Privilege or Silence: Women in Churches of Christ (1897-1907) V

This is my last post on the historical situation of women in the assemblies of Churches of Christ from 1897 to 1907.  You may access the whole series from my serial page.

The Texas Tradition

While the mid and deep South seemed united in the Tennessee perspective, Texas reflected some considerable diversity, even among conservatives who opposed “digression.” J. W. Chism—a leader in the Texas Tradition throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Foy E. Wallace, Jr. as well as R. L. Whiteside were two of his pallbearers at his 1935 funeral)—contended, for example, that “Paul expressly” approved audible female participation in the assembly through prayer and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11. While a woman may not “take the field as an evangelist, nor any other work of authority,” she may “in a subordinate place…sing, pray and prophesy, and that, too, in the assembly” (FF, 1897, 3).  Chism challenged the Gospel Advocate on the question. He interpreted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as a prohibition against disruptive women who interrupted the assembly with their questions. Women, husband permitting, are “at liberty to speak or instruct in the assembly” (GA, 1903, 450).

Another leader in the Texas Tradition, the co-author of the series of books entitled Sound Doctrine with R. L. Whiteside, was C. R. Nichol.  His book God’s Woman created quite a stir in 1938.  Though outside the time frame of this series, C. R. Nichol is an especially important representative of the Texas Tradition. Like Chism, he believed that 1 Corinthians 14 only prohibited those who interrupted prophets with their interrogatories (p. 137) and women did audibly pray and prophesy in the public assembly with covered heads in Corinth (p. 124).  In fact, Nichol explicitly rejects “publicity” as the key hermeneutical criterion since there is no prohibition against the female voice “on the ground that it is public” (p. 123; cf. p. 149). Nichol’s position was consistent with Daniel Sommer’s, including the promotion of deaconnesses (pp. 159-166) and female Bible class teachers even when men are present (pp. 153-54). Despite his stellar reputation among conservatives, he was attacked by both John T. Lewis (Tennessean) and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. (Texan) for these views.

Another interesting window into the Texas Tradition comes through the public disagreemnt between Joe S. Warlick and his wife, Lucy, in the Gospel Guide which Grasham highlighted in his 1999 article “The Role of Women in the American Restoration Movement” (Restoration Quarterly 41.4 [1999] 211-240, esp. 223-225). Though outside the dates for this series, their discussion in 1920 was symptomatic of a continuing move to exclude the female voice in the assembly from the Texas Tradition (and Churches of Christ as a whole). While Mr. Warlick contended that women should be silent in the assemblies, Mrs. Warlick believed women should be permitted to speak to men for “edification, exhortation and comfort” just as women prophesied in the Corinthian assembly. Though Mr. Warlick in 1927 adopted his wife’s position that a woman may speak in “her naturally modest way in any assembly of the saints where rule and authority are not to be administered,” he still contented that leading “public prayer” was not her privilege.  “I have never heard a Christian woman lead a public prayer,” he wrote, “and I hope I never shall.”

One eighty year old father in the faith, William Wise, pleaded for the continued practice of women praying: “I would go farther to hear a devoted sister pray than I would to hear a hired preacher or digressive preacher preach” (FF, 1904, 3). He defended his position with 1 Timothy 2:8-10 where the phrase “in like manner” includes, according to Wise, women in the praying described.

But this was far from unanimous among Texas conservatives (George, FF,1897, 1), and even some, like the editor of the Firm Foundation, objected to appointed deaconesses (Savage, FF, 1903, 4). While Texas as a whole ultimately came to similar conclusions as the Tennessee Tradition regarding female participation in the assembly, the Texas situation was complex than Tennessee and Indiana. It was fluid rather than stable. The Texas Tradition finally closed ranks with the Tennesse Tradition, and the more conservative and now traditional (silence in the assembly except for singing and baptismal confessions) position became the norm in Churches of Christ in the mid-20th century.


The Tennessee Tradition was radically and deeply shaped by the “Cult of True Womanhood” that reigned in the deep South many years past the Civil War. This cultural atmosphere influenced how they read the Bible. It was their fundamental cultural assumption about female inferiority (e.g., will power) that grounded their understanding of male leadership. It seems that this cultural undercurrent did not allow—it was not within their worldview—alternative understandings of the two restrictive texts in the New Testament to get a hearing. The deep cultural mold in which the Tennessee Tradition was forged on the “woman question” was as at least as substantial as any cultural phenomenon that the heirs of this perspective insist inspire contemporary discussions. The “Cult of True Womanhood” in the late 19th century shaped the perspective of Tennessee Tradition as deeply and as radically as any “Feminist” cultural agenda shaped gender debates in the late 20th century. Of course, the truth is that we are all, both past and present interpreters of Scripture, deeply impacted by our cultural context. The value of looking back into this interpretative history is to remind us that they were as culturally situated as we are. This ought to engender humility.

