Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Assembly Defended from Choir Directors

Not the choir director, not the General Assembly, but a very lazy attempt to add a visual to a blog post indeed.

In an uncomfortable move that surprised no one, a Teaching Elder lodged a protest against the host committee having a woman “lead the Assembly in worship.” Five or six other TEs (out of 1300+) signed onto the protest, which requires no action and mostly functions as an exercise in conscience. Personally, I am deeply grieved at how hurtful such a public statement is, knowing the choir director (probably more properly “conductor”) and her deep love for Jesus. The TE, I’m sure, had no desire to attack the woman personally, but saw the issue as a matter of doctrinal fidelity.

I think the protest is misguided for several reasons. First, his objection was that a woman was “leading worship.” It is common for church members to collapse “worship” down to singing, but a minister should know better. The entire service is formal worship. She didn’t “lead worship,” the worship was led by the moderator, The Rev. Dr. Bryan Chapell, who opened the service, preached and closed with a benediction. The woman (whom I’m avoiding naming) directed the choir and the congregational singing.

Second, I can’t image any reading of Scripture which would forbid a woman being a choir director. 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids a woman teaching or “exercising authority over a man.” Surely a woman waving her arms to help the congregation stay on beat is not what Paul was talking about. If so, then we’d have to say that any function of a woman in church where she directs in any way (say in the parking lot), would be forbidden. Surely this is an admonition against a woman exercising spiritual authority, which is found in establishing doctrine (normally by preaching) or church discipline.

Third, the argument that it is inappropriate for a woman to lead a choir would seem to cover all female involvement in music in a worship service. All of the musicians lead the congregation in singing – that is the function of their service. Is this the biblical admonition?

Fourth, and most importantly in some ways, this kind of public statement has the effect of chilling godly women’s service in the Church. It gives the unspoken message that they are viewed with suspicion and fear. They feel that they don’t have a place in the work and life of the church. They feel that they are called to be witnesses to work and worship and not full participants. The church ends up looking far different from the New Testament, where women were “fellow workers” (Romans 16:3) and were publicly commended for their service (Romans 16:1).

By creating an unbiblical environment, the credibility of men, who are claiming to teach what the Bible says, is diminished. In that credibility and relational vacuum, other, less biblical, voices begin to influence the conversation. Ironically, the extreme forms of biblical patriarchialism end up promoting what they condemn. God deliver us from our own fear.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Greetings, Rev Hutchinson. I think your count was off by quite a bit, but of course you are highlighting the more significant matter -- that it was a very small minority that signed the protest. That's certainly true.

    In relation to the reasons that you found this protest misguided, first, you suggest that the protest errs by collapsing worship into only the singing. I think you misunderstand the concern of the protest. You seem to be suggesting that leading in the singing of worship songs is not leading in worship. To the contrary, leading in any part of worship is leading in worship. It's precisely because all parts of the worship service are in fact worship that no part of worship should be lead contrary to Christ's appointment. That's the position that gives rise to the protest. Now, I understand that you would disagree with that understanding of Scripture, but that's where the disagreement lies and not with supposedly collapsing worship into only the singing.

    Second, as you point out, 1 Timothy 2.12 forbids a women to exercise authority over a man. I think we'd agree that this is addressing ecclesiastical leadership, that is, the role of official church authority. You suggest that this is limited to matters of teaching and discipline, but others are persuaded that it includes any function of ecclesiastical leadership. If leading the congregation in worship (including the singing of worship songs) is an exercise of leading in the church, then in light of the passage cited, one might understand the Apostle to be excluding women from engaging in such leadership. We'd likely disagree on the persuasiveness of that line of thinking, but we could probably agree that directing cars in a parking lot is not a particularly relevant counter example since parking is not particularly ecclesiastical but worship is.

    Third, you suggest that the mindset of the protest would preclude women from musical accompaniment, but I'm not sure how accompaniment, per se, could be construed as leading or directing. Musical accompaniment is by definition assistive and supportive, rather than directing or leading. Still I'm open to further clarification on your thinking here.

    Fourth, it seems improper and unloving to suggest that the protest is based on suspicion and fear, and worse to raise the spectre of patriarchalism. Surely we disagree on a practical application of doctrine here, but doesn't the law of love forbid us from impugning the motives of our brothers and assigning to them sins and errors they have not expressed and which they would surely repudiate?

