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Donovan's Erie History Pages

Women in the Pulpit

Correspondence from Erie preacher Clara C. Babcock to the Christian Standard.

"Women in the Pulpit"

Christian Standard
June 4, 1892

It is a question in my mind if Bro. Briney could have chosen any subject that would have arrested thought, set brains and pens in rapid motion, and so aroused American womanhood, as his interpretation of Paul on the woman question.

This is the question that must be met by the religious world, and the sooner the better for the church and humanity. Nearly five years ago, after careful study and prayer and mature deliberation, I drew these conclusions, based on the Word of God:

1. That the Word must harmonize.

2. That women did teach, and were commended for so doing by the apostle Paul; that Priscilla, as well as her husband, traveled with Paul, and taught Apollos, who was mighty in the Scripture, the way of the Lord more perfectly (Rom. xvi). Many noble women were commended to the church, heading the list with Phoebe, who came to them from her church, Cenchrea, to teach them, certainly along some line, for she had business with the church. She was no novice, for Paul says she had been a succorer of many. Eight hundred years before Christ it had been prophesied that women should use special gifts. On the day of Pentecost Peter tells the multitude before he preaches the gospel; tells them about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; introduced it by saying the time had come now that was prophesied of by Joel: "Daughters and hand- maidens shall prophesy," which means to teach or exhort. Now for a thought. In the beginning, God said: "Let us make man in our own image," and he created them male and female. The Word declares God gave them dominion over all created things; not him, but them. In the perfect state they were on equality. After the fall, woman lost her high estate, and as they drifted out into barbarism, lower and lower sank woman. Where Christ is not known and honored, she is man's slave, a wretched, degraded creature. The qospel lifts her once more to her position before the fall in the countries where Christ is honored. Woman is man's equal; hence, in the light of gospel truth, the apostle Paul could say, "There is neither male nor female, but ye are one in Christ Jesus."

Listen! On the glad morning of the resurrection, at early dawn, the women stand at the vacant tomb and an angel voice speaks -- heaven's messenger: "Go tell them he has risen." The story of the resurrection was first told by women. Peter introduces her as now ready to prophesy. The hour is at hand, in God's good time, for gathering the first fruits under the new dispensation. Is it meaningless that Peter, under inspiration, should, before preaching the gospel, remind them that the time had come for woman's work in the way of teaching or prophecy?

The apostle Paul makes two declarations -- one to Timothy, the other to the Corinthian Church -- which has by misinterpretation kept woman from the place God intended she should occupy. The words of Paul, "Let your women keep silence in the churches. If they want to know anything, let them ask of their husbands at home," were addressed to women just brought out of heathenism, who had been slaves to their husbands. I shall infer from the text their husbands were Christian men and were able to instruct their wives. These women had zeal but not according to knowledge. They had not learned how to conduct themselves, for the ancient writers tell us they gabbled among themselves, and talked out while Paul was preaching. Under these circumstances, Paul talked to them about as I should, as an instructor, under similar circumstances. The other text, "I suffer not woman to teach" applies to her wifely relation, as the following verses indicate. I need not reason this, as the church does allow woman to teach in the churches in Sunday-school work; does not silence her voice in song; allows her to counsel and devise ways and means to carry on local church work.

A Baptist divine, with D. D. attached to his name, in the Standard of February 11th, says, in reasoning, that woman's brain is smaller than man's; hence he infers she is not his equal intellectually, so cannot hold the office of pastor. It never dawned upon my mind that it was quantity, but quality that was needed. If this is true reasoning, then we should expect great things from the elephant.

Intellectually speaking, I have seen strong women and weak men, vice versa.

