(Update, 6/12/06 – for new information on the Winkler case, click here) 

People continue to read and debate the post I wrote over a week ago about Mary Winkler’s killing of her husband, a Church of Christ minister. If you want to read that post or others, go here, here, and here. In the comments section, people have argued about what the Church of Christ believes or doesn’t believe and what it practices or doesn’t practice. There are strong and passionate feelings both pro and con. For the most part it has been a civilized discussion. I’ve only had to edit one comment that crossed the line.
After reading all the arguments for the submission of women in the COC and the arguments about why they don’t use instrumental music (which probably has more to do with saving money than with any Biblical misunderstanding since they do a LOT of things in their church and services that are not found in the New Testament), I figured it was time to provide some background for my beliefs.

While I disagree with the COC’s interpretation of the Bible, that doesn’t mean I think they are going to Hell. Of course not. I don’t think as a group they are bad people at all. In my experience attending three different COC churches I met some very fine and sincere Christians. God knows our hearts and our intentions and our actions, and I believe he values those much more than which particular church we attend. It is the basic belief in Christ as the son of God and our Savior that is the key – not these other side issues.
However, I DO believe that such rigid and misguided (in my opinion) doctrine attracts men who will misuse that doctrine to justify their abuse of women and children — just as some Catholic priests have misused their position of authority to abuse children. Only Mary Winkler knows why she killed her husband (as she admitted doing). However, something extreme (abuse, her own mental illness, or something) led her to an action that was supposedly totally out of character.
I grew up in a large parsonage family. My father was a minister, and my mother was active in the women’s groups and raising seven children (of which I’m the middle child). She often taught Sunday School and cooked many meals for covered dish suppers. She still puts together a delicious meal for 30 – 50 people with very little notice and with seemingly little effort.

I’ll back up a little to give more background. My father was called to preach when I was a newborn. The call was so strong that he moved our family to Kentucky in order to attend college and then later moved back to Georgia for graduate school to get his Masters of Divinity degree in order to become an ordained minister.

In 1986 my father died after more than 35 years of preaching. He had served in 3-point circuits, small town churches and large churches. At the time he died he was the minister of a small country church – a church that was typically pastored by retired ministers – which was the case with my father.

His death was unexpected, and the church was left without a pastor. A couple weeks after his death, a group of church members came to my mother and asked her if she would be the pastor until another one could be found. There is no one on earth who more sincerely and humbly seeks to do God’s will than my mother. After much prayer, she accepted. Later when the church members asked her to stay on as their minister, she agreed. While pastoring fulltime at that church, she went back to school, finished her bachelors degree (which she had worked on whenever she had a chance to take a course or two over many previous years) and went to Divinity school to get her Masters of Divinity degree and became an ordained minister – all at a time when most people her age were retiring. She was able to pastor several different churches before mandatory retirement at the age of 70 – churches where even the die-hard “women shouldn’t be preachers” members came to the point of supporting her and seeing God’s grace and will lived out daily in her life. After retirement, she became a minister of visitation at a large local church. Even now, at the age of 83, whenever other ministers calls and asks her to preach for them when they’re sick or planning a trip, she always says yes because of her strong calling.

Last fall she began her own blog – Ruthlace – it was there that she wrote a post about women preachers and the place of women in the church. I will exerpt some of it here (actually a LOT of it), but I recommend that you go and read the entire post. It’s long, but it’s detailed and provides wonderful Biblical documentation for her beliefs and mine.

What About Women Preachers

I kept coming back to the subject of what the Bible has to say about women as preachers. My husband who was a pastor used to tell those who came to him for counsel concerning a call to preach, “If the Lord will let you do anythng else, do it.” Becoming a pastor is a glorious joy and privilege but also a never ending task. The demands are staggering.


Last year a man who identified himself as a preacher, wrote a letter [to a local newspaper]. . . stating that women preachers violated the clear teachings of Scripture and were a “cancer” on the church. A clear reading of the Bible in context indicates otherwise. 


1. Starting in the Genesis of our Bible, Chapter 1, we read all (men and women) are made in the image of God and both men and women are given dominion over the rest of creation: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air …’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)


2. When Jesus said, ‘whosoever will’, He did not give a subordinate list for women. . . . The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus liberated (re-created) both men and women. Many New Testament passages show that it was Christ’s intention to reverse the widespread subjugation of women, which began when the cancer of sin (speaking of cancer) entered the world. (Genesis 3). In Genesis 3, we read that both man and woman lost the joyful liberty God had given them in creation when they abused that freedom in prideful disobedience. Sadly, God’s intention for mutuality and equality among man and woman went awry. Thus, the image of God became distorted with sin and our world became ‘fallen’ (full of sin). Jesus came to save us from sin. (Matthew 1:21). 

3. In a culture that refused to allow women as teachers, learners, or even as witnesses in court, Jesus assures Martha and Mary sitting at His feet that learning was a good thing (Luke 10:41-42). ‘Sitting at the feet’ of a master is a phrase used for a ‘learner’ or ‘disciple’. It is difficult for our generation to understand the amazing freedom (and grace) Christ’s coming brought to the world of women as well as men. In many of Jesus’ parables, when He used male images and activities, He also used a parallel involving women. . . . 

4. Jesus allowed women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection. In fact, it was Jesus Himself who told Mary Magdalene to ‘go and tell’. . . . 

5. Acts 2:17-18: “And it shall come to pass, says God. That I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions. Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and My maidservants, I will pour out My spirit in those days. And they shall prophesy.” The prophet Joel’s words that women as well as servants will one day prophesy came true at the Pentecost. A prophet can be a foreteller of future events and/or a person gifted in the exposition of divine truth. Since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God has imparted His gifts to each person ‘just as He determines’ (I Corinthians 12:11). We do not tell God to whom He can or cannot give any gift, including the gift of preaching. Pentecost represents God’s sanction for prophetic ministry by women as well as men. It is God who calls a person (whether man or woman) to preach. I would never dare to stand behind a sacred pulpit without being sure of God’s call. 

6. In Galatians 3:22-28 we read: “For we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:16-28). Paul goes on to say that Christ came to redeem those under the law (Greek, slave, female) that we (all) might receive the full rights of sons (whoever will). The masculine noun (son) and pronoun (he) was used for both genders in the original and so translated into English by Biblical scholars in places when the intent was son/daughter, he/her or children. At other times the gender is specified when read in the original language. 

7. Paul tells us in I Corinthians that a woman is not to pray or prophesy without a ‘head covering’. This certainly means that if a woman dresses decorously, she can both pray and prophesy. (I Corinthians 11:5) Paul goes on to say, “as a woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.” Both genders were loved and honored equally by God in the decisive events of Creation (Genesis 1:26-27), Incarnation (Matthew 1:21) and Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18). 

8. All my life I have heard people quote Paul’s words in I Corinthians 14:34, “let your women keep silent in church.” Some incorrectly used this as a proof text to forbid women to preach or teach. In the context of chapter 14, Paul admonishes the women at Corinth to be quiet, not because it is wrong for women to speak out loud in church service. He has just told them they can pray or prophecy as long as they act and dress circumspectly. (I Corinthians 11:5). Paul goes on to explain that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace … everything should be done decently and in order.” (I Corinthians 14:33-40). So untaught women were not to disrupt the service by asking questions out of order. Better these women should ‘ask their husband’ at home 

9. Ephesians 5:22-24 is one of Paul’s five ‘hupotasso’ passages, (I Corinthians 14:34, Colossians 3:18, I Timothy 2:11, Titus 2:5) so named because of the Greek word translated ‘submit’ or ‘submission’. A full discussion of male/female roles would require a careful exegesis of all five passages. The idea of submission was nothing new. These women had been taught ‘submission’ from their mother’s knee. Submission was a part of Jewish life for women since the tragic event of ‘the Fall’ in Genesis 3. What is new? The new is seen as we read the rest of the story. Men are also taught ‘to submit as to the Lord’. Paul, a little more politically correct than Jesus, was careful not to upset the delicate cultural fabric of his day. But Paul was a ‘new creation in Christ’ since he met Jesus on the Damascus road. Paul recognized that ‘submit’ is a good word. So do I. What is new in Paul’s theology is how women are to submit; they are to submit ‘in the Lord’. In fact, Paul requests the same submission of the entire church body at Ephesians. They are all to ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ (Ephesians 5:21). I Timothy 2:11:12 is another example; “Let a woman learn in silence and submission, in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” In the context, the Corinthian women were speaking so as to create disorder in the worship. It is often said, ‘women like to talk’. Paul is maintaining that untaught women should be taught (manthaneto is imperative). The silence and ‘full submission’ (again to the church body or teacher) is what any teacher would ask of his pupils. A correct rendering of I Timothy 2:11-12 (of the original into English) would be: “I command that women learn (be taught) in quietness and full submission (to the teaching authority). I am (presently) not permitting a woman to teach and she is not to exert evil influence over a man.” Women (or men) who ‘exert evil influence’ are not to teach. 

