Saturday, August 13, 2005

Should our CU have women speakers?

Here's a question that comes up from time to time... one to start some discussion methinks. Perhaps later we can discuss "Should our CU have Prophecy?" but lets not do that one here.

A few remarks
1. CU - Christian Union.
A Christian Union, for the sake of this discussion, is a Mission Team. It is Evangelical in nature - united around the core truths of the gospel. Doctrinal Basis. This statement of core truths is the basis of fellowship of a Christian Union. It is the common ground that should unite, inspire for evangelism and lead to joyful worship. CU's range from 1-400+ members. Worth noting at the outset that this issue only seems to arise in the bigger groups. CU's must develop practical policy on grounds where partners differ. That is, a CU will have within it people who affirm the truth and authority of scripture but differ on interpretation. Without saying that all applications are valid we must note that there are difficult passages where we may not have the correct application. Action must still be taken practically.

2. The Ground for Debate
Scripturally there seem to be three places to look. I will take it as written that equal status is granted to all human beings through the gospel of Jesus Christ. But equality of being may or may not be accompanied by equality of role.

1 Corinthians 14v26-40
Titus 2v3-5
1 Timothy 2

The first of these seems not to be concerned with Teaching. Rather its concern is with question-asking during a meeting of the church. This is prohibited.
The second would appear to insist that women teach other women.
The later appears also quite straight forward in some aspects, and yet deeply puzzling in others. 1 Timothy 2, for me, presents us with the true ground of debate. Much meditation upon the start of the chapter makes for a helpful uniting common ground - to dwell upon the glory of Christ as our Mediator! This puts things in perspective somewhat, strengthens our unity and should cause mutual concern for the glory of Christ to pour forth. Only a context like that can produce good useful debate on difficult issues.

In essence I think the question is - can a woman teach a mixed congregation?
A related question concerns women in leadership.

3. This issue has no neutral ground
Many debating this issue dodge it. I have done in the past. Argument is made that everyone is happy for a man to teach - and so this is the safe ground. There is truth to this - but it is far from neutral. Such ground looks identical to the position that says women cannot teach. Clear explanation may get beyond this. At the other end of the spectrum we find those who say gender makes no difference to Teaching. In such a position over the longer-term I'd expect to see both men and women teaching regularly. This must be noted to be difficult for other believers. In fellowship we must allow ourselves to be wronged, and we must each seek to build one another up in love. Such foundations are incredibly helpful to maintain in heated discussion!

4. Partners in a CU are not entitled to break fellowship on secondary matters
In a CU there will always be compromise to incur. Compromise not on core issues but on specific interpretations. We must allow ourselves to be wronged. We must allow ourselves to admit that we may be wrong. And we must seek not to make life unbearable for others. And we must not break fellowship - to do so would be to declare such matters as core fellowship issues, which they are not.

5. Gifting does not imply total freedom to exercise the gift
1 Corinthians 12-14 teaches us that God's gifts are differently given, to be used in love and also in orderly fashion. When it comes to this debate the presence of gifting does not prove that women can teach in all circumstances, anymore than having the gift of prophecy allows unbridled freedom to prophesy. This is an often used argument which I find unhelpful. :)

6. For what it is worth, here's where I stand at the moment...
1. I think 1 Timothy 2 is very difficult. Anyone who says its easy hasn't read it.
2. I lean towards it saying that women shouldn't teach a mixed congregation - but I'll happily be convinced otherwise. Likewise I think probably at a local church level a woman should not lead the congregation - but I suspect at other levels, including all levels of CU leadership this would be fine. I'll admit I'd struggle to thoroughly defend myself Biblically here.
3. In a CU context the issue is sufficiently secondary and difficult that women should be allowed to teach. This should be done with careful explanation and effort to understand clearly the basis on which a CU has fellowship. And those who disagree have no right as partners in the CU to boycott meetings - but the matter must be dealt with in love and not out of selfish agendas. I suspect the same policy would be wise in a church.


  1. I haven't time or energy to make a long comment here, but I'd like to commend the clear way you set this post out, and for being honest and frank about your position. Wisely spoken words, Mr Bish!
    This is not an issue that a CU wants to be dividing itself on, but neither is it one to be swept under the carpet and ignored (what issue is?!)

  2. Hello Bish,

    I'm interested in your division between 'local church' and CU in point two. Obviously leading the congregation, as i understand the term, is different from actually teaching. I'm guessing the division comes because church is church and CU is a mission team, the context of which is obviously different. I think i find myself agreeing with you on this point, although at my 'home' church women occasionally lead the congregation (or at least they did 18 months ago!).

