Tuesday 24 May 2011

Objecting to silence, offended by submission

As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

The apostle Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth on the matter of orderly church meetings. In this section of his letter, he addresses the women in their gatherings, instructing them to “remain silent”.

Understandably, many are confused by these words. Some are deeply offended. And it’s not just the women who feel this way. Rather in any bible study on male headship or female submission, it’s the guys who start blushing and feeling all awkward as they trip over their words trying to sound as apologetic as possible. We would happily skip over these verses in Chapter 14 and move on to the green pastures of the gospel of Jesus Christ beginning in Chapter 15.

Yet there they are in the bible, written for our instruction, edification and encouragement. We will look at this passage and its context in closer detail this coming weekend. But for now, I would like to address three common objections to this passage in particular; and the biblical roles of men and women, in general.

Objection 1: It doesn’t apply to us today
The objection goes something like this: Paul was writing to a first-century church in the ancient Greek world. Back then, men were always in charge – in the home and in the church. Women were expected to be in submission. But things have changed after two-thousand years. It doesn’t apply to our world today. At least, that is the gist of the argument.

It is worth noting that Paul instructs three groups within the church to be silent (sigato) here in Chapter 14, not just the women. First, he tells the tongue-speaker to “keep quiet” if there is no-one in the church to interpret what he is saying to everyone else (verse 28). He then tells the one who is prophesying to stop doing so, should someone else receive a revelation from God.

Meaning Yes, there was a context to Paul’s letter. But No, it wasn’t ancient. He is addressing the subject of worship in the church of God, especially with regards to speaking the Word of God. That applies to our Christian meetings today where the bible is central to knowing and obeying the will of God.

Paul’s point is this: Christian meetings are not free-for-all’s - where anyone can do anything they feel like doing any which way they like. The result would be chaos and confusion. “God is not a God of disorder,” Paul says, “but of peace” (verse 33).

That meant setting limits. That meant making sure people understood what was going on. All tongues needed interpretation; all prophecies had to be weighed.

The problem in Paul’s day were Christians who thought, “I have this ability therefore I deserve the opportunity.” It’s like the Nike ad: Just do it! But Paul is saying Nope. Church is not the place for showing off. The determining factor is not your ability or even your sincerity. Rather, it is the clarity of God’s Word. “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (verse 26) God means for his Word and his Will to be available to all gathered in the church.

So Paul tells the tongue-speaker, “you need to stop”; then he tells the one prophesying, “That’s enough for today, buddy”. But finally, he turns to women, and using the exact same expression, instructs them to be silent.

Now what Paul can’t mean was that women were forbidden from participating in worship. We know this from Chapter 11 verse 4, where Paul addressed the same women in the same church who were “praying and prophesying”, together with the men (the same expression found in 11:3).

But what he is referring to is the thing that happens (and needs to happen) after prophecy, which is the evaluation; which is the weighing of that prophecy (verse 29). Was that right? What did that mean? Is that in the bible? This involved the exercise of authority over prophecy: it was the authentication of prophecy. At its core, this involved teaching and instruction from the bible.

This was an issue of authority. Notice that Paul’s prohibition on the women speaking in the church nowhere implies their lack of ability. Rather he calls them to “submission” (verse 34). On one hand, it was the submission of wives to their husbands (verse 35). But he already dealt with that issue at length back in Chapter 11. The reason he brings women into the picture here in Chapter 14 - which is a setting about corporate worship - is because Paul is highlighting submission to a greater authority - not that of their husbands - but of God’s word.

Tongue-speaking was in submission to interpretation - God’s word made clear. Prophecy was in submission to evaluation - God’s word made final. And women were in submission to the instruction of God’s word carried out by men - “as the law says” (verse 34) - God’s word applied and obeyed. Obedience to God’s word results in a display of submission. Wives in obedience to their husbands.

Objection 2: That’s just your opinion
In other words: You’re just saying that because you’re a guy!

I wonder if the Corinthians said the exact same thing to Paul. Mind you, it wasn’t just the women who took offence at his words. Those possessing spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues would have been the first to object to his remarks. How dare he impose these stifling archaic obnoxious rules on us!

See what Paul says here:

Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.
1 Corinthians 14:36-38

As far as he was concerned, Paul was delivering a command from God. He challenges them to weigh his words, to “acknowledge that what (he is) writing … is the Lord’s command”.

Encounter objections to the bible doesn’t worry me. People who struggle with the bible are often doing business with God.

No, I get worried when people ignore these verses. They don’t want to struggle. Because they don’t want to deal with God.

Paul says, “if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored”. He isn’t talking about being ignored by those who hold a different position from you. He is talking about being ignored by God. Such people will be insignificant in God’s eyes, shut out of his sight. That’s a pretty serious warning. That’s really worrying.

Objection 3: It doesn’t matter

Why make a big fuss about this? Won’t it just cause more problems? Won’t it discourage the women from serving, cause the men to act more irresponsibly? At the end of the day, God uses whoever he wants to - boy or girl – can’t he?