10. When we study the whole of Paul’s letters, we realize that the great Apostle Paul was not chauvinistic toward women as some have claimed. It was Paul who referred to Julia as ‘outstanding among the apostles’. It was Paul also who called Phoebe ‘a minister of the church’. Of the 29 people Paul greets in Romans 16, many are women whom he addressed by name, which is contrary to Jewish custom; Phoebe, Tryphosa, Julia, Mary. 

This passage of scripture definitely tells us that the woman Phoebe was a minister. In Romans 16:1, Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a diakomos (translated into English as ‘servant’ only for Phoebe) of the church in Cenchrea.” Paul uses the word, diakomos, a masculine term with no article. When Biblical scholars translated the word ‘diakomos’ into English, they translated it ‘deacon’ (3 times) or ‘minister’ (18 times). Only in the case of our sister Phoebe is it translated from the original into English as ‘servant’. In fact, in Romans 16:1-2, Paul refers to Phoebe as ‘prostatis pollon’, which if addressed to a man would likely be translated into English as ‘ruler of many’…. 

Post Script: People have asked me what Mama thought of women preachers and what my parents would think of me as a pastor. If I may editorialize, I think that where my parents are now (where the scales of tradition and pre-conceived ideas are removed from their eyes — and where the Bible is understood in the original language and all things are clear) they would know that when Jesus said, “Whosoever will”, he had no subordinate list for women. 

Then we have Jesus Himself telling Mary Magdalene to go and tell the good news of His resurrection to all including the 11 male disciples. Then Jesus telling Martha that Mary had chosen the “good part” of sitting as a disciple at His feet. There are verses in the Bible (and the Bible is our authority) that, if taken independently from other scripture,could make a case both pro and con. I think I have studied them all. That issue would make another whole paper . . . . . 

I remember also Mama relating to me about a Missionary speaker commenting of the Corinthian passage that says, “Let your women keep silent in church …If they would learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” Mama said that the missionary (a very dedicated male Christian missionary doctor) said that in Paul’s day, women (like children) were not educated and sometimes asked questions out loud in church. According to this missionary, the women in his mission field did the same. They might yell out to their husbands, “John, what did he mean?” This missionary said he often felt like Paul at these kinds of interruptions: “keep your women silent, if they would learn anything, let them ask at home — or at least at break time! ” and let everything be done decently and in order.” (I Cor. 14:40.) In other words, the missionary said, this passage did not mean that women had to keep silent. See Galations 3:28, Luke 8:1-3; Acts 2:17-18; and Romans 16:1 for other relevant passages. If women kept silent in church, silent would also mean not teach,speak, sing, testify, preach or even say hello — or whisper “no” to a noisy child. It simply meant to teach your women (as you teach your children) order and manners in private for public behavior so they will not interrupt the meetings. . . . Ordination is certainly not a women’s rights issue. Ordination is not a right to which any of us is entitled. It is an unmerited call and an unexpected gift of the Lord’s mercy. It is not a call to authority but a call to service.

And now I am finished with the topics of Matthew and Mary Winkler, the beliefs of the Church of Christ, and the submission of women. No matter the reasons behind what Mary Winkler did, it is a tragedy and there are three little girls who will live with this for the rest of their lives. Parents have lost a son, children have lost not only their father but their mother as well, a church has lost its minister, a woman is dealing with having killed her husband, and an extended family has been shaken to its foundation.  I will keep them all in my thoughts and prayers.  Perhaps I’ll write about the topic again when the reasons behind the killing are known. 

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36 Responses to “Women’s Place in the Church – Is the Church of Christ right? (Winkler post follow-up)”

  1. Blue Star Chronicles Says:

    Mary Winkler, the Preacher’s Wife…

    I haven’t written any posts on this murder mystery, but there has certainly been a lot of interest and speculation about it pretty much everywhere.
    One of the best discussions I’ve seen is at The Median Sib.
    Check out the links below to fol…

  2. dadmanly Says:

    Median Sib,

    Love the blog name — I’m a median sib too but by no means average!

    I never really came to an opinion about female preachers. Although my wife and I currently attend a church of a denomination that I am pretty sure opposes women preachers, I was eager to read your mother’s post.

    She convinced me. And so I think it’s telling that even opponents “came to the point of supporting her and seeing God’s grace and will lived out daily in her life.”

    Isn’t that what we all want God to do with us? So many of us worry about God’s call in someone else’s life.

    God bless you and your mom.

  3. David Says:

    Generalizing from I Corinthians 14:34 (and other Pauline pronouncements–esp to Timothy) about the role of women in the church today without taking into consideration the cultural context of the (mostly) Greek churches he addressed, is follish and inevitably leads to poor exegesis. There were, for example, classes of educated women who exercised great influence in some of the cities wherein early churches were established, and who sought to bring their debating skills and Greek thought into the church. And that was but one of many different issues confronting the church. Being lights and salt and yeast to the culture, bringing a transforming and specifically Christian culture into direct confrontation with the Graeco-Roman culture was a central issue in the early church, just as remaining a transforming agent in the midst of our pagan culture is today…

    Those who misuse scripture to exclude women from ministry come from many different points of view, but all are corrupted by their own personal cultural biases into misreading the text.

    But hey! That’s just (sinful) human nature, right?


  4. Tracydanger Says:

    Kramer auto Pingback[…] Carol wrote: I’m sorry – I left the wrong URL. That’s what I get for trying to do it by memory rather than cut/paste. The post I’d like you to read is http://themediansib.com/?p=… 04/07/06 15:06:17 Add Comments […]

  5. The Median Sib » Tennessee Church of Christ Minister Murdered by Wife - No wonder? Says:

    […] (Note added: For posts I’ve written on this topic as a result of the responses to this one, please check this post and this post and ESPECIALLY this post).  […]

  6. Erin Says:

    I came across your blog when trying to find out as much as possible–and engage in dialogue–about the Winkler case. My reason, however, is quite unique: I am the wife of a church of Christ minister (by the way, you know a person is COC if they don’t capitalize the word “church”).

    My experiences in the church of Christ–in which I was raised, and even educated at a “liberal” COC university–have been very similar to what Median Sib talked about. More than half my life has been spent in L.A. and Chicago, though, where the churches have seemed very different. One of the defining marks of COC is that there is no central governing body; each one is a little different depending on its membership and leadership.

    My husband is about to be finished working as a COC minister. The church we are at now–in North Carolina–is one of the more open COCs in the state. Which is scary, considering how not open it is. The first thing I thought when I heard about Mary Winkler was how alone she surely felt. Curious, isn’t it, that in such a small town (where I’ve actually spent a week a few years ago), in such a small church, not a single person had an inkling?

    My experience is that the congregation doesn’t know me at all. I don’t feel able to express my “liberal” views on things–including speaking out against the attitudes toward women–views that I have developed completely based on what I read in the Bible and through conversation with other believers.

    There are some churches of Christ that aren’t so degrading. There are some that even accept and love the participation of women in services–including leading singing, reading scripture, serving communion, and being partners in ministry.

    I, however, am not suited for this position. I can’t stand feeling the way I do: ignored, unappreciated, and generally treated as inferior. Women can’t even attend “business” meetings at our church–“Men’s Business Meetings”–as though we could forget. I sit in services and look around at the women who have no voice, no way of expressing their faith and God-given talents: there are women doctors, engineers, teachers, and I am an editor.

    But, in the church, we are wives, mothers, and cooks.

    My heart goes out to all involved in this tragedy. Nobody should be murdered, not even the worst amongst us–not even Mary Winkler. I hope that the church remembers that Mary Winkler is still a person, one who has done something horrible, but who needs more than ever to experience grace.

  7. The Median Sib » Blog Archive » Mary Winkler - the story people won’t let go Says:

    […] in the Church – Is the Church of Christ right? (Winkler post follow-up),   Trackback  Permalink   Filed under: Blogging/TMS, Religion, Headlines/Current Events Leave aComment […]


    I find it so funny that people such as yourself, love to find fault and criticize the coc because it does not fit your idea of a church. I take offense at the statement that we do not use instruments because of money, and what are the other things that we do that are not biblical? there will never be a one mind consensus on biblical ideas. Some look for truth, and other look to prove what they believe by the bible. We either are self-serving or a servant. Where do you fall? I am proud to be a member of the Lord’s church, and a minister’s wife. I pray for Mary Winkler and the fallout from the murder of her husband, It was a terrible event that reached many. Her children, the families, the congregation and others. thank you, Olive Buckley, Bay St Louis, Ms.

