Women and the Public Reading of Scripture

Women and the Public Reading of Scripture December 12, 2011

Anyone who says reading Scripture is a teaching ministry is just making stuff up. Reading is reading and teaching is teaching, and preaching is preaching, and prophesying is prophesying, but reading is not teaching, preaching or prophesying. Women were prophets, women were apostles, women were teachers – this is all in the New Testament. That more than qualifies them for the public reading of Scripture.

There is a serious set of scholars who think the first public reading of Romans was by none other than Phoebe, the letter courier. Beside the already-unbiblical notion of prohibiting women from proclamation and teaching and preaching, the biggest error here is the reservation of only male-given gifts for a Sunday morning service. Where do we get Sunday-morning-only gifts? If women can read the Bible at home to themselves (teaching themselves) and to their children (teaching them) and to their Sunday school classes (teaching children), they can read it in the church service.

From Michelle Van Loon:

Should women be permitted to read Scripture aloud in a church service?

Probably for many of you reading this, the answer would be a simple yes. Neo-Reformed church leader and uber blogger Tim Chailles delivers an empathetic “No!” in this post.  In his congregation as well many others in both fundamentalist and neo-Calvinist camps, including this one, only male leaders are permitted to read Scripture:

Because of the importance of the Word of God, at Grace Fellowship Church we ask certain members of the church to be involved in a Scripture Reading Ministry—a ministry of those who are specially trained and equipped to read the Word of God and to read it well. We consider this a teaching ministry, which means that it is a ministry reserved for men.

My husband and I currently attend a church where a male pastor reads the Scripture from which his sermon is based as a part of the message. In the past, we’ve attended churches that used the Lectionary, which allowed a variety of people from the congregation serve as readers. We’ve also attended churches where a vetted reader presents the Scripture(s) for the sermon, and then the preacher follows. (Yeah. We’ve been around.)…

Tim Chailles’ post had some useful pointers about how to prep people for the important responsibility. I can applaud the sobriety with which he encourages his boy congregants to approach this task. However, I can not celebrate the harsh legalism found in the way he applies his complementarian viewpoint to a role that the entire priesthood of believers can and should be taught to do. This debate goes far beyond Scripture reading, of course, and my .02 won’t change those who are bunkered in their theological convictions on the ongoing gender role debate.

But I do offer my thoughts here for those who may be on the fence about this topic, and feel perhaps convinced by the intensity of the convictions that are issued in a vigorous blog conversation from the neo-Reformed world. I write here from my history as a practioner, and am informed on the topic of women proclaming Scripture prophetically by passages like these:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”- Acts 2:17-18 (Peter quoting from Joel 2)

“For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Cor. 14:31)

Therefore, my brothers and sisters*, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Cor. 14:39)

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