A Review of Confusion or Consensus by Vance Trefethen Women In Church Business Meetings

By Bobby Holmes

This book not only advocates the right of women attending church business meeting but it also teaches that it is the only scriptural way it can be done! This book includes a special essay by Joan Rieber, wife of Ney Reiber, gospel preacher in North Carolina. I greatly respect both Ney and Joan and count them as personal friends as well as a brother and sister in Christ, but I do disagree on the conclusion she reached on the subject of women attending business meetings of the local church where leadership roles are exercised (decision making). I do not know brother Trefethen but I have talked to the Riebers about this article and they are aware of this presentation. I have assured them that I will send them a copy of this article and also one to brother Trefethen. Brother Reiber tells me that he knows brother Trefethen personally and that he is a very sincere and honest person. I have no doubt about this and I pray that none will look upon this as any kind of personal attack on anyone. There are too many times that this happens and I would never be party to anything of that sort. The material was published and presented to the public and I felt that someone should deal with it in an objective public way which is what I have tried to do in this article.

I have not read of any voice being raised in objection to the material this book contains, thus here I am. I believe the devil is constantly trying to undermine God’s plan for his people and their service to him. He tries to alter it a little here and a little there. This amounts to an adulterating (contamination) of God’s way and the result is sin! Please read carefully what I have written.

Perhaps you would be wise to first read a copy of the above book that is under consideration in order to properly understand what is being presented. (It is available from Guardian of Truth Bookstore: 1-800-428-0121.) I realize that this view is not a new one (women attending church business meeting) and that it has been advocated by different people in different centuries, but time doesn’t make something right or wrong. Only God’s word determines authority in religion for those interested in serving him. Again, please read what I have written in the light of God’s word and make your decision based on that alone. Rememberwe shall all give account before our God. Let us study.

This book is “laced” through with the term “decision making process.” This simply defined, without the “double-talk” means taking on a “leadership role.” I will prove this as we go along. The overall theme of this book is clearly outlined on page 3 in paragraph 4, ” a call for allowing on increased role for women in the decision making process of local churches” (emp. mine, b.h.). I believe the truth of the matter is contained as the writer continues by saying, “This position happens to coincide with what some feminists might also believe, but that does not mean that I believe in the Feminist Movement.” I might also add that I do not oppose all the ideas of the Feminist Movement (equal pay for equal work, etc.) but I do oppose their attempt to place themselves in leadership roles in the home and church. This is what this book is advocating! Look past the “veil” of the constantly used term “decision making process” used to allow women in business meetings either with or without elders. The book clearly forbids elders from excluding women from even their meetings.

There is some “double-talk” on page 96, paragraph 1 about “private meetings” where the writer says, “There were never any private meetings that made decisions for (instead of) any local church in the New Testament. But there were private meetings to discuss the word of God and the work of the church.” I don’t really understand what the writer is talking about when he says (“instead of “). The church business meetings that I have attended for the past forty-three years have been to discuss either the word of God or the work of the church in one area or another. Thus, business meetings, according to this book, would have to include women as decisions are made “for” the local church regarding the work of the church and the work of God. This “double-talk” continues on page 97 as the writer concludes from Acts 20:17-38 that this private “elders meeting” was to receive “instructions to the elders on their work as shepherds, telling them to feed the flock and protect it from wolves, or false teachers, who would arise even from their own number (18-30)” (page 97, paragraph 2). At the bottom of that page and continuing into page 98 he affirms (rightfully so) that elders may meet privately to discuss the work of the local church. In that first paragraph on page 98 he says, “interestingly, however, no decisions were made ‘for’ the Ephesian church by the elders at this private meeting.” Do we really believe that a decision was not made to “feed the flock” and “keep the wolves” out? Look at the statement dear soul! What is inferred is that they must have a congregational meeting (including the women) and “discuss and `decide these things. There would of necessity be the need of a “congregational meeting” in order to get a “consensus” (actually permission) before any decisions could be made (page 39, paragraph 2).

Lest you think I have misrepresented his position, our author continues on page 36, paragraph 7: “If inspired men needed the presence of the whole church before any congregational decisions could be made, can there be any leaders in churches today who have more wisdom or more decision-making power than the apostles?” (emp. mine. b.h.) He states on the bottom of page 24 that the only time that an example can be found of a small group making a decision for the local church was Diotrephes in 3 John 9-10. He continues in the first paragraph of page 25, “Any individual or small group that make its private decisions binding on the whole congregation falls into the category of ‘loving to have the preeminence among them’ and needs repentance.” He states on page 58, paragraph 3, “The flock must listen to and be convinced by the teaching of leading men (including elders) when they instruct saints from the word of God.”

