Our series on Innovations concludes with a look at departures that have taken place from the original design of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Christ. The elements that Christ chose to commemorate His suffering and its result are profound in their simplicity. They reflect the unity and joint participation the church is to enjoy in the benefits of Christ’s death and the new covenant that was thereby established. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, a look at how the later practice of multiple loaves and cups distorts the beautiful picture Christ originally portrayed in the divine feast.
With the rise of the women’s liberation movement, women preachers are becoming more accepted in today’s world. As society continues to change, the subject becomes that much more controversial. A few generations ago, female preachers were rare, and it was almost shocking to hear of one. Today, they are increasingly common. Some denominations are rapidly ordaining women to the ministry. Some of these women have risen to international fame and prominence as televangelists and religious authors. A woman’s role in society at large has changed until now, there is little distinction made between men and women in either the home or the public square.
There are some good things that have resulted from this new awareness. First, women are equal to men in the eyes of God and they should be considered so in our eyes as well. Paul wrote, concerning our justification by faith in Christ:
Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Simply meaning that men and women enjoy the same access to and relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God values the woman as His creation just as much as He does the man. Furthermore, women are not inferior to men in any respect—not intellectually, spiritually, or otherwise. And all women are, of course, to be treated with human respect and dignity. If a woman does a job, she has every right to be paid as much as a man for that same job. No man has the right to mistreat, disrespect, or look down upon a woman. But does this mean that God did not assign different roles to men and women in the home, and, as we shall study today, in the church? Does this mean that there is no chain of headship and authority that is yet to be respected in the kingdom of God?
In 1 Corinthians 14, as we studied last week, we noted that Paul is regulating the assemblies of the church. When the church was called together, there were rules given as to how the assembly was to be conducted. The Corinthians were guilty of allowing their assemblies to devolve into a disorderly and unbiblical affair and Paul was correcting these abuses and it should be noted that he is doing so by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 “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. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
It would be difficult to find a more controversial passage in the New Testament, but it would also be difficult to find a more plainly worded commandment in the New Testament. Should this passage be respected and honored by the church today? Does God approve of the innovation of women becoming preachers in the church?
The trend of women preachers has caused a great deal of upheaval in the religious world in recent years. Many denominations have struggled with this controversy and have seen some of their churches divide over the question. Even churches of Christ have been affected over the past couple of generations. A people once known for our conservative view of the scriptures, we have seen division over women in the pulpit and in leadership positions in the local church. When the innovation of Sunday School arose and was contested in churches of Christ many years ago, some warned that bible classes with their women teachers would soon open the door for women in the pulpit. It took some time, but that prediction has started coming to pass. Many of our brethren are now in a very precarious position today, trying to defend the expanded role of women in the public teaching of the church, while at the same time trying to keep women out of the pulpit. As society, and more specifically the religious world, becomes more liberal and accepting regarding these issues, they’re going to find it more and more difficult to stem the swelling tide of change in this regard.
Our appeal today is not based on what the majority of society thinks or what the supreme court might rule. It is not even based on what prominent preachers or theologians of our time might believe. Our appeal is the Bible: what saith the scriptures? Whatever culture changes and how the dictates of society may evolve over time, God’s laws and principles do not change in the process.
1 Peter 1:24-25 “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Emotional arguments also make this a more explosive issue in today’s world. Many assume that men in the church hold the position that women may not preach because there is chauvinism and misogyny. While there very well may be men whose views are clouded by chauvinistic attitudes, the fact is that there are men and women on both sides of the issue with honest convictions, and therefore perceived bias against women is not the underlying cause of this divide. This issue must be decided by what the Bible teaches and not by societal dictates or by ad homonym attacks. The Bible does clearly address the subject. There are two primary passages that deal directly with women and teaching. They are found in 1 Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2.