  9. carol Says:

    Olive, you obviously didn’t bother to read the entire post, or perhaps you just wanted to stir up things. So go ahead and be offended all you care to be. The thing about not using instruments because of money was a semi-joke. The COC uses microphones, projection screens, baptismal fonts, tape recorders, sound systems — all things that are not mentioned in the Bible. It just seems ludicrous to me when verses similar to “praise Him with harp and cymbal. . . ” are mentioned all through the Old Testament, that for some strange reason the people who started the COC decided that since it was not mentioned specifically in the NEW Testament that God had changed his mind about it. Again, it’s not a salvation issue. I just think it points to the absurdity of that particular COC practice. I went into my experience at the COC with an open heart and believing that there were no fundamental differences in Christian churches. The longer I was there, the more I realized how wrong my intial assumption was. Perhaps you can’t see it since you have been a part of it for so long. Women ARE oppressed in the COC. All the rhetoric about how women are honored and how each gender has its role in the church is just verbage to cover up the reality/ A MAN (not Jesus) came up with the COC beliefs and chose to take Paul’s writings out of context. Jesus himself told Mary Magdalene to go and proclaim his message. So I will take my beliefs from what Jesus said rather than something Paul wrote to address a specific societal concern from that time period.

    As far as being “self-serving or a servant” I believe that it’s not an either-or situation. I believe one can honestly question and seek guidance as a servant of Christ. I am also proud to be a member of the Lord’s church, and thankfully not a COC where Jesus’ message has been misrepresented.

  10. Cindy Pelissier Says:

    Hi Carol,

    I appreciate your website and also for your readers to have the ability to respond. Mary Winkler has been of real interest to me because I too am a member of the body of Christ who are called the Church of Christ. This truly is an unbelievably sad situation for so many people as you stated. How we all wish it wasn’t so.

    The secrecy surrounding this family’s tragedy may have to do with curbing rumors and gossip,(which I’m not so naive as to think the gossip isn’t flying) or keeping media sensationalism from running amuck before her case is presented by those representing her, in a very small community, than hidding some horrible secret that surely is going to be exposed anyway once the trial begins.

    When I heard the news releases about the Winkler family my first response was complete heartache for Mary, that she felt she had to do something so drastic to escape a life that, somehow, not one person in her church family had given themselves to her as a friend, a release valve or safe harbor. Of course this is my very narrow, one deminsional view based on reports from those who have been interviewed by the media. The Winkler family, perfect husband, perfect wife and three beautiful well adjusted daughters.

    Truly, the Church of Christ has it’s critics. Some of the worst are those who are in membership. We are a vastly diverse group, regionally, culturely, and doctrinely because we are worldwide. There are the one cuppers, the conservatives, the liberials, those who worship with praise teams,some groups allow women to lead prayer, serve communion, teach bible classes with both men and women in attendance. And there are even instrumental Churches of Christ, though the non-instrumental groups think they aren’t worshipping correctly. We are autonomus, meaning we don’t have a headquarters but each church tries to install elders to shepherd the church family spiritually and deacons to take care of the physical well being of the church family. But there are too many churches that have trouble finding men who desire to serve in these positions or men who scriptually meet the requirements to serve in these positions. Which is another deep well of human controversy and interpretation.

    I guess the issue that concerns me as a member of the Church of Christ when I read or hear people’s view about COCs is that we are somehow all lumped into one huge pot and classified as almost cultish, (which there are actual groups that some of us in mainstream COC’s consider to be cult groups of COC like the Boston movement,or Crossroads). I am sickened by any church or doctrine being it a COC, Baptist, Assembly of God, Calvery, Luthern, Catholic, whatever, that would so dominate their members that the teachings of Christ have been substitued or rejected for the traditions of men. The body of Christ that I fellowship with makes every effort to study scripture and to live lives that glorify God. We aren’t perfect. But we aren’t wierd either. We are just regular people. Some of us don’t have problems with instrumental music in the worship, some of us do. Some of us believe Jesus turned the water into wine, some believe he turned it into grape juice. Aren’t we a funny bunch. But you know what, we love each other all the same. We are family. I wish all Churches of Christ had the kind of church family like mine. Then maybe women like Mary Winkler wouldn’t feel like they were trapped by something Jesus never intended for His family.

    May we all continue to pray for Mary, her children, and the extended families.

  11. wendy Says:

    What I don’t understand…Is the bible is very clear about how God feels about people adding or taking away from the bible…You can’t accept the verses you want and skip over the ones that doesn’t “suit” you. It’s all or nothing.
    The bible clearly states what a man and a woman’s role is. And one is for women to keep quiet in the church.( 1 Corinthians 14:34-35)It doesn’t say that men are better than woman and that women are nothing. There are just certain things God doesn’t want women to do. In Ephesians 5:22 & 23 it does state for wives to submit in everything to there husbands..and that the husband should love his wife as Jesus loves the church (Ephesians 5:25).

    And about your comment about God knowing our hearts and it doesn’t matter what church you go to just as long as you’re sincere???? That is crazy. There are VERY few churches that teach the bible for what it is (nothing more or less) and that can show you where they found there information (book, chapter, verse) and you know..I’d rather be in that church learning the truth. The bible states that God wants all to be saved. BUT only a few shall enter the narrow gate. Think about it. Alot of people think they are right. And to those who won’t search for the truth might be hearing apart from me i didnt know you.

    The instrumental music was not authorized in the new testament.
    If it was authorized, believe me there would be instruments.

    Jesus purchased ONE church with his blood. Not 2, 3, 100..(One lord, one faith, one body, one baptism) I’m sure you read your bible and know how it speaks of false teachers, teaching, warning us about them. I mean..it’s up to you to accept what it says. But something so clearly stated..you have to wonder why people deny what is right there in front of them.
    Well..I’d love to get a response. Thanks alot.

  12. carol Says:

    Wendy, you apparently didn’t read the post very well. However, you’ve made your decision about your beliefs.  Anything I write won’t change that.  You write that you can’t just select certain scriptures to believe and discount the ones you don’t believe.  That’s exactly what you’re doing.  There are quite a few verses that negate the one about women being silent in church.  And really – the thing about not having instrumental music is just silly.  There are so many things that aren’t mentioned in the New Testament that the COC does.  Why on earth do they choose that one thing to make a big deal about.  As I said, your mind is made up.  And it’s not a salvation issue anyway. 

  13. wendy Says:

    actually it is a salvation issue.
    i take it seriously.

  14. carol Says:

    Whenever you decide to really think about it and study the Bible and see for yourself what it says rather than taking what your church tells you to believe about it, you will see that you are wrong. The role of women in the church and instrumental vs. noninstrumental music are definitely NOT salvation issues. I take it very seriously also. Actually, I truly understand why you feel the way you do. But you and your church are attempting to limit God for your own purposes. Not deliberately but by blindly following what has been drummed into your heads for so long.

    As far as my comment about God knowing our hearts being “crazy” – not at all. Again, read the Bible objectively.

  15. Charles Says:


    If you will for us, determine what is a “salvation issue” and what is not. Then, by using your criteria, we can settle the matter about women’s role in Christ’s church. You condemn the fact that others believe/think certain things based on ideas that they blindly accept… yet, your beliefs regarding both religion and churches of Christ are based on 2 things… your personal experiences and your respect for your parents… who could have either been right or wrong in their beliefs (it all depends on who you ask). In my estimation, none of these are acceptable criteria for forming a belief system. The wise man does not use advice of others, personal experience, or respect for other’s actions when determining God’s acceptance… he is going to solely use God’s word… and God’s word only.

    Fundamentally, the problem under discussion is not about the role of women… or instrumental music… it’s about how one chooses to interpret scripture. If you claim women have the ability to serve as a bishop (word used to denote leader) in the church, you have to find a way to explain 1 Timothy 3:1f. There, among qualifications for these individuals, one must be “the husband of one wife.” If someone claims that there’s an example in the New Testament where a women was considered a bishop (overseer of a church), he/she must admit that there is a contradiction… two passages teach different things. Thus, you must try to sort through the two passages… using (in the terms you have chosen) objectivity to determine if the passage actually teaches what you believe it teaches. If two verses or passages in the New Testament seem to teach exact opposite ideas, know for a certainty that we have improperly interpreted one of them because God is not the author of confusion… He is the author of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).

    Back to the women’s role in church… read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40… read 1 Timothy 2:8-15… what do they say? If someone is quick to point to other scriptures to refute the instruction we see in these two passages, I suggest that somewhere or another, we have made a mistake in interpretation… one or more of the passages do not actually teach what we believe it teaches. The tough thing for us to do in resolving the issue is… do I have the courage to put aside experience, respect for others, words of other people, etc. and try to work through the passages to determine truth.

