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Question and Answer

Women Playing Piano during Worship


What is the difference between a woman playing the piano or perhaps guitar during the worship of the church and a woman leading or helping to lead in singing during the worship time? Do you have any scriptural references to back up your position?


The difference would be the leadership role. A person acting merely as an accompanist is not generally understood to be exercising leadership. So the question becomes, to what extent should a woman musician be allowed to direct the worship of a congregation consisting of both men and women? 1 Corinthians 14:34–40 and 1 Timothy 2:9–15, appear to limit, if not prohibit, female leadership.

But the question is not completely settled, since the Scriptures do not directly address the use of music in a New Testament setting (worship music per se is a different discussion altogether). I would say that most OPC churches utilize women as musicians. Some congregations utilize worship teams and/or choirs of which women are a part. And women are sometimes choir directors.

Bottom line: the consensus in our denomination seems to be that women are permitted to exercise a kind of “conductorship” where music is employed, and that this does not violate the “regulative principle” (see Deut. 12:32; Westminster Confession 21.1; Shorter Catechism 50 and 51), nor is such at odds with Scripture in general.

But I have also encountered some opposition in the OPC to women having any leadership role at all, even to the point of not allowing them to sing solos or duets, etc., since there is not any mitigation in the 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages. So ultimately the session (elder board) decides (OPC Form of Government XIII.7). Where the Scriptures and subordinate Standards do not speak unequivocally to a matter, the local session determines how worship will be conducted. All sessions try to follow the regulative principle of worship, but not everybody makes the same application/interpretation of that principle. It is up to the elders to defend their stance.

The two passages cited above seem to me to have only teaching and doctrinal discussion in view. For the sake of good order and submission to authority, the women of the congregation are to keep silent in these circumstances. There is no way to get around the commands contained in these verses. But I understand these passages to deal primarily with the handling of the Word of God as a teaching ministry to the whole congregation, as well as participating in revelatory exercises such as direct prophecy and speaking in tongues (these latter two “gifts” have now ceased due to the completion of the canon of Scripture).

Since most of the worship service revolves around the Word of God, it makes sense that those in charge of the service would be the same ones who handle the Scriptures. This concept conforms to the intent of the passages cited and would preclude women from leading the service, which in my view would deny their adding some sort of commentary or acting as a platform “song leader,” standing where the ordained minister usually stands.

In the “old days” it was common for the women to sit apart from the men. Nevertheless, it seems likely both men and women spoke in unison when hymns were sung and confessions uttered. Thus, women did not keep completely silent in the worship times. I personally prefer all soloists and group performers to use their gifts in a concert setting rather than in the worship service. But not everyone would agree with me.

Women musicians and song enablers have no authority to teach doctrine in connection with their ministries and may not use their positions for anything other than to help the congregation to sing praises, even if it means just singing in their hearts as they follow better voices. (For that matter, unordained male musicians have no such authority either.) In different contexts such as work with women only and with children, there might be that opportunity for women.

I hope this is helpful.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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