The Body With One Part?









In answer to the question, Why don’t women ever read or pray in Bethlehem’s church services?” John Piper answered in part:

But the real question, I think, they’re asking is about the prayers of praise, the reading of the text, and the preaching, and none of those the women do at Bethlehem. And that is intentional.

My reason is because—not that others have to see it this way—I view  that moment and that place in the worship service as one of pastoral authority. The pulpit stands there symbolizing the word of God preached, and that’s what the elders are responsible to do. The reading of the text is part of that. And the offering up of the prayers of the congregation in an official, formal, representative capacity at the front is pastoral.

If you switched it all around and you said, “I don’t want to view any of it that way,” then the principles wouldn’t apply in the way that we’re applying them. But in my sense, a woman is that moment acting like a pastor or elder, and that’s what we don’t think is appropriate.

It’s a pretty small, little place at Bethlehem. The pulpit is there, and those three things—the prayer of praise, the reading of the Scripture, and the preaching of the sermon—is a very, very small part of the life of this church. It’s big and important. But time-wise and ministry-wise it is a small thing. (Why don’t women ever read or pray in Bethlehem’s church services? by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:

My heart is saddened by the ways we miss the free-flowing presence of Christ by the intrusion of religious ways of doing things that, as Paul warned, “are according to the tradition of men . . . and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

“Preaching” is mentioned in the comments above. The act of the sermon is the high point of the Protestant service. Yet in the New Testament – the collection of books that is said to be the rule of faith and practice by church leaders – there is no evidence concerning one person giving a weekly sermon. Most of the time in the NT “preaching” is an outreach activity among those who are outside of Christ. There is one time when “proclamation” in the setting of saints meeting together is mentioned, but this is a declaration by the whole church, not by the speech of one person (1 Cor. 11:26).

What we do see in the NT is a gathering of believers who are actively expressing Christ in various ways (1 Cor. 14). As William Barclay noted in 1956, “The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came with a sense that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contributing something to it.”

It is stated above that what happens behind the pulpit is a matter of “pastoral authority.” Where is there anything about “the pastor” in the NT, and where is his “authority” unfolded? Here’s an example of how a bogus tradition becomes the foundation for restricting others in the church. Because of this alleged “pastoral authority” women cannot do anything from behind the pulpit.

But that raises another question. Where is there anything in the NT about the centrality of the pulpit? “The pulpit stands there symbolizing the word of God preached.” And how has it come to be that such a concept has been elevated and inflated without any revelation of Christ about it?

The center point for Catholics was the sacramental table where the Mass was performed. During the Reformation, in places where Protestantism gained power, the sacramental table was pushed aside and the pulpit took its place. Now the preacher, the sermon and the pulpit are center stage.

The depth of fixation on the pulpit is illustrated by the six-picture analysis of Westminster Theological Seminary’s seal, (Winter, 2011, pp. 8-9). Each picture highlights one of the elements of the Seal. Number four depicts the “sacred desk,” and says – “Pulpit: The Word of God Incarnate” (see above). Jesus Christ for sure is the Word of God incarnate. One of his names is “the Word of God.” But to suggest that the pulpit in every church building is where the Word of God is incarnated shows how much heavy infrastructure can be built upon the foundation of religiously-misinformed human thinking.

Again, when that for which there is no evidence is magnified and unduly exalted, the blessings attached to pursuing what Christ has revealed are pushed aside. When the Pharisees multiplied their traditions, and ended up in a labyrinth of complicated rules, the Word of God was nullified.

The answer to the opening question ended by trying to play down the significance of the pulpit. It is suggested that even though women cannot break the aura surrounding the pulpit with their presence, they can participate in many other important aspects of church life. The pulpit is “big and important,” but it “is a very, very small part of the life of this church.” To me, this just points out how a small thing time-wise can become the tail that wags the dog. Statistics show that 90% of people choose what church they go to by who is behind the pulpit and what comes from the voice behind the pulpit. Untold thousands of people drive unbelievably long distances to hear their favorite preacher.

Isn’t reality more along the lines that if you removed the pulpit from most churches, it would be their death-knell and they would go out of business?

We have so elevated the pulpit, the sermon and the pastor that we have no memory of the ethos of what went on in the early church when Christ was expressed by all in a gathering with no one leading from up front. Here’s a good summary by Ernest F. Scott of what we’ve lost through human traditions.

