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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Woman’s Work in Baptist Churches

H. Boyce Taylor  

From Why Be A Baptist?, 1928

There are few men for whom we have higher regard personally than J. B. Gambrell and J. B. Moody. We would not say one word intentionally to wound or grieve either of them. They are both much older than the editor of News and Truths. We do not want to be, nor do we mean to be, disrespectful to our elders.

If anything in this article seems to be so we here and now disavow any such intention and beg our readers to remember that any statement that might be so interpreted is not aimed at them personally but at the position which they have espoused.

We mention them by name because they both have mentioned us by name in their recent discussions in the Baptist Standard and the Baptist Advance and because they are by common consent the acknowledged champions of "women speaking in public in mixed assemblies" in the South.

With Bro. Gambrell we agree most heartily in saying: "No Scripture must be so interpreted, as to contradict another Scripture, when that other Scripture is of certain and unmistakable interpretation."

And yet that is exactly what both of the brethren have done, as we will show a little later on.

The Issue

Both of the brethren are seemingly confused as to the issue in their own minds or have unwittingly confused the issue in their articles.

The issue is not as to whether a woman may speak in a public mixed assembly, but whether it is scriptural and right for a woman to speak in public in a mixed assembly. Thousands of women at Asheville spoke every night before and after the service in a public mixed assembly, but only two spoke in public in that mixed assembly. Yet both of the brethren in their articles make arguments upon cases where women did the first, which is not the point at issue at all.

Bro. Gambrell cites the case of women speaking on Pentecost as a case in point. The women scattered through that gathering throng on Pentecost did speak as the Spirit gave them utterance, just as thousands of women spoke every night at Asheville both before and after the regular services at the Asheville Convention in a public mixed assembly, but all their speaking was private, not public.

No woman spoke in public on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is very careful to safeguard that very point so that no one need be mistaken unless he just wants to be. "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words" (Acts 2:14). It is specifically said that when that assembly was called to order and the time for the public speaking began that "Peter standing up with the eleven" did the talking. No woman on the day of Pentecost under the control of the Holy Spirit dared to stand up before that mixed assembly and say one word. "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" (1 Cor. 14:37).

No woman led of the Spirit will disobey his prohibitions there given as to women speaking in mixed assemblies before men. Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 are in perfect harmony.

Bro. Gambrell’s one and only argument in the Standard article was based upon an interpretation of Acts 2, which (quoting his language) is "monstrous, impossible and wrong." The consistence of the Scriptures on the woman question is shown (and incidentally their verbal inspiration) in that on an occasion when women spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, has the inspired penman to make it plain that women, speaking as He gives them utterance, do not stand before mixed assemblies and speak. Peter and the eleven and they only stood up and spoke to that Pentecost assembly.

Bro. Moody misses the issue as widely as does Bro. Gambrell. He cites women prophesying "preaching in a private and personal way" and Priscilla’s private instruction of Apollos in support of his position, not one of which touches the question of women speaking in public before mixed assemblies.

The issue before us is as to whether the Scriptures ever authorize by precept or example women standing before mixed public assemblies and addressing them as the two women did at the Asheville Convention. We think we will be able to show that the Scriptures are consistent throughout on that very point and that the only seeming exception is Deborah and the exception was made in that case because the men were all "sissies." The brethren are welcome to all the consolation they can get out of that exception.

But let us clear up the issue just a little further by noting just exactly what it is that women are prohibited from doing.

Prohibitions On Women

1. To speak in public in mixed religious assemblies. "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" (1 Cor. 14:37).

2. To lead in public prayer in a mixed assembly. "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array" (1 Tim. 2:8-9). The word translated "men" here means "men" as distinguished from women and children, so says Thayer’s lexicon. That means men only are to lead in public prayer in mixed assemblies.

3. To teach men. "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:12). This prohibition limits the work of women in Sunday Schools to teaching women and children. There is plenty of work for them to do there without getting out of their place and teaching men’s classes. It is significant that nearly all Sunday School experts today are saying that the teaching of men and boys above the intermediate department is a man’s job. God said so a long time ago.

4. To be in authority over a man. "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:12). Women are prohibited from having any place in the work of our churches that puts them in authority over their brethren.

"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels" (1 Cor. 11:3-10).

These are the prohibitions which God the Spirit put upon our sisters.

Her Compensations

We mention only two:

1. Her child-bearing.

"Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (1 Tim. 2:15).

As B. H. Carroll well said:

"The woman shall live, indirectly, in the children she bears if they (the children) prove to be worthy. The man lives or dies according to his rule and leadership in public affairs; the woman lives or dies in her children. His sphere is the public arena; her sphere, the home. Washington’s mother lived in him; Lois and Eunice lived in Timothy. The Roman matron, Cornelia, pointed to her boys, the Gracchi, and said, ‘These are my jewels.’

“The world is better and brighter when women sanctify and beautify home, proudly saying, "My husband is my glory, my children are my jewels and I am content to live in them. Why should I desire to be a man and fill his place: who then will fill mine?"

