincoln County, Tennessee. As a child, she was forced to grow up fast, when the Civil War devastated her southern home and killed her father. As the oldest of 5 children she single-handedly supported her family as a teacher and saved enough money to buy back the family home they had lost. At age twenty-four she married and became the mother of eight children. Sister Silena's life-long devotion to serving the public was expressed especially in her activities in the Temperance movement. For 15 years she was the president of the Tennessee "Women's Christian Temperance Union." Under her leadership the state organization grew into a force of more than 4,000 members. As a person she did not want to justify her own existence through someone else. For that reason she also asked her friend T.B. Larimore to conduct the funeral, "'for I want no man to apologize for my work, and I know he will never do that.'"

In the following article in the Gospel Advocate, Sister Silena teaches without undue preaching and moralizing what David Lipscomb had left unsaid. It is a woman's voice about the involvement of women in the church. And in the process she exposes with fine irony the foibles of her male contemporaries, who are indeed "a peculiar people." Her contemporaries seem to know Paul's famous silencing dictum better than any other verse in scripture. And yet the stipulated inappropriateness of female teaching clashes directly with the observed reality in her own life, which knows of patent role reversals. Paul's dictum, she tells us with exegetical soundness, needs to be placed in a wider context. If torn out of context and one-sidedly emphasized, it leads to the absurd, a prescription for female church-goers to stay at home altogether. And then she simply confronts contemporary realities, such as the elder's attitude in Dye, but also Lipscomb's lack of attention to the female contribution in the early church, with the biblical record itself. And the evidence of a much wider participation of women in the life of the early church convinces and convicts by contrast with the nineteenth-century neglect. Her irony in the conclusion, after presenting the impressive evidence, is an echo that continues to reverberate into our own century and is addressed with seriousness only now: "Verily, we have grown better than could have been expected, when we have grown too wise and too good to permit what the disciples permitted as a matter of course."


A Peculiar People

(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 2 May 1888, 12)


Somewhere in the Bible the Lord's people are called "a peculiar people." Certainly the Christian church to-day must be the "true church," for I sometimes think we have more "peculiar people" in that church than ever did get together in any of the "denominations."

These "peculiar people," to whom I refer like the one or two bad boys to be found in every school who cause the teacher more trouble than the entire school besides, usually contrive to cause more trouble in the church than all the membership besides. One brother, without a particle of foundation whatever in the Scriptures for such a delusion, takes up the idea that the Lord's supper should be celebrated but once a year, BECAUSE THE JEWS ATE THE PASSOVER BUT ONCE A YEAR. Such an idea is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Savior said, "This do ye, as oft as you drink in remembrance of me." And it is indisputable that the early disciples met together on the first day of the week to break bread.

Another good brother objects to the use of lesson papers or question books in Sunday-school, threatening to withdraw from the church, if any thing but the New Testament is used in any of the classes.

The organ, long a bone of contention among the brethren, now threatens the entire church with disruption. And if the organ fails to do this, the missionary society stands ready to help accomplish this unholy end. Occasionally may be found a good brother whose CONSCIENCE will not permit him to allow the use of any but alcoholic wine for sacramental purposes, though not a person living making the slightest pretensions to scholarship but says the use of pure unfermented, non-alcoholic grape juice is in accord with the Scriptures. So, though the reformed drunkard is thus time and again tempted to relapse, and too often, alas, does relapse, going down to a drunkard's grave and a drunkard's terrible hereafter, this good brother's tender conscience must be respected, lest he withdraw from the church.

And last, but not all, nor least, comes the brother who has withdrawn from the church because the sisters are allowed to go to Sunday-school and take part in the reading of the Scriptures, teach and ask questions in the Sunday-school! I sometimes think the brothers and sisters know that passage from Paul, "Let your women keep silence in the churches," better than any other passage in the whole Bible, so often is it quoted to those women who like the women of the early church, desire only to "labor in the gospel, like those who labored with Paul in the gospel. Phil. iv: 3. But never before have I heard of the doctrine being carried to the extreme of objecting to women teaching in Sunday-school, or to their sitting in a class and asking questions.

The trouble with such people is that they base their ideas on some one passage of Scripture, when it is necessary in order to understand the teachings of the Word or take the Bible as a whole, and not in detached parts; always interpreting every passage of Scripture so as to harmonize with every other passage. In no other way is it possible to read the message of God to his children aright.

Brother Lipscomb answered this last brother in the ADVOCATE of March 14. But as I am a woman, and look at this question from a woman's standpoint, if he will permit, I too would like to say a few words on the subject.

