The Church and I
Woman's Responsibilities in the Church
By Gertrud Harlow
Christians should gather together as churches and the New Testament tells us how to do it. It is better to follow God's Word than ancient tradition or modern fashion.
In this booklet Gertrud Harlow explains the New Testament church principles which relate to women, their special privileges and responsibilities. Women and girls who love their Lord will try to please Him in small matters as well as large.
Are you glad you're a woman? I am!
I'm glad because it gives me wonderful opportunities to glorify the Lord in my everyday life and in the church. I thank the Lord for the challenge and so should you.
In this little booklet let us consider how this works out in our lives as members of the body of Christ and of a local assembly. Doubtless it will not answer all the detailed questions that are often asked on the subject. We trust however that it will be positive and helpful, relating everything to Christ's great love for us and our resulting love to Him, a love that makes us want to obey His commands.
What is the Church in Scripture? In Colossians 1.24 it is called Christ's body, the body of which He is the Head.
Our human bodies have many different members - arms, feet, hair, liver, tongue, and many more. Each of these members has a specific job to do which helps all the other members of the body. All these members get their directions from the head, the brain, and the body will be strong if they all do their work well.
The same is true of the Church, Christ's spiritual body. Every true believer in Christ is a member of that body, 1 Corinthians 12.13,14. The Lord has given to each one a certain gift or gifts as it has pleased Him to help the whole body, 1 Cor. 12.18; Rom. 12.5-13. The gifts of some are more noticeable to our human eyes, but all are necessary and in Gods eyes all are important, 1 Cor. 12.22-27. Christ Himself is the Head of this body, the Church, and in some wonderful way which we cannot understand the Church is the fullness of Christ who fills everything in every way, Eph. 1.22,23.
In the beginning ...
At the very beginning of human life on earth God made Adam, then Eve to be a helper to Adam. In Ephesians 5 we see that God wants the man to be the head of his wife as Christ is the Head of the Church. What a beautiful picture! The Church counts it a joy and an honour to be subject to Christ her Lord. A Christian wife feels the same way toward her husband who loves her as Christ loves the Church.
God’s order ...
These things show us that in God’s plan some are to be leaders and other followers. God gives authority to some and wants others to be subject to them. This does not mean that those in authority are superior or more important than those they lead. In Christ all are equal in God’s sight, Gal.3.28, but as far as life on this earth is concerned, some have authority and others are under those who have that authority.
In the Church it has pleased God to give this authority and responsibility of leadership to the men and He has given the women the equally important task of being subject to that leadership. This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority as far as men and women are concerned. Nor does it have anything to do with greater or lesser ability, all of which is God-given. It is the order which God in His infinite wisdom has set up. We humans cannot always understand what God does or why He does it that way. His thoughts and ways are different from ours (Isa. 55.8,9), but we know they are good and we gladly accept them because we know He loves us.
Prepared by God ...
God has prepared both men and women in a special way for their positions. The men preach, teach and pray publicly in the church. They are responsible before the Lord to see that the affairs of the church are taken care of in an orderly way. The older more experienced ones are responsible to shepherd the younger ones and to feed all the Christians with the Word of God so they will grow in the Lord. They have many responsibilities which are outlined clearly in the Scriptures.
Our risen Lord has given us women also great responsibilities to strengthen the body of Christ. May we with His help discover what they are and play our part for His glory and the well-being of the whole body!
WHAT ARE OUR RESPONSIBILITIES?
Let us consider what we learn from some of the godly women in Bible times.
Hannah knew how to pray, 1 Sam. 1.10,11. Do you? If you do, you can be a tremendous blessing in your assembly. It is the most important thing you can do. There will be blessing only in answer to prayer. And how many things there are to pray for! We'll mention just a few:
1. The gospel outreach of your assembly.
2. New believers, that they might grow in the Lord.
3. Sunday school - teachers and pupils.
4. The young people, by name, that they might go on with the Lord and become exercised about His service.
5. Those who have been commended by your assembly to full time service for the Lord.
6. The elders as they look after the affairs of the assembly.
7. Those who preach and teach in the assembly.
8. For all the people in your assembly, a few each day as listed in your assembly's address book. Pray especially for those who rub you the wrong way!