    1 Timothy 2 is very hard. I mean whats going on in v15?! For me the a lot of the issue hangs on verse 12 'i do not permit women to teach or have authority over a man'. On the face of it, this seems clear enough, but we need to be careful, on i believe two counts. If we extrapolate authority to its Nth degree, do we come to the conclusion that women have no place on a C.U leadership team, as that is a position of authority over men. I certainly hope not! I think we also need to look at the context. Paul is writing to Timothy regarding churches. C.U is not a church, therefore, surely the verse does not apply to a C.U situation? Or am i now supporting the division i queried in my first paragraph? Or do we say that teaching is teaching, regardless of the title you give the meeting? I'm not sure.

    Two more points. I am troubled by the lack of consistency at RUCU. Why is it that women can teach CT and Evange events without anyone raising an eyebrow? If we really believe we are a mission team, then our evangelism events should be the pinnacle of what we do. Second, is having a 'token' woman speaker (because regardless of your thoughts on this, that is what she would be, the first time at least) as bad as having no woman speakers at all?

  3. No! Well, maybe.
    The problem you will find is actually sourcing woman speakers to speak in CU, who will sign the DB - coz I can't point to many evangelical churches in Reading that have women apeaking regularly, correct me if I'm wrong. I too was confused this year by the apparent double standards in place whereby women are seen as perfectly acceptable for evangelism, but not for teachin in CU. I'm not sure there is an interpretation of the biblical texts that can make this distinction possible, either women speak in both, or not at all.

  4. I agree with your last point wholeheartedly Chris, the inconsistency is indefensible from a biblical point of view.
    The whole argument seems to hang on whether 'teaching and authority' means in a purely church context, or whether you say that teaching is teaching regardless of the title given to the meeting.

  5. A few brief thoughts:

    1. Although I can see ‘mission team’ and ‘church’ are not synonymous, I think they are so closely linked, or at least they should be, that it is not very helpful to treat the two as separate ideas in this debate or any other.

    2. You say ‘Scripturally there seem to be three places to look’, and I understand why you say that but I think your choice of passages imediately skews debate before even listening to the texts. Clearly the three texts you mention deal with the issue in the most explicit and lengthy way, but that does not necessarily mean you should begin there. Why not the many texts seemingly showing women holding authority roles in the NT (e.g. Romans 6:7), or statements such as Galatians 3:28.

    I do not want to get into these texts right now, but I know you are thinking along the lines of ‘I will take it as written that equal status is granted to all human beings through the gospel of Jesus Christ. But equality of being may or may not be accompanied by equality of role.’ Which I think is true. However, I suggest the principle of Galatians 3:28 suggests your presupposition (open to rejection) should still be towards ‘salvific equality implies equality of authority’. Also the fact that the most explicit and lengthy issues were written to combat women were exercising authority in Corinth etc., makes you think why these are necessary in a misoginistic wortld, if the gospel did not encourage the ‘devient thinking’

    3. Your points 4 and 5 are brilliant and should be heard more often in such debates. Another idea not raised often in these debates is that of servent leadership. So many of the women (and men) arguing for female leadership, seem to view it as power which they are not given access to.

    4. Yet another thought is that you presuppose that the answer on the ground is to allow women to teach so as not to offend those who believe that they should. However, it could also be argued the other way and I think that maybe Romans 14 suits that practice better.

    All those thoughts are a bit haphazard, because although I used to think I have it all sewn up I am certain I no longer do. And despite the impression I may have created I also ‘lean towards saying that women shouldn't teach a mixed congregation - but [would] happily be convinced otherwise’. In fact I feel presures from all sorts of quarters to ‘be convinced otherwise’, but I have not yet been quite yet.

    One thing I am absolutely certain Paul would have endorsed is that 'those who disagree have no right as partners in the CU to boycott meetings - but the matter must be dealt with in love and not out of selfish agendas'.

  6. the division between local churches and mission team is a tricky one... particularly when you're uniting from a wide base - the mission team will somehow capture the flavour of the local church scene, but needs to have a way of dealing with differences when they occur.

    The way I see it the CU as Mission Team is a subset of the wider local church (not just of singular local congregations)... so we have to walk a fine line of best biblical practice whilst knowing that not everyone agrees on everything (if they did then there probably wouldn't be lots of local congregations in the first place...)

  7. "4. Yet another thought is that you presuppose that the answer on the ground is to allow women to teach so as not to offend those who believe that they should. However, it could also be argued the other way and I think that maybe Romans 14 suits that practice better."

    I guess my point was more that we seem to often default to "no women teachers" (and likewise no prophecy etc), and that at the very least that has to be seen to be not neutral.

  8. will be providing a Biblical Theology Briefing on 1 Timothy 2, by Simon Manchester in our September update.