    Jesus indicated that we could know the truth… it will set us free. He also indicated, in the same passage, that abiding in His word would allow us to be “His disciples” (John 8:31-32). I suggest, in order for us to be rightly called His disciples and to be set free from sin, that we diligently study His word (all of it… not parts of it only) and apply these things in our lives. Doing so, according to my understanding, is very much a “salvation issue.”

    NOTE: I have not included an accurate email address because of the uncertainty of the security of the site… please don’t use that fact as a reason to discern my motives. If Carol or other people respond on the forum, I will be more than happy to read and discuss further the things I have written. Thanks.

  16. carol Says:

    The one salvation issue is summed up by John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” That is the one thing our salvation depends on – our belief and faith in Jesus. God knows our hearts, and if we are sincerely doing our best to interpret the scriptures correctly and live accordingly, we are in His will. While my belief is that the COC misinterprets the Bible and thus limits what God can do via His people, that is not a salvation issue (according to the Bible).

    As far as God knowing our hearts: 1 Samuel 16:7b: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you’re COC, you might discount that teaching since it’s from the Old Testament. I don’t. Just as I don’t discount all the Old Testament verses about glorifying God with harp and cymbal (musical instruments!). However there are similar verses in the NT: Luke 16:15: He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Both OT and NT – God KNOWS our hearts – and that’s the important thing. And the salvation “thing” is belief in Jesus Christ.

  17. Charles Says:


    I appreciate you clearing things up for me regarding salvation. Seems I have been the one that is wrong all these years in some of my interpretations. Let me address your ideas one at a time.

    First, let me clarify Old Testament usage. It is useful… in fact, 1 Corinthians 10:6 indicates situations in the OT are very useful examples. In other words, we can learn numerous valuable lessons from studying it. However, the Old Testament cannot be used today to determine God’s authority. If you will read Ephesians 2:11-16, Colossians 2:13-15, and Hebrews 8:6-13, you will realize that the law of Moses (OT law for the majority of its composition) is obsolete… it was nailed to the cross. In fact, the passage in Hebrews indicate that Jesus has set up a “better covenant” (compared to the law of Moses). Thus, to say that someone does not “believe in” the OT is untrue.

    Now, here’s a question: If you go back to the Old Testament to try to find God’s authority for your actions today (i.e. use of musical instruments in worship to God), do you also teach that every Christian male must travel to Jerusalem three times each year to observe certain feasts (Exodus 23:14-19)? Do you teach that animal sacrifices must still be made (Leviticus 1-7)? If you do not teach these things, you are guilty of “picking and choosing” yourself because these were all things (along with the use of instrumental music) that were part of the old law of Moses. In Galatians 5:1-6, Christians were trying to “bind” circumcision as a requirement for Christianity. Notice Paul’s ideas… if you try to lift one mandate from the old law out in order to bind it on others, you have to take all mandates. Oh, and doing so causes you to be “estranged from Christ”/”fallen from grace.” Our authority today comes from Christ and His law that is found in the New Testament… not from the inferior law of Moses (see Hebrews 8-10 to see why it is inferior).

    Second, concerning the “salvation issue,” I will hasten to take you to places like Galatians 5:19-21. After citing a list of sins, Paul indicates that practicing such things would cause a person to “not inherit the kingdom of God.” Is sinful living not a “salvation issue?” Also, what about places such as 1 Peter 3:21 and the subject of Christian baptism (also you may look at Mark 16:15-16)… I suppose that when the Bible clearly mentions salvation in these two texts that we should not put it in a category of being a “salvation issue?”

    You righly mention the fact that God (and He only) knows every thought of our hearts. However, sincerity does not equal being right in God’s sight. Paul stated he lived in good conscience (Acts 23:1)… however, that does not mean he was always right in God’s sight while persecuting the church. Of the Jews, he would say that they had zeal (sincerity; Romans 10:1-2)… yet, sincerity does not equal salvation. As I mentioned in my first post, Jesus claimed that we could know the truth… many do not seek the truth, relying instead upon the teachings of men and traditions of religious groups. We bear the responsibility to seek for the truth in God’s word… and apply it in our lives. All such “things” are considered “salvation issues” to God.

    NOTE: If your reply post, you didn’t address the passages that deal with teachings regarding women’s role in the church… I’d like to see your reply from the word of God. Also, I thank you for the opportunity to freely post my beliefs and for your good spirit in responding. Look forward to continuing the discussion… even if neither of us changes our minds.

  18. carol Says:

    Read the post again, Charles, if you want to understand the Biblical basis for my beliefs about women in the church.  I won’t repeat them here.  In Acts 21:8 & 9 Paul tells of staying in the home of Philip the evangelist who had four daughters who prophesized.  Did they prophesy only to other women and children? What the COC founders did was to take some scriptures out of their historical context and out of the spirit of the rest of the NT to support their belief in the superiority of men.

    The New Testament also talks about slaves obeying their masters, and yet I’m sure you don’t believe in slavery.  However, in NT days there were slaves.  So we should interpret the Bible by taking into consideration the times and circumstances in which it was written.  Do Church of Christ women cover their heads?  Not any that I met – yet that’s in the NT.

    The Bible is there for us to read and interpet as accurately as possible and then to follow as closely as possible.  I’ve written this before but I’ll do it again - the New Testament doesn’t instruct us to use microphones and projection screens in church – and yet each COC I’ve attended (4 different churches) used them.  If you can’t use instrumental music because the Bible didn’t instruct you to, then why do you use other things that the NT doesn’t instruct  you to use?  Did the NT mention hymnals?  The NT does instruct us to praise and glorify God.  One way that I choose to do that is through singing with instrumental accompaniment.   

    I hope that if I am right in this debate – that God will look at the sincerity of your beliefs about women’s place in the church and not judge you harshly – just as I hope that if you are right, he would not judge me harshly. We both are doing what we feel the Bible tells us to do. The only difference is that I’m taking into consideration the times and circumstances in which the NT was written.
    While this is an interesting discussion, I have no desire or need or time to continue to debate the issue here. I only spent a year attending a Church of Christ, and I tried my best to understand their beliefs. However, to me it felt fundamentally wrong and was contrary to what I read in the Bible.

    One curious question: Do you believe that all non-Church of Christ (Jews, Buddhists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, etc.) are damned?

  19. Charles Says:


    Appreciate your responses… especially the one regarding the roles of women in the church. In reading your comments, I am becoming aware of your thought process in regards to religion.

    You asked the question, “Do I believe all non-church of Christ are damned?” I will answer not with my words, but with words of my Lord and Savior. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus claimed that everyone who callled Him “Lord, Lord” would enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, it would be “he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Their sin (lawlessness)… the things they did in Christ’s name was not according to His will (22-23). I find it amazing, in light of passages such as this, that many claim that simply believing in Jesus/acting on His behalf will lead us to salvation. Who, then, will be saved? I suggest to you that it is only the people who “do Christ’s will.” Now, a sticking point with many people… the terms of entrance into God’s kingdom. If you will look at Christ’s words in John 3:3-5 and in Mark 16:15-16, you will see that people are saved at the point of baptism. When you begin talking about the various ways people teach our salvation today, you find that many (for reasons unknown to me… I can’t know motives) teach otherwise. Just like any organization/institution, there are requirements for entrance… those who haven’t submitted to Christ’s command to be baptized for forgiveness of sins are lost. However, I’ll also remind you that there is more to the story… 1 John 1:7-9 teaches us that Christians must continue to “walk in the light” as our Lord is light in order to continue to enjoy the benefits of Christ’s blood in our lives. Again, as I said in an earlier post, you might want to examine this idea of “sincerity.” You cannot have “acceptable religion” without sincerity (see places like John 4:24)… but simply having sincerity doesn’t mean I’m correct in my theology (see people in Matthew 7:21-23; Paul in Acts 23:1; Jews in Romans 10:1-2).

    You ask about women using the gift of prophecy in Acts 21… I will gladly answer. Philip did have four daughters who served as “prophets of God.” It’s obvious, in your response, that you believe they exercised this gift in an unlimited manner… that is, to all people (including men). Yet, when you read from the 1 Corinthians 14 passage, you find that Paul claims that these mandates (pertaining to tongues, prophets, women) were done in all the churches of the saints. Included in the “all” would be the church at Caesarea. Therefore, we ask the question… “Is there any way that the perceived disagreement in the 2 passages can be resolved. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul claimes that these teachings are “the commandments of the Lord” (37; evidently, he anticipated opposition from those who were spiritual/prophets). Therefore, we can’t “throw out” the teachings in this passage as “irrelevant.” Thus, the only thing we are left to do is go back to Acts 21 and say, “how can we look at this passage in a way that will agree with 1 Corinthians 14?” The easy answer is that the four daughters of Philip did not exercise their gifts of prophecy in a mixed setting (women/men present). I clearly believe there were women prophets in the early church… it is wrong to teach/believe otherwise. However, their function is not always what many would assume to be the case.