PRACTICAL JOBS AROUND THE ASSEMBLY
In Old Testament times some of the women made things for the Tabernacle, Ex.35.25,26. There are many things we can and should do to help things run smoothly, such as:
No matter how small and insignificant the job may appear to be, remember that He [she] that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, ‘‘Lk. 16. 10, and the Lord will reward faithful service, Mt.25.21.
In Japan people take off their shoes and put on the slippers provided when they enter a Christian meeting place. The shoes are left in the entry hall facing into the building just as the wearer left them. However when the service is over and the people get ready to leave they will find that someone has thoughtfully turned all the shoes to face in the opposite direction, toward the door, so that now their owners can slip into them easily and leave more quickly, thus relieving the congestion in the entry hail. A small, unimportant job? Not really ... this “shoe-turner-around” is serving the whole church!
TEACH THE CHILDREN
Jochebed faithfully taught her little boy Moses about the true God so that he continued to follow the Lord even when as a child he left home to live in Pharaoh's heathen palace. Eunice did the same and her son Timothy became a faithful servant of God, 2 Tim. 1.5; 3.15. True, these women taught their own children, and so should we, but there is no reason why we should not include other children, especially those who have no Christian parents. The Lord Jesus loves the children and wants them to come to Him, Lk. 18.15-17.
MEET WITH OTHER WOMEN
Miriam was a leader among the women and directed their praise and worship, Ex. 15.21. In Titus 2.3-5 the older women are told to teach and be an example to the younger women. We too can, and should, encourage one another to praise and worship the Lord as we meet together with other women and try to help one another with the Word of God, Col.3.16. There is no command in Scripture that women should or should not meet together by themselves, but the positive values of such gatherings would seem to be obvious. Women with hearts full of praise and worship to the Lord have an influence on the whole assembly. This influence is felt also in the worship service when all the Christians gather to remember the Lord even though the women themselves do not take part audibly.
In addition we should reach out to the women in our neighborhoods and seek to draw them to the Lord through personal witness, coffee hours etc.
Here the woman of Shunem comes to mind, 2 Ki.4.8-10. She made God’s prophet Elijah most welcome and comfortable. Romans 12.13 tells us we should practise hospitality. So does Hebrews 13.2 which no doubt refers to Abraham, Gen. 18. Entertaining the Lord's servants requires effort and time and money, but Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us to do it without grumbling, 1 Pet.4.9.
Entertaining can be a means of reaching the unsaved. I know a couple whose dinner table is surrounded every Sunday by ten to twenty students from a near-by university. Among them are Hindus, Moslems, atheists. All are welcome. All feel at home and come back whenever they can. What a tremendous opportunity!
Others to whom we can show hospitality are:
By this means we can show people the love of God and minister to both their physical and spiritual needs.
The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 was kind to the poor and needy, v.20. So was Dorcas, Acts 9.36.
Phoebe was a servant of the church in Cenchrea and a help to many people, Rom. 16.1,2.
We too should do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of God, that is, all true believers, Gal.6.10. For example:
Deborah was a prophetess and a judge in Israel. She encouraged Barak to lead the people of Israel in their fight against their enemies, Judges 4.
We can be an encouragement to our brethren, especially to the younger ones. How? By a word of appreciation for what they are doing, by telling them we stand with them in prayer as they preach or minister the Word or make difficult decisions regarding problems in the assembly.
You see there are many things a sister can do in her desire to serve the Lord. It is more than just possible that she can do most of these things better than the average brother.
Now we would like to consider our part as women when the assembly meets together to worship and remember the Lord and for prayer and Bible study, as well as preaching the Gospel.
