Allow me to be honest. My heart is in this subject, but only as a small piece of a vastly more important whole. The freeing of women to minister as the Spirit has gifted each is important to me, but not in itself. This subject not an independent passion, but a necessary fundamental of the kingdom.
If you, as a reader of these thoughts, see the church as a spiritual being centered within a large, steepled building and protected by structure, process, and hierarchy, my arguments will sound spurious to you. Femininity has precious little to add to that edifice.
I see the church as the same spiritual being, but centered around the hearth. Again and again the new testament refers to the church that meets in the homes of saints, even when they had meeting halls. I have nothing against the steepled building. The church, though, needs to love more intimately than it has done in centuries, and the hearth is the best picture I can find for that.
We need to learn something that the Catholics stole from us centuries ago, and that the reformers failed to restore. We need to learn that family transcends agreement. The daughters and sons of our Father need to be fed and loved before we worry about their catechism. Might they need to be corrected? Sure! I am not advocating the end of exhortation, only the rearrangement of our priorities.
Winning back the true role of women in the church will not mysteriously make this happen. It will simply return to us one more of the weapons the Spirit gave to the church. We need every member of the body fully engaged, or we might merely look like a splintered, factious, politicized organization trying to win more people to our point of view.
That said, I believe:
The scripture requires the church to receive and obey the Word of the Lord when the Spirit delivers it through appropriately gifted sisters to the body with authority.
In this post I will attempt to:
- De-venom the word, "Feminism."
- Show that women were expected throughout the new testament to do spiritual work .
- Show that several sisters are listed who actually did such spiritual work.
- List a few example verses about "everyone" that I believe apply to women.
- Acknowledge the 4 main passages in conflict, but not address them here. This will be long enough as is.
Secular feminism was not born of nothing, fully formed and ready to destroy. The church gave the gift of feminism to the world. The church taught women to read, and taught men to respect their wives. The church taught women that they could go to God without the mediation of a husband or priest. If by feminism you mean women's elevation to the level of men before God, it was Christ Who brought this to earth. The world had to work hard to twist it into despicable thing it is now. God's original gift was true and perfect.
Rome held to the custom of "pater familias". The father of the family held the power of life and death over his children and wife. The place of the weaker sex had been established back in Cain's time, and it continued until Christ. Some few societies gave women an equal place, but they were the exception. Wherever the gospel went, the place of women in society inevitably improved. And the more perfectly the gospel was preached, the better the place of women became.
The secular abuse of equality in these later years is no reason to damn His gift. It should be no surprise that secularism has wrought incalculable damage in our society, along with the good it has borrowed from feminism. Abortion, divorce, and a degree of the current trouble of our youth can be honestly blamed on secularism, and I join those who oppose those evils.
Secular feminism is not biblical feminism.
The lewd, violent, and nihilistic ravings of rock & roll, rap, and country music do not stop us from singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The twisted moralizings of false teachers do not keep us from hearing biblical sermons. Debauched night clubs do not keep us from gathering after dark in churches.
So, when the accusation arises that feminism is invading our churches, let's be sure what that means. If it is the bent feminism that says a woman has the right to kill an unborn child, to leave a family that doesn't fit her lifestyle, and to place her career above her family, then I will bar the gate with you. From this our churches must be protected. (Of course, each of those things is equally wrong for a man, too, but we knew that.)
If it is the brand of feminism the church unleashed on the world, though, then we need to roll out the red carpet.
Let me give some scriptural examples of women preaching and prophecying in scripture. The first one is much more important to me than it is to some, and the last one is a powerful negative example.
John 20:15 & 18 TNIV Chapter
Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' " ... Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Acts 2:17 TNIV Chapter
" 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Acts 21:9 TNIV Chapter
... stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
1 Corinthians 11:5 TNIV Chapter
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.
Revelation 2:20 TNIV Chapter
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets, 'I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.'