The Tennessee Tradition ultimately won the day, even though it moderated its assault on women in society so that one hears little opposition to female doctors, lawyers and CEOs today. In essence, and quite effectively, the Tennessee Tradition silenced the female voice in the public assemblies of Churches of Christ. Sharing a similar legal hermeneutic that stressed decontextualized positive injunctions/prohibitions and a similar fundamentalist idealization of domesticity, the Texas and Tennessee Traditions converged in the 1910s-1940s on a common front to exclude the female voice from the assembly except for singing and baptismal confessions of faith.  The openness that characterized the northern Sommer-influenced congregations died the death of marginalization as the Southern Churches of Christ overwhelmed them in number, influence and institutional power. Sommer’s position, though largely forgotten except by a few historians, has been unwittingly renewed in some quarters of Churches of Christ in the late 20th century as a via media between the traditional and egalitarian positions.


J. W. Chism, “The Church of God—Her Purposes and How Accomplished—The Woman in the Assembly,” Firm Foundation 13 (7 September 1897) 3.

A. M. George, “That Vexed Question,” Firm Foundation 13 (21 September 1897) 1.

John T. Lewis, “There is Death in the Pot,” Bible Banner 1 (July 1939) 12.

George Savage, “Deaconesses,” Firm Foundation 19 (27 October 1903) 4.

Foy E. Wallace, Jr., “God’s Women Gather,” Bible Banner 2 (November 1939) 15.

Mrs. Joe S. (Lucy) Warlick, “May Women Teach? When? Where?” Gospel Guide 8 (August 1923) 2.

Mrs. Joe S. (Lucy) Warlick, “The Things ‘In Part’ Considered and the Restriction upon Women,” Gospel Guide 11 (May 1926) 3.

Joe S. Warlick, “Editorial,” Gospel Guide 12 (May 1927) 4.

Joe S. Warlick, “Let Your Women Keep Silent in the Churches,” Gospel Guide 5 (August 1920) 2.

William Wise, “Woman’s Work in the  Church,” Firm Foundation 20 (3 May 1904) 3.

27 Responses to “Privilege or Silence: Women in Churches of Christ (1897-1907) V”

  1.   Randall Says:

    Once again, thanks for doing the research and sharing it with the rest of us. Your efforts are always appreciated. I would have had no idea how our thinking regarding the role of women had developed had you not shared this series with us.

  2.   rich constant Says:

    how bout
    a follow up on that last letter by john.
    or something….
    ya know.
    i got a new Home computer…
    john mark

  3.   Bon Says:

    Thank you, sir, for the kindness of some somewhat cogent context to the painful place of “the woman issue” in the church of Christ.

  4.   Keith Brenton Says:

    It would be interesting to hear or read the reaction of these saints if they could witness the changes made possibleby technology today. Would it be permissible for a man to watch a recorded sermon message from a sister in Christ? Two men sitting in the same room? Two, but not three? What about a deaf man watching a woman deliver a sermon message of her own in American Sign Language? (She’d be silent!) If he heard his first sermon from her, believed and obeyed, would he be saved? Would his mentor in faith be condemned?

    All such questions – to me – seem to ignore the fact that Jesus had no problem with women sharing good news about Him with anyone; even specifically asking them to tell His brothers that He was risen.

  5.   eirenetheou Says:

    The degree and intensity of insistence on genital qualifications for ministry and leadership may well be related to the security or insecurity of male members (no pun intended) in their “roles.” (i never use the term “role of women,” since we have enough play-actors in the churches without adding more.)

    When men seek to restrict or define what their sisters may or may not do in serving God, “where they draw the line” tells us where they feel most threatened or vulnerable in their own positions and privileges. For many men in our churches, leadership in worship or appointment to “office” in the congregation is the only opportunity they are ever afforded to “lead” or exercise “authority” over anyone in anything. These men know that if women — who often comprise more than 80 per cent of the people in attendance — were permitted the same opportunities to lead, then their positions of respect and “authority” would be diminished, threatened, and eclipsed. Many preachers who are adamant about restricting women know that if women were permitted to preach, they’d have to go to work for a living — and drive an old rusty Plymouth instead of a new Buick with a “Clergy” sticker on the bumper.

