I’m about to leave town for a couple of days so I wanted to leave you with something controversial. I hope I can get some of you stirred up by this, I know I have been.
For the first question, as to whether the family-integrated church is Biblical, I want to look at both the Old and New Testament church practices.
1. Did Israelite families worship together? I don’t know that we can be certain, but it does not appear that they did. I have searched the Scriptures and cannot find specific instructions from God regarding the court of women either in His instructions for the tabernacle given to Moses or His instructions for the Temple given to Solomon. However, Herod’s temple definitely contained an outer court for Gentiles, a court for women (and children), and a court for circumcised Jewish men. The Talmud, which describes the Temple, was written between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD so it must be referring to Herod’s renovation of the second Temple that had been originally built 500 years previously. My question is, and I cannot find this answer, was the court of women an addition by men or was it part of the original plan? At any rate, in the Jewish tradition men and women have worshipped separately for a long time. Only circumcised Jews were allowed into the outer court of the tabernacle so there seems to be some Biblical basis for this, although there was no separate court of the Tabernacle designated by God for women.
It’s hard not to speculate as to why this was the case. Probably it had something to do with headship and the covenant relationship of God with Israel. Of headship, God placed the husband at the head of each individual family, the Levites He dedicated to Himself, and the sons of Aaron (who could minister in the inner court of the Tabernacle) He chose to serve Him as priests. Of the covenant relationship, circumcision, the sign of that relationship, was performed on males only. Not that women could not be in covenant relationship with God, but that only the men bore that sign, which surely reminded each Jewish male of his responsibilities to his offspring who would also fall under that covenant relationship. These are just some of my thoughts, but I would love to hear yours.
2. There also seems to be some evidence of the segregation of the sexes during worship in the early church. Perhaps this stems in part from the concern over order during the worship service (1 Corinthians 14:33-35). It seems that some women in Corinth were interrupting the service and Paul chastised them for that. Other texts in the New Testament reinforce this teaching that the roles and requirements of men and women in the church are different (1 Corinthians 11:3-15, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Of course, the first Christians were Jews and by the way, Orthodox Jewish synagogues still segregate men and women.
Again, it’s tempting to speculate as to the reason for the segregation of men and women during worship, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The point I’m making playing devil’s advocate tonight is that women and children were segregated from the men during worship in the early church. It seems even in their house churches, the women worshipped separately. I’d like to think it was a matter of mere pragmatics. The women were probably busy preparing the fellowship meal and tending to young children. But, it could also have originated out of an attempt for a less distracting worship service. Women can be distracting at times, especially by dressing in either an immodest way or a haughty manner (with fancy jewelry, etc. see 1 Tim 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3) which would attract attention to themselves instead of on the Lord where everyone’s attention should rest during worship. Women can also be distracting and even disruptive with their speech (1 Corin 14:33-35). Some women don’t know when to be quiet and others seem bent on discussing matters better left unsaid. Let me remind you at this point that I am a woman and I’m merely musing (thus the name of my blog) about why the early church may have decided women should worship separately from the men.
3. It is unclear to me when this separation of men and women in church began to change. I’ve read that even during the middle ages it was not uncommon for men and women to gather at public meetings separately. I’m not sure what the Reformers taught on this, but I would like to know. I find it interesting that the Puritans (whom I love) segregated men and women during worship. There didn’t seem to be the same distinction the Jews made of the men being closer and the women farther from the center of worship, though. The Puritans would separate right down the middle aisle with men on one side and women on the other. I read that the Amish still do this when they gather to worship together every other week.
So I hope I left you with some stimulating thoughts. I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is where did the early church fathers get it right and where did they go wrong? God certainly ordains different roles for men and women, but does not consider us different in worth or standing (Galations 3:28). We also know Jesus welcomed children to Him and praised their simple faith. I sure wouldn’t want to argue theology or church practice with early church fathers or Jonathan Edwards for that matter! And I would really like to know what Calvin taught on this. Maybe I should ask my husband- especially seeing as how I’m supposed to be learning from him! (1 Corinthians 14:35) Well, have I succeeded in totally confusing you, or are you convinced that I’m a complete freak? What do you think about this? Was the segregation of the sexes merely pragmatic? If so, why does it no longer apply? Or was there some doctrinal basis for the segregation of men and women in worship? If so, why does it no longer apply? I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about this!
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.