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Can Women Pass Communion Trays While Standing?

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I was visiting a gospel meeting (or a revival), and the man doing the closing announcements did something pretty cool. He asked if anyone had any questions about what was said or done during the service. But that’s not exactly what he said. He asked if the men specifically had any questions. The implication being that if women had any questions they would have to ask after the closing prayer or ask at home…or maybe not ask at all? 

What’s interesting about this previous example is that it wasn’t even on Sunday during the official worship assembly; it was on a Monday or Tuesday night. The use of 1 Timothy 2:12 to disallow women speaking in an assembly, outside of confessions and singing, is usually limited to the Sunday assembly only. Dr. Rex Turner, who’s quotes we’ll be looking at later, wrote, “A matter to be emphasized just here is that this instruction and/or restriction contemplated the public Lord’s Day worship when ‘the disciples were gathered together to break bread'” (Biblical Theology Revised Edition (Amridge University Press, 2010), p.161).

Which brings us to another topic: if women are typically discouraged from asking questions in a public assembly even if it is not on Sunday morning, can a woman teach a mixed group of Christians at a lectureship or during a Bible class?

Is it just when the church assembles for worship or is it on other days during other events as well?

Biblical Theology gives one answer, but the practice of most churches I have witnessed gives another. If you check out most lectureship flyers for what I would call the mainline Churches of Christ (think Polishing the Pulpit), then there will invariably be a special class for ladies only where a woman is allowed to teach, but you won’t find many women keynote speakers in the general assembly, if any at all. In fact, I saw a panel discussion on women’s roles some time ago, and all of the participants were… men.

So for some reason, this passage from 1 Timothy 2:12 also applies to gatherings outside of the worship where communion is taken.

So is this really about women teaching in the Sunday morning worship assembly, carrying the title preacher, or serving as a church leader, or is it about something else?

When I asked why a woman couldn’t teach Bible class or why a little girl couldn’t lead a VBS song, I was told that it might give off the wrong impression, lead to a slippery slope, or set a bad precedent. After all, why would women want to serve in those capacities anyways? Shouldn’t they be content with the role they have?

In fact, one person I spoke to said that if a church had enough programs for ladies, then they wouldn’t worry about participating publicly on Sundays.

Do you know what the worst part about this is? These ideas are so ingrained in our churches that many women have been manipulated into not only forfeiting their own rights to use their God given gifts as priests in the kingdom of God, but they also discourage or disallow other women from using their gifts as well and from enjoying the privilege of serving publicly. 

Women can pass communion trays sitting down, but they can’t pass trays standing up because it might give the wrong impression. Women can’t lead a prayer, which isn’t teaching, because it might lead to a slippery slope, despite Paul talking about women praying in the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11. Women can’t teach a mixed Bible class because it might set a bad precedent. Women can’t lead singing because it might give the wrong impression. 

None of these things are teaching during the worship assembly or carrying the title preacher or elder, but women still can’t do them. Why? Because this isn’t about being biblical. It’s about intentionally or unintentionally continuing the male-dominated culture and traditions of the first half of the 1900s. It’s about guarding traditional practices which come from a patriarchal worldview that is responsible for not allowing women to vote, paying qualified women less for the same job titles, not providing maternity leave, and the objectification and victim blaming found in modesty/ purity culture.

When people walk into our churches and only see males enjoying the privilege and honor of serving publicly, they wonder why, and when we can provide no passage and no logical reason besides tradition, then the question becomes why can’t we change the tradition. 

The answers are something about offending people or causing people discomfort, which are reasons Jesus and Paul never gave in to when it came to issues of justice and equality, such as in the case of Martha and Mary or in the case of Titus. When they realize that we care more about being the 20th century church than the 1st century church or, more appropriately, the New Testament church living in the 21st century, they leave and find a place that is more generous and open to making positive changes. 