1 Corinthians 14:34 “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. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
1 Timothy 2:11-14 “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”
In these passages, Paul gives two separate but related prohibitions. First, he tells the Corinthians that women are to keep silent in the church. Obviously, due to the context of the entire chapter, Paul is using the word church or assembly to refer to the time when the church gathers together for worship and edification. Any public assembly called by the church for these purposes would fall under Paul’s rules given in this chapter. When he said that she is to keep silent, he is referring to a woman addressing the assembly. She may sing, for example, because all Christians are commanded by Paul to sing, but she may not address the assembly. She may not teach the assembly. Not only does that mean that she is not to teach or preach in the assembly, but she is also to hold any questions that she may have until a later time when she may ask those questions outside of the assembly. Paul says that she should ask her husband at home.
Then, in 1 Timothy 2, Paul says that first of all, the woman is to learn–that, of course, being the opposite of teaching—in silence, because Paul did not allow a woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man, meaning to exercise dominion over man. The word that Paul uses that is translated teach is the word didasko, which refers to a discourse, such as a preacher gives before a congregation, or as a teacher would deliver to a group of people. The woman is plainly forbidden by Paul from doing such. Then he adds nor to usurp authority over the man. Many try to interpret Paul’s statement as not allowing a woman to teach a man or to teach over a man. But that is not the case. The two prohibitions against her teaching and usurping authority over the man are separated by the disjunctive conjunction “nor.” She is not permitted by the apostle to teach (again, that is to deliver public discourse) nor is she allowed to exercise authority over men in the church. The prohibitions may be related, but they are not the same.
Then, Paul gives the reasons why by first appealing to the order of creation, stating that Adam was first created, then Eve (verse 13), and that the prohibition was a consequence of Eve being the first to fall prey to deception in the garden of Eden (verse 14). Friends, note that Paul’s reasons had nothing to do with cultural concerns at Ephesus or at Corinth. Rather, to a precedent that God had decreed from the beginning of time itself.
We can see that these restrictions apply to teaching in a public sphere because in other passages we read that women can and should be teachers of others. We are not contending that women are not allowed to teach under any and all circumstances. The Bible not only allows but instructs her to be a teacher of good things. But where she is instructed to teach is to be done in private, in an individual setting, apart from the public setting. That is the distinction that the Bible makes. Remember from last week’s study that Paul said there are two categories of teaching: that that is done publicly and that that is done privately or from house to house.
Acts 20:20 “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly (that is, in common or in view of all), and from house to house (as opposed to publicly),”
We’ve already read two passages where Paul says that a woman is not allowed to teach in a public setting, but does the Bible give examples of where she may teach in a private situation? Indeed, it does.
Acts 18:24-26 “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”
Note that this husband and wife took Apollos aside, unto them, into their own home and corrected his misguided teaching. The woman had a part in that. So, notice that not only was a woman permitted to teach in her own home or in private, but that she had a part in teaching a man. Therefore, it would be wrong to say that a woman can never teach a man or that Paul was simply forbidding that in 1 Timothy 2. Here, a woman did have a part in teaching a man. You see, the point is where a woman is allowed to teach. In private, she may teach anyone. There is no restriction on who she may teach. If she can teach in private, she can teach a man, woman, or child. But where she is forbidden from teaching, in public, she may teach no one. She can teach anyone in private, but she may teach no one in public. Therefore, she may teach in the home. She may not teach in the public square, according to scripture, including when the church comes together. She is to learn in silence at that time, Paul instructed.
Some of my brethren say that she may teach in a public gathering, like maybe a class or conference or seminar, but not in the “worship assembly.” But why would that be? Why would God permit her to teach in any other public gathering but not on Sunday morning at 11:00am? You see, it’s much more logical and consistent that Paul is saying that the woman’s sphere of teaching is in the private and individual domain and not in public. That would fit the spirit of Paul’s command and the background behind it. Older women are to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5), but she can do that in private. That doesn’t necessitate public teaching. She may teach an erring man, as we’ve noticed in the case of Apollos, but she can do so in private just as Priscilla and Aquila did. That doesn’t necessitate public teaching. A woman may teach an unbeliever the gospel, whether it be an unbelieving husband, a neighbor, or a friend. There is nothing wrong with that, but her teaching is done is a private setting and not in public. Also, isn’t it significant that the qualifications given for elders (that is, pastors or shepherds within the church of the New Testament) all refer to a man, who is for example the husband of one wife (Titus 1:6, 1 Timothy 3:2). Nowhere do the qualifications for such leaders–whether elders, deacons, or evangelists–indicate that women may scripturally serve in those offices.
