Separate Church Seating Arrangement

By Leland M. Haines

The historical practice established by the apostles is for the men and women to be seated separately in the service. This practice was followed in the church until recent times when it became fashionable to throw out the historical practice and sit as families. This modern custom should be rejected for the following reasons:

1. Separate seating was established in the early church by the apostles whom Jesus assigned the task to help Him to "build my church." We are told to "stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (II Thessalonians 2:15), therefore this apostolic established practice should be retained. Augustine (354-430 ad) wrote about separated seating: "the masses flock to the churches and their chaste acts of worship, where a seemly separation of the sexes is observed; where they learn how they may so spend this earthly life."

2. It creates greater fellowship within the church. After the service, less attention is directed to the other family members and more to other brethren and sisters and friends.

3. Separated seating makes it easier for widows, widowers, and singles to feel a part of the brotherhood. They do not feel isolated because they do not have their own family to sit with. This gives them a greater feeling of fellowship with others.

4. The ministers can speak more directly to brethren or sisters when required.

5. It improves congregational singing. The soprano and alto sisters are together, and the tenor and bass brethren are together, creating greater harmony.

6. It lessens distractions between husband and wife and romance between the unmarried within the service, thus creating a better spiritual atmosphere.

7. When seated separately in the assembly, visitors and friends, as well as brethren and sisters, pay more attention to spiritual matters in the service. When the minister speaks a word that is convicting, these cannot avoid it as easily by switching their attention to a partner. This creates a better atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to work in.

8. Separate seating also provides for a quieter service. Children are separated and under the control of one parent, and when a mother has to leave the service with a small child, there is less distraction.

9. The holy kiss is less likely to be practiced in mixed seating assemblies.

Paul wrote to "hold fast to what is good" (Romans 12:9). This practice was established by Jesus working through His apostles and is one of the good things that needs to be retained in the churches that still practice it and reestablished in the others. Separate seating has been the main practice in the church throughout the ages and is still practiced by many. Thus it should be considered an important apostolic practice and never an oddity.

Let us comment here about visitors to church services. Friends are welcomed at church services (I Corinthians 14:23, 24), and no partiality is to be shown to them. James wrote, "My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to clothing, and say, 'Have a seat here, please', while you say to the poor man, 'Stand there', or, 'Sit at my feet', have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4). The use of the term man, and his gold ring and fine clothing showed friends attended the services. James would not have addressed a brother by the term man. And a brother would not wear a gold rings or fine clothing (a brother would not wear these worldly items that sisters were forbidden to wear, I Timothy 2:9 and I Peter 3:3).


from The Biblical Concept of the Church, © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.

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July 1, 2000