Although we may idealize the early church, most of us would not have enjoyed a visit to a worship service at Corinth. The impression which one was most likely to receive was that of chaos and delirious insanity.
Late in 1981 I dug up one of Ellul’s early articles from the Protestant weekly Réforme: ‘La Femmes et les esprits’ (Women and the spirits) and found what we expect when we know Ellul: a maddening mixture of apparently reactionary views and revolutionary ideas.
Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life;” and from this biblical concept feminists must look at life and its fulfillment. The Holy Spirit was poured out for ministry; Jesus began after the endument on Him (Luke 4:1). Jesus broke the last barrier of separation that had been imposed on women by tradition. The Holy Spirit baptized women like men and for the exact same purpose as men: they were baptized for service and ministry.
This passage in I Timothy has caused much confusion about what women can or cannot do in church services or in teaching. In the oft-heated discussions, a verse or two, or even a single phrase is sometimes selected and the rest of the passage ignored.
We turn our attention to the presence or absence of the Greek article in the crucial passages that have been used for centuries to limit the participation of women in teaching and leadership in the church.
If someone were to call me a feminist in the true definition of the word, I would proudly accept the title. I believe in the social, political, and – more importantly – the biblically-based equality of all in Christ. But I can not accept the title of feminist because of what it seems to have become in the minds of the secular world and, unfortunately, in the minds of many Christians.
Whereas I see no need to defend, only to lament, the sexism of Christendom, I do think feminine Christians should think again about what Jesus himself taught. Jesus was a man. How did his maleness affect how he related to, and what he taught about, women?
Many contemporary evangelical Bible scholars and theologians, not to mention ordinary lay men and women, are convinced that attempts to use the Bible so as to exclude women from positions of leadership for which their Creator has made them and to which their Lord as called them – whether in society, home or church – is flawed.
Because International Women’s Day has its roots in the largely-secular history of organized labor and the international socialist movement, we might well conclude that its celebration in the middle of lent is the result of accident rather than design. And yet I discovered during my research for this talk that the motto of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (one of the more militant of the early labor unions) is the phrase “Not By Bread Alone” – the same words with which Moses sent the Israelites into the promised land (Deut. 8:3) and by which Jesus rebuked the devil when tempted to break his forty-day fast by changing stones into bread (Matt. 4:1-4).