Now then, I know that that is very unpopular with the thinking of our day, and some dismiss these passages offhand as the opinion of an unmarried, chauvinistic man who possessed authority in the church. Yet, Paul possessed and was inspired by the Spirit of God as he wrote. In fact, only two verses down, he wrote this:
1 Corinthians 14:37 “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
That is, if a man really thinks that he has divine knowledge, then he will admit that the apostle Paul was an apostle of Christ and was writing by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul was not issuing an opinion; rather, he was speaking by revelation of Christ and inspiration of the Spirit of God, which gives his words on the matter divine weight.
Others say that Paul was merely addressing a problem strictly at Corinth and that he was straightening out disorder in their assemblies and therefore his words have no relevance to the church in other places or times. Some will say that his writing to Timothy was when Timothy was living in Ephesus where they had the problems of the pagan practices of the temple of Diana which were spilling over into the church and women were imitating those pagan practices in the assembly of the church. And based on these assumptions, people will try to dismiss the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2 just as they try to dismiss 1 Corinthians 14. But nowhere in Paul’s epistle to Timothy does he cite such a connection. Not only that, but he said this to the Corinthians and some who were skeptical of Paul and his apostolic authority:
1 Corinthians 4:17 “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.”
You see, Paul’s instructions for worship and for everyday Christian living applied in every church in every place. In fact, when he addressed the abuses in the assembly in Corinth, he made a rather sarcastic statement.
1 Corinthians 14:36 “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”
What is Paul asking in that question? He is saying, who gave you the authority to do differently than other churches? Why do you have the right to be different from the practices of the other churches who abide by apostolic authority? That is a good question for many churches to ask of themselves in this day and time as well. Paul answers that sarcastic question in the very next verse.
1 Corinthians 14:37 “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
What Paul taught in Corinth, he taught at other churches as well. So, his teaching on this and other doctrinal matters was universal in its scope and its authority.
But perhaps Paul was merely regulating the use of miraculous gifts in the assembly, and since the church does not possess those gifts today, then maybe his teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 doesn’t apply at all. Is that the case? Let’s think about that. If that were the case, leaving spiritual gifts aside, could two uninspired men stand up and preach at the same time and cause confusion in the assembly? If not, what passage besides 1 Corinthians 14:31 would you cite to forbid it? Or could a person speak non-miraculously in a foreign language that no one could understand and do so without an interpreter, leaving the assembly to guess what he was saying in a state of confusion? If that’s not right, what passage besides 1 Corinthians 14:28 would forbid it? No, Paul’s instructions apply with or without the presence of spiritual gifts. What he writes are rules of order and decorum in ANY assembly of the church, then and now.
Then, some allege that Paul only gave these injunctions because women at that time were not educated as they are today and therefore, they were disqualified from teaching at that time. But Paul’s instruction has nothing to do with education, for that would’ve disqualified many of Christ’s own apostles from teaching.
Finally, some point to the fact that there are women named in the Bible who served the Lord in tremendous ways that contradict a universal application of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. For example, women like Deborah served as judges over Israel, and women such as Miriam and Huldah in the Old Testament are often cited as parallels to the woman preacher. But, ultimately, those women don’t pertain to the issue at hand, as they lived under the Old Testament law and they were part of physical Israel, whereas Paul is addressing the leadership of spiritual Israel, the New Testament church. In the New Testament, we’re told of women such as Phebe, who is described as a servant of the Lord (Romans 16:1). Who knows what the church would’ve been in Philippi if not for the faith and devotion of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15)? Euodia and Syntyche were apparently women of influence in the Philippian church as well, according to Philippians 4:2-3. But none of those women were ever identified as preachers, evangelists, elders, or shepherds over the flock.