  3. VRH,

    I was actually given that number by someone who should have known the actual count. I will find the actual number and correct the post. I am sorry about that.

    I'm not afraid to go with Scripture in cases where it is unpopular, but I just can't see where anything other than preaching or discipline is meant by this. This extremely broad understanding of authority that covers tempo-keeping seems far wide of Paul's concerns. And seems far afield from Paul's treatment of women as "fellow-workers," or "servants of the church." I don't think there's any biblical or historical category for "ecclesiastical leadership" as you construe it.

    In a modern "band" the singer usually functions as the lead and the music backs them up. The music follows the singer. In church music, all of the musicians lead the church (musically). The singers (the congregation) follow the music, so all the musicians are "leaders" in that sense. I can't see any difference between Aunt Tillie playing the hymns on a piano in the small church and the choir director waving her arms to direct. Unless the pastor is standing up front singing and waving his arms to set time, Aunt Tillie is actually leading. The only difference is that we can't see Aunt Tillie all that well and our choir director was keeping the tempo on a jumbo screen.

    As for "suggesting that the protest is based on suspicion and fear", that would be unloving. I don't think I did that. I said that your protest (and other actions like it) give an unspoken message. I know that many women (and men) receive it that way. I'm not impugning your motives (which would be sinful and I wish to avoid), I'm pointing out that many receive your actions with hurt, or even, eventually hardness. I think your protest was unhelpful.

    I am sorry my use of the word patriarchalism offended you. I suspect that you may understand that word to have a specific and derogatory sense. I was not using it in that way. There is a segment of the Reformed church that sometimes calls itself the patriarchy movement which strongly emphasizes male leadership in the family and church.I was trying to say that applications of this which are less biblically defensible (such as, I would maintain, your objection is female choir directors in a worship service) end up creating the situations they are opposing.

    I don't for a second think your motives (or the motives of the others) are not coming from sincere conviction - and I apologize if I made it seem that way.

    1. Dear Rev. Hutchinson,

      I'm not offering a novel category or anything exceedingly broad in what I called 'ecclesiastical leadership'. I only meant to distinguish the official exercise of authority in the church as opposed to leadership in other contexts. In 1 Timothy 2.12, the Apostle's prohibition on women teaching in the church is immediately situated in his broader prohibition regarding women exercising any authority over men in the church. Consequently, it seems unwarranted to me to restrict what the Apostle broadens. Neither do the Apostle's commendations give us warrant for narrowing his broader prohibition. His commendations don't mention or imply a leadership role on the part of the women he's commending there.

      Your explanation regarding the musicians was very helpful, and I agree with you that the way contemporary worship bands lead the singing is quite similar to this. So yes, I think our theology of worship would incline us away from the use of contemporary worship bands for that very reason. I don't think simple accompaniment has that same problem, though it certainly could.

      I think I understand you to be saying that the the protest communicated an unspoken message of fear and suspicion. That matters a lot to me since that was not my intention and clear communication is part of the imperative of our calling. The protest was against those in leadership who ordered the service such that a woman was put in the position of leading a part of the worship. The protest was not against the lady put in that position, much less against women labouring commendably in the church. The protest was humbly offered for conscience sake. If we believe this public service of worship explicitly erred in this way, it seemed right to use this method to record our dissent in light of the Apostle's prohibition. I know we disagree on the application of that Apostolic prohibition, but I am desirous of your practical wisdom on what we should have done instead.

      Finally, I was not offended by the word patriarchalism. I thought you were 'piling on' with pejoratives and I wished to persuade you not to do that. I'm sorry I misunderstood your meaning there, and I appreciate your clarification. I hope you understand that the protest did not have in view anything other than the Apostolic prohibitions agains women leading men in the church and how that applies to our public worship. It was not an effort to push a broader patriarchal agenda as that relates to male leadership in other contexts, nor was it a protest against women serving in the ways that the Apostle commends. There is on my part no hostility towards those with whom I disagree on this. There is simply a desire to stand openly for the truth according to conscience with sincerity and humility, a devotion I know from experience that you share.