Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Women praying in the church

(Explanatory Note) In the “Pastor’s Letter” of the Wicket Gate for August 1971, reprinted in edition 76 (January 2009) the issue of women covering their heads while engaged in prayer in the church was considered. In a later edition of the Wicket Gate (October) 1971 the wider question of women being permitted to prayer in the church was briefly dealt with and is now printed below. 

May we say, then, at the outset, that we believe with all our hearts that women should pray in the prayer meetings of the church as the Lord gives them utterance. This He has done so often throughout the church’s history in the past, and we trust again, by His grace, in the future. We say this, in the first place, for this reason; that we refuse to make a fool out of the mighty apostle Paul. 

In the verses referred to, concerning the coverings of the head by women, the apostle Paul is speaking about how the women are to pray, having their heads covered. Surely, we cannot suppose for one minute that Paul is only instructing the women how to pray provided they were allowed to pray! Are we going to make the great apostle say “Now, let me tell you women, if it were permitted for you to pray when the church comes together, let me inform you that you would have to do it with your heads covered”? Surely this is too much. Surely, Paul is assuming that the women will pray in the church and instructing them how they should do it - with your heads covered – just as he is also instructing the men how they should pray – with their heads Uncovered. If we infer from that passage that Paul is instructing the men how to pray, then we must also infer that he is, likewise, instructing the women how to pray, and so, assuming that they do and are able to pray. 

We believe that this is a valid inference, that Paul does, in fact, assume that women pray in the churches; and we substantiate that inference by reminding ourselves that nowhere in the New Testament are women forbidden to pray. Two passages are normally cited by those who would silence the sisters at the prayer meeting: 1st Corinthians chapter 14 verses 34 and 1st Timothy chapter 2 and verse 11. In the Corinthian passage, the words of the apostle Paul are clear: “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 also saith the law.” Even a casual glance at that verse will show that it says nothing in the wide world about prayer, and a read through the whole passage, beginning at verse 26 will show that the apostle Paul is dealing with the “orderliness” of church worship, with this overriding concern – “Let all things be done unto edification,” i.e. unto the spiritual benefit of those gathered. He draws a conclusion for us in verse 33: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” 

Obviously, the women at Corinth were guilty of disturbing the “orderliness” of the church’s meeting, and they were apparently guilty of this through their talking during the meeting. And the next verse – verse 35 – explains very clearly to us what form this “talking” assumed – they were obviously asking their husbands questions as the meeting was in progress. “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” says Paul in verse 34, “and if they will learn anything,” he says in verse 35, “let them ask their husbands at home; for” he goes on to say, “it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” Not to pray in the church, mark you, the passage says absolutely nothing about prayer. It has to do with women learning, and the method that the women had apparently adopted in learning at Corinth was to ask their husbands about those things that puzzled them during the meeting together. No, says Paul, let them keep silence, it is not permitted for them to speak – they are disturbing the “orderliness” of the church – and if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, it is a shame for women to speak in the church. Nothing to do with prayer. 

The second passage is almost identical, in 1st Timothy chapter 2 verse 12. “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Again, there is not a word about the woman being prohibited the right to pray in the church. The injunction in this case has to do with the woman “teaching” and “usurping authority over the man,” and, of course, we would hold very firmly that a woman may do neither of these things. These are the marks of the Elders of the church and no woman may be an Elder. Therefore, she may not teach the church, nor rule the church – she may not assume the office of Elder. But, there is nothing about prayer. 

A glance at the preceding verse – verse 11 – will show that it is the same situation that Paul has dealt with in the Corinthian passage: “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.” Both passages have to do with how the women are to learn (a) they are to learn in silence and (b) if they would know anything they are to ask their husbands at home, and not disturb the church’s gathering. There is nothing about prayer. 

The passage dealing with women and prayer (1st Cor. 11) deals with how women should pray – with their heads covered. We therefore assume that it is their privilege in Christ to do so. 

W. J. Seaton 

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