This is a very important point: the work and influence of women in the church is just as important as that of a man. But the scope and sphere of the woman’s work is distinct from that of the man. Remember, she may teach but that doesn’t mean that the Bible allows her to preach or to exercise her ability in public. According to Acts 21:9, Philip had four daughters who prophesied; that is, they spoke the things given by divine revelation. That doesn’t mean they did so publicly. They could just as well have exercised this privilege in private, and in so doing, obeyed the will of God.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that a woman may pray or prophesy just as the man may do so, but she is to do so with her long hair as a covering and a sign of subjection, according to verses 5 and 15. Again, she can do both of those things in private. She can pray in private and she can prophesy or teach in private. But, you see, what Paul allowed her to do would also not put her at odds with what he forbade, which would be teaching in public.
Finally, friends, this is not a matter of equality or worth. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul shows in great detail that the woman enjoys the same relationship to God through Christ that the man does. But she must at the same time be in subjection unto man. After all, Christ is subject unto God (1 Corinthians 11:3). Does that make Jesus inferior to God the Father? No, the very mystery of the trinity is that the three are one, that God the Son is eternally coexistent and coequal with God the Father. The woman is of great and equal value in the sight of God, but her role in the church is distinct from that of the man. That is true today just as it was true yesterday. And it will be true tomorrow. Though our modern world has sought in this and a thousand different ways to erase those lines of distinction and demarcation, let us follow the teaching of Christ given through His apostles, for it is His church and not ours. May we ever seek His approval and not that of the world.
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Women have made an indelible mark on the modern world in business, politics, art, and religion. They have well-proven their intellect and talent to be equal to and in many cases, surpassing their male counterparts. Consequently, the rise of women’s liberation and the women’s rights movement has opened the pulpits of many churches to females to serve as pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc. Is this according to God’s will or is it a change to the divine pattern for the work and worship of the church? In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we continue our series on Innovations and the Divine Pattern by focusing on women preachers and teachers in the church.
In recent weeks, we’ve been talking about departures from the Bible pattern throughout the centuries. It is an important theme for our day and time because since the time of its establishment, the church has morphed into something unrecognizable to the church of the first century. We’re pleading for a restoration of the principles and practices of the early church because when Christ established the church, He placed within it the things He wanted there by means of divine revelation. The apostles, by their apostolic authority, revealed the things that Jesus desired for His church to be and to do. Jesus said one time that His word is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8) and a seed produces after its own kind, of course.
Last week, we spoke about instrumental music in the church. We saw that it took more than 600 years for it to find its way into New Testament era worship. Today, we’ll look at an innovation that only goes back about 250 years: the Sunday School. Most churches conduct Sunday Schools and the innovation even found its way into the Restoration Movement. But does it matter? What is Sunday School and is it a scriptural arrangement for the church to come together for edification?
The apostle Paul corrected a number of abuses taking place in the church at Corinth in his letter to the Corinthians, where we’ll take our text for today’s study.
1 Corinthians 14:31-35 “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 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. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
These verses contain some very specific guidelines and prohibitions for what is to take place when the church comes together for edification. Paul said that this is the way it was to be in the churches. We want to look at those principles today in our study about the origin and development of the modern Sunday School.
The Sunday School movement began in the 1780’s in England. As the Industrial Era dawned, England had a large number of poor families who moved from the country into the city to find work. Children as young as eight years old were made to work in the English factories in very dangerous conditions. There were no free public schools as we have today, and it was left up to families to provide education for their children. If a family had enough money, they could send their children to a school. But if the family was poor, their kids were usually raised unable to read and write, keeping the family in a perpetual cycle of poverty and illiteracy. The work week was six days long, leaving Sunday the only day off. Many of these poor children spent the day off roaming the streets, breaking into houses, and getting into other forms of trouble.