Prayer was offered, as in the Synagogue, but not in stated liturgical form. It was uttered freely, on the impulse of the Spirit, and was presented in the name of Christ, the Intercessor . . . . The Christian faith gave rise to hymns of a new character, often produced in the heat of the moment and almost as soon forgotten; but sometimes short lyrics of real beauty were treasured and repeated . . . . Chief of all these [elements] was the observance of the Supper . . . . This, indeed, was not so much a part of the worship as the vessel which contained all the parts. The purpose of the Christian meeting was to hold the common meal, and to make it a memorial of Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples . . . . The exercise of the spiritual gifts was thus the characteristic element in primitive worship. Those gifts might vary in their nature and degree according to the capacity of each individual, but they were bestowed on all and room was allowed in the service for the participation of all who were present. “When you meet together,” says Paul, “each of you hath a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, an interpretation.” Every member was expected to contribute something of his own to the common worship . . . . Worship in those first days was independent of all forms (The Nature of the Early Church, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941, pp.75,77,79,87).

If we gathered together to express Christ in participative meetings like this, we would not have concerns about women intruding into the “holy space” behind the pulpit. We could instead then focus on lifting up Christ through the various parts of the body. It is a tragedy that we have sacrificed Christ-centered flood-gates of blessing for letting one person up front be the one mouth that speaks – and no questions are to be asked.

Jon Zens

“Why Don’t Women Read & Pray in Bethlehem’s Church Services?”


  1. Loved this! This is the first time that I have seen the pulpit labeled the Word of God. This may shock some, but I have always objected to the same moniker for the Bible. There is one Word and His name is Jesus. It always seemed to me that those who place the Bible in such a position run the risk of placing it on equal footing with God, or at least, their understanding of it. It may be a misapplication, but I like what Karl Barth had to say, “The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is to lay a foundation other than Christ.”

    • Thanks, Chris, for your comment. There seems to be a thin line in the practice of some between having a relationship with the Bible and having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

  2. Bingo! Loved this: “And how has it come to be that such a concept has been elevated and inflated without any revelation of Christ about it?” Thank you for your work in the Body and in bringing Christ and His revelation to expose commandments of men. When we have a true revelation of Christ, we see Him everywhere we go. And we especially see His absence in what is typically called church.

  3. Jon,

    Wow, this is a powerful article that exposes the monumental error in thinking and practice when the term ‘Word of God’ is applied to anything other than the true Word of God who is the Person of Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving attention to this.

  4. Amen! Jesus has been clearing my vision and allowing me to see how women have been discounted by the current system! and so many other revelations I am so excited that our true identity In Christ is being revealed! I thank you for your heart and yeilding to His glorious work in you Christ is our hope of glory!

    • Leana, thanks for your comment! It would seem that many sisters are questioning the status-quo. For many, this issue boils down to whether a woman can stand behind a pulpit and deliver a sermon. But, to me, it opens up the whole question as to why our gatherings have traditionally focused on one key person doing most of the important functioning. Paul, on the other hand, envisions a get-together where “each and every one” has an edifying contribution to add to the spiritual meal (1 Cor 14:26). What good does it do to suggest that women can participate, when in fact in most “worship services” neither the men nor the women can play a part — except to sing some songs and put a check in the offering plate?

  5. Erroll Mulder says

    I spent some 38 years doing the ‘pulpit thing’ as a pastor, and then God showed me the more biblical way as outlined above by Jon (what a difference!). Remember the guy who sat by the pool of Bethesda!? (38 years)

  6. Pam Frazier says

    Just now seeing this post, Jon. Thank you for continuing to open my eyes to all the fallacy and discrimination in the Institutional church. I have never heard the pulpit called “The Word of God.” But, I have not spent much time in the IC. This saddens me so to hear a John Piper comment that women don’t belong speaking in the church. Really, have we made no progress at all in the IC?? How will it change? Will it change?? The saddest part is that so many women accept this role of subservience. Thanks bro for your insightful word!

    • Pam, all systems — whether secular or religious — are self-defending and self-propagating. Thus, it is highly unlikely that religious systems will change as they self-perpetuate themselves. John A T Robinson (UK) put it so very well when he observed:

      “The real trouble is not in fact that the Church is too rich, but that it has become heavily institutionalized, with a crushing investment in maintenance. The inertia of the machine is such that the financial allocations, the legalities, the channels of organization, the attitudes of mind, are all set in the direction of continuing and enhancing the status quo. If one wants to pursue a course which cuts across these channels, then most of one’s energies are exhausted before one ever reaches the enemy lines.”

