This Sunday, we visited my parents’ church. We actually made it for class — which is kind of a miracle for me — and it’s a good thing we did. I probably would have noticed it eventually, but the teacher of the adult class read a passage from Philippians, and as I was skimming around, my eyes lit upon 4:2-3, which reads:
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3, NIV)
I read it over and over again, and the more I read it, the more it occurred to me that this language is about as unambiguous as you can get. Yet again, it’s another passage I’ve always just kind of skimmed over, like Roman’s 16. After all, it has no bearing on today’s church, and it’s talking about women, besides. Women didn’t do anything important in the epistles, right? Other than hold churches in their houses, that is. Just hosting, not leading… We’re supposed to believe Paul didn’t like women taking part in services.
Except that these two forgettable verses totally blow that belief out of the water.
Let’s break it down:
1. Paul pleads with two women to agree on spiritual matters. This is not a plea for them to agree over the children’s curriculum, how to conduct the women’s ministry, what flowers to place on the pulpit, or what food they would make for the love feasts. The disagreement of these two women — if, indeed, it even is a disagreement — appears to be making waves big enough for Paul to gently ask his fellow “companion” (unnamed in this particular verse, though some believe it is either Epaphroditus or someone named “Syzygos”, which literally means “companion”) to “help” them. We don’t know what their dispute is, and we don’t know what kind of help Paul asks of his friend, but we know the dispute must be making an impact on congregations in that area, and if so, those women must have some ministerial clout — otherwise, why would Paul waste time on it?
2. Paul does not tell the recipient of his letter to command them to be silent. Even women members of churches that do not allow female leadership can cause divisions and strife, but if they are to be subject to male authority, wouldn’t Paul be telling the men of Philippi to shut their women down, as he supposedly told Timothy to do in Ephesus? No, these women were special to Paul. It’s fairly clear they have a special place in the ministry. He is not asking them to sit down, shut up, and learn in silence and humility from the men — as we think he does for every woman, if 1 Tim 2:12 is to be taken literally for time and eternity. Why not? Did Paul change his mind by the time he wrote to Timothy, or…is it possible that the passage in Timothy might have been — dare I say it — cultural? No, he is asking his companion to help them — either mediate their dispute or just be there for them — but not silence them. Why? Because…
3. These women are “co-workers” with Paul, and have worked “by his side” for the cause of the gospel. (Quotes added to emphasize literal terms taken from the verses.) I suppose we could stretch that out, like some have stretched the reference to Philip’s four daughters, to say that they only taught the women and children. But Paul doesn’t say that here, and he mentions Clement — a male — in the same reference. He uses the same language (“in the cause of the Gospel” and “co-workers”) in the beginning of the book, referring to men we recognize readily as church ministers or deacons. It seems foolhardy to attribute any other occupation to these women than teaching the gospel as Paul taught it — to anyone and everyone who would listen.
These passages are vignettes into the early ministry of the church, but have been excluded from serious consideration by the adherence to the “pattern of the church”. It’s amazing to me how I could read the same book over and over, and not ever pick up on little important tidbits like this one until I start opening my heart to what the New Testament really says about the early church, and stop using it as a God’s New Law for Christians.
Here is an article providing a little more insight on the topic: http://newlife.id.au/bible-study-notes/philippians-4_2-5/
My parents’ church is one that doesn’t allow women in the pulpit or active ministry during the worship services — not even for scripture readings, song leading, or plate passing. However, with the exception of leading them, women can fully participate in adult classes before or after services, or during the week. They still can’t lead prayer or be a speaker with men present, but they can read aloud and take part in the discussion.
The adult class was pretty large this Sunday, but few were participating, even though the teacher asked for people to read passages aloud. I assume not as many were volunteering, because he was asking for them to read entire chapters from Ecclesiastes, and they had to be loud, but it was really odd to me just how quiet everyone was. No one jumped on the chance to read aloud by the third chapter he was asking for, and I hadn’t been participating fully because I was kind of a visitor and didn’t need to draw attention to myself when I hadn’t been there for most of the discussions — but I love reading aloud. I volunteered, and he called on me. I read Ecclesiastes 10 out loud, and no one batted an eye (that I know of).
1 Tim 2:11 says, “A woman (or “wife”, and I am both) should learn in quietness and full submission.” Those who have interpreted this to mean women (or wives) can’t even be allowed to stand in the pulpit on Sundays and read scripture upon pain of disapproval or condemnation have no trouble with this practice outside of the corporate worship service. But why? Paul isn’t specific about when or where. He does say learn, so wouldn’t that also apply to Bible classes? Couldn’t I, interpreting that verse as church law (which is what it has become), have “usurped” the “authority” of another man in the group to read the Bible aloud, even when no men were rising to the task? Shouldn’t the teacher have picked one of the able-voiced men to read, so the women wouldn’t get any ideas?
To be fair, this church is solidly centrist, all things considered, so there is a great deal more freedom there than in other churches I’ve been to. It just seems to me they (and other churches who still believe as they do) are working from a double standard. If they believe that God commanded through Paul for time and eternity that women cannot participate in services, even to read scripture or silently pass plates down the aisles (an activity which is even less scriptural than female participation in it), it would follow that women should be forced to keep to themselves in Bible classes, also.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to participate, because it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut on some topics, but it chafes that the same scriptural knowledge or talent for reading aloud that I’m allowed to show in class cannot be used for good in the worship service, as well.
Just a thought for today. God be with you!