    A ten-year-old with a freshly baptized penis can “pray” in front of women who have been praying for 60 years. A ten-year-old male granted such a privilege will not forget it, especially the sense of power it conveys. More often than not, he will not be taught how to pray (who, having “authority” could teach him?), nor will he learn a discipline of prayer, but he will continue to “lead prayer” before the congregation, mouthing the same words he has heard others pray.

    The spiritual liberation of women in our churches will begin with the spiritual education of men. When our men learn to appreciate and appropriate the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to recognize them when they see them in others, then the ministry of Spirit-led women will be welcomed and encouraged.

    God’s Peace to you.


  6.   rich constant Says:

    just a thought john mark,
    gender is not the only problem faced by then perception that love is law.

    in the new cov. of love seeking love do we not think the dynamic of the order of the word in a faithless world should be taught, to bring about a better community compared to our culturally acquired,ethic which brings tension and the undoing of god’s good by not seeing the need of certain elements of the dynamic be brought forward for a healthy family of love and peace with our father because of his good ADVICE

  7.   rich constant Says:

    OK for you john mark

    if we don’t get a post by tomorrow morning…I’m telling.
    not only that i will start to post on this one.

    and the lead will be “have the church’s of Christ set the bar of hypocrisy to high…” 🙂
    so as not to brush the hair or touch any of us that attends the Sunday service, and then how this pertains to woman in ministry.

    you know hhow well i wright.

    blessings my brother

  8.   rich constant Says:

    Beyond (Before?) Theological Hermeneutics I

    “…Every believer reads Scripture and the church as a community reads Scripture in such a way that God illuminates the church’s way into the future. The church values her scholars, but she does not limit God’s illuminating work to them alone.
    The danger of exegetical study is the tendency to reduce Bible reading to historical pieces of data. It produces information. This is necessary, but insufficient. It is not enough to know facts or process information. Rather, Bible reading must seek God and commune with his presence… “

    What john mark so apply speaks of, (if I may john mark) is the tendency of us all to read scripture in the light of our historical predisposition, being a psychological product of our cultural environment.(we are just human to a point…)
    Also our predispositions to accept as gospel the opinion of our well intentioned preachers, although they like us dance to the tune of the scholars and institutions. They find a theological and philosophical point of view that is based in root by the mover of the reformed predisposition of that institution’s theology.
    Buying into a dead hand.
    Go ahead ask Campbell a question about slavery and if his daughter could marry a black guy.
    Oops, So much for ethics and how that subject encroaches on our modern morality.
    To say nothing of the unchangeableness of god’s Law (oops word) in Christ
    WE all pretty much agree “god is good”
    And when he finished the work of creation, I guess I am safe in saying, god’s word being true and good, the creation was at that time “VERY” good.
    (What I like about gods word is that no matter how hard we try we never measure up without his grace and love as expressed on the cross.)
    We call our position one of humility…of course that is a compared to what. I tend to look at that from the perspective of psalm 51:16-17 and god knows.
    I know most don’t want to look at god’s word to hard because of their humanness,
    Even though Jesus said if we are free we should be free indeed.
    ” That is from sin”
    although god is good and righteous and NEVER VARIES FROM THAT POSITION.
    Now let’s look at this good oops very good creation of our unchangingly righteous judge, you know the one that told us that the scriptures were written as an example learning gods ways for us.

    13thou wast in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was thy covering: the sardius, the topaz, and the diamond, the chrysolite, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the carbuncle, and the emerald, and gold.
    The workmanship of thy tambours and of thy pipes was in thee: in the day that thou wast created were they prepared.
    14Thou wast the anointed covering cherub, and I had set thee [so]: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou didst walk up and down in the midst of stones of fire.
    15Thou wast perfect in thy ways, from the day that thou wast created, till unrighteousness was found in thee.
    Yes sir god created music and instruments for his glory and at the time they were very good….
    What has changed with GOD his word, his ROOT good, the translation, or like the temperance movement, that got a lot of elders in the church to believe that alcohol is inherently evil.
    What does hypocrite mean
    This is too long sorry
    And our adversary the fallen one.

