Paul illustrates the importance of order with two very frank references.

The first matter is the matter of speaking in tongues in the worship service. We have already seen how he disallows this.

The second reference is one that has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. It deals with the matter of women keeping silence in the churches. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36:

. . . (As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

This is a tough word to hear in the age we live. Some have tried to color Paul as a male chauvinist for having written such a thing. Others have defended him by saying that he didn't write it, and it was inserted by later "redactors." Others have accepted this as definitive teaching and implemented it uncritically.

In my view and that of many other scholars, teachers and preachers, Paul did write this. But it wasn't his final statement on the women's issue. You would have to bring together the entire teaching of the Word of God to establish a theology of women in the church. This same apostle Paul has just written in 1 Corinthians 11:15 in a positive way about women praying and prophesying. This same apostle Paul invested great confidence in the leadership of Lydia, Priscilla and other women as he founded new churches. Elsewhere, he radicalized first-century thinking by declaring that in Christ there is "no male nor female." In terms of marriage, he articulates a philosophy of "mutual submission," while at the same time, he stresses the importance of men not abdicating their leadership in the home or in the church.

The fact of life in the first century was that women functioned in very subordinate roles to men. The Greek Sophocles said, "Silence confers grace upon a woman." Women, unless they were very poor or very loose in their morals, lead a secluded life in Greece. The Jew had even a lower idea of women. "As to teaching the law to a woman, one might as well teach her impiety." It was to "cast pearls before swine." The Talmud lists among the plagues of the world "the talkative and inquisitive widow and the virgin who wastes her time in prayers." It was even forbidden to speak to a woman on the street. "One must not ask a service from a woman or salute her." It was in a society like this that Paul wrote.

Travel with me today, and I will take you to the Wailing Wall where men and women are not, even in the twenty-first century, allowed to worship in the same area. Not much has changed in Orthodox Judaism in the last two thousand years. Then I'll walk you into the Arab quarters, and there will be women still wearing veils — symbols of their dowery and ownership by their husbands.

Paul wanted to be certain that the Church was not hurt by some women who were taking their newfound freedom in Christ and exercising it in a way that was disruptive of worship or was scandalizing to the Christian community. It is excess to which he is referring. One can hardly imagine, in the light of the rest of Paul's teaching and far less in that of the subsequent development of the church, that these few lines could possibly represent his final judgment in teaching on the place the devoted woman should take in the life of the Church. Anyone who wants to build arguments against the ordination of women, wants to relegate women to a position where they must keep silent in the church, is quoting this passage totally out of context.

What this passage is saying is that all things should be done decently and in order.

Five strong words that are important when it comes to worship: Intentionality; Participation; Edification; Understandability; Order. These five are to be undergirded by agape love!


John A. Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.