As mentioned before, it is God’s will for the men to take the leadership in these services. They are the ones responsible to express audibly the worship and praise of all present and to teach the Word and lead in prayer. What part do the women have in these services? They can participate audibly in the singing but otherwise their part is to worship and pray silently. Read carefully 1 Corinthians 14.34 and 1 Timothy 2. 11. 1 consider these commands a challenge rather than something to be resented. Why a challenge? Because it is so easy just to sit back and listen to the men. It requires exercise and effort to preach and teach and lead in prayer. It is what the men are expected to do and so they do it. There is a reward people hear them, express appreciation for the ministry etc. It requires considerably more exercise and concentration to worship and pray silently seeing no one knows what is really going on in your heart and mind as you sit there. But Someone does know - the Lord Himself, and He is well pleased when He sees us doing what He has requested us to do. Even though a woman worships silently her worship is just as precious to the Lord as that which is expressed audibly. Remember that He gave the most exalted teaching about worship to a woman, John 4.2 1-24; and He said about the act of worship of another woman that it would be told all over the world where the gospel would be preached, Mt.26.6-13.
Some women resent the command to remain silent in the assembly meetings and think that it indicates they are considered inferior to the men. They believe they can preach and teach just as well as the men, if not better. Perhaps they can - but why should they want to when God has shown in His Word that this is contrary to His will? Is this desire to take a public place caused by pride, perhaps unknown to themselves? Is it because they want to be seen and noticed, to show that they can do it just as well as the men? If so, would their ministry really glorify the Lord? It is true that God in His grace has blessed the preaching of some women to mixed groups and it is not up to us to judge them. None of us is perfect and we are just so thankful that the Lord is willing to use us in spite of all our imperfections! Yet how much better it would be to pray, “Lord, I do not understand the reason for this command but I trust in your great wisdom and will obey it just because I love you and want to please you."
Actually you and I can have a very definite part in the preaching and teaching given in the assembly without opening our mouths. How is that possible? Through prayer. Ours is the responsibility to pray that the Lord might guide the preachers and teachers of the Word as they prepare their messages and as they give them to the people. We should also pray that the Holy Spirit will apply the Word of God to the hearts of the listeners. Without prayer there will be no blessing, no fruit, so those who uphold the speakers in prayer have as great a responsibility as those who do the actual preaching.
Perhaps you are married. To some extent the part your husband plays in the assembly and how well he plays it depends on you, his wife. Yes, on YOU. What kind of wife are you to your husband? One that is a help to him spiritually and stands with him in prayer? Do you encourage him to live for God by the example of your own devotion to the Lord? Or are you a hindrance to him, confining the things of the Lord to Sunday but living for the world and your own pleasure the rest of the week? Yes, the woman is silent in the assembly meetings, but just the same her influence in the assembly is great, for good - or for evil!
Another of our responsibilities in assembly gatherings is greeting visitors, especially after the gospel service. We should make them feel welcome and at home, and invite them to come back again. I know of two ladies in a large assembly who regularly sit at the back during the gospel service so that they can readily spot any visitors and greet them afterwards. This is very important. How many unsaved people have never come back to your assembly because no one showed an interest in them?
We might think of the Christians in an assembly as a team with various important responsibilities, all working together for the glory of the Lord and the blessing of others.
The question will arise if a woman can take part audibly in gatherings of Christians which are not official meetings of the assembly. Can she ask questions, make comments etc.? What about informal Bible studies in a home, at a camp and other such meetings? Can a lady missionary give a report of her work to the assembly? Which gatherings are considered meetings of the assembly and which are not? There are differences of opinion about these matters. It will help us remember these two things:
1. The Scriptures forbid us to do anything that would indicate having authority over our brothers in the Lord, 1 Tim. 2.12.
2. We should be subject to the wishes of the elders of our assembly who are over us in the Lord, not grumblingly or critically but happily, as unto the Lord, even when we do not agree with their decisions. This will make for harmony and happy fellowship and will be glorifying to our Saviour.