For many years I have been striving to find out exactly what Paul means to teach in this passage. Detached from the balance of the Bible, it would certainly seem to teach that a woman should neither sing nor pray nor preach, nor open her mouth on any subject while at church, or to teach in Sunday-school or ask questions in the Bible class. Looking at the passage more clearly, we find that a literal interpretation of the verse would keep women at home altogether, NOT ALLOWING THEM TO GO TO CHURCH AT ALL, for it says if they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home. Now, in these days, when two-thirds of the membership of the churches are women, we find that some women would be in a sore strait for information if they depended on their husbands. A gentleman once said to me while discussing this passage, "When I want to know any thing about the Bible I GO TO MY WIFE. She would have but a poor dependence, if she had to come to me for information." There are many passages in the Bible that we are compelled to interpret by the light of other passages, or by the general teaching of the Bible. Paul in 1 Cor. i: 17, says, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." The denominations quote that passage to show that baptism is not of so much importance, as we believe it to be. And yet interpreted in the light of the numerous other passages in the Bible on the subject of baptism, we are compelled to believe that, whatever be said, Paul had no intention of depreciating the importance of baptism.

So, although, the Bible says "children obey your parents," "wives obey your husbands," does any person living believe that passage is ALWAYS to be interpreted literally, or that children should obey their parents or wives their husbands, when commanded or asked to do any thing sinful? The general teaching of this [sic]. So to come to an understanding of what Paul meant to teach in the passage indicated, we must take into consideration the entire teaching of the New Testament [on] the subject. In one place Paul says in Christ there is neither bond nor free, NEITHER MALE NOR FEMALE. Does not that passage seem to indicate a perfect equality before the Lord[?]"

When Christ came into the world, woman was little better than a slave. "Under the old Roman law, the husband had the power of life and death over his wife. He was her sole tribunal, and she could invoke no law against him. As a mother she had no power over her children. Such a thing was not known as the rights of a woman's individual conscience." The general belief was that she had no soul." Christ came, and woman's emancipation began. Never a philosopher, or teacher or rabbi, or reformer on earth, had such a following of women as the Savior. And he had no word of rebuke for their love of, or work for him.

To a woman at the well of Samaria the Savior made the first disclosure of Himself as the Messiah. "I that speak unto thee, am He." And the woman of Samaria went through the streets of the town telling to others the glad tidings that she had received from the Savior's own lips. His most devoted disciples, while here on earth, were women. Men reviled and persecuted him, and crucified him, but no woman was found among his enemies. The wife of Pilate pleaded for his life. A mad crowd of Jews surged around the Roman Tribunal, howling like wild beasts for his blood and the cry ascended to heaven again and again, crucify him! crucify him!

But "a great company of women," followed him to the place of crucifixion weeping and lamenting him. Women were "last at the cross and first at the tomb" on the morning of the resurrection, and to a woman did our risen Lord first appear, while a woman received the first commission to tell the glad news of the resurrection.

Centuries before the Savior's birth the prophecy went forth, "In the last days saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your DAUGHTERS shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams, and on my servants and on my HANDMAIDENS I will pour out in those days of my spirit, and they shall prophesy." After the Savior's ascension we read Acts i: 14, that they all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication "with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." While there together "there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind that filled all the house where they were sitting," and one and all, men and women were then and there baptized with the Holy Ghost. And Peter explained that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Philip the evangelist had four daughters who did prophesy. Acts xxi: 9. In 1 Cor. xiv: 3, Paul tells us what prophesying is. "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification and exhortation, and comfort." So we find that Philip's four daughters did publicly expound the scriptures, and in the presence of some men at least, including Luke, and Paul himself. How many more were present, we have no means of knowing. Priscilla and Aquila instructed Apollo in the very things he was preaching about. And does our good brother notice that Priscilla's name comes first, as if she were the more important personage of the two? In Phil. iv: 3, Paul entreats help for those women who labored with him in the gospel. In Rom. xvi: 1 (ff) Paul commends Phoebe a servant of the church at Cenchrea, and many other women "who labor in the Lord." In 1 Cor. xi: 5 he speaks of women praying and prophesying ("speaking unto men to edification,") and quite as if it were a matter of course.

There are many other passages in Scripture bearing on the same line of thought, but I have no room for more. In the morn of the resurrection a woman was counted worthy to bear to the disciples the glad tidings of a risen Lord. But in the nineteenth century she is counted by some brother unworthy to tell the same tidings to the little children in the Sunday-school. In those days Philip's daughters prophesied in the presence of Luke and of Paul. But the modern woman is deemed unworthy to read or even to ask questions about the Bible in the presence of a nineteenth century man. Priscilla was wise enough, and in no wise considered unworthy to instruct Apollo, one of the most learned and eloquent of the early teachers in the doctrine of the new religion. But the modern woman must not venture to express an opinion on any religious subject in the presence of the vast amount of dignity and learning and wisdom and goodness embodied in the presence of some of our brethren of the present day.

Verily, we have grown better than could have been expected, when we have grown too wise and too good to permit what the disciples permitted as a matter of course.

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