2. Her Hospitality and Service.

"He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man) in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matthew 10:40-42).

The Lord Jesus Himself shows that those who receive God’s prophets and minister to them and to His needy little ones will get as much reward as the prophets do to whom they minister. In other words the Master said that women, upon whom these tasks preeminently fall, will get just as much reward for their private work faithfully done, as the men will for their public work, faithfully performed. The women who speak in public, like the folks who give and pray and fast to be seen of men, get their reward here in what men say about it.

Woman’s Sphere and Work

While on this question it is well to give what the Scriptures have to say on the positive side of the question as well as on the negative side. There has been the weakness of much of the discussion of Paul’s prohibitions. The women have been told what they were not to do; but when with earnest sincerity they came and asked what God wanted them to do they have of times been put off with no definite answer. Now God’s Word is just as clear and plain on what women ought to do as on what they ought not to do.

We believe a careful reading of some of the things that God has commanded women to do will show that the most neglected work in the world is woman’s work. Just to the extent that woman becomes man’s competitor in doing a man’s work, just to that extent her own work goes undone. Because so many women are trying to be men and fill men’s places today women’s work is the most neglected, the most slighted, and the most needed work in all the world.

What is woman’s sphere and work?

I. The Home.

Women should above all else be homebodies. Woman was made to be man’s help meet. "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him" (Gen. 2:18).

The "virtuous" woman in Proverbs 31 was a "worker at home." Paul enjoined Timothy, the young preacher, to teach the women to be, not idlers or tattlers, or busybodies, but "keepers at home."

"And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" (1 Tim. 5:13-14).

Peter had somewhat to say along the same line. "Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ" (1 Pet. 3:16).

The divorce court, the apartment house, and the modern club are menaces today that threaten the sanctity and happiness and continuity of our American homes, because many women are not willing to be and to do the things necessary to make their homes little paradises of love and of God.

The woman who neglects her home life to do any kind of public work, religious or otherwise, is not occupying her God appointed sphere or doing her God given task. Her husband is a stranger among men, wandering around lodges and hotel lobbies and other loafing places at night to find the companionship and love he ought to find at home; and her children are a menace to the public well and moral welfare of the community in which she lives. The home life is one of the most neglected spheres of woman’s work, for no house ever was or ever can be a home without a woman to "guide the house."

Paul enjoined that only women should be put on the list of those supported by the church, who were too old to be mothers and whose home had been broken up by their being made widows and their children already "brought up."

"Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers,’ if she have washed the saint’s feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work" (1 Tim. 5:9-10).

Therein is a striking example of the "consistency of the Bible on woman’s work." God never calls women to neglect their homes or husbands or children to do any kind of public work.

II. Motherhood.

Paul enjoins "younger women to marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion of the adversary to speak reproachfully." (1 Tim. 5:14).

Billy Sunday told only the other day in an address to the women of Kansas City of how two physicians had told him recently of six and twelve women respectively in his choirs and engaged in other religious work in other cities where he had been, who had come to them and asked them to "prostitute their manhood" and sin against God and their husbands and homes and their unborn progeny by "relieving them of the cares of motherhood." Some doctor was found who was criminal enough to do what they asked, for none of them have had babies since. Just that thing is giving the adversary occasion to speak reproachfully of many women in many churches.

III. Teach Women.

God’s Word prohibits women from teaching men. "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:12).

God’s Word equally as clearly enjoins women to teach women. "The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed" (Titus 2:3-5).

The reason so many young women are ensnared in the meshes of the white slavers today is because they have not been taught. The reason so many girls are decoyed into the disgraceful, licentious modern dance is because mothers and other women teachers are too busy trying to do the men’s work to take time to teach their daughters modesty and decency and chastity.

The reason of the popularity of the "movies" with their unlimited temptation under the most favorable surroundings for too much freedom between the sexes is because the women are neglecting to teach their daughters the sacredness of their own person and the necessity of making boys "hands off" for the preservation of their own chastity. The shameless exposure of their person, by wearing dresses too low at the top and too high at the bottom and by having on too few clothes, so prevalent among many modern women, is a sad commentary on the woeful neglect of older women to teach younger women how to dress "becomingly and chastely."

One of the best known evangelists among Southern Baptists said in Murray some years ago that in the last ten towns in which he held meetings there were more fast girls than boys. Such a fact as that exists in any town is the most severe indictment that can be brought against the women of that town. It proves my proposition that the most neglected work in the world is woman’s work. They cannot do the work of men without neglecting their own.

Just to the extent that Bro. Gambrell and Bro. Moody encourage them to get out of their places and enter into competition with men for places in public religious work or in business or politics, just to that extent they are responsible for women neglecting their God given and Bible taught tasks. For Bro. Gambrell’s information we will say that every one of those ten towns to which the evangelist referred were in the West where women have "more freedom" than in the East.

IV. Hospitality, Service, Sacrifice.

"Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saint’s feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work" (1 Tim. 5:10). In this passage Paul outlines women’s work as fourfold:

(1) Home "bringing up children."