  9.   rich constant Says:

    To contue this train of thought for those that need it.
    What is being said about tradition is the same as the Lord said about religious tradition and it’s NOT VERY GOOD.
    We all know that the split happened before 1900 and as far as I know they (our well intentioned preachers, although they like us dance to the tune of the scholars and institutions. They find a theological and philosophical point of view that is based in root by the mover of the reformed predisposition of that institution’s theology). Were using the text I just quoted…
    “The workmanship of thy tambours and of thy pipes was in thee: in the day that thou wast created were they prepared.”
    I think a lot of members of the lords church, around today, that are more hung up in the unity of the spirit in the bond of piece, and the freedom to love thy brother, which is a command, that all scripture is predisposed to subject itself to when applied. Except when the tradition of religion is so forthrightly taught, in a manner of separating the word of god, so as not to be congruent with the intent of the love of our father and the freedom of each of us. the (intrinsic nature of the word of god to bring about good not tradition steeped in divisiveness) . and the leadership of the membership that we subject ourselves to for the facilitating of the spirit, in the work of reciprocating the love of god in Christ as each of the broken members exercise their newly discovered gifts of the Spirit for the function of the church. for the building of itself up in love. going about the reconciling the sinful world through communicating the gospel of the father’s love. Not a legal document of sin and death but a legal document of loving-kindness and mercy.
    Where will each of us drive the LORDS church in the future?
    I for one will listen to john mark and men like him that exhibit humility in his approach to the father’s definition of truth.

    by the way john mark i have come to like praise music
    a big bunch

    blessings john mark and all
    rich constant

  10.   rich constant Says:


    well i just found out… talk about being on the same train but about 3 cars back’… john mark is teaching again at harding.
    god is good.
    at times i wish i was young again, footloose and fancy free i’ed move out there and go to school…

    blessings to everyone.
    i sure he will post as he finds the time…

  11.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Actually, it is Lipscomb.

    Thanks for your concern, Richard. I will post again in the future, but at the moment my time is filled with other tasks, travel and family. My absence, however, is only temporary…at least that is my plan today. 🙂

  12.   rich constant Says:

    ya see i need a lota help…

  13.   Clark Coleman Says:

    This series provided a lot of great historical data, and I appreciate the time it took to create the series. I do have a few words of critique.

    First, the conclusion section in part V does not really follow from the data presented. There has not been enough exposition of 19th century views on womanhood in the series to justify the conclusion that certain teachers adopted their positions because they grew up in this cultural milieu. The series was devoted to quotations from published sources within the churches of the decade in question. The conclusion assumes we know more about post-Civil War attitudes about women than we have been given in the series.

    Second, there is a fundamental flaw in the modern deconstructionist effort to examine past writing as being merely the product of some by-gone cultural influences. I could write at great length on this problem, but I will be concise here: Unless we know that a certain past culture was incorrect in its views on a subject, we do not know that it is a bad thing to be influenced by that culture on that subject. In the case at hand, we need to know that post-Civil War views on women were incorrect in order to dismiss the views on women held by those who lived through those years. This incorrectness has not been demonstrated.

    If I were to say that a certain Christian scholar lives in a time when his surrounding culture demands egalitarianism, hence he writes about such subjects in a somewhat egalitarian way, that might be an interesting observation. Ultimately, I would need to demonstrate that modern egalitarianism is unbiblical and wrong. Without such demonstration, I have not earned the right to be dismissive of his views. Agreed?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      I appreciate your note. However, I think you misunderstand my point about culture. I did assume the “Cult of Womanhood” background but I did not intend to say that culture was the only influence or that they views were a mere by-product of culture. My point is that those reading Scripture in the late 19th century were as susceptible as influence from their culture as those who read Scripture in the early 21st.

      My interest in the series was not in demonstrating a cultural root to the views but rather an exposition of the diverse views themselves. I main intent was to show how diverse Churches of Christ were on the questions raised in the article at the turn of the last century. I was not arguing who was biblically correct or not.

      It seems to me that your read my piece as if they have an agenda of which I am not aware. But maybe I’m just not aware of it. 🙂

      Blessings, and thanks for your input. It is appreciated.

  14.   Alexander Basnar Says:

    Dear John Mark

    I liked the history of it very much, but I also share the concerns mentioned above. I am very sceptical when we today talk about the cultural influences of yesterday, and somehow implying that we are free from cultural influences while doing an “objective research”. History is written by those who won, they say. But anyway, I know that I am no different, being also human and under the influence of the world around me. I try to be aware of that, but that’s not so easy, as we all know.

    Consequently, I believe there is a huge difference between Apostolic authority and our authority as teachers in a church. We are fallible and easily influenced by the world around us. But I am convinced that the Apostels of the Lord were inspired and freed from chultural influences (e.g. the head-covering is no exclusively Corinthian custum, but an Apostolic tradition/teaching that’s been obeyed in all churches of God – up to the 1960s and beyond). So I probably hold to a different hermeutic approach in these issues which is neither traditional nor complementarian. I tend to take the scriptures as literal as possible, both in the “principles” as in the “externals”. Everything else, I think, becomes inconsistent.

