I want to repeat myself a bit. I think this point gets lost in so many of the discussions about gender: much of the problem stems from an overemphasis on public worship.
We define our churches by that once-a-week gathering of the saints. We define much of the work of the church by what is done during that time. Think about your church’s budget. What percentage goes to providing for that time? I’m talking about salaries, about building costs, about everything involved in allowing us to bring dozens or hundreds of people together. Isn’t that the main thing our church does?
If it is, then our church has little right to exist. Our weekly time together prepares us to go out and do the work of the church. If three hours a week (or five or one) make up the bulk of our Christianity, then something is really, really wrong.
Much of the discussion about men and women in the church comes down to who is going to get to stand up, who is going to get to speak, who is going to get to be seen by everyone else present.
So let me restate my radical views:
- I don’t think the focus of the early church was a once per week assembly. To be honest, you have to do some piecemeal Bible study to even present a case for a weekly assembly.
- I don’t think the focus of the church was on gathering hundreds of Christians together in one place. That wasn’t practical in many settings. And if it were the focus, wouldn’t we have more discussion of such in the New Testament?
- I think a lot of our angst comes from the modern design of assemblies. Not the New Testament example. The modern design. Suddenly stepping up to a microphone implies authority. Where someone telling their story to a gathered group of friends feels like sharing, “giving your testimony” to a crowd seems to place you above them, if only for a moment.
I know that not all of the problems mentioned in gender discussions revolve around public worship. But a high percentage of them do.
I also know that pointing out that problem doesn’t solve it. Fact is, we have large weekly assemblies. We are guided by modernism’s idea of what should be done at such times. And we’ve got to work out how to proceed.
Let’s just recognize that there should be flexibility in how we proceed, with each congregation being given the freedom to work out its own standards and norms. Those who damn other Christians for not being more inclusive of women are running the risk of damning themselves. Those who damn other Christians for allowing women to participate more fall under the same threat of divine judgment.