  7. Dave Dittman says

    Hi Jon. I want to thank you for your kind response to my emailed questions and requests. I just finished your book “The Pastor Has No Clothes”. The title and picture on the cover may seem to be a bit jarring to some, but I believe you have greatly helped all who are sincere truth seekers. I would like to offer a few comments. I believe the problems you address of the modern church system being controlled by mostly well-intentioned pastors are all very significant issues and you have certainly covered the subject in depth. You discussed it some, but I see the that there is a deeper issue in that these leaders, systems, programs and the prevalent seeker-sensitive mind-set, all stem from the age-old sin of mankind’s pride and disobedience in trying to live and rule without being fully submitted to God. As Christians today, our failure to allow the Holy Spirit to direct all areas of our lives is naturally exhibited in most church gatherings. So I would not describe the main church problem so much as being “one man controlled” but rather as “man-controlled” period. The New Testament teaches us that all of Christian life, including church life as portrayed in Cor 12-14, is to be fully led by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit-led way of life should be especially evident in gatherings of Spirit-filled Christians. Being fully submitted to the Holy Spirit as the Leader of our meetings precludes one-man human control. But a more complete application would further prevent the common practice of small groups where individuals seem to take turns acting as temporary leaders or pastors. Why is it that most have resorted to human-led meetings rather than function together biblically as the Body of Christ with the Lord as our Head? Could it be that we have rejected the main point of 1 Cor 14? –that nothing meaningful is accomplished through man trying to lead or even to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit, unless these members have yielded all their own agendas and self-will to the Lord.
    So where does this leave us? My conclusion is that the solution is to this man-control dilemma is to repent and admit that we are incapable of living for God or of “doing church” without the fullness of the Holy Spirit in operation and in control. I know that this is controversial, but I further content that God intends for us to receive His grace and exercise our faith in utilizing the biblical operation of the Gifts of the Spirit in our daily lives and in our gatherings. In regard to this point, I believe it is not enough for us just to adopt the principles (but not necessarily the practices) of the early church as you seem to suggest in your book. I refer specifically to your statement on page 77 concerning 1Cor 14:26 — that “Some have shied away from this passage because it includes elements like ‘tongues’—which they feel have ceased.” (I notice that when you quote verse 26 on page 78 you omit the word “tongues”) If the main thrust of your book is that we should move back to a scriptural Christ-centered church, (which I agree is needed) then why not go all the way and promote the same reliance on the Holy Spirit and His gifts. As for this mind set of “shying away from the gifts” I believe Frank Viola addresses this issue thoroughly and fairly in his new e-book –“Critique of ‘Strange Fire’”. Frank writes “—all the cessationists I have ever known personally were convinced that spiritual gifts are not valid today because of their own personal experience. As a result, they saw in Scripture those things that supported their own viewpoint.”
    While these are certainly important issues, and we sometimes differ in our understanding of what God is saying, I believe that none of us have the full picture so we need to honor and love one another. God, by the Holy Spirit and by His Word will mold us as brothers and sisters growing together in the image of His Beloved Son to maturity as God’s own family. As we begin to see more Truth by revelation through God’s point of view we will see that the Holy Sprit has come as the Spirit of Truth to reveal Christ and to build us together as His temple to glorify God. By our yielding more to the Holy Spirit, Christ will see His Body growing in grace and we will join together and participate with our Father in summing up all things in the Lord Jesus Christ — which is the eternal purpose of God. – Blessings

    • Really appreciate your comments. They are right on the money. When you cut through all the layers, it certainly does boil down to perspectives like these: letter or Spirit? Spirit-led or human-led? vulnerable (open to the Spirit) or locked in a comfort zone?

      I made comments along these lines in my forthcoming book, 58 to 0 — How Christ Leads Through the One Anothers:

      Thus, when believers come together, they freely confess that they want Jesus to guide the gathering by the Holy Spirit. Whether in spontaneity or with planning, they want all expressions of Christ to be Spirit-led.

      This is an extremely vulnerable way to function. Without church bulletins or other props, it can be scary to ask Christ by the Spirit to flow with His life through the brothers and sisters. Notice in the open meeting described in 1 Corinthians 14 that no persons or person is “leading” up front. Yes, they had some issues, but Paul does not squelch the open participation—“each of you has a song, a teaching, a revelation.”

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