    Another aspect of culture lies in our practice of worship, that is a grand-child of the Swiss Reformation (via Presbyterianism) and very very different from the NT patterns (even different from the 2nd century, on which you wrote an interesting article). I believe you cannot understand the texts about the assemblies (being participatory, having a full meal instead of a token meal, being small in number and in private homes, lasting most likely more the 2 hours as a minimum, …) from our “high-church” tradition. Seeing 1Cor 10-14 as one big text on the Christian assemblies (not in a systematic approach, sometimes coming back to a before mentioned issue; e.g. Lord’s table/ Lord’s Supper), would set the stage for understanding women prophesying and praying (with a veil) and women being silent concerning teaching.

    However, the discussion is always about “women standing in front of the church” (a Real” church in contrast to “private” teaching), which is an anachronism when you picture a NT house-church. We (in our house-church) don’t have a pulpit in our living room. We sit around a table, we eat whatever is brought along, share the cup, break the bread, have spiritual conversations – that’s our love feast. Before that we have a time of participatory teaching, sharing, praying and singing, where we sit on the chairs and couches available in our living room. So the whole question is different in a setting like this. There is no one “standing” in front of the church, “leading” the singing or “leading” prayer (strange idea to “lead” in prayer instead of praying together …).

    So I notice a very weak point on both sides of the discussions of 1897-1907: Reading our “high church tradition into the NT church life. This weak point is crucial to the debate and resulted in what someone put this way: “extremes beget extremes”. A thorough research on the original practice would provide the background for better questions and more biblical answers.

    I can imagine, that this might be unconvenient, because we might find out that we actually stopped short on Restoring the church. Picking up the task again, however, would bring us closer to the Lord und closer to unity (I believe, that restoration is necessary for unity).

    The Lord bless you

  15.   Clark Coleman Says:

    Brother Hicks:

    I believe that if you read the whole 5-part series except the two-paragraph Conclusion section, it can be characterized as a non-partisan look back at our history. We have both characterized it in this way and I said that I appreciate the series as a result.

    If you read the two paragraph Conclusion section, it is hard to escape the interpretation that the treatment of “the Tennessee Tradition” has become very negative in tone. Do I have to parse the sentences in that section to demonstrate this? I hope not. I do not see how else to interpret statements such as:

    “This cultural atmosphere influenced how they read the Bible. It was their fundamental cultural assumption about female inferiority (e.g., will power) that grounded their understanding of male leadership. It seems that this cultural undercurrent did not allow—it was not within their worldview—alternative understandings of the two restrictive texts in the New Testament to get a hearing.”

    It is hard for me to give a neutral take on their biblical interpretations that accepts the truth of these sentences!

    My fundamental point was not about neutrality, but about the way that the Conclusion section seems to be an abrupt departure in tone from the entire series, which was rather dispassionate and objective.

  16.   Clark Coleman Says:

    Brother Basnar: Advocates of house churches overstate their case when dealing with the New Testament example. The book of Acts is quite clear that early Christians were happy to worship not only in synagogues, but in the Temple, until the Jews kicked them out. They then began worshiping in homes out of necessity. Had they not been kicked out of the synagogues, there is little reason to think they would not have continued there. No condemnation of worship in a building erected for that purpose can be found in the New Testament or even the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Nor did Christians confine themselves to house churches in the era before the building of the first known church buildings. Out of necessity, they also worshiped in catacombs, for example, which are neither houses nor church buildings.

    Despite these obvious points, modern house church partisans continue to write on the subject as if it were an undeniable fact that all New Testament worship took place in house churches.

  17.   Alexander Basnar Says:

    Dear brother Coleman

    You can’t deny on the other hand, that the kind of worship in our mainline churches are hardly the same as in the NT. We do have both in our church in Vienna. When the whole church meets (biweekly) we have a “traditional” service – and there we follow the rule that not only the women have to absolutely siltent, but most of the men, too, because only a handful of brothers have a part in the “liturgy”. But we keep this “tradition” for the sake of the bigger fellowship in the church, when all come together. THe other Sundays we meet in houses, to have it more like the NT. Reading the NT we found a lot more “freedom” and a participatory assembly, which is held in houses. Why should we do it any other way?

