In these modern times, placing women on an equal plane with men is the growing trend. This trend toward “equality” is also reaching into the churches in America. Many of the Christian Reformed Churches now allow women an equal voice and vote in matters of the individual church’s government and doctrine. As a natural result of this trend, questions have also been raised in our own Protestant Reformed Churches regarding the position of women. The young people have raised the question: “Should women be allowed to lead in prayer in public in the presence of a man?” To this question I feel I must reply, unequivocally, NO! The purpose of this essay is therefore to explain my negative answer to the above question.
The first step toward a complete analysis of this problem is an understanding of the problem’s scope and the terms used. When we use the term “women” we are not referring to the youngster just learning to pray in the home, but to a person who has previously developed the ability to pray. “Public,” of necessity, must now refer to something outside the home environment, and in this case, most specifically, the Young People’s Societies within our Church. In defining the scope of the problem, a man must, like the women, have previously developed the ability to pray while in the home. On these grounds the discussion of this problem will be based.
The second step in the analysis of this problem must be a comprehension of the Biblical position of women.
First, what does the Old Testament say about woman’s position? In Genesis chapter 2, the story of woman’s creation from the rib of Adam, the father of all men, is told. Eve was created to be a help-meet unto Adam Note: woman was created a help-meet, not a leader. The position of woman was accentuated in Genesis 3:16 when the woman was given the direct command to be subject to her husband: “. . . and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” This command comes as a direct result of the fall and is explained by Paul in I Timothy 2:1-1: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”
I Timothy 2 also is an evidence of the position of women in the New Testament. In the first section of this chapter, Paul deals with the objects of our prayers, i.e., for whom should we pray? The second section explains how Christian men should pray, and continues with an explanation of the position of women in public worship. (Here we should note the meaning of public worship: It not only includes the church service per se, but also any place where: Christians gather to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. This would therefore include prayer in our Young People’s Societies.) God through Paul states women’s position in public worship as this: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” I Timothy 2:12, and continues by explaining that women, by virtue of their position and purpose in creation, ought to remain subject to the man also in the exercise of public worship. This of course does not imply that there should be no women’s societies, but simply that women should not assume leadership over men in public worship.
We can see that, although both the Old Testament and New Testament are explicit regarding the position of women in creation and the exercise of public worship in mixed society, there are a few seeming exceptions to the rule:
The first evident exception is the leadership of Miriam, Moses’ and Aaron’s sister, in songs of praise to God (a form of prayer). This is merely a paradox in Biblical interpretation however, for in this case Miriam led only the women of Israel in prayer. Thus, the position of the subjection of women in public worship established by the Bible holds true here also.
Acts 12:12 is often used to show that women led prayer in the Bible. This second exception is obviously fallacious as no reference is given to prayer leadership on the part of either men or women in this passage. “And when he (Peter) had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.” Obviously, no reference is here given to women’s leadership in prayer.
Another passage which supposedly constitutes a third exception is 1 Cor. II. Again, in this passage no reference is given to women’s leadership in prayer and I do not feel we can infer woman’s leadership from this passage. Rather, here I feel we can infer woman’s subordination in prayer exercise for in verse three it is stated: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ: and the head of the women is the man.” Can we infer that women should lead in prayer from a passage which does not even mention this leadership, but rather infers the opposite?
I therefore feel that since it is the obvious position of the Bible that women should not assume prayer leadership, and since no legitimate instance has been given where the Bible states otherwise, we should conclude that women should not be given prayer leadership in mixed society.
In the third step of our analysts of the question, we must ask ourselves: Would the leadership of a women in prayer in the presence of a qualified man be practical? I feel that no necessity has been expressed to warrant such a great change in our young people’s societies (this would not apply to those societies which allow women to lead in prayer at present).
As has already been mentioned, a woman as we are considering her, would have previously developed the ability to pray in the home. As a result, the theory that taking prayer leadership in mixed societies would train a woman to pray is obviously fallacious.
In connection with the basic training received in the home it has been stated that further training in public prayer is necessary, particularly for future use in women’s societies. Again, I fail to see why this would necessitate such a change in many of our Young People’s Societies. Could not this public prayer training be done where it is needed and used, that is. in the women’s societies? Is it so vital that this public “training” be done in our mixed societies that we break the bonds of Biblical tradition and the established position of women in our societies as well? To these questions, we answer NO. Obviously, if this prayer training could be done in another place, where difficulties of Biblical propriety and traditional bonds would not arise, it would be far better to do it at that place and not in a mixed society.
Because the ability to pray could be developed in the home and in our women’s societies, I therefore feel no necessity has been expressed which is great enough to warrant such a change in so many of our young people’s societies.
Since it is the obvious wish, yea command, of the Bible that women should not lead in public prayer and since no worthy practical necessity has been expressed to warrant a change in the accepted procedure in many of our young people’s societies, I therefore conclude that women should not be allowed to lead in public prayer in the presence of a man.