WOMEN WHO SERVE THE CHURCH (1 Timothy 3:11)
3:11 In the same way, the women must be dignified; they must not be given to slanderous gossip; they must be sober; they must be in all things reliable.
As far as the Greek goes, this could refer to the wives of the deacons, or to women engaged in a similar service. It seems far more likely that it refers to women who are also engaged upon this work of charity. There must have been acts of kindness and of help which only a woman could properly do for another woman. Certainly in the early Church there were deaconesses. They had the duty of instructing female converts and in particular of presiding and attending at their baptism, which was by total immersion.
It was necessary that such women workers should be warned against slanderous gossip and bidden to be absolutely reliable. When a young doctor graduates and before he begins to practise, he takes the Hippocratic oath, and part of that oath is a pledge never to repeat anything that he has heard in the house of a patient, or anything that he has heard about a patient, even if he has heard it on the street. In the work of helping the poor, things might easily be heard and be repeated and infinite damage done. It is not any insult to women that the Pastorals specially forbid gossip to them. In the nature of things a woman runs more risk of gossip than a man. A man's work takes him out into the world; a woman of necessity lives in a narrower sphere and for that very reason has fewer things to talk about. This increases the danger of talking about the personal relationships from which slanderous gossip arises. Whether man or woman, a tale-bearing, confidence-repeating Christian is a monstrous thing.
In Greek civilization it was essential that the women workers of the Church should preserve their dignity. The respectable Greek woman lived in the greatest seclusion; she never went out alone; she never even shared meals with her men folk. Pericles said that the duty of an Athenian mother was to live so retired a life that her name should never be mentioned among men for praise or blame. Xenophon tells how a country gentleman who was a friend of his said about the young wife whom he had just married and whom he dearly loved. "What was she likely to know when I married her? Why, she was not yet fifteen when I introduced her to my house, and she had been brought up always under the strictest supervision; as far as could be managed, she had not been allowed to see anything, hear anything or ask any questions." That is the way in which respectable Greek girls were brought up. Xenophon gives a vivid picture of one of these girl-wives gradually "growing accustomed to her husband and becoming sufficiently tame to hold conversation with him."
Christianity emancipated women; it liberated them from a kind of slavery. But there were dangers. She who was liberated might misuse her new-found freedom; the respectable world might be shocked by such an emancipation; and so the Church had to lay down its regulations. It was by wisely using freedom, and not misusing it, that women came to hold the proud position in the Church which they hold today.