    You can, of course speculate, why they did it this way. I believe, the Jewish Christians from the beginnings ALSO went to the temple and the synagoge (even to worship, but most likely to evangelize), BUT they did not break the bread there. That was clear from the very beginning (Acts 2:46-47). And they met daily (would we be willing to meet that often?). Outside of Jerusalem, there was no temple. Remember how Paul circumcised Timothy in order to be able to bring him along to the synagoges? As soon as Gentiles joined the church they were unable to meet in the synagoges or the temple (remember the tumult in Act 21 when Titus supposedly was seen in the temple). If you look at Pauls way of evangelizing, you see that he first went there to preach the gospel, until he was thrown out. Then he separated the disciples from the synagoge; but during the week he met with them in private for daily instruction and fellowship (so after three weeks he had a church established in Thessalonich).

    I am certainly not a “partisan” (I hold to non-resistance). Again (and let’s just leave aside the reasons why they did it in houses), the descriptions of Christian assemblies in the NT require smaller groups, they were participatory, they ate a real meal together. If you can do this in a typical church of Christ with about a thousand members in a large worship hall, that’s fine. But if you do worship any other way than how it is described in the New Testament, where is book, chapter and verse for that? You don’t have to look for a condemnation of our own inventions and traditions, we are to follow the NT patterns. Or where do you find the use of musical instruments condemned (!) in the NT? And still we hold to a-capella, because we see no precedent to use them in the NT.

    I think this is important to understand the question of 1 Cor 11:2-16. Women may pray and speak words of encouragment in the assembly when veiled. We “shudder” picturing sisters standing in front of the church like an “ordained minister”. But that was not the case. There are no pulpits in living rooms. Two or three brothers may teach (prophets speaking in 1 Cor 14:29); women may not teach in this way, nor engage in a debate (or questioning) of what is said. But again: These brothers do not stand at pulpits in front of the church; and they most likely did not speak for 40 min each. They not even necessarily held a monologue on God’s word. Paul (at least sometimes) taught God’s Word in a dialogue (see Acts 20:7; the Greek is dialegomai – not kerysso=to preach). Eben the idea of “preaching the Gosepl” to the church is alien to the NT. The Gospel is preached (kerysso) outside, in the synagoges or market-places, sometimes from house to house. But the disciples are “instructed” (didache). There is no “preaching” in God’s church (You can make a word study on this yourself).

    That’s why I am adding this comment on house-churches. Unless you read the NT with this background information, you will misread it. And if you read your own “high-church”-traditions back into the NT, you will even distort it. But restorationist thinking never justified man made traditions.


    •   Clark Coleman Says:

      I have no problem with interactivity in the sermon. There is no reason for me to think God does not want it, as long as instructions about orderliness in worship are followed and the teaching time in the church does not become a verbal brawl. In the Middle Eastern churches today, there is often interactivity.

      However, your claims go beyond what can be verified by scripture. You say that there were no pulpits, but there was something very similar to a pulpit in the synagogue. The reader of scripture stood in front of the audience and read aloud from scripture, then he taught after reading, and there was interaction. This was the model for the early church, whose worship service was basically a synagogue service with the Lord’s Supper added. This was the model that is still preserved today in Middle Eastern churches, and for that matter in Jewish synagogues in many places today, where there is a reading of scripture followed by interaction.

      But there is no real justification for saying that there was no ‘pulpit’ in a general sense. There was a stand holding scriptures that were unrolled on the stand and the reader/teacher stood behind the stand and faced the audience. The meaning of dialegomai, as used in Acts 20:7, is not generally (much less exclusively) interactive, as the multiple definitions in a lexicon will attest. I point this out not to dispute interactivity in the teaching within the early worship (we can see the interactive mode of teaching in the synagogue as led by Jesus himself in Luke 4:16-30), but just to point out that we might not have any explicitly interactive examples from the post-Pentecost scriptures.

      In general, you claim more about such things than can be justified by scripture, which is a problem I find often with the house church advocates.

      You also might want to come up with a different term than “high church” when speaking about the worship assemblies of “mainline” Churches of Christ. The phrase “high church” as opposed to “low church” services already has a meaning in the Christian world, and the services you are critiquing are definitely “low church” in this sense.

      •   Alexander Basnar Says:

        When I say, there were no pulpits, I don’t speak of synagogues, but of the private homes where the believers met. I do believe that some aspects of the synagogue (or Jewish) worship were taken over into the houses (they used the same scrolls and maybe some of the same prayers). But the whole setting was still different.

