Kelly Edmiston on Women in the Churches of Christ

Kelly Edmiston is the Youth Pastor at the Vineyard Church of Sugar Land/Stafford. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

My recent article on biblical criticism and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 has generated some helpful conversations regarding the contemporary issue of women in leadership. The issue of how Christians interpret the bible, or the hermeneutical process, is one that has caused debates, church splits and heated disagreements since the first century. In the coming weeks, I will narrow my focus to one group of Christians, Churches of Christ, and examine their historical and contemporary hermeneutic as I continue to engage the topic of women in leadership in the church. See the recent Christian Chronicle articles as an example of the dialogue most Churches of Christ are engaging in right now.

First, you should know, I grew up Church of Christ. (I left the Church of Christ about a year ago because of their prohibition on women in leadership. You can read part of my story here, I currently serve as a Pastor in the Vineyard Church but I am still Church of Christ. For those of us born into it, we are always Church of Christ’ers.

What do I mean by this?

My great, great grandparents were members of Churches of Christ in west Texas, where my great grandparents were born. My great grandparents went on to serve faithfully in their local Church of Christ. When my grandmother was born she grew up Church of Christ. When she met my granddad they went on to serve their local Church of Christ for their entire married life, with my grandfather serving as an elder for many of those years. My mother, aunt and uncle all grew up in Churches of Christ, and went on to raise their families in Churches of Christ. My parents met at a Church of Christ school, Abilene Christian University. They were leaders at Highland Church of Christ where my mother attended for forty years. I went to Abilene Christian University, along with most of my cousins, for my undergraduate degree in Social Work. Years later, I went back to seminary at ACU to do my Masters in Divinity. I also served as a minister in a Church of Christ for a decade.

Because of this Church of Christ legacy, I grew up loving the bible and cherishing it as the Word of God. As a pre-schooler and even before I could read, I grew up memorizing bible verses every week and getting stickers for it at church as a child. I grew up participating in Church of Christ bible competitions. Yes, we really have these. Instead of summer camp, we met up in a metropolitan area with other Churches of Christ and competed in scripture memory and scripture trivia competitions, complete with medals and everything! This led me, throughout my early teenage years and into my college years, to read through the entire bible, cover to cover, many times (yes, even every word of Leviticus!) I went on to memorize much of the gospel of Matthew and all of the book of Ephesians and Philippians as well as large chunks of other New Testament books. The word was truly hidden and buried in my heart. And it is to this day. Now, in my adult life, when I preach, I do so almost exclusively exegetically, beginning with the Hebrew or Greek and translating it myself to make sure that I can get at the heart of the text. But the bible is not just academic to me. I almost always include the bible in my daily spiritual practices. I teach my young children to read and memorize the bible in our morning family bible studies. For us “Church of Christ’ers”, the bible is a big deal. We value it. We love it. We believe it is instructive for church practice. And even though I no longer attend a Church of Christ, I still hold to a similar hermeneutic as I approach the bible.

Hermeneutics is a fancy word for the process by which we interpret the bible. The issue of women in leadership in Churches of Christ is primarily a hermeneutical issue.

What do I mean by “women in leadership” in Churches of Christ? The vast majority of Churches of Christ today prohibit women from:

  • Preaching/teaching in the assembly.
  • Leading songs, prayers or reading scripture.
  • Teaching the bible in mixed-gender settings of people older than 10-12.
  • Serving as deacons or elders.
  • Serving communion in the assembly
  • Giving any sort of announcement, testimony or knowledge in the assembly.

Churches of Christ have arrived at these prohibitions because of their biblical hermeneutic. Let me explain by first beginning with a little Church of Christ history.

Churches of Christ (along with Disciples of Christ and Christian Churches) were born out of the “Restoration Movement” that began in the 19th century led primarily by Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. These men sought to unite the church by looking at the bible and the apostolic church as their guide for church practice.

One of the legacies of this movement was establishing a hermeneutic that Church of Christ historians call a “public, populist hermeneutic” (The Stone-Campbell Movement” Williams, Foster, Blowers. p. 82). What they mean by “public” is that we don’t need church creeds, clergy or advanced degrees to interpret the bible properly (even though most of the leaders themselves were highly educated). What they mean by “populist” is that we believe the bible should be studied in the congregation where the common people could come to a “plain meaning” of the text (Ibib, pg. 82). We believe that good common sense and rational thinking in community can lead to a right and plain biblical interpretation. (Campbell also went on to develop 7 principles of interpretation that all seek a historical/critical reading of the text. I will cover these principles in weeks to come.)

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Source: Christianity Today