This post is borne out of a need to briefly share my view of women serving in ministry. I am an unabashed Egalitarian. I believe women (and men) can and must serve the Church (global and local) in any capacity that they are called to as ministers of the good news of Jesus in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This in no way sets aside, ignores, or rejects the teachings of the Scripture on the subject. I take the Scriptures with all seriousness. However, what are the markers by which we interpret Scripture are paramount for me (and what interpretive methodologies we use matter). This is not a post that discusses (or exegetes) specific texts (I’ve done some of that elsewhere), but one that is orienting for my approach to the subject in light of the over-arching orientation of Scripture.
I find three basic orienting testimonies in Scripture address this issue for myself:
The Spirit testifies. This testimony is the most basic to my understanding that whatever the Spirit testifies to must be affirmed. This functions in the way that the Spirit testified for the early church concerning full Gentile inclusion in every way (Acts 15). The same Spirit that is poured out on men is poured out on women. The same Spirit that empowers for witness, the same Spirit that calls to ministry, the same Spirit that sanctifies, anoints, secures and gifts towards the full maturation of the Church until we all come into the fullness of Christ. [Just such a trajectory is proposed in J. C. Thomas, ‘Women, Pentecostals, and the Bible: An Experiment in Pentecostal Hermeneutics’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5 (1994), pp. 41-56].
The creation testifies. While complementarians say they appeal to creation order, they actually appeal to the order of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Genesis one and two address women as co-equals in the call to care for the earth and accomplish the purposes of God in the earth. This is the account pre-Fall and should take precedence as the “order” in which God made things precedes the “order” into which things descended in sinfulness. Redemption, thus, is oriented by creation toward new creation in the midst of fallen-ness, but does not take its first cue from fallen-ness.
The eschaton testifies. While many seem to order their lives by the “now” this disregards the “then” of what God is doing to set all things to rights in the cosmos. The eschaton (or “end”) of all things points to the end of relationship structures as conceived between husband and wife (according to Jesus being “neither married nor given in marriage” Matthew 22:30). It points to the end for which we were created. This end is that for which the Church is oriented in Christ Jesus. Yet we do not simply await that end, but we begin even now to live in light of that end even as we still marry and are given in marriage. Our continuing in marriage is under the banner of Christ’s soon coming kingdom when such structures must be conformed to his intent in everything–that is, in mutual submission, and in living in wholeness towards God and world in redemption.
As I pour over the early Pentecostal periodicals, I am struck that despite the many limitations concerning leadership placed upon women within Pentecostal fellowships, there were numerous women preachers and writers who were making profound impact for the Kingdom.
Several women appear throughout these journals: Pandita Ramabai receives mention for her work in India, Maria Woodworth-Etter was used mightily to heal the sick, and Aimee Semple McPhearson boldly preached the full gospel message. While these names at least bear mention in many volumes dealing with Pentecostal history (due to their public ministries), I am yet more impressed by, and grateful for, the literary work of the likes of two women I wanted to highlight that have impacted me as I work on my PhD studies: E.A. Sexton and A.R. Flower.
Elizabeth A. Sexton initially served as the associate editor for G.B. Cashwell’s Atlanta based journal Bridegroom’s Messenger (founded 1907), but in 1908 took the helm as editor until 1923 at which point she was followed by her daughter, Hattie M. Barth. These two women (along with Hattie’s husband, Paul) founded The Association of Pentecostal Assemblies in 1921 (later merging into The International Pentecostal Church of Christ which still maintains the Bridegroom’s Messenger as its official periodical). She also was the impetus (and a founding trustee) for Hattie and Paul to launch a Pentecostal school in Atlanta known as Beulah Heights Bible Institute (now Beulah Heights University). Sexton gave voice to thousands of Pentecostals spread across the globe as she shared their articles, testimonies, and letters along with her own editorial works.
Another woman who has stood out in my research is Alice Reynolds Flower who, along with her husband J. Roswell, founded The Christian Evangel in 1913 (which later became The Pentecostal Evangel and the official publication of the Assemblies of God). She contributed the weekly Sunday school lessons in the Evangel along with providing numerous poems and books addressing spiritual matters. (HERE is an interview with her in 1980 by Delbert Tarr concerning the early years of the U.S. Pentecostal movement and the founding of the A/G).
These women are unsung champions of the Pentecostal faith. They wrote and edited works over those early formative decades to help spread the message of Jesus in His fullness as Savior, Sanctifier, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Soon Coming King. And I, for one, am grateful for their faithful work and witness! May the Father raise up many more such daughters to carry forward His mission to the world!
I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians this last year and recently covered chapter 14. While there are many things which are heavily debated in this chapter, I particularly wondered how to preach verses 34-35.
34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Cor.14:34-35 NIV84)
Interestingly, the NIV84 (CEB, CEV, ESV, HCSB, NAB, NET, NJB and NRSV) makes 34a “women should remain silent in the churches” a part of the preceding statement in verse 33 (which in full reads: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints,”). The KJV, NIV2011 (though see the footnote), NKJV, NLT, and TNIV read the last phrase of verse 33 with the first phrase and then end verse 33 with a period…thus separating 33 from 34. I personally prefer the reading of the latter.
Also, how does one preach “women should remain silent in the churches”? I know the traditional explanations I’ve heard about women speaking up asking questions but being too far away from their husbands and thus disturbing the congregational meeting, but I find this utterly unsatisfactory on historical grounds for congregational settings. How does remaining “silent” relate to Paul’s earlier instruction that women could publicly pray and prophecy (1 Cor.11:5, 13; 14:31)? I ended up essentially passing over this text with some comments about its questionable content and thus a need to not make doctrine of it in light of Gordon Fee’s arguments (NICNT “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987: pp.705-708) for verses 34-35 being an interpolation (since one of the issues is that in a number of manuscripts this text is placed completely after chapter 14 suggesting their was early question of the placement — or authenticity???).