Women and the Sound of Silence
People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence
There is a reverential sort of silence that can calm our hearts and minds for reflection. The psalmist has high praise for the one who “meditates day and night” on the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2). But as Paul Simon writes in his classic song “The Sound of Silence,” there is also a kind of silence that can destroy. Such a silence, if persistent and enforced by policy, can quickly “like a cancer grow.”
The prevalent policy of encouraging women in modern evangelical churches to “remain silent” is usually based on a handful of New Testament passages written by another Paul—the apostle Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34). When this verse is plucked out of Paul’s letter, and thereby isolated from its cultural context and the ancient setting in which it was written, it can be used with great effect to add a theological endorsement to the silencing of Christian women.
As John Piper’s website, Desiring God, recently tweeted, “Don’t ever think a woman is not permitted to preach because she is incompetent. That is not the issue. The issue is that it would compromise the way God designed men and women for men and women to relate to each other.”1 Doesn’t this undermine the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20)? How does this not imply that Jesus’ command was given to men universally and but only to women conditionally? My Bible includes no asterisks and no qualifiers beneath the verses concerning spiritual gifts to indicate that only men receive the gifts of preaching or teaching (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:11).
Praise be to God that the women who witnessed the empty tomb of our risen Lord preached the good news (Matt. 28:8). Praise be to God for all of Paul’s female co-laborers who preached the gospel, including the deaconess Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), Apollos’s instructor Priscilla (Acts 18:26), and Junia who was “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7). Praise be to God for every woman who preached the gospel on a foreign mission field, at the risk of her health and even her life.
Please don’t misunderstand me. This is no call to demand women’s rights denied. Rather, this is just a voice to break the silence. A voice supported by brothers in Christ, a voice that is not silenced from preaching the gospel truth to this broken world shrouded in darkness.
Please, brothers and sisters, stop using the beautiful Word of God to silence women’s part in fulfilling the Great Commission. When you take away our voice to preach or teach in any wide capacity, you likely also withhold the training we need in order to sharpen our Spirit-given gifts. In doing so, the body of Christ is robbed, and this sacred mission falters for lack of faithful laborers at a time when the harvest is plentiful and the workers already few (Matt. 9:37). We are all gifted and needed in His great story.
Though your sisters in Christ are physically weaker (1 Pet. 3:7), and often less visible given the sometimes isolated seasons of our lives, we too possess gifts given by God that cannot be buried in the ground without fearful ramifications (Luke 19:22).
Even if you feel convicted about formal offices, please stop using your pulpits and seminaries to trim the list of spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts to women. Please stop amputating limbs from the body of Christ by silencing our voice altogether and insisting that women should never teach men in any formal setting.
We love and need you. We need to work together, not against one another in an ongoing battle of the sexes. We need you to advocate for us as we can for you, to hear one another, to make sure each image-bearer of God has a voice. We must break the silence to work with each other to redeem the days and live a life filled with vision and purpose for God and His kingdom.
For my humble, imperfect part, my voice will be that of the written word, because there is still hope. Even though my written voice will “never get a solid trade publishing deal,” as an agent once told me since I lack a doctorate, my voice can still be used. It will be used to speak a loving challenge to those in the body of Christ who silence women and attribute it to God’s holy and good plan.
If we bear His image and are loved and gifted by Him, then it is indeed possible that a woman could be gifted to teach and preach. I want to stand alongside her and advocate for her to get the training she needs in order to share that gift with the world and continue to work to change it with the love and grace of God. To Him be the Glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 John Piper, Twitter post, October 6, 2018 (1:02 p.m.), accessed October 8, 2018, https://twitter.com/Ask_Pastor_John/status/1048664695828303878.