    Last, I would also happily address (since you keep mentioning it) the idea of microphones/projection screens. You are right, they are not mentioned in the New Testament. However, the NT teaches us that we should worship (John 4:23)… microphones assist people in worshipping (note this word) without changing the worship itself. Just as a song book helps people to sing (without changing the singing itself), microphones help those who lead in worship to be heard. Therefore, it is an aid that helps us in obeying a command of Christ (without changing the nature of the command). A good parallel is using a plane for the purpose of evangelism. Someone might say, “I don’t see it in the New Testament.” Correct, but Jesus did say “go” in the command of Matthew 28:18-20. And, in saying “go,” He implied that we must use some means of transportation. A projection screen cannot be acceptably used to show movies in worship… because that changes what worship to God is… but it can be used in such a way that teaching/singing/etc. is more easily done under the same idea as the “going” of Matthew 28.

    As I conclude (and it seems as if you do not desire to continue the discussion), I hope you realize I do consider the times of the NT in our interpretation today. However, in regards to an idea like women’s role, I don’t simply look to discount Jesus’ teachings because we “live in a different culture today” (the truth of the matter is that Corinth/Ephesus both enjoyed much the same freedom for women as we do today… in Palestine, it might have become a factor). Under that reason, I could find a reason to disobey every command of the Bible… because every command was given to a certain person/church in a certain place and I am neither that person nor a member of that church. As I pointed out earlier, our disagreement comes from a difference in how we choose to interpret the Bible. All methods that are used for interpretation are not right (see Matthew 15:1-20 and notice how the Pharisees interpreted the law of Moses). I have enjoyed the discussion and I pray God will bless you as desire to seek the truth of His word.

  20. Cindy Pelissier Says:

    Hi Carol,

    I want to say that I am amazed at your great restraint and kind responses to Wendy and Charles. As I stated previously, I too am a member of the Church of Christ. In fact, I am probably 4th or fifth generation from both sides of my parents and if I worked really hard I could probably trace my spiritual heritage back to the Stone/Campbell restoration movement. Last time, I wrote to you, but this time I would like to write to Wendy and Charles, my sister and brother in the body of Christ.

    Hi Wendy and Charles,

    Your sincere love and passion for the truth of God’s Word is highly commendable and I believe you will receive what I have to say in love and with a desire to grow in wisdom and knowledge as all members of the body of Christ strive to do. If you’ve not studied the history of the COC in the United States, I encourage you to do so. If you’ve not studied the history of how the church began in the book of Acts, I encourage you to do so too.

    I tend to agree with much of the criticism Carol has for the Church of Christ as an institution. I am embarrassed by how we use the Word of God with such legalism and ignorance that we send precious souls like Carol running as fast as they can away from us, looking for the grace, mercy and freedom in Christ, (God promised throughout the Old Testament) to other groups of believers.

    Wendy, I am hard pressed to find the scripture that says precisely the role of women in the church during worship. Being quiet in worship is not a woman’s role or a salvation issue. If this is considered a role that crosses all barriers throughout all time, to be adhered to in worship, how do we reconcile women singing out loud in the worship? I personally cannot. Submitting to ones husband is not a role in the worship or a legalistic rule to be followed. It is an attitude we are to have in love and reverence to God as we live our lives daily as Christian wives. Paul is giving instructions that, when lived out with the same attitude Christ had, would cause unbelievers to recognize something so beautiful and desirable in the lives of Christians, that they would want to be a part of it too. I know too many Christian women who follow the submit rule in the confines of the church building, but run rough shot over their husbands on the way home from worship in their cars or in their everyday lives at home or anywhere away from the building that the name of Christ is publicly smeared and dishonored by their actions. These are issues of faith! The measure of our faith in God is determined by how we live our lives. And our lives as Christians must be lived from the inside out, from a heart given over to Christ through faith.

    The controversial subject of instrumental music in or for worship continues to be a tool of Satan to cause believers to fight amongst ourselves. The only salvation issue connected with this topic is how unloving and unChrist like our attitudes become when we try to bind our preferences or traditions on other believers. Which causes unbelievers to wonder why in the world they would ever want to become as we are! Truly a salvation issue. Acapella worship is a rich heritage of the non-instrumental Churches of Christ. Praising God with our voices in four-part harmony is truly a blessing. When I invite an unbeliever to worship I let them know our preference in worship is to sing acapella. I cannot find the actual scripture that says using an instrument for worship is unauthorized. Sorry. I do know all the scriptures that are used to try to force this into being unauthorized, but, when I honestly read what was written, ‘singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ’ does not translate into using musical instruments to worship is unauthorized. How many times as we are singing in the worship do we let our minds slip somewhere other than in the moment? The songs we sing over and over and over again can become just rote and not be sung from the heart whether an instrument is used or not. Where our hearts and minds are as we worship the Lord, not, musical instruments are unauthorized .

    You are sadly correct when you stated that there are many churches that do not commit to the study of Scripture in an effort to find truth. This is true even in the Churches of Christ. Many have become nothing more than social clubs with ritualistic rules of entry followed with dogmatic rules and regulations for continued strict compliance in order to be considered a member in good standing. Jesus was appalled and angered by many of the scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders who made their own laws and practiced their own traditions making God’s laws null and void and creating undue burdens on their own people. Don’t we do the same? I know I have been guilty of doing so. So we should study as you say, but not to prove our own point to someone else, but to be assured of right standing before God. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, gives us great guidance in handling or rightly dividing the word of truth and goes on to instruct Timothy in verse 24-25 as follows “and a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so they may know the truth.”

    We are all guilty at one time or another of using the Word of God to lash out at those who do not agree with our understanding of what Scripture teaches. May we all take better care in the future to prayerfully seek guidance in gentleness and patience as we share God’s Word.

    Charles, I agree with some of your statements as follows:

    Fundamentally, the problem under discussion is not about the role of women… or instrumental music… it’s about how one chooses to interpret scripture.


    The tough thing for us to do in resolving the issue is… do I have the courage to put aside experience, respect for others, words of other people, etc. and try to work through the passages to determine truth.

    But I’m not so sure that your response to Carol in regards to her explanation of her understanding of salvation, which you asked for her to explain, was in the spirit of love. You have a great gift of logic, knowledge and understanding of scripture, but as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love… And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love…

    I understand many of the issues and problems of the Churches of Christ that Carol found fault with during her tour of duty with the group she was involved with and whole-heartedly agree with many of her observations of the way women are viewed and over looked and over worked. Truly women are the backbone, physically and spiritually of the church, but are often times treated as subservient by not just men but by other women. I am so thankful to be in a fellowship where this is not the case. The one thing that continues to trouble me about Carol’s view of Churches of Christ, is that we are all alike. Some of us are making great strides to think outside of the box and to open our hearts and minds (without letting our brains fall out) to the truth of freedom in Christ.

    In regards to the Old Testament, it is the first place I go when studying with an unbeliever. We could never understand why Christ died the death He died for our sins without starting in Genesis. We could never know about our great and glorious God without reading what He tells us about Himself in page after page of Old Testament Scriptures. We could never appreciate or understand the gift we have of the indwelling Holy Spirit if we didn’t have chapters from the Old Testament like Leviticus 21 that gives detailed instruction on who could or could not approach to offer the bread of his God vs. 17, or go in to the veil or come near the altar vs. 23. Yet now as Christians our bodies, though sick, weak, deformed, male or female are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

    Foremost, our public responses (or private responses for that matter) to those who do not interpret scripture as we do, will certainly never be received well or maybe even considered as a possible way to view scripture, when we use sarcasm or profess to know what or how that person thinks. The most effective way to be a defender of the faith is in how we live our faith so as not to bring reproach upon the body of Christ, but in a way that will bring honor and glory to Him.

    As we all continue to search the Scriptures I pray as Paul did for the Philippians that our love may abound still more and more in knowledge and discernment that we may approve the things that are excellent, that we may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

    2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

  21. Charles Says:


    Do appreciate your observations… however, I believe you are exagerrating the problem with regard to my love for Carol. I truly hope that Carol (and others) would read through all the posts and follow the discussion… if nothing more than for a single reason: that people will be motivated to consider their own beliefs in comparison with God’s inspired word.