COVERING THE HEAD
Important teaching about the gatherings of the church is given in 1 Corinthians 11, see verses 17, 18, 20,33,34. In this chapter we read about three symbols: the head, the bread and the wine. Each time we gather as an assembly to remember the Lord we partake of the bread and the wine, symbols of Christ's body that was broken and His blood that was shed for us. The Lord Jesus Himself instituted this gathering and requested that we do this to remember Him and His death for us on the cross - until He comes to take us home to be with Himself. The third symbol in this chapter, the head, covered and uncovered, is an equally important symbol.
Why should a man worship and pray in the assembly with his head uncovered while the woman should cover hers? It is to illustrate the matter of headship. In verse 3 we see that
1. Christ is the head of every man.
2. The man is the head of the woman.
3. The head of Christ is God.
The Scriptures teach very plainly that the Lord Jesus is equal to God, see John 5.18 and Philippians 2.6. Yet we read that the head of Christ is God. We see therefore that headship has nothing to do with inequality either with respect to Christ and God, or woman and man. It has to do with the way it pleased God to arrange things.
Verse 4 shows that a man praying with his head covered dishonours his head. What head? Not his own physical head, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because the man is the image and glory of God, v.7. The man should therefore not cover his head when he teaches God’s Word in the church or when he leads in prayer or worship because God’s glory must not be hidden.
In verse 5 we see that the woman praying or prophesying without a covering dishonours her head, that is, the man. The reason for this is given at the end of verse 7: the woman is the glory of the man. Man's glory should be covered or hidden because only God’s glory should be seen in the church. It is a shame for the man if his glory (the woman) is not covered. The word used in Greek for “dishonour” is a strong word which really means to thoroughly put to shame. Therefore when a man appears with his head covered, or a woman with her head uncovered, they are denying (though unintentionally) that Christ is the head of the man and keeping Him from receiving the honour that is His due.
Verse 10 calls the head covering of the woman a “sign of authority.” When the woman wears it she shows that she is under authority to the man. It means that she submits to his leadership. This is the order God established here on earth: the woman is subject to the man as he is the representative of Christ, and the man is subject to Christ.
Why should the woman have this sign of authority on her head? Not because there are men present, but because of the angels, v.10. How does the woman's head covering affect the angels, you ask? In Ephesians 3.10 we see that God is using the Church as a symbol or object lesson to show His great wisdom to the angelic beings, both good and evil in the heavenly realm. Here in 1 Corinthians 11 He wants to use individuals, the man (uncovered) and the woman (covered), to teach the same beings about headship, authority and submission. The woman covering her head in the assembly gatherings “becomes to the angels an object lesson of submission to divine headship. What a rebuke she is to the wicked angels! Their sin is that of rebelling against divine authority. What a delight to the obedient angels, as they see also the man's head uncovered portraying the unshielded glory of God and His accepted authority!” ("The Head Covering’’ by J. Boyd Nicholson)
Some say that the woman's hair is given her in place of a covering, v.15, but when you read this verse together with verse 5 you will see that this is not so. If the hair were the required covering, verse 5 would read: “Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth without hair on her head...” Again in verse 6 we read that if she is not covered she should have her hair cut off. If the hair was the covering, “not covered” would have to mean, she has no hair. In that case the hair could not be cut off!
Others say that they have searched the Scriptures themselves on the subject of the head covering and have come to the conclusion that there is no need to wear one except at the meeting for the remembrance of our Lord, and some not even then! No doubt they sincerely feel this way, but in actual fact they are saying that they have a deeper understanding of the Scripture than many of their brothers in the Lord who are their seniors in the Christian life and in the study of the Word of God and who feel differently about the subject. Of course you and I are entitled to our own opinion, but personally I would hesitate to act on that opinion if it does not agree with that of those whom God has put over me, those who are responsible to the Lord for me, Heb. 13.17.
You say it would be hypocritical to wear a head covering just to please men. Yes, indeed it would be if you do it with that motive. But it will please the Lord if you do it because you want to obey His command to be subject to your elders even when it goes against your own wishes. Do you love the Lord enough to do that? Of course it would be still better if you do it because you understand the meaning of this act and do not wish to detract in any way from Christ's glory when you meet together with other Christians.