A man named Robert Raikes had an idea. He thought that churches should intervene and see to it that these children received an education, keeping them out of trouble and perhaps breaking the cycle to lift them out of poverty. He thought, why not start a school on Sunday when these children are off work, where people of high morals and spiritual values could teach them to read and write, and instill in them some moral principles? So, Sunday School was begun for the poor. Raikes reportedly donated the first money needed to get the school started and then he began to raise money for the cause. Raikes was a printer so he printed copies of the Ten Commandments and other scriptures to use as a curriculum to teach the children how to read and write.
It didn’t take long for the idea to spread to other cities throughout England and, eventually, the world. By 1811, we’re told there were nearly half a million children enrolled in Sunday Schools throughout Britain. The concept spread to America just before the turn of the 19th century by way of the Quakers in Philadelphia. Eventually, every church would have its own school, but it began as a cooperative effort among several churches and denominations. In each city, there might be one school to begin with, where poor students could go to receive an education.
A few years ago, students at Indiana Wesleyan University documented its spread throughout the nation. In New York City, two women names Isabella Graham and her daughter, Joanna Bethune launched an organization to promote the Sunday Schools throughout the country, which became a way of enabling women to take more of a leading role in religious society and in teaching the Bible in a more formal setting. As you might imagine, this drew a great deal of opposition from the preachers and other religious leaders of that day, some believing that it would soon lead to women becoming preachers. However, the women persisted, and the movement began to spread. Eventually, preachers began to gradually accept the schools, even with women teaching in them, and it wasn’t long until towns of just about any size had an interdenominational school that was mostly for poor children to be educated in.
As the country spread into the wild west in the mid-1800’s, the Sunday School was used to accomplish the same purpose for children in these untamed parts as it was originally designed for in England. By the last part of the 19th century, there were more than 65,000 Sunday Schools across America with ten million children enrolled in them. What began as a community effort to train children in secular education and basic morals soon became a work of individual churches to indoctrinate children with their own religious teachings.
By the late 1800’s, denominations had organized their own Sunday School organizations providing religious curriculum to their churches for their local schools. In time, practically every church had its own Sunday School, dividing people (particularly children) into classes to teach them the Bible. In the 20th century, these classes became an outreach for churches to expose children to their congregations. Many times, children had parents who didn’t attend church, and churches began sending buses into the community to gather up kids for their Sunday School. All of this finally opened the way for ‘children’s church’ where children could be sent to learn and worship while parents worshipped in another assembly.
Today, most churches continue to utilize Sunday School or perhaps they call it “Bible Classes” as a means of teaching the Bible to young and old. Most congregations advertise a time around their primary worship time for the church to be divided up or segregated by age, spiritual level, or background into classrooms to be taught by various teachers–men and women–then come together for a sermon and the remaining forms of worship, perhaps.
Maybe that sounds like a wonderful idea originally born of the most noble of motives. An idea now used to teach the word of God. But is it according to the pattern? Its practice can only be traced back to 1780 and even then, it was for a different purpose. Is this relatively modern practice biblical? What does the word of God say about the assembly of the church and how the church is to edify its members when they assemble together?
In our text passage, Paul is not only regulating the public teaching of God’s word, but also the assembly as a whole. There were some major problems in the church at Corinth and many of them pertained to what was going on in their assemblies. Their gatherings had become confusing and therefore unedifying. They were reasons for pride, jealousy, and competition, instead of being for the good and edification of the church. With that said, do Sunday Schools and Bible classes follow the pattern for the assembly of the church as Paul laid it out in our text?
The Bible places emphasis upon the teaching of the scriptures and how that teaching is carried out. In the Old Testament dispensation, God made it clear how it was to be done. First, it was to be done by families in the home. It has always been the primary responsibility of mothers and fathers to instill not only secular but moral teaching within their children. That is still where the responsibility of teaching lies today, by the way. Then, God’s people were to come together under the Old Testament every seven years to hear the law read to them.
Deuteronomy 31:11-13 “When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.”