    Now, regarding sarcasm, I do point out the fact that there are a number of unfair comments that Carol has posted about all of the churches of Christ (i.e. see title of the thread, you just believe things that have been drummed in your head). You are correct… I used sarcasm… I did so to communicate the idea of “I am glad that you have a corner of the market of truth.”
    While I may be somewhat different, sarcasm doesn’t turn me off in a discussion… it makes me realize that someone is trying to communicate their strong disagreement… and that’s OK. In her earlier posts, Carol seems to enjoy using it (see the idea of why she said churches of Christ don’t use instruments)… I do not see harm in responding in similar manner… unless I am going to fill my entire post with that type of writing. Note, if you will, the different approaches that Jesus used in many of His discussions… you might find some things falling into the category of “sarcasm” (i.e. Matthew 16:1-4).

    With that said, I will say a few things that readers possibly may be interested in regarding the Winkler situation that are lost in the knowledge of many people. First, I knew both of the Winklers… I went to school with both/took classes with them. While I did not know them intimately (we were casual friends), I do know several things. First, unless he made a major change in his life, he was not domineering toward her. In fact, in every situation I can remember, he was more than considerate in his treatment of her. Second, Mary has a long history with a mental difficulty that could have been one of the contributors to this situation. If you’ve ever lived in a relationship with someone who battles things like depression & being bi-polar, you realize the complications it brings into a relationship.

    Everywhere I look on internet discussion boards, I find numbers of people who quickly judge Matthew and Mary based solely upon what has been reported in the media. And, it seems that there are a great number of people who have taken delight in pointing out beliefs of “the church of Christ” as being a contributor to this tragic situation. Some obviously have an agenda… others simply love bashing religion in general… some just love being able to find fault with others. Every time, however, there is an illusion to the “church thing,” an attack in being made on the church that I love so dear. No, as others have said, this church is not perfect… as long as there are human beings who are involved, it will never be. However, despite imperfections in attitude or other such problems, we are the bride of Christ. Every time someone criticizes the church, he/she is criticizing the spiritual “spouse” of the Lord… it’s as if people look at Jesus and say “you have an ugly, sick wife.” At some point in time, love demands an answer… love for the lost of the world. But… (even more so) a love for the bride of Jesus Christ.

  22. Carolyn Says:

    I believe God would have left at least one or more examples of women preaching in the new testament if He desired us to preach. Why would a loving and wise God leave us without instruction in such a critical area as leadership in the church? If you refer back to the the New Testament books for 1 Timothy3:2-13 , each gender for qualifications of a bishop, deacons are men.Titus 1: 6-9.The bible states the qualification of the leaders and name the gender as male.

    Also in 1 Timmothy 2:11-14 the bible reads-” Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first then Eve And Adam was not deceived, but the women being deceived fell into transgression.

    The bible is right and God is the authority on whom should preach in the Lord’s Church1

  23. Tip Randall Says:


    You have probably figured it out by now but you will never “win” these arguments with the coC folks. I was educated at a coC University and spent 20 years in coC ministry. I finally had to ask myself a very critical question, “Do I believe what I believe because it is what I have been taught all my life (my father was also a coC minister), both by my parents and my University, or do I believe what I believe because it is really what is presented in God’s Word?” This was a very painful question but was necessary. Through my continued study of God’s Word, I was freed from many of the small, petty, mis-guided teachings of the coC, many of which have been mentioned in this blog. Having said this, I agree with Cindy above, in that we are not all the same. There are many people in the coC whom I continue to love and have great relationships with. We differ on our interpretation of some passages of scripture (and, yes, they are interpretations, although the di-hard coC folks who believe they are, somehow, the only ones capable of truly understanding scriptures) I continue to have great relationships with them. We both understand that the issues we differ on are not salvation issues. The ONE church which Christ died for is not the red brick building with the church of Christ sign in front. Christ’s church is one composed of those who have recognized they are sinners, cannot “earn” salvation on their own, have repented of sins, and sealed the deal through baptism into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Outside of that, we are all lost. Thanks for allowing me bo address this here.
    TMS: Yes, I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to “win” an argument, and that no one was going to change their mind because of what I wrote. I keep responding to comments because I feel strongly about it. From my own experiences and from watching others I see the potential danger of such beliefs about women – despite the fact that there are many wonderful Christian people in the COC would never dream of abusing women. The biggest reason is because of one particular young woman I knew – I’m not related to her and I’m not at all in her life now. However, I hurt for the limits she has on her life and her relationship with God because of her COC upbringing

    Thanks for commenting.

  24. Tip Randall Says:


    All the years that I was in ministry in the coC, I always made it plain to everyone in the church, including the elders, that Kathy was my wife, not “the preacher’s wife.” I never expected anything more from my wife than I expected from myself, or any other woman it the congregation. This is one reason I had to leave the coC. It became evident that I was being led down a different path. Kathy and I miss, terribly, many of the things associated with the coC. Having a musical background, I really do love four part harmony, sung a capella. I miss that from time to time. However, there are few things that sound more beautiful than a string ensemble playing praise and worship music; or Michael W. Smith singing, “Forever.”

    It is a shame that some believe they are immune to sin just because they attend a church with a particular name. As a child, we had elders and deacons who would go outside and smoke between Sunday School and worship, and even throw their butts on the ground of the church parking lot. However, don’t even think about trying to get instrumental music in the worship. How hypocritical.

    I hope you have found a place to live out your Christian life with great support and harmony. There are many churches and fellowships which provide just that. May God bless you.

    TMS: I belong to a wonderful and small God-led and God-filled church. The minister’s wife teaches our adult Sunday School class and she also plays an incredible piano accompaniment to hymn-singing in church. My own mother (84-years old) is an ordained minister. Having grown up hearing and seeing women ministers and women participate fully in worship, I just don’t understand why people would believe something that is so limiting. I’d hate to think of the people who would not have found Jesus if it weren’t for women ministers and teachers in the church. It’s not a matter of women having “authority” – it’s a matter of women serving God.

    Thanks again for commenting. I really appreciate your input.

  25. Al Maxey, Elder/Preacher of the Church of Christ Denomination Says:

    Confucius [551-479 B.C.], the great Chinese philosopher, once observed in his Analects, “Go before the people with your example, and be laborious in their affairs.” Genuine leadership is evidenced by those who feel no need to command, but who rather rally others to a cause by their depth of passion, conviction, and courageous example. Lao-Tzu [6th century B.C.], in his classic, immortal work The Way of Life, advised: “Be the chief, but never the lord.” Effective leaders are indeed out front, taking the lead, and yet the most efficacious are far more visible than vocal. The apostle Peter urged spiritual shepherds never to be “lords over those entrusted to you,” but rather to be “examples to the flock” [1 Peter 5:3]. As the ancient Chinese maxim so profoundly states: “Not the cry, but the flight of the wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.” Without a doubt, this wisdom was powerfully personified in a servant of the church at Cenchrea: a woman by the name of Phoebe.

    The totality of our awareness of this illustrious, illustrative servant of God and His people is limited to a mere two verses that appear near the very end of one of Paul’s most powerful epistles. Beyond these few words preserved by inspiration we know absolutely nothing of her life on this earth. As the apostle Paul brought his epistle to the Romans to a conclusion, he wrote, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” [Romans 16:1-2, NASB]. Though this may seem like a rather simple passage, somewhat personal in nature, in which a dear sister in Christ is commended to a distant group of disciples, it is far from it. Indeed, this passage has been the cause of heated debate and division for centuries.

    The primary concern, of course, has to do with the nature of this woman’s service to the church in Cenchrea, and what that may or may not suggest with respect to the role of women within the One Body of Christ Jesus. For those interested in examining previous articles I have written on various aspects of this challenging issue, please refer to those studies listed under the heading “Role of Women” in my Topical Index. Many biblical scholars, including a good number of highly respected leaders within our own Stone-Campbell Movement, firmly believe Phoebe was a recognized leader of the congregation — a deaconess. Others, however, almost go into a seizure at the thought. Frankly, there are dynamics at work here that go well beyond a simple exegesis of the text; this is far more about personal comfort zones engendered by centuries of cultural preferences and, yes, even prejudices. Whether we care to admit it or not, our interpretation of Scripture, even by those among us with only the very best of intentions, is influenced by our socio-economic status, cultural and traditional upbringing, educational attainments, and familial and denominational loyalties. You and I may read the exact same passage, both of us doing so with good, honest hearts, truly intent upon perceiving God’s will for our lives from the text, and yet our respective, resultant understandings may well be worlds apart. This dramatic disparity of discernment among disciples has been witnessed from the very beginning of our Lord’s walk among men, and it certainly is evidenced in the debate over the passage before us.