        If I use “high church” in a wrong way, I’d be glad for a better term (my native tongue is German, and so I sometimes have to guess on the right words for what I mean). On the other hand, the services of the mainline churches of Christ still follow a more or less ministrer-centered, reformed pattern – rooted in high church traditions (I’ve been both). It is not that unimportant for the understanding of the whole topic, however.

        I understand the whole context of 1 Cor 10 to 14 to speak of the Christian assembly. It starts with a discourse on the table of the Lord with a side remark on meat sacrificed to idols. Then Paul goes on to praying and prophesying (men uncovered, women covered) and continues with the Lord’s Supper, with some clear hints to being celebreated as a full meal. After that he makes a lengthy discussion on the body of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit and love, and comes back to the assembly with the the application of these things in chapter 14.

        If I read all this as one big teaching on and about and around the assembly, I don’t see very much resemblance to a Jewish synagogue any more. But I see women praying and prophesying with their heads covered. Actually, this whole topic here should be about women in church. I just added the comments on the house church, because we envision something that was not there in a NT house church setting. The were no pulpits or pews, so the ideas of someone standing “in front of the church”, a “minister in a business suit” or a “song-leader” directing some thousand singers or a single brother who “leads” in prayer (sometimes to only one in the service) in front of the microphone are totally foreign to the descriptions of a New Testament service.

        And that’s where the discussion about women “leading” in prayer or “leading” in singing is rooted. That’s why I pointed to the house-church setting, which is more like a “family atmosphere” than “bells and smells”.

        When I understood John Mark’s history correctly, the strict silence in most churches of Christ is rooted in the “Tennessee tradition”, which (in my opinion) was an overreaction to the liberal developments among the disciples of Christ. But the whole discussion is based on people standing at pulpits in front of the church, which gives impressions of “leading” where the NT speaks more of “participating in”. Prayer is more a time of praying together, where there is no “leader” except maybe one brother who says: “Now, let’s have a time of prayer” and who finishes this time with a loud “Amen” or a final prayer. The same is true (in my opinion) when it comes to words of encouragement, comfort or edification (prophesying). It is not in any way authoritative (or should not be), it is participation, it is mutual. Women, in prayer or when saying “something for the benefit of others” should were a covering as a reminder that they are under authority, so they confess with this covering that they don’t intend to teach men in an authoritative way. Actually, I am convinced, that is something that should be restored again after it was given up only in the 1960s. I would restore both at the same time: Allowing sisters to pray and prophesy and the headcovering, so something that is normally felt as restriction (or even a discrimination) is combined with a new and scriptural freedom.

        Again, envision a church of some hundred or thousand attendands. These NT-descriptions simply don’t work there. You HAVE to have someone in front, you HAVE to have pews and a pulpit; you CANNOT have a time of prayer where everybody can join in; you CANNOT have the congregation chose the songs; you CANNOT have a time of mutual edification. And THEN,of course, many CANNOT SUFFER a women standing in front, LEADING the congregation. And not only the women, ALMOST ALL MEN ARE SILENCED, too!

        Does it ring in your ears, too? We nullify the New Testament patterns for the sake of our own, man-made traditions.

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        I have no real problem with anything you say except that you overstate your case with respect to house churches. If Christians had not been kicked out of the synagogues, I have no reason to think they would not have continued worshiping there. This has implications for those who state that only house churches are biblical, and this leads to other issues such as pulpits, someone facing the audience while praying or teaching or leading singing, etc. Then the positions on these other matters get overstated as well.

        But we do seem to be getting sidetracked from the blog topic, so I will cease.

      •   rich constant Says:

        in light of the standards of the worshiping of GOD in Lev.(and i know john mark wrote 2? books on them)THE LAW spelled out then would you guys say that god was flexible or adapting in allowing worship in a synagogue due to cultural circumstance.
        and as john mark so apply put in his book,Paul was critical of the manner of the feast in 1cor.not the mode of worship act itself.
        seems to me there is a lot lacking in the new cov.writings about the mode of outward worship and a lot about the manner”s of the saints when conducting worship.again a cultural variant of adaptation.liberty you know so to speak.
        decently and orderly as given by the elders of the congregation of believers.
        great talk
        you two

  18.   rich constant Says:

    just a thought…after our Sunday fellowship blessings…
    Jesus and two brothers went out hunting deer one early morning. after about a four hour walk into the mountains,needless to say they got a big ole buck. and were they happy. food & clothing for their family.
    so they tied a rope to the back hooves and started to make the four hour trip.
    the good lord just shook his head and kinda smiled,the all knowing smile of a loving brother,and said ,
    you boys know that if you drag that buck from the antlers it would be much easier, and they ask why.
    well you don’t want the buck’s fur to dig into the ground as you pull from the back,if you pull from the antlers the hair will lay down and it will be much easier…
    they agreed and stopped and re-tied the deer by the antlers as the lord suggested,
    well two hours later the brothers rested,and thanked the lord for making there hunting trip so rewarding and and effortless with which the simple advice had helped their work of bringing their prise home.