(2) Hospitality "entertaining strangers."

(3) Service "washing the saint’s feet."

(4) Sacrificial giving of time, labor or money to "relieve the afflicted" and other good works.

The widow who gave her two mites and Mary, who broke her alabaster box upon her Lord, were fine examples of sacrificial giving. Dorcas and others of her class were notable for heroic self-sacrificing service to the Lord’s poor and afflicted. Lydia and Priscilla and the woman who fed Elijah a whole year and many others are marvelous examples of keeping open house for the Lord’s servants.

Women have their hands full if they follow out Paul’s program as outlined above. Paul was as specific in telling women what they ought to do as in telling them what they ought not to do. Just to the extent that they violate his prohibitions they neglect the God ordained tasks he enjoins. If they do the men’s work the men will lie down on the job and let them, and their own work will go undone. The men will not do it for them. If they attend to their own work the men will do theirs when they see they have to do it.

Now having gotten out of the way some common objections let us note how remarkably consistent the Scriptures are in their teaching upon woman’s sphere and work.

The cases cited by the advocates of women speaking in public are all cases of "wresting the Scriptures" except Deborah and she did not talk in public but she did exercise authority over men. But God tells why He permitted that.

Miriam, the Samaritan woman, the women at the Savior’s tomb, Priscilla, Anna the prophetess, Phillip’s daughters who were prophetesses and others are cited as examples of women speaking in public in mixed assemblies. "And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (Ex. 15:20). In Miriam’s case the Scriptures are very specific in saying that she led the women in their singing. Moses led the men.

The Samaritan woman did all her talk in personal private conversation to her neighbors and acquaintances as she went from house to house in the city and told of the Savior. "The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (John 4:28-29).

The women who were first at the tomb, though not last at the cross, as is so often said, went and told what they had seen to the disciples privately. "And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles" (Luke 24:9-10).

Anna the prophetess spoke of the infant Savior to the passersby as they came and went.

"And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36-38).

There were no public services in the temple and a woman was not even allowed to go into the men’s court.

Priscilla was the wife of a man by the name of Aquila. His name is mentioned first when Paul met them and in their greeting in Corinth. She was however more active in her Master’s work than her husband. In every other instance except one her name occurs first. That one case is the case of where, they gave some private instructions to Bro. Apollos. Mark you, it was done privately, not publicly.

God’s Word says "they took him (Apollos) unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (Acts 18:26). But the significant thing about the incident is this, namely, that indifferent Aquila, who is always mentioned after his wife elsewhere in the Scriptures, is here mentioned as taking the lead in even a private conversation with Apollos to set him straight in some matters. Did it happen so that Aquila’s name occurred first in this instance or was it the careful work of the Holy Spirit, who is the author of God’s Word, to impress upon the readers that woman’s sphere and work is not that of leadership?

"And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles" (Acts 21:8-11).

The incident in connection with Phillip’s daughters is equally significant. Phillip had four daughters who were prophetesses. Paul was abiding at Phillip’s house at Caesarea "many days." While there God sends to him a prophet named Agabus, whose home was probably at Antioch, to tell him of the imprisonment that awaited him at Jerusalem. Now why did God send a man all the way from Antioch to tell Paul that, when he was staying in the home of a man who had four daughters, who were prophetesses? Was it Paul’s prejudice against women that the Lord humored by sending Agabus to him or was it a striking example of the consistency of the Spirit who inspired all prophecy, to maintain the clear teaching of God’s Word that women must not usurp authority over a man?

Now let us note Deborah’s case. She was the only woman judge and deliverer. She did exercise authority over men. Why this exception? God tells "Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No" (Judges 4:20) Barak said positively that he would not go at all unless she went with him.

"And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh" (Judges 4:8-9).

She told him then the honor would be a woman’s if he was too cowardly to undertake the job without a woman taking the lead. The secret of this exception was to be found in the fact that the men of Deborah’s day were cowards and "sissies."

If Bro. Gambrell and Bro. Moody have the same kind of men to deal with, then they may get some help out of Sister Deborah for their cause. But so long as there are manly men in Texas and Illinois, who can and will lead in God’s work, there is no warrant from God’s Word in Deborah’s example for the brethren to put the women forward and thereby help to increase the number of "sissy" men in our ranks, who lie down on the job and let the women do the work.

The Lord Jesus said some very plain things to the church at Thyatira because they permitted a woman, who called herself a prophetess, to teach. "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols" (Rev. 2:20).

The certain and unmistakable Scriptures on this question are the prohibitions of Paul in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy and the example of the Lord Jesus while on earth in not appointing any woman to official position and His prohibition in Revelation 2:20. All the Scriptures the brethren introduce to support women speaking in public in mixed assemblies can be explained harmoniously and consistently with these plain prohibitions of God’s Word.

According to all principles of sound exegesis, in the language of Bro. Gambrell, their interpretation is "Monstrous, impossible and wrong;" it arrays Scripture against Scripture and makes "certain and unmistakable" Scriptures to be contradicted by others, whose interpretation is to say the least of it doubtful.