We Lutherans all want to argue on the basis of God's revealed truth in the authoritative Scripture. Yet all of us come to this debate with our own personal history and agenda. My own history includes aversion to women in the public ministry as a result of experiences, first as a teenager, then as a student in Germany. More recently, I have developed a growing understanding of the just claims of Christian women who have been disempowered and marginalized in the church and a horror for what has been perpetrated in the name of male headship. A re-examination of the texts and another (this time happy) experience of having a woman as my pastor in the United States about a decade ago led me to abandon my previously held view that the ordination of women is not the Lord's will for his church today. I am now convinced to the contrary, although I do not like using the broad term feminist. My own personal pain is not only that close friends and relatives hold an opposing view, but that I fully understand that view as one who once held it (this is not said in any spirit of superiority).
Two years ago, I made friends with a woman in another state via social media. We communicated through Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes on Twitter. She was thoughtful, caring, and generous. She wrote about her children, her family, and the ways God was working in her life. She has several kids, and always seemed to be laughing about the ups and downs of raising a big family. I admired her, was maybe even a little jealous of her overflowing life.
This year, I have noticed Mary more than usual. One of the things I’ve seen is a very strong person who bucks her culture to be what God calls her to be. That resistance has a hidden cost that the Bible doesn’t record directly.
Dismayed and confused by constant concerns about safety for girls and exclusion of women from church leadership, Faith Martin began a journey searching for theological developments regarding such demeaning views of women. Other studies of women in the church, such as Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld’s Daughters of the Church, reveal a consistent disparagement of women since the third century. Interpretations of NT household codes favoring male authority have often been cited to support such practices. These interpretations bear two kinds of illusions. One implies that church membership is predominantly male. The more serious concern is that presumptions of superiority and inferiority contradict the gospel message of love and grace, the good news of setting the oppressed free. Therefore, a proper theological hermeneutic of the NT household codes demands the inclusion of cultural dimensions.
Most evangelicals are accustomed to the Mary of icons with an emotionless face, the Mary of statues draped in a powder blue robe, and the Mary of piety who quietly and submissively obeys orders. And, if you are like me, you have been nurtured in a faith that, intentionally or not, ignores Mary.
Considered the most influential woman affiliated with the Welsh Revivals (1904–05) and earlier the Keswick Conventions (1875–1910), Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861–1927) distinguished herself as a writer, speaker, and advocate of women’s public ministry. A crucicentrist of the highest order, Penn-Lewis’s egalitarian theology grew out of her understanding of Christ’s completed work on Calvary. For Penn-Lewis, the cross provides not only forgiveness for sin (redemption), but also victory over sin and prejudice (sanctification). Crucicentrists like Penn-Lewis celebrated the social consequences of Calvary that included unity and reconciliation, not only between men and women, but also among individuals once hostile to one another. Thus, Penn-Lewis’s soteriology (what she understood about the work of Christ) shaped her egalitarian ecclesiology (what she understood about the work of the church). She promoted this view through her writings and leadership initially within the early Keswick Conventions and ultimately within evangelical circles around the world.