In verse 15 we read that long hair is a glory for the woman. We do not read how long but it should be longer than that of the man for whom it is a disgrace to have long hair, v.14. A woman's hair is by nature longer than a man's. By keeping it so, she shows that she accepts what God wants her to be rather than trying to be like a man.
As you read the first part of 1 Corinthians 11 again carefully you will notice that the woman has two glories. In verse 7 we see that she is the glory of the man, and in verse 15 that her long hair is her glory. For both she should be covered so that only the glory of God will be manifest.
How large should the head covering be? No measurements are given but it would seem obvious that a little bow or an almost invisible net does not really cover the head. These things add to the appearance of the hair (the glory) rather than covering it. Nor is an expensive hat indicated which again only attracts attention to the wearer. A veil (mantilla) or scarf would certainly be in order.
How old does a girl need to be before she should cover her head? Similarly, you could ask how old should a boy be before he does not cover his head. Every girl who has accepted the Lord as her Saviour, no matter how young, will want to show her love to Him by obeying this command.
When should a girl or woman cover her head? I suggest:
1. In the church gatherings.
2. Whenever she leads other women in prayer or in the study of the Scriptures.
3. Whenever she is not sure - because she will not wish to risk grieving her Lord who has done so much for her.
So the command to cover our heads presents us women and girls with another opportunity to please and glorify the Lord. It is such an easy thing for us to do and requires no outlay in time or money or strength. All we need is a veil or scarf folded up in our handbag ready for use when indicated.
However this command should not be taken lightly. “When we know that godly Moses suffered a soul-grieving loss as a result of spoiling a type of the glorified Lord when he struck the rock twice it should make us all tremble lest we too should be guilty of presenting to the eyes of believers, unbelievers and the watching spirit world, a distorted picture of our beloved Lord, His authority and glory.” (‘‘The Head Covering’’ by J. Boyd Nicholson)
Some will say that the condition of the heart is more important than the outward appearance. A woman may cover her head and be proud of it and yet be cold in heart and disobedient to the Lord in other ways. On the other hand a girl or woman may really love the Lord and serve Him faithfully and effectively and yet not cover her head in the assembly meetings because she has not been taught the meaning of this practice. However when the matter is explained to her and she begins to realize the importance of this command she will want to obey it if she really desires to please the Lord in all things.
Finally let me say that the head covering for the women of groups of Christians whom others call “brethren” is not just an arbitrary custom, a way for the elders to show their authority. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has a beautiful meaning and is just as important as the symbols of the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper.
TO SUM UP...
In conclusion we might compare God’s family, the Church, to a human family. In the latter the husband has certain functions and responsibilities and the wife has others. Both are equally important and equally needed and neither can fully take the place of the other. What a gap there is in a family where either father or mother is missing!
In the same way both men and women are needed in God’s family, the Church. The men have certain abilities and responsibilities and the women have others. Both groups are essential; happy indeed is the assembly where each group fulfills their God-appointed tasks for which He has especially fitted them.
In the home the wife is very happy to leave to her husband such jobs as repairing the leaking roof or the dripping faucet. Why then should she want to take on in the assembly the tasks and responsibilities which God has given to the men?
When the Lord Jesus Christ was here on earth, He always did what He knew would please His Father, John 8.29, and His Father's will was His first consideration, Luke 22.42. Centuries before this, Samuel told Saul that ‘To obey is better than sacrifice,” 1 Sam. 15.22. The same is true today. We talk of serving the Lord in some wonderful sacrificial way, and yet sometimes we are unwilling to obey Him in what humanly seems small and easy and unimportant. Let us remember that whatever God has commanded is important and that He wants our loving obedience more than anything else. Do you love the Lord? Then He is saying to you:
"If you love me, you will do what I command,” John 14.15 (NIV)
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