Our author states on page 35, paragraph 4 that the elders in Acts 15:6 only came together to “consider” the subject at hand and not to decide anything. Mr. Thayer says on page 173 of his Greek-English Lexicon that the word “consider” as used in Acts 15:6 means: “to see about something (A.V. to consider of), i.e. to ascertain what must be done about it, Acts 15:6” (emp. mine, b.h.). Can any honest student of God’s word believe that these elders and apostles did not make a decision but had to wait on a “congregational meeting” to get a “consensus” (approval) before they acted? If we can’t reason better than that, then may God help us for we are in darkness!

Lest you think I have misrepresented his position, our author continues on page 36, paragraph 7: “If inspired men needed the presence of the whole church before any congregational decisions could be made, can there be any leaders in churches today who have more wisdom or more decision-making power than the apostles?” (emp. mine. b.h.) He states on the bottom of page 24 that the only time that an example can be found of a small group making a decision for the local church was Diotrephes in 3 John 9-10. He continues in the first paragraph of page 25, “Any individual or small group that make its private decisions binding on the whole congregation falls into the category of ‘loving to have the preeminence among them’ and needs repentance.” He states on page 58, paragraph 3, “The flock must listen to and be convinced by the teaching of leading men (including elders) when they instruct saints from the word of God.”

I have a question at this point. What if some of the flock refuse to listen and be convinced? Do these elders have any authority to enforce what they taught? If not what is their function in the light of Hebrews 13:17 and other related passages?

He states on pages 49-50 that elders making decisions in matters of expediencies can lead to “dangerous consequences” since this is what happened in the “Boston Movement” where elders made decisions in the realm of “expediency” regarding “who one could date or marry, what house you may buy, whether you move to another city.” So  our writer concludes that since this could have “dangerous consequences,” the solution is to have the “congregational meetings” to decide matters of expediency. But the same danger exists in “congregational meetings.” In fact, it was the members that were led by their group leaders that put pressure on people in these areas and not the elders. In fact, the elders were gradually pushed aside in the decision making until they became but ‘figure-heads.” Does this sound familiar? Godly elders will be watchful of such things and prevent them from happening instead of causing them.

A misuse of Luke 22:25-26 is found on page 56, paragraph 3, as he seeks to remove authority from the eldership over the flock. He states, “But the authoritarian rule of governors and commanders is out of the question because of Luke 22:25-26, where the word ‘chief’ is from the same Greek word. Jesus said the ‘chief’ (hegeomai) does not rule over others in his kingdom the way the Gentiles rule. Therefore, we must look to other aspects of the word to find the application to elders.” Certainly, no one is to “iron-rule” over God’s people. This is why the Holy Spirit forbids the “lording it over” God’s people (1 Pet. 5:3).

Our writer states on page 2, paragraph 4: “A growing number of preachers, teachers, and ordinary saints are realizing there is a pattern for decision making (emp. mine, b.h.) in the local church … and that the churches they worship with are not following it” (emp. mine, b.h.). One page 5, paragraph 2 he states, “The method local churches use to decide matters of congregational judgment has been established by God in a clear New Testament pattern, and we must follow that pattern” (emp. mine, b.h.). Page 6, paragraph 2 he continues, “But if God has spoken on the matter, then only his method of congregational decision making (leadership role, b.h.) is correct, and all others operate without divine authority” (emp. mine, b.h.). His conclusion is summed up on page 91, last paragraph by saying, “All women and some men are restricted from leadership roles in the local church by several Bible passages yet they may still participate in discussing and deciding the affairs of the congregation under qualified male leadership. Women may (and should) attend and participate in congregational business meetings, as long as they are in subjection ‘as also saith the law’ and as long as they do not ‘teach or usurp authority over the man” (emp. mine, b.h.). The writer does not seem to understand that when women attend church business meetings and help decide the affairs of that local church, she takes part in a leadership role! She is in a leadership role as well as any of the men in this instance. If not, why not?

Again: I have a question, could a woman speak before the “whole church,” providing she did it “in subjection” as she does in the “congregational meetings”? If our author says she cannot, I want to know why not? She is allowed to speak before the “whole church” in “congregational meetings” in “discussing and deciding the work of the local church” so why cannot she stand before the entire church and speak as long as it is “under the ‘leader-ship’ of the men” ? If our author says she can speak before the “whole church” as long as she is in subjection “as also saith the law” (page 91, paragraph 3) then he has “arrived” at where this position is leading him and others. God forbid!

