Friday, July 13, 2012

Should a Woman Testify in the Open Air?

Some believe that a women should never testify in the open air, because she would be in direct violation of Scripture: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). However, it is clear from the words “Let the woman learn in silence” that this is a reference to church conduct, not to reaching out to the lost. Paul is merely reaffirming church structure he had already put in place within the local church: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, italics added, NKJV).

If Paul was speaking of the task of evangelism when he said that a woman should be silence, then all Christian women should ignore the command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Instead, they should be in silence. Again, if this is a general conduct admonition to the Christian woman, she should neither testify one-to-one or one-to-a hundred. She should be in silence.

However, there is no reason to believe that the Great Commission was restricted to men. God saw fit to give women the power to be witness on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 1:14, 2:1-4). God had promised this power to witness to women as well as men: “And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit” (Acts 2:18, italics added).

The Bible doesn’t say “How beautiful are the feet of the men who preach the gospel of peace . . .” or “Go (men) into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” In both cases the word “preach” is the Greek word kerusso and it means "to herald (as a public crier)." If you are a man or woman you are commanded to preach the gospel--to raise your voice as a town crier.

After the woman at the well met the Savior, she witnessed to men (see John 4:28). Did she do this on a one-to-one basis, and become silent if more than one man gathered in the open air to listen to her testify? Thank God that she wasn’t silent: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did” (John 4:39).

When giving the do’s and don’ts of preaching in the open air, R.A. Torrey said, “None but consecrated men and women will ever succeed in open-air meetings.”(1) The Salvation Army were famous for their open air preaching-- “The Salvation Army gave women equal responsibility with men for preaching and welfare work and on one occasion William Booth remarked that: ‘My best men are women!’"(2)

Scripture names a number of women who were Paul’s "fellow-workers" in the Gospel (see Romans 16:3,9,12). This is a reference to the task of evangelism-- (sunergos) as "those who helped (Paul) in spreading the Gospel."(3) Paul used this term not only for men,(4) but he also used it for women, as in the case of Priscilla (see Romans 16:3), Euodia and Synthyche (see Phil. 4:2-3). Other women Paul commends for their "labor in the Lord" were Mary, Persis, Tryphena and Tryphosa (see Romans 16:6 and 12).

Charles Spurgeon included women when he spoke of Jesus making his hearers “Fishers of men.” Although it’s not clear if he is speaking of testifying in the open air, he exhorted both men and women to be fishers of men: “Now, if never before, every glow-worm must show its spark. You with the tiniest farthing candle must take it from under the bushel, and set it on a candlestick . . .You men and women that sit before me, you are by the shore of a great sea of human life swarming with the souls of men. You live in the midst of millions; but if you will follow Jesus, and be faithful to him, and true to him, and do what he bids you, he will make you fishers of men.”

I thank God that He chose women rather than men to be first to herald the good news of the resurrected Savior. These faithful woman took the good news to a group of hard-hearted, faithless men, who were cringing in fear behind locked doors. That makes me wonder if the men who want women to be in silence, preach in the open air themselves. Could it be that they are embarrassed by the fact that women are doing what they don’t have the courage to do themselves?

God isn’t averse to using women. He used Deborah as a prophet, a judge, and a deliverer in Israel (see Judges 4:4-10). What specifically is the objection to Him using women in the New Testament age, outside of the defined order of the local church? Is it because more than two people are listening to her or because she lifts the volume of her voice? Then just think of open air preaching as one-to-one witnessing, with some extra listeners and a little more volume. I was overjoyed when a friend sent me video of his wife surrounded by about 80 boy scouts in a public park, listening to her every word--as she lovingly lifted up her voice to tell them how to find everlasting life. How could any Christian object to such a wonderful sight? But if you do still object on the grounds of your interpretation of Scripture, then read Philippians 1:15-18 and put it into practice. Rejoice with me anyway that the gospel is being preached.

Ray Comfort

(1) R.A. Torrey, "Methods of Christian Work " (Chapter 6, pages 222-233).
(2) Captain Norman Armistead in 'The War Cry', 4 April 1964 (p1),
(3) The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon, (p. 795).
(4) Timothy (see Romans 16:21), Epaphroditus (see Phil. 2:25), Clement (see Phil. 4:3), Mark and Luke (see Philemon 24).