In this passage from the Revelation, note that neither the church nor Jezebel is faulted for the fact that they should not have submitted themselves to a woman. I promise that I am no fan of Jezebel's, but the Lord imposes no burden on Thyatira regarding submission to women. Jezebel is cursed for her deeds, and for her deeds alone.
Now a few passages showing that women actually did the things listed above.
Romans 16:1 TNIV Chapter
[ Personal Greetings ] I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon [ Or servant] of the church in Cenchreae.
Romans 16:7 TNIV Chapter
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
(One is not thrown into prison for learning quietly in all submission.)
Romans 16:12 TNIV Chapter
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Acts 18:19 TNIV Chapter
They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
Acts 18:26 TNIV Chapter
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Romans 16:3 TNIV Chapter
Greet Priscilla [ Greek Prisca, a variant of Priscilla] and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 16:19 TNIV Chapter
[ Final Greetings ] The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla [ Greek Prisca, a variant of Priscilla] greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.
Each of these verses must be understood in its original setting. The Jews would never consider allowing a women to learn the holy scriptures, much less work in the Lord. Gentiles were less than consistent in their respect for women, too. Patriarchalism was the order of the day, and yet these women were clearly of some renown.
Whatever credit you instinctively give these verses, double it. These women held these responsibilities in unfriendly times.
Junia was a Jew, and outstanding among the apostles. How do you earn that appellation? How do you get imprisoned for the gospel? What could a woman possibly do within the confines of learning in quietness that would land her in jail?
When I looked at this collection of verses years ago, I wondered whether there might have been something going on in the first century that we have lost. It was not long before other verses suddenly began to loom larger for me.
1 Corinthians 12:4 TNIV Chapter
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. ... 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
1 Corinthians 14:26 TNIV Chapter
[ Good Order in Worship ] What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
1 Corinthians 16:16 TNIV Chapter
to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.
Romans 12:6 TNIV Chapter
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your [ Or the] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;
The church needs Junia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Claudia, Apphia, Mary, Phillip's daughters, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Lydia, Dorcas, and the rest. We need them exercising the several gifts the Spirit gave them. Can you really imagine that these women did not bring a prophecy, a teaching, and a spiritual song to their brothers and sisters in the body? Maybe Dorcas did, and maybe she didn't. We'll never know. The sewing she did was beautiful, and had nothing to do with preaching. Priscilla, however, is much more likely to have taught, and Junia can hardly be imagined in any other way.
Whatever I may surmise, and others may dispute, women prophesied in Corinth, and Paul took steps to make sure they knew how to do it rightly.
The churches profited by their women.
We could too.
The current state of the church is that which would be expected of a male-dominated organization. We have set a thousand goals over the last 400 years, and achieved many of them. Along the way, many people have been hurt unnecessarily. Along the way, division has become the legacy of the kingdom of God. Along the way, we have developed rich theology and theory, but failed to demonstrate Christ to the world by our love.
I have been correctly corrected that men should grow in these areas of weakness. Amen. Let men grow. We males need to become more sensitive, take our eyes off of our macho goals, and see people as more than projects. Amen.
But if our sisters of nearly 2000 years ago were able to help the church directly, without first speaking their truth into a husband's ear, then why should we deny ourselves this blessing? What is the point? Where is the value?
Now, I have not addressed:
1 Cor 11
1 Cor 14
1 Tim 2
This is intentional. (Kind of like IBM's manuals, which carefully state on many blank pages, "This page intentionally left blank.")
Every doctrine has its difficult passages. Tulip, the Remonstrance, dispensationalism, and all the other -isms have little verses that trip them up. In turn, every doctrinaire has his or her carefully woven solutions to those difficulties. I am satisfied with my solutions to those passages, and I will gladly share them if anyone expresses an interest in going there. I just won't confuse the message that the church needs gifted women exercising their gifts, and the scripture's testimony to that fact here.
May the church find more of that Love for which our High Priest prayed.