On page 59, paragraph 3 he states, “Elders are charged with watchful care and concern for the spiritual well-being of every member of the flock. They must pay close attention to the spiritual needs and problems of the group, both collectively and individually, to see that the needs are satisfiedand the problems are dealt with” (emp. mine, b.h.). Brethren, how can they when they are not allowed to do so without a “congregational meeting” to get a “consensus”? Such is the “double-talk” over and over.

We need to read again 1 Timothy 2:12. Thayer says (page 84) that the word “usurp” as used here means “to govern one, exercise dominion over one.” Thus the word “usurp” carried with it the idea of “governing” or “do-minion.” In church business meetings there is a “governing” or “dominion” over the affairs of the local church, and when women became a part ofthis process they are violating God’s word!

Lest you think you have misunderstood what kind of decisions that women are to help make in these business meetings, he lists some on page 5, paragraph 2. “We (men and women in business meeting) must make decisions in areas where no specific revelation has been given. The support of preachers, but which ones? For how long? With how much money? In what location?” Page 4 of the book is spent discussing “power.” In paragraph 1 he states, “decision making processes (leadership role, b.h.) attract so much concern and controversy because they determine the distribution of a commodity that is highly esteemed among the majority of mankind. Power. The power to make decisions and control the affairs of others is highly sought after …” (emp. mine, b.h.).

Readers, you just heard the bottom line of it all. It is an attempt to introduce women into the position of decision making and controlling the affairs of the local church. Why else would a woman desire to attend a church business meeting but to have part in a leadership role? Certainly, women and all others need to be kept informed as to the decisions that are made, but a neglect to do this does not authorize the violating of 1 Timothy 2:12. In paragraph 4 he states, “God has also allotted decision making power in the spiritual realm …” Indeed he has and in his majestic wisdom he has made it clear where it is. Read again 1 Timtohy 2:12! This is why women are not permitted to stand in the pulpit and preach, stand before a mixed group of men and women and teach, or stand before a mixed group and lead singing. There are those who would love to do so, but God has forbidden it!

He states on page 2, paragraph 4, “A growing number of preachers, teachers, and ordinary saints are realizing there is a pattern for decision making in the local church … and that the churches they worship with are not following it. While we hear words about following the pattern and having authority for all we do, we often see something different in practice.” He goes on to say in paragraph 5 that there are two major reasons for this problem. The first is ignorance. He says that the practice of “excluding many or most of the members” is believed by many to be only a matter of “expediency.” This may be believed by some, but all I have known understand that women do not attend church business meetings because they wish to obey God’s word (I Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34). Expediency has nothing to do with it!

He says the second reason is “over-reaction to the mistakes of the Feminist Movement.” Again, God-fearing women will submit to his instruction and remain in the role he has placed them in — that of subjection. Call me a male chauvinist if you desire. I have been called by worse names. In fact, the Feminist Movement says the same of the apostle Paul. The fact is that God gives three reasons why women are to be in subjection and not in leadership roles. (1) Man was formed first (1 Tim. 2:13); (2) woman was deceived, not man (I Tim. 2:14  This does not excuse man but rather indicates that he knew what he was doing when he ate of the forbidden fruit); and (3) after going through the “chains of authority” (I Cor. 11:3) the Holy Spirit goes on the subjective role in verse 9. You may choose to argue with God on these points. It is your choice!

Let me assure you that I believe in total equality in Christ (Gal. 3:28). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” However, this changes nothing when it comes to leadership roles, and when women enter a church business meeting and help in making decisions concerning such things as to what preacher will be supported, where, how long and so forth, she is in a leadership role! You can slice it any way you want to or fly it under any flag you care, but it doesn’t change the fact that she is out of place in her role as a woman.

Churches can and should take into consideration the suggestions of women that are passed on for consideration. These can be taken up and discussed and decided upon in the business meetings, but she is to have no part in the “decision making process” (actually leadership role). God has forbidden it! The decisions as to what preacher to support, how much, where, when, etc. are to be made by the elders of the local church, and in the absence of elders the men serve in decision making as an expediency! Some churches have their business meetings (with or without elders) and never inform the membership as to the decisions that have been made. This is wrong! An informed membership works together in a harmonious way.