Several things stand out in this passage. First, the people were called together into one place to hear the law. There wasn’t a separate reading for women, children, or any other group within the congregation. They were to come together to all be taught at one time in one place. Second, it’s worthy to note that God said that ALL of the people could benefit from the reading of the law in that one assembly. Some will argue that children or perhaps new Christians cannot understand what’s being taught in the pulpit, so Bible classes are necessary to teach them. However, that wasn’t the case under the law. Notice that Moses says of the man, woman, child, and even the stranger in their midst, “that they may hear, and that they may learn” when they were all called together to have the law read to them.
This passage doesn’t establish a pattern for the New Testament dispensation, admittedly. But it DOES point to the fact that God wanted it done that way in the former dispensation, and that such an arrangement made it more than possible for all to come to a good understanding of the law of God. If that was the case then, it can just as easily be done that way today. If not, why not? So, the argument that Sunday Schools are necessary to adequately teach the Bible doesn’t stand the test. Parents are charged with teaching their children, and families should be worshipping together when the church is called together for teaching and for worship.
Well, what saith the New Testament about this? Did the early church come together only to be segregated into small groups for the purpose of being taught and edified? First, notice that much of the same language is used in 1 Corinthians 14 that was used in Deuteronomy 31.
1 Corinthians 14:23 “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place…”
1 Corinthians 14:26 “…when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
1 Corinthians 14:31 “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.”
For the sake of brevity, I didn’t read all the verses in between, but I would certainly encourage you to do so. The idea is clearly set forth that when the church comes together, it is to come together into one assembly. And by following the rules for that assembly that Paul gives—that is, it being taught and edified by one man teaching at a time—the church as a whole can be edified. All can hear. All may be comforted. All can be built up in the faith. Sinners can even be converted. And God would be glorified in all of this. Notice that Paul said that all the prophets present in that assembly could prophesy, but only one at a time. Not simultaneously, but one at a time, and that all would learn as a result of those people teaching one at a time.
Consider what takes place in a Sunday School arrangement: you have the church coming together only to divide up into separate assemblies with each class assigned a teacher. Without the oversight of elders, in most cases, or other church leaders in those classes. Those teachers simultaneously teach the groups assigned to them. What some learn in one class is not necessarily what others learn in another class. But I ask again: is this the pattern that Paul puts forth in 1 Corinthians 14?
The New Testament speaks in other places about the assembly of the church, never so much as hinting at the idea that the church was divided into separate groups to be taught any more than it was divided for singing, praying, or communing. The church did all these things together.
Acts 20:7 “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them…”
Would it be in keeping with the Bible design for the Lord’s Supper if the church was called together only to divide into groups to commune? That’s not what happened in the first century church. The same language implies one assembly for teaching here and in 1 Corinthians 14.
Acts 11:26 tells us that Barnabas and others assembled themselves with the church for a whole year and taught the people. Paul later exhorts us not to miss the assembling of ourselves together:
Hebrews 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
We are to assemble together for the purpose of exhorting one another to faithfulness. Bible classes, as practiced by churches today, create a situation and arrangement that the Bible says nothing about. In fact, it is contrary to what the Bible DOES say. In Acts 20:20, Paul spoke of teaching publicly and from house to house. That tells us that there are two kinds of teaching that took place: Paul taught them publicly or in a public place, when the church came together, AND he taught them from house to house, or in a private setting, family to family. Those are the two kinds of teaching spoken of in the Bible: public and private.
The only example of public teaching that we have is of one man speaking to an assembly of people. So, where would Bible classes fit into those categories? Classes are not conducted by individuals from house to house, as Paul did teaching families. So, they must be public. And indeed, they are public in every way. They are advertised to the public. Church leaders call people together for these classes and exhort people to attend them. They are under the oversight of the leadership of the church. So, what is there about them that would make them private? All are invited, all are encouraged to attend. They are public. More specifically, they are a method of assembling the church that the Bible says nothing about.