    Phoebe — a Greek name meaning “pure, bright, radiant” — was, in the words of the apostle Paul, “our sister,” which simply signifies that she was a faithful disciple of our Lord Jesus; a cherished member of the family of Christ; a beloved daughter of the Father, and thus “our sister.” Before anything else is said about her in this brief passage, Paul seeks to establish the one fact that supersedes all others, and before which all other considerations considerably pale: Phoebe is a Christian. He also clearly establishes the reality that the parameters of the Father’s family are quite broad. Although Phoebe lived in Cenchrea, and Paul was originally from Tarsus, and the saints to whom he was writing lived in Rome, nevertheless she was “our sister.” There are no boundaries separating brethren; no walls of exclusion; we are all one in Christ Jesus, who tore down the dividing walls, extending a welcome to all who are willing to come to Him in simple, demonstrative faith. Thus, whether we be slave or free, rich or poor, white collar or blue collar, male or female, Jew or Gentile, liberal or conservative, or 31 different flavors in-between, we are still One Body. We are family. To the saints in Rome, who had never met Phoebe, Paul commends her as “our sister.” We need to cherish this love of the brethren, and, where it is absent, we need to recapture it and nurture it. Without that fervent love of the brethren, can we even truly claim to be the children of God?! The apostle John declares that whether we are children of God or children of the devil is conditioned upon our love for one another [1 John 3:10]. Indeed, the one who says he loves God, but does not love his brother, “is a liar” [1 John 4:20].

    “The followers of Jesus learned to regard one another as brothers and sisters within the great spiritual family, of which God is the Father, and Christ the elder Brother and Savior. Coming from afar, even in the vast and populous city of Rome, this godly matron would find brethren in Christ, and would be recognized as a sister” [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 457]. “St. Paul uses the term ‘sister’ here and calls Phoebe ‘our’ sister (i.e., ours and yours) to remind those to whom he would introduce her that all Christians, whether personally acquainted or not, are already members of the same great spiritual family, of which God is Father and Jesus Christ the Elder Brother, and that they only need to be made known to one another to realize their close relationship in mutual love and helpfulness” [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 232]. The Lord Jesus Himself laid the solid foundation for this close, intimate spiritual relationship when, after being told that His mother and siblings were there to see Him, He “stretched out His hand toward His disciples, and said, ‘Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'” [Matthew 12:49-50].
    Our knowledge of this precious woman as a person is extremely limited, and is largely speculative in nature. Certain assumptions about Phoebe are generally drawn from these two verses near the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman brethren, but, as any good biblical interpreter knows, mere human assumptions can never rise to the level of absolute, objective certainty. Or, to put it another way: inferred “facts” are a far cry from that which is demonstrably factual. For example, the majority of biblical scholars infer that she was most likely a widow. The text also seems to suggest that she was about to make a long journey to another part of the empire, perhaps to transact some business, and that she was traveling unaccompanied (no husband is mentioned) and would thus perhaps require the assistance of the saints in Rome. Such freedom to move about the empire was normally not enjoyed by those married or with children at home. A few widows, however, especially if they had established themselves in some lucrative business (some see Lydia in this category), were known to travel rather extensively. She was also apparently a woman of some financial resources, as is inferred by the terms used to describe her assistance of others in Cenchrea.

    For example, Paul says Phoebe “has been a helper of many, and of myself as well” [vs. 2]. The word translated “helper” is the Greek word prostatis, a very rare word found only here in the NT writings, and never found in either the papyri or the Septuagint. This word “means ‘patroness’ or ‘protectress,’ suggesting she was a wealthy woman who looked after the needs of less fortunate persons. In Athens the masculine term designated the office of a man who represented people without civic rights. Under Roman law such a patron or patroness could even represent foreigners” [The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1328]. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia concurs, stating that this particular Greek word was “a technical term for a legal representative of a foreigner, which would suggest a person of wealth and status” [vol. 3, p. 853]. Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, in his classic Word Studies from the Greek NT, saw Phoebe as “a woman set over others, a protectress, a patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources” [vol. 1, p. 258]. This word “means a great deal. It seems to suggest one who has been the patroness of the unprotected and despised, one who has come to the aid of … and fought the battles of those who were oppressed” [Edith Deen, All of the Women of the Bible, p. 231]. Apparently even Paul benefited from her aid on occasion, although no specific incident is ever mentioned. Some speculate a connection between Phoebe’s aid to Paul and the statement in Acts 18:18 — “In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.” It is thought by several scholars that Paul may have become gravely ill, or was facing some dangerous physical or legal challenge, and made an impassioned appeal to God for relief. That relief may have come in the form of Phoebe, and Paul then, in gratitude, fulfilled his vow to God.

    “The fact that Phoebe had been a ‘helper of many,’ constituted the ground of her claim for help on the brethren in Rome; for as we do to others, so others are under obligation to do to us. The probability seems to be that Phoebe was wealthy; hence her ability to be a ‘helper of many;’ while the fact that no mention is made of her husband, justifies, in a low degree, the conclusion that she had none. She was probably a widow. She was doubtless also a woman of age, for a young woman could hardly have attained the distinction she enjoyed at the time” [Moses E. Lard, Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 453]. She who had so graciously helped others, was now potentially in need of such help herself during her business in Rome, and who more worthy of receiving such aid than those who have extended it?! “This is the lex talionis in its benignant form. Who is such a proper recipient of charity as the man who had done good according to his means? With the merciful does God show Himself merciful. ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you!'” [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 471].

    There has also been some speculation as to the nature of the “matter” [vs. 2] that was necessitating her trip to Rome. Paul employs the Greek word pragma, which was a legal term signifying some “matter of dispute,” which could have reference to either a civil or business transaction that was in need of review by some higher authority than existed in Cenchrea. This was the same word used by Paul in 1 Cor. 6:1 when he speaks of brethren having “a matter” of dispute with other brethren that they then take to court before unbelievers. If indeed Phoebe was some recognized legal representative in Cenchrea of the rights of those persons, even foreigners, who were being overlooked or oppressed, then she may have been journeying to Rome on behalf of some case that needed to be appealed to a higher court. Paul urges the saints in Rome to “help her” (literally: “stand alongside of her”] as she deals with this “matter,” which has led some scholars to speculate she may have been representing a Christian in some matter before higher authorities. Thus, the support and encouragement of her spiritual family would be all the more important for her. Paul, at the end of his own life, would lament this lack of support from brethren — “At my first defense no one was alongside of me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood alongside of me, and strengthened me” [2 Tim. 4:16-17].
    It is rather evident, therefore, that “our sister” Phoebe was a woman of some prominence in Cenchrea, which was a port city located on the Saronic Gulf about nine miles SE of Corinth. “According to Pausanius the name derives from Cenchreas, son of Poseidon and Peirene (in Greek mythology). During the NT period a temple to Aphrodite lay on one side of the harbor, and there were sanctuaries of Asklepios and Isis on the other, while a bronze image of Poseidon was located on a mole extending into the sea” [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 628]. Biblical scholars almost unanimously agree that Phoebe was the person Paul chose to transport to the saints in Rome this epistle in which she is mentioned and commended, which shows even further Paul’s great confidence in her as a trusted disciple of Christ. Perhaps his most important theological work was given into the hands of a woman for preservation and delivery. Such speaks highly of Phoebe!

    The question that concerns disciples of Christ the most, however, is the nature of Phoebe’s relationship to the church in Cenchrea. Obviously, she possessed some degree of respect and authority within the city itself, and perhaps even beyond. But did she possess any such authority within the church? In other words, did she “hold office,” as some believe? The basis of this belief, and the many disputes and debates that have arisen from it, is Paul’s statement that Phoebe “is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” [Rom. 16:1, NASB]. What exactly did Paul mean by that term? Notice several other translations of this phrase:

    A leader in the church — CEV

    A minister of the congregation — NWT

    Who holds office in the congregation — NEB

    A special helper in the church — Easy-to-Read Version

    A key representative of the church — The Message

    Who is minister of the assembly — Darby Translation

    A ministrant of the assembly — Young’s Literal Translation

    A servant of the congregation — Hugo McCord’s Translation

    A servant of the church — NASB, HCSB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, ASV

    A deaconess of the church — NAB, RSV, Amplified Bible, Williams’ NT, J. B. Phillips’ Modern Translation
    As one can see just from these few versions and translations, there is no small disparity of perception as to the nature of Phoebe’s relationship to her fellow believers in the port town of Cenchrea. She is said to be a servant, minister, deaconess, leader, special helper, key representative, and/or office holder. And this diversity of opinion is encountered even more when one begins examining the writings of the biblical scholars and commentators over the past several centuries; views that line up very clearly behind partisan perceptions as to the role of women in the church, and what authority, if any, a woman is believed to possess. Although some struggle greatly with the notion that a woman could ever do much more than “sit silently in the presence of her spiritual superiors (men)” in the assembly, nevertheless it was certainly not unusual for God to use women in very prominent roles among His people, and we find this revealed in both OT and NT historical writings. Athaliah, for example, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, reigned as queen over Judah for six years (2 Kings 11:3; 2 Chron. 22:12). Deborah, who was a prophetess of God, served as a judge over Israel for 40 years (Judges 4:4-5). We find several female prophets of God mentioned — Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). We also see a husband and wife team of prophets — Isaiah and his wife (Is. 8:3), and of evangelists — Priscilla and Aquila. Joel 2:28-29 even foresaw a time, during the Christian dispensation, when both “your sons and daughters will prophesy … and even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” Thus, it shouldn’t overly surprise us to find a woman deacon (Phoebe — Rom. 16:1-2), a woman apostle (Junia — Rom. 16:7; see: Reflections #201), and women prophets (Philip’s daughters) in the church.