Sister Rieber points out that some churches permit women to teach high school and college level classes of mixed sutdents. This is clearly wrong! It violates 1 Timothy 2:12. Priscilla helped her husband teach Apollos the word of God  this isn’t a thirty-second cousin to a woman teaching a mixed class, preaching or attending a church business meeting! These items place people in leadership roles! Can’t we see that? Priscilla taught with her husband in a private setting!

The reference on page 94, paragraph 3 that says, “both male and female saints are told to come together ‘to provoke each other to love and good works cannot be applied to the “decision making process” (leadership role) that is being “peddled.” It is forbidden by God! Again, on page 94, paragraph 4 she states, “One of the responsibilities I had to accept was attending the assemblies of the ‘whole church’ to discuss and decide the work of the local church” (emp. mine, b.h.). Her conclusion is reached on page 95. The last paragraph says, “There are also scriptures that prevent the exclusion of even one woman from congregational assemblies” (Acts 6:2-5; 15:12,22). First, “congregational assemblies” are not under consideration here. It is in business meetings that decisions are made regarding the work of the local church. There is no proof from these scriptures that women had any open part in the decisions made. It simply states “it pleased the whole multitude.” Surely the women can give her input, but that is an entirely different matter than taking a leadership role in “discussing and deciding the work of the local church” (page 94, paragraph 4). In Acts 15 the apostles and elders came together to discuss and decide a subject of eternal importance (Acts 15:1-6). Our author says the “multitude” was made up of “the apostles and elders on one hand and the Judaizing teachers on the other,” but Paul tells us in his account of this meeting when he wrote Galatians that these false teachers were not allowed to speak (Gal. 2:1-5). Verse 22 states that the decision that was made on this day “pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas …” in order that others might also know of this binding decision not only for the local church there but also in Antioch. Yes, the local church made a decision as to who to send on this journey, but one will have to “read into” the verses to get a congregational meeting where the women joined in openly to decide who would go. The text simply states that it “pleased the whole church.” Some-times we are so anxious to “see” something in a verse that we wind up seeing nothing at all.

Think about this! A “men’s business meeting” functions in the absence of elders as an expedient means to exercise leadership, which requires the same decision making process as in an elders meeting. The inclusion of women participants in business meetings thus violates her role given in 1 Timothy 2:12 just as it would if she was a part of an elders meeting. Are we to understand that women are to attend elders meetings? If she is to be in meetings to “discuss and decide the work of the local church,” then she has placed herself in a leadership role. Is she to be allowed into the elders meetings that are to “discuss and decide the work of the local church” (page 94)? If these decisions are to be made by the “whole church” including women, then for what purpose do the elders serve? Brethren, we are drifting! No, we have drifted! this is a renewed effort to undermine the organization of the local church as God designed it! Don’t be deceived!

Our author uses several “syllogisms” in his book. A “syllogistic” argument is good, but it must be a true syllogism. It is made up of a major premise and a minor premise. If both of the premises are true (and properly formulated  pkw) then the conclusion will be true. However, if either of the premises is false then the conclusion is also false. Some of our brother’s syllogisms are flawed and others are simply “sillygisms.” Let me give him one that I do not believe he will agree with, and yet he teaches it in his book. (1) Major premise: Women not only can but should attend meetings of the “whole church” where discussions and decisions are engaged in. (2) Minor premis: Women are allowed and encouraged to speak publicly in these assemblies of the “whole church” as long as they remain “in subjection.” (3) Conclusion: Women may speak publicly to the “whole church” as long as they are “in subjection.” How about it brethren? Are you ready to buy that? If I have correctly stated the proposition of belief the author of this book is advocating, then the conclusion cannot be denied! Women preachers are ahead in the Lord’s church!

In conclusion, I am not minimizing the need and worth of women in the Lord’s church. In some places the greatest spiritual strength comes from godly women and in some places I am convinced that the cause of Christ would fail in that area were it not for them. This does not change the teaching of God regarding the God-given place he has assigned them. Thank God for our godly mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. Let us look upon them with the great respect they deserve, but let none of us let down the “vanguard” of God on the woman’s place. There are many today who are pressing for women to fill the pulpits. Some denominations already have them and some in the “liberal camp” are already at it. The things discussed in this article point to a direction forbidden by God. Let us be satisfied with “doing God’s work in God’s way.” Thank God for his godly women! May their tribe increase.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII, No. 23, p. 16-19
December 2, 1993