Objections like these remind me of the need to be wise and loving in the way I try to teach the bible. A lot of what the bible says is itself difficult and challenging, and my job is to be as faithful to the text as possible without any need of sticking on my own agendas on the side.

But it also reminds me that texts like these can be quite unfamiliar, even to Christians. Girls thinking through decisions to serve in church or pursue full-time ministry bump up against verses like these, struggling with them in their conscience - yet they may not have taken the opportunity to look them up in the bible. As far as I can remember, I can’t recall the last time I was able to help a sister turn to 1 Corinthians 14 (much to my own shame and ignorance) to hear the bible speak for itself on this subject.

And I know how tempting it is for me to say: Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t really make a difference. Except it does.

Some do this out of ignorance – they genuinely haven’t encountered these texts in the bible yet they are familiar with the principles. The danger is: there is no confidence or certainty in these principles. So when an uncomfortable situation arises where such a principle needs to be applied – in this case the need for orderly worship in a congregation – they can’t tell whether they are acting on God’s will or just a hunch.

Worse still is someone who does this out of defiance; where a person actually knows this is clearly written in the bible, yet chooses to deny the bible’s teaching. Such a person is acting against his conscience and knowledge of God’s will.

We need to be careful of pointing to the bible and saying, “This bit doesn’t really matter.” That’s different from saying, “I don’t really understand this.” Or even to say, “I don’t really agree with this.” But when we say a text or passage from the bible isn’t important we are making an assessment on that text. That is no different from verse 29 – weighing the words of the prophet. We are exercising a judgement. Except with the bible we are not weighing a person’s opinion. We are considering God’s word.

Now back to the text at hand.

In verse 33 Paul makes reference to “the Law”. Women must remain silent and must be in submission “as the Law says”. Why does Paul say this? In part, we have already observed that Paul is talking about Scripture. But Paul is referring to a specific part of the bible. He did this back in Chapter 11 verses 8 to 9 – “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” This is from Genesis 2 – the creation of the man and the woman. (He does this yet again in 1 Timothy 2:13, referring to the same Old Testament passage when teaching on the same subject of male headship and female submission.)

God has established the order of headship in creation – between the man and the woman – and in the new creation – between Christ and the church, the new humanity. So much so, that even Christ submits himself to God as his heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Again the issue is authority. Christ submits to the authority of God the Father. We submit to the authority of Christ. For men, this submission results in loving leadership. For women, submission to the Lord is reflected in submission to their own husbands in marriage. And 1 Corinthians 14 adds, this is also seen in submission to the spoken authority of men teaching the Word of God. As 1 Timothy, Chapters 2 and 3 clarify, this is crystallised in the particular responsibility of men serving as elders in the church tasked with teaching the bible.

Now considering all this: will it cause issues in the church? Of course, it will. It affects who we choose as elders and leaders; Who we allow to preach God’s word before the whole congregation; How we train men and women for ministry and the expectations we give them on what their roles will be like in the church.

But back to the objection, where someone might say “It doesn’t really matter!” What such a person means is: I don’t want to bother with this issue. It is too difficult to handle.

Hence this last objection is not a real objection at all, as much as it is a dismissal; a dismissal of an issue that is vitally important and matters greatly to God.

1 comment:

The Good Tale said...

The book of Revelation chapter 12 is very precise: It is a woman that delivers the true word John1:1, Rev 12:5, Rev 12:13 who restores Acts 3:21 all things to the world before Christ’s return. This woman exposes the lies of Satan who has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9. This woman creates a new thing in the earth by fulfilling God's promise to Eve Gen 3:15, Jer 31:22, Isa 14:16. Moses and Elijah are together with the word Matt 17:3 they all three are in this one woman. She is like unto Moses Num 12:3. She was raised up Acts 3:22 from the Laodicean church that becomes lukewarm because they refused to hear her Rev 3:14-17. She is bold like Elijah Matt 17:11, Luke 1:17. As Elijah was alone declaring the true God to the people so also her witness alone turns the hearts of the fathers to the children Mal 4:5-6 to prepare a people for the Lords return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord Matt 17:3, Luke 9:30. Those who will not hear Acts 3:23 the true word of God she now deliveres to the world free of charge, as a witness, at the heel of time from the wilderness Rev 12:6 will not be allowed inside the walls of God’s coming kingdom from heaven Rev 21. This true testimony of the true value of the blood of the Lamb delivers the truth that not one child of God will be put in a hell fire no matter what their sins. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer 7:31, Jer 19:5. God created evil Isa 45:7 to teach his children the knowledge of good and evil Rom 8:7, Gen 3:22 so that at their resurrection they become a god Matt 22:29-30, Ps 82:6. Prove all things. You cannot rightly judge this unless you read all that has been written by this woman first Pro 18:13. http://minigoodtale.blogspot.com Check out the bruising of Satan and the reason for all of mankind’s sufferings.