Among the Churches of Christ in the United States, it's increasingly common for congregations to study and consider questions that typically come under the heading "Women's Role in the Church." (For reasons I have a hard time articulating, "Women's Role in the Church" is not my favorite expression. But it communicates. My friend and brother Dale Pauls has spoken of "Women in the Church at First").
In some cases (not many), these congregations wind up making practical changes. Said changes usually show up in worship assemblies. Women begin taking on roles previously filled only by men. They lead public prayers, preside at the Lord's Table, etc.
Now, from what little I've seen and heard, Scripture study and practical changes along this line are accompanied by a congregational disclaimer and explanation that goes something like this:
We're not reacting to the rise of feminism, at least not primarily. We are still (in fact, more than ever) a people of the Book. So, if caving to the culture is not what this is about, then what is it about? The results of better Bible study. When we read the Bible not as a flat constitution, but rather as a collection of occasional documents which must be interpreted in the light of context, we come out with different conclusions. And when it comes to our consideration of "Women's Role in the Church" those different conclusions have led us to different ways of thinking and acting.
Now, if and when preachers and elders and the congregations they lead say something like that, I have no good reason to doubt them. I'm neither a mind reader nor a heart discerner. And I'm certainly not the judge of someone else's servant.
However, what I wonder about is why all of this has, from what I can tell, by-passed the question of female deacons. The fact is, the female diaconate does not have two apparently-restrictive passages to climb over (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Instead, the female diaconate has two apparently-supportive passages going for it (Romans 16:1-2 and 1 Timothy 3:11).
The only person in the New Testament who is called a diakonos of a particular congregation is sister Phoebe, apparently a deacon of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16: 1). And, a comparison of what Paul says regarding "deacons" (in 1 Timothy 3:8-13) with what he says regarding "the women" (in verse 11 ) seems to indicate that the two groups are parallel. Furthermore, the female diaconate is supported by both the New Testament background and early Christian history, not to mention that at least the idea, and sometimes the practice, has had wide support in the history of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.
At any rate, in addition to the questions raised here, my explicit question is, If going with the Bible is what's driving current changes, then why all the neglect of what is a comparative no-brainer, the ordination of female deacons?