    As they were taking a rest and talking together.
    the older brother said how easy it was to pull the buck by the antlers, the younger brother agreed and said this is truly an easy way to drag the buck.

    Although the younger brother said to the Lord.
    lord you are so wise thank-you. there is just one thing. i just realised we just keep dragging the buck father and father away from the truck….

    the good lord just shook his head and kinda smiled,the all knowing smile of a loving brother,and said ,

    the perfect law of liberty…of doing GODS GOOD..:-)

    blessings all

    •   rich constant Says:

      did anyone figure out just how stupid THE TWO BROTHERS WERE.
      SOUND familiar….
      there is a little irony there…

  19.   Kenneth Wingate Says:

    No one will know how little I know until I open my mouth, so here goes. Why do we take so much of our time up with non salvation items. We have a world that needs to hear about Christ and his finished work. They don’t care who is leading prayers or what they are using to help their singing.We seem to have a need to make worship about certain times, methods and man made rules. Where did Christ ever mention we would lose our salvation over these rules. We were told to believe,have faith in Christ. Be baptized in water, truth and Spirit of God. We have records of items that will keep us from the reward, but these man made items, we put as stumbling blocks aren’t mentioned by Christ. We use the reason that they were left out means, we can’t use them in worship. It may go well to see how Christ said we would worship and what worship really is. Does it stop with assembly. Paul gave us a good example how he did different things, even if he didn’t prefer to. Just in order to forward the Gospel. We need to learn the love of God. Quit judging and either follow Gal. 3:28 or just skip it like we do 1 Tim 2:8.We hurt the Kingdom if we show out difference to the world instead of our love. Why would they want to be a part of our sinful actions. Thank God for his love and forgiveness in grace.

    •   Alexander Basnar Says:

      I used to think so, too. But the question is more complex than just my personal salvation. It is true that the issues we discuss here can become stumbling blocks for outsiders. But this is an internal discussion. And still, outsiders will ask, why we don’t allow the ordination of women while several protestant denominations do. We should be unanimous among ourselves in these matters, in order to answer with one voice; and we should answer in a way that helps seekers to find the Kingdom.

      It is also true that the world shall know Christ through the unity of His disciples. And this unity is always at risk. Discussing this subject with an open mind – and a selfcritical view on our own church history – can and shall help to restore unity again. Although the process of a discussion can also lead to bitterness, rivalry and even more schisms. You can and will make mistakes, when you are working. The only way to avoid this is not to work – which actually is the biggest mistake. So striving for unity can cause schisms, although these are not intended.

      But I believe, working for unity is not optional, it is a must. This includes dealing with the reasons for divisions, such as different opinions and applications due to a different approach to scripture and our limited understanding of all that. Sometimes (as in Gal 3:28) we add some wishful thinking to our exegesis, and this becomes tremendously misleading.

      Thanks for pointing to 1 Tim 2:8. I really do believe, we should just do it (and I started doing it). It is simple, it is meaningful, it is Biblical. As are all other commands of our Lord. We should not apply a double standard in the application of God’s Word.

  20.   rich constant Says:

    well i was thinking
    did i hear john mark say OH NO!!!
    well i was talking with some young people about a holloween party that they will dressing up for..
    anyway i started laughing at some thoughts i was having along the lines you are discussing Ken,
    these images that popped into my head relate to the situation of unity and the vast majority schisms around today…
    so i said why don’t you dress up like a Siamese twin
    one head would be labeled

    Now the only thing that they could say to each other is..
    faithfulness only would say something like to grace by faith only. “that kinda music will get you right into hell”.
    and faith only would respond “the Spirit has revealed to us to do our worship in this manner”

    or going dressed up like the pastor and staff.
    and written on the back of the costume
    cookie cutter christianity…

    any way it was funny when i was thinking about it…

    ken by the way you will never have a problem on this blog take from one would get one if there was one to be found .
    just lots of points and counter points.
    too much fun learning…
    we all just need tougher point’s to stump the the guy that runs the thing.

    how goes it Alix
    hope you are well…

    blessings all


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