Another rule that governs the assembly involves the Christian woman. Paul issues a pretty unpopular commandment beginning in verse 34.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 “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. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
Here, Paul forbids women from teaching or preaching in the assembly and they’re not even allowed to ask questions within the assembly. That is to be done in a private setting away from the assembly.
1 Timothy 2:12 “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
When Paul says that he suffers not a woman to teach, he used a Greek word that refers to a speech or a public discourse. The scriptures make allowance for a woman to teach others in a private, informal, one-on-one setting, such as when a mother teaches her children or a believing wife instructs her unbelieving husband in the gospel. But what is forbidden in this passage is women taking a public role in teaching God’s word. Some falsely interpret this verse to be saying that a woman can teach publicly as long as she’s not teaching a man; she can teach anybody in public, but she can’t teach a man. That’s not what Paul is saying. For one thing, where a woman is allowed to teach by God’s word, she can teach anyone–including, as I said, her unbelieving husband.
1 Corinthians 7:16 “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?…”
There is a case of a woman teaching a man, but in a private, home-type setting. A man who is not her husband can be taught as well.
Acts 18:26 “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”
This verse tells of the time when Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos, the teacher, aside and into their home, in a private setting to teach him the way of the Lord more perfectly. So, what Paul is condemning in his letter to Timothy is women teaching publicly. The prohibitions against her teaching and usurping authority over the man are separated by the disjunctive conjunction nor, meaning that two things are being forbidden: a woman teaching in public AND a woman usurping the authority of the man.
When a woman stands up and teaches a Sunday School class, she is publicly teaching the Bible regardless of who is in her class. Whereas the Lord says that she is to learn in silence when the word of God is being taught in public. Friend, is your church following the instruction of the apostle Paul? Lord willing, we will talk more about that in greater detail next week.
I want to summarize today’s study with five points:
- Examples of any kind of public teaching under both the Old and New Testaments always involve one undivided assembly. Again, you have house to house teaching involving individuals on a private level. Then you have public teaching, when the church comes together in one undivided assembly.
- Bible classes, as practiced by churches today, create a situation the Bible simply does not authorize.
- Paul said that women are not to teach publicly nor to usurp authority over the man but are to learn in silence when the word is being taught.
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 instructs the women to keep silence in the churches because it is a shame for her to speak when the church is assembled.
- Bible classes are certainly public assemblies that would fall under the scope of these verses. Thus, by their very arrangement, they violate the principles contained in 1 Corinthians 14.
Friends, the Sunday School arrangement was unheard of in the church for almost 1800 years, and it’s not merely that modern date that makes them objectionable; it’s the fact that they replaced God’s design for the church assembly with something else. The question today is, are we going to follow only what we can read in the Bible and be unquestionably right, OR are we going to follow the doctrines and practices of men? You can’t go wrong following Paul’s teaching for the assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 14. No one is questioning the good intentions of those who practice the Sunday School arrangement of teaching. I’m certainly not. I realize that most see it as an honest effort to teach the word of God, but ironically in doing so, it employs a method that is contrary to what the Bible teaches.
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In the 18th century, Robert Raikes saw an urgent need: the education of poor children in England. The dawn of the industrial era led to the working-class children of Great Britain being forced into hard factory labor six days a week. On Sundays, many of these juveniles roamed the streets and fell into trouble. With no public schools and no time nor money for education, Raikes conceived an idea to have churches band together and provide Sunday Schools for these indigent children. The Bible and other religious curriculum was used to teach reading, writing, and other basic subjects and provided a moral foundation for the struggling youth. The concept caught on and within a matter of a few years the new schools were flourishing and spreading to other lands. What began as a precursor to the public school system, in a matter of time, became an arrangement for local churches to provide outreach to the young people of their communities and to indoctrinate them in the doctrines of their churches. Today, most churches divide into Sunday School classes to teach their membership. What may have been borne out of a pure motive became an arrangement for edifying the church contrary to the arrangement the apostles set forth by divine authority. As we continue our series on Innovations and the Divine Pattern, find out how Sunday School became a prominent part of the work of most churches and why it is opposite to Paul’s instructions for the church assembly.