Let me share a few quotes with you from a textbook I had this last semester. This textbook was written by a leader in the Churches of Christ who founded Faulkner University and Amridge University. You’ll quickly see that the reasons for keeping women from serving publicly in worship in non-teaching roles has nothing to do with Scripture. In fact, one of the footnotes to a quote below mentioned that the editor found no scriptural support for the author’s position.

Dr. Rex Turner writes concerning 1 Timothy 2 and women in ministry,

“The point here is that the woman’s inclination to react far more emotionally than men to unusual situations – a quality which makes her a good mother and nurse – leaves her less prepared to meet the hard issues and decisions of life with the deliberateness, forethought and balance the problems often demand.”

All of these quotes come from pages 160-163 of the aforementioned book

One would think that being a good mother, nurse, or daycare instructor requires one to “meet the hard issues and decisions of life with deliberateness.”

He also argues,

“The very nature of the woman which made her more susceptible than man to the deception and wiles of Satan, when exercised in a wholesome way, makes of her an angel of joy and mercy.” 

The footnote to this quotation mentioned that the editor could not find scriptural support for this statement. The thought that I would add is if Eve was deceived but Adam was intentionally disobedient, wouldn’t I rather have an honest person who made a mistake lead a congregation than someone who, by their very nature, intentionally chose to disobey God?

He then says this about men,

“The man, by his very nature, is really ill-equipped for the delicate love and training that the infant child needs and demands.” 

This may be true about some men, but I know many dads, including myself I hope, who are wonderful fathers who have done marvelous jobs raising their infant children. Again, I have to ask, if man, by his very nature, really is not capable of providing delicate love and training to an infant, how are they qualified to lead souls?

Continuing the above thought, he writes,

“The woman is the priestess of the nursery” and that, “She is the counterpart of her husband; she gives life to children of the sex of her husband; and of her own sex she bears daughters and guides them in their development into cheerful women who will, in turn, supply the social, spiritual, and physical needs of other women’s strong sons.” 

Actually, the woman is the priestess of the kingdom of God because in Christ there is no male or female. The idea here that women exist to provide their husbands little boys and other mother’s sons future wives is, to me, a pretty low view of women. Remember, this was written by the founder of two major Church of Christ colleges.

Finally, he has a warning to women who may think too highly of themselves:

“Second, there is a strong tendency for women to feel that their role in life is much harder than that of the men. The wife will do well, however, to ask if her role, after all, is especially harder than that of her husband. The leaders of the ‘lib’ movement complain that the woman is regarded by men as being only a sex object. Unfortunately, the case is that this complaint is justifiable with many in today’s society, but in a certain high and honorable sense the woman is a sex object. She was made for the man. She was created for the role of the childbearing partner. If in that high sense, the woman is to be classified as a ‘sex object,’ then the man should be classified as a ‘success object’ for his life is literally spent in the press for success in order to earn a livelihood for his wife and children.” 

These quotes reveal the answer to the question in the title of the article. Can women pass communion trays while standing? The answer: absolutely not. Why? Is there a passage to defend this position? No. In fact, the way we do communion, with a few servers passing out trays to a roomful of people in pews, is nowhere outlined in scripture anyways. It is a tradition itself with no biblical support. Women can’t enjoy the privilege of serving in this capacity because of a low view of women that was held by those who created and passed on this tradition.

Change is necessary. Having the privilege to lead prayers, serve communion, and participate in other roles should be a no brainer. Of course, for many women who were raised in this culture, there is a lot of work to be done in undoing or deconstructing this unfortunate mindset. Many, despite being given the opportunity, may still wish to abstain from participating in public worship in this way, and that is okay, but making room for them to take that step if they wish is necessary in affirming a generous, hospitable, kind, and loving form of Christianity that the world so desperately needs, and, I might add, that our churches will eventually die without.

In the next article, entitled “Can Women Only Teach While Singing?,” we’ll move from the public service roles (which no congregation has any good reason for denying women equal opportunity of participation) to looking at teaching and leadership roles in the public Sunday assembly.

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