Women & Prayer in the Church

My wife and I were watching a sermon on marital issues where the pastor and his wife were both answering practical questions submitted by the congregation. At the end the pastor concluded the service by having his wife close in prayer. This was not a combo husband-wife pastor team, but a pastor utilizing his wife to minister to women by having her input in questions answered in the service. So the service had a feel much closer to a hybrid Bible study or Sunday school. However since I’ve never really thought through the ramifications of having a woman close a service in prayer, I thought that would be a good issue to delve into. For those in a more traditional background, the role of women in the church tends to come into play to answer a question that falls into this practical realm. In the more contemporary realm it seems that the unity of the church is emphasized so much that most gender distinctions are played down or removed altogether.

So it raises the question, is it proper for women to open or close a service in prayer?

EXAMPLES

In the Old Testament system women were only accorded a limited amount of access to the religious system of the day. While there is no record directly addressing the issue of place  of a woman’s prayer in a public worship service, there are still principles to glean from the O.T.. A fairly detailed account of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:9-17 gives a little insight into this realm of the prayers of women. She was in the place of worship at the tabernacle and her request and motives were recognized by the priest Eli. Esther called upon all the people in Susa to fast for three days in preparation for her meeting with the king in Esther 4:16. While prayer is not specifically mentioned, fasting has often been closely associated with prayer in coming before God with specific issues in mind. In the New Testament, after Christ’s ascension, Acts 1:14 records that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” While not a specific mention of a service, there is an obvious understanding that this prayer was in unison as a body of believers whether physically together or separated. Therefore:

>> Individual women in Scripture set an example in pursing God through prayer both individually and corporately.

EXHORTATIONS

Paul exhorts the church in Colossians 4:2 to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Similarly, in Ephesians 6:18 he notes that Christians are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” These general exhortations are found elsewhere in the New Testament and apply to both men and women. Another passage that is often overlooked is 1 Corinthians 11:5 which says that “every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” The positive side of this negative command is that women can and should be praying and prophesying.  Therefore:

>> Individual women are to be constant in prayer, properly led by the Spirit.

These passages however, do not directly address the role that women are to play in public prayer within a local church gathering. At this point the discussion really falls into the larger role of women in the church. While I want to keep this facet of prayer distinct, the place for women in leadership does need to be touched on to some extent. I do hold to Paul’s teaching, regarding leadership positions within the church as instituted for men, when he states in 1Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” With that said, Paul’s statement does not directly address the issue of women praying in church either. Since the Bible places women in connection to the act of prayer, it is hard to dogmatically state that women are not allowed to pray in corporate worship gatherings. The women with Lydia in Acts 16:13-14 illustrate how women can take pray in a recognized service.  This was a sanctioned meeting, and while Jewish by makeup it very much contains a strain of Christianity in that women were not accorded positions of leadership, and this very well could have been reflective of the fact that there were not enough men to start a proper synagogue.[1] This then indicates that women were accorded the privilege of praying in services without any infringement upon male leadership. In light of the fact that women are offered as positive examples of prayer throughout Scripture, as well as instructed to follow a proper method of prayer in 1 Corinthians 11:5, and not prohibited from praying in church in 1 Timothy 2:12 it would then appear that each local church assembly would need to determine if this was appropriate to their body of believers. Therefore:

>> The heart of the issue would then arise when and if a church body would understand the prayers of a woman to be some sort of leadership/teaching/authority role within the church, rather than just a universal method for all believers to commune with God.

__________

[1] John B. Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary (2001), 348.

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