We look out over the religious world to-day, and we see the church is largely composed of women. I do not believe that this is because man is less spiritual; it is largely our environments that make us what we are. There are certain natural laws that, if broken, retard progress. We recognize this in home and social life; it is equally true in the work of our Master. For many centuries a mighty force has been silenced contrary to God's plan. If woman, with her magnetic influence, her tender pleadings, as well as her great intuitive powers, had been heard from rostrum and pulpit, as well as pastoral oversight, in the centuries that are past, the church would have been well balanced with more consecrated men as well as women; all this, according to natural laws and divine economy. It has been said, women are not physically endowed with strength to meet the demands of the ministry. My pastor once said to me, "Well, sister, you may be able to preach, and bring souls to obedience, but you will be obliged to turn the job over to us brethren." I have fully demonstrated woman's power, physically, as in over three years I have baptized all candidates presenting themselves. I have stood in ice water, and baptized many at once, in and out, any time the occasion demanded, amid summer's heat and winter's cold, both in the baptistery and rivers. Have never taken cold or been hoarse in the work; am forty-three years old, the mother of six children, and every living relative of mine has been brought to faith and obedience. I have a happy home; each member is willing to sacrifice some, if need be, for the salvation of souls and the glory of God. By the encouragement of my family and the blessing of God, my labors have resulted in the conversion of over three hundred, and I am still determined to go forward preaching the Word, and have strong faith in Bro. Briney that he will come out on the other side of the question if we give him enough time. I have somehow gained the impression that it took him some time to get his eyes opened on the organ question.

Clara C. Babcock

"From the Field"

Christian Standard
January 2, 1892

Rock Falls [Illinois], Nov. 1 -- Have closed my year's labor, and have received a call to the fourth years' work for Erie and third for Thomson, and have entered upon the new year hopefully. Although I have not reported work done since my last annual report, I have not been idle. My eye has caught from time to time contributions from the fertile brains of my strong brethren, with some editorial hints against woman's work in the ministry, as well as some words of encouragement. Regardless of all this I have patiently and steadily worked on, and can say w1th the apostle, none of these things move me; can truly say, I never preach to empty pews or a restless congregation; our audiences have demanded enlarged buildings. The spacious house erected at Erie last year is full at regular services. Have doubled our seating capacity at Thomson this year; are now ready for paint. Will dedicate soon without a dollar indebtedness to raise. We can come up to that service with thanksgiving. The spiritual tone is good. Enmity, strife in the family of God have given place to charity, and harmony now prevails. The church at Thomson has more than doubled its membership, and in financial and numerical strength are far in the lead in the place. I will relate an incident that occurred at that place recently. The Methodist Episcopal people have been accustomed to meet with us and break the loaf with us, as they have preaching only once in two weeks; at their last quarterly service they invited and urged us to join with them, they using the morning hour, I the evening. Some of the official brethren thought it best to join them. We accepted the invitation. At the conclusion of the communion service their elder said, to our surprise, if the parents will present the child, baptism will be administered to it. At this point I modestly stepped down out of the pulpit. After this matter had been attended to I was called upon to pronounce the benediction. I stepped to the front and asked if it would be in order for me to make an announcement. He said certainly. I then said the ordinance of baptism will be administered at the river to adults immediately upon adjournment of this service. All who would like to witness the burial of these believers in the likeness of the death-burial of our Lord are welcome. A large company followed us. The occurrence of the preceding hour and the large crowd impressed me to speak upon the action and subject for baptism briefly. Then on the banks of the Father of Waters we sung a hymn of invitation, and 6 came forward and made the good confession. We went home feeling God's blessing was with us. This is one of many pleasant experiences that have come to me in connection with my work. The visible results of my year's work are 96 additions -- 38 heads of families, 8 from the Methodist Episcopals, 6 from the Baptists, 9 reclaimed; preached 240 sermons, 16 funerals (two double -- father and son, husband and wife), 12 weddings, 470 visits made, 1,500 miles traveled to and from my labor. Am now in perfect health. Have not missed an appointment in over four years. I feel strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, and in his strength shall continue the heart-to-heart conflict with the enemy of souls and for the extension of God's kingdom.

Mrs. C. C. Babcock