    Nevertheless, scholarship is still considerably divided as to Phoebe’s actual role in the church at Cenchrea, and the significance of the term Paul used to describe that role. The Greek word in question is diakonos, which may take either a masculine or feminine form depending on the gender of the person thusly described. Phoebe is characterized as a female deacon (or: deaconess). The word itself simply means “servant, minister; one who renders service to or ministers to another.” One need not be an “office holder” to render service to another, although there clearly appears to be a specific group within the larger community of believers who have been set apart as special servants (“deacons”), just as there are specific persons set apart from the larger community of believers as “shepherds” [1 Tim. 3; Philp. 1:1]. The question, then, is whether Phoebe (or any woman, for that matter) could ever be considered as part of this set apart group of servants, or whether her service was more generic (in the sense that we are all to be “servants of the church”). There is simply no question that Phoebe served the church in Cenchrea. Certainly, all the members should have been doing so! But, was she recognized by them as a servant-leader in some capacity?

    It should probably be noted at this particular juncture in our reflective study of this matter that many disciples of Christ Jesus believe the apostle Paul himself authorized women to serve as appointed special servants in 1 Tim. 3:11. This passage has long been debated. Was he referring to the wives of deacons, or was he in fact referring to the position of a deaconess. There are good arguments on both sides, but the view of most biblical scholars is that Paul had female deacons in mind when he penned that passage. If so, then it would have come as no surprise to anyone in the first century when Paul commended “our sister Phoebe,” who is then characterized “a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea.” Indeed, would it not be somewhat surprising for him to even mention this fact of her service if all members in Cenchrea were expected to be “servants of the church”? It is perceived as significant by most scholars that Paul mentions she is a “servant,” thereby, in their view, setting her service apart from, in some special way, that service which would be expected of all disciples.
    Dr. James D. Bales, Professor of Christian Doctrine for a good many years at Harding University, in 1967 wrote a marvelous little book (111 pages) titled “The Deacon and His Work” in which he devoted the entire 7th chapter (pages 73-85) to the topic of deaconesses. I would personally concur with Bro. Bales, who believed Phoebe was most definitely appointed to a position of special service to the congregation of believers in Cenchrea, but that she was not an “office holder.” Indeed, this concept of elders, deacons and evangelists being “office holders” is one I oppose quite strongly. Yes, these are special servants who provide special service, but they are not “office holders” in the same sense that one might find in politics or business. Dr. Bales writes, “I am not convinced that there was an office of deaconess in the church, but it is clear that there were female servants of the church. It is not necessary to prove that there was an office of deaconess in order to prove that there were women whom the church selected to do special work for the church. Thus, it is unnecessary to settle the question as to whether technically there is such an office (of deaconess); for surely there is such a work” [p. 79]. Frankly, I believe the church has for too long fallen into the “titles” trap. It’s not about what we’re called, but rather what we’re called to be and to do. We are functionaries, not dignitaries. There are too many “politicians” in the church “running for office;” too many lords, and not nearly enough laborers. These men, and, yes, even women, need to recapture that heart of a servant that is the hallmark of all genuine discipleship and servant-leadership.

    In the Apostolic Constitutions, which was “a fourth-century pseudo-Apostolic collection, in 8 books, of independent, though closely related, treatises on Christian discipline, worship, and doctrine, intended to serve as a manual of guidance for the clergy, and to some extent for the laity” [The Catholic Encyclopedia], one will find a great many allusions to deaconesses in the church and the nature of their duties, which predominantly were focused on ministry to women’s needs. “The strict separation of the sexes made something like deaconesses necessary for baptism, visiting the women, etc.” [Robertson’s Word Pictures, e-Sword]. I would refer you to Reflections #239 on the issue of women baptizing. Vincent, in his Word Studies, says that “their duties were to take care of the sick and poor, to minister to martyrs and confessors in prison, to assist at the baptism of women, and to exercise a general supervision over the female church-members” [e-Sword]. Book #3 of the Apostolic Constitutions, for example, reads: “Ordain a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministries toward the women.” The historical records of the time clearly depict such functionaries in the early church. A good example of this is found in the letters of Pliny the Younger, whose actual name was Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus [62-115 A.D.], who was a Roman senator, and later the governor of Bithynia and Pontus [109-111 A.D.]. He wrote a series of now famous letters to Trajan, the emperor of the Roman Empire. In one of those many letters he described how he had tortured a couple of Christian women in order to try and discern the exact nature of what it was these “Christians” believed and practiced. Notice the following heart-wrenching statement from the pen of Pliny the Younger: “Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.” There are many other such secular references to this group of women servants in the early church to which Phoebe clearly belonged.

    “That in the earliest churches there were deaconesses, to attend to the wants of the female members, there is no good reason to doubt. Indeed, from the relation in which the sexes then stood to each other, something of this sort would seem to have been a necessity” [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, e-Sword]. John Wesley [1703-1791], the great English evangelist and founder of Methodism, wrote in his Explanatory Notes, “In the apostolic age, some grave and pious women were appointed deaconesses in every church. It was their office, not to teach publicly, but to visit the sick, the women in particular, and to minister to them both in their temporal and spiritual necessities.” I find it rather unfortunate that Wesley chose to use the word “office” in his statement, for “Paul is not stressing office but service” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 161].

    Moses E. Lard [1818-1880], one of the more renowned leaders within the Stone-Campbell Movement, wrote in his classic commentary on the book of Romans, “I am of the opinion that Phoebe was a deaconess in the official sense of that word. What the special duties were of this order of women it would seem not difficult to conjecture — their work consisted in serving the sisterhood. Indeed, even in the present day, wherever the necessities of the churches are such as to demand it, then the order of the deaconesses should be re-established. They are often of as much importance to a church as the deacons, if not even more” [p. 452]. “Was Phoebe appointed to the service by the church, or did she assume it of herself? The question is not even material. For whether she assumed the service of her own accord, or was appointed to it, she performed it with the Apostle’s sanction. This stamps it as right. If the church appointed her to the service, then other churches may do likewise; for the action of that church, being sanctioned by the Apostle, becomes a precedent” [p. 451].

    Over the years, some have criticized Paul for what they perceived to be a low estimate of women in the church. I have actually had women approach me in three different congregations and declare, in the words of one of those women, “Paul was nothing but a male chauvinist pig!” Such castigation simply shows these women had no clue as to the actual teaching of Paul. If anything, Paul was ahead of his time in his defense and elevation of women in the church. A sister in Christ by the name of Lena Rea penned a marvelous book titled “Romans — From A Woman’s Point Of View.” In this book she wrote, “By his recommending Phoebe, Paul shows his high esteem for woman’s work in the church” [p. 156]. I couldn’t agree more! Phoebe was a very special Christian lady, with a very special “heart for service” in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. She was a servant; a deaconess. As a servant-leader in the One Body, her example serves as an enduring tribute to all other women who have served, and continue to serve, their Lord in whatever ministries to which they have been individually called and given ability by the Holy Spirit. I’m sure Paul thanked God many times for his “sister Phoebe.” May you and I thank God daily for the Phoebes in the church today. Brothers, without our sisters we would be a pitiful lot indeed. Cherish them and honor them as they so rightly deserve! We have neglected them for too long!

    TMS: As my mother (an ordained minister) often says – it’s not a matter of authority – it’s a matter of service. She serves God as he leads her to serve Him. There have been men in congregations who were a little resistent to a woman minister until they got to know her and saw her humbleness, her hard work, her attitude of service – and they saw how God was able to work through her. She’s 84 years old now and about to retire for the second time. She has been through many physical problems the last few years, but she has never declined the opportunity to preach because of the strength and depth of her calling of service to Jesus Christ.

  26. ruth Says:

    Carol…you are amazing to read and respond to so much! As i read, I realized how little time i have spent on blogs…mine or my children’s while i was pastor at Livingston! It is an education to read the varied posts folowing yoru pasts about mary Winkler! I was especially interested in the coc pastor’s wife who talked about the “loneliness” of the coc pastor’s wife. As a Methodist pastor’s wife for over 37 years, I would y tell her the pastor’s wife in every church understands her position.

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