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Church History

Recently on Arise, Jeff Miller wrote about the long history of women in the church, dispelling the idea that egalitarians are merely adopting current cultural ideas about women. He rightfully points out that women have served and led in the church for centuries. As a corollary to this, we should also acknowledge that patriarchy and the oppression of women have also played large roles in both culture and the church for centuries. In fact, far from being countercultural, many complementarian claims about men and women are echoed outside the church. Today, I’m looking in particular at the claim that women are biologically disposed towards emotion and relationships and thus not as well suited for fields based in logic (like science and technology) or for leadership positions. We can fi... Read more
Today is the first day of Women’s History Month and the first entry in CBE’s Women’s History Wednesday series. We’ll begin our series by zooming out to analyze how history has sought to erase the experiences and contributions of women. Then, we’ll profile three living women who have made or are currently making history. We’ll end our series and our celebration by proclaiming that women’s stories endure. Against the long odds of patriarchal repression, women’s voices could not and will not be subdued. But first, let’s talk about the historical erasure of women. History is, quite obviously, a story. And like any story, it at times prioritizes the experiences of certain characters over others. If we try to do too much with one story, we... Read more
In recent years, we American evangelicals have struggled more than ever to manage our “image.” In 2016 alone, significant numbers of abused women and children have exposed one prominent evangelical leader after another. These evangelical leaders have betrayed the trust of thousands who invested in their theology and leadership, leaving a trail of victims in their wake.[1] And instead of denouncing this abuse and giving victims a voice, evangelicals have consistently allowed perpetrators to resume their positions of prominence as speakers and leaders on evangelical platforms. Religious patriarchy has fueled the devaluation, marginalization, and abuse of girls and women globally.[2] For too long, we evangelical Christians have colluded with the powerful and failed to challenge... Read more
She didn’t mean to be a feminist. She probably had no idea she was one. She was just focused on Jesus Christ. But in following Jesus, she defied society’s expectations for women and secured an important place in history. Vibia Perpetua was a young woman in the North African city of Carthage. Around 203 AD, a government crackdown on Christianity put the (around) twenty-one year-old Perpetua, a new mother, and four other new believers in prison. Like thousands of Christians in the Roman Empire, Perpetua and her companions were given the choice to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods or die. All five, along with their mentor who later joined them, chose to give up the temporary for the eternal. Unlike most others though, Perpetua left behind a firsthand account of her time in... Read more
Today, virtually all evangelicals including complementarians believe that the Bible in no way approves of or endorses slavery. It is an evil and Christians should oppose slavery. They find it hard to believe that, for eighteen centuries, Christians accepted slavery like they did other cultural realities. In fact, most Christians find it unfathomable that the best theologians in America in the nineteenth century argued that God instituted slavery and approved of it. Indeed, no complementarian today is willing to admit that, with Bible in hand, leading evangelical and Reformed theologians argued that slavery was instituted by God and approved by him. If they did, they might have to re-examine their argument that God has permanently subordinated women to men. Neither the editors, John P... Read more
Complementarians are absolutely convinced that what they teach on the man-woman relationship is what the Bible teaches. To reject their teaching is to reject the Bible, and because the Bible is literally God's words, to reject that teaching is to disobey God himself. After giving a lecture outlining CBE's position, one Sydney theologian told me publicly, "You reject what Scripture plainly teaches. Those who disobey God go to hell." When faced with such weighty opposition, it is helpful to note that we find exactly the same dogmatic, vehement opinion voiced by the best of Reformed theologians in support of slavery in the 19th century and Apartheid in the 20th century. They too appealed to the Bible with enormous confidence, claiming that it unambiguously supported slave... Read more
Women participated significantly in the modern mission movement, serving as leaders in what was perhaps the greatest missionary impulse the world has ever known. Phoebe Palmer Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) was called the “Mother of the Holiness Movement.” She was one of the most prominent women in the Methodist tradition in the 19th century. She was also a sought-after speaker during the revival meetings that swept the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Europe. Palmer began her ministry in her home, hosting the original meetings for the promotion of holiness with her husband. Palmer viewed her home meetings as representative of Pentecost and therefore a model of heaven. These small inter-denominational meetings served as a prototype for worldwide holiness revivals. Palmer... Read more
“Then let us [women] have our liberty again, And challenge to yourselves [men] no sovereignty. You came not in the world without our pain, Make that a bar against your cruelty; Your fault being greater, why should you disdain Our being your equals, free from tyranny?”[1] The poet Aemilia Lanyer (sometimes spelled Emilia Lanier) wrote the lines above in 1611 in her book of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews). Much of the poetry in her volume recounts the passion of Christ, but Lanyer includes about a hundred lines of verse in defense of Eve. In this section, “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” Lanyer argues that women are not more to blame than men for the fall, and that in fact, Adam might have been more at fault tha... Read more
Despite the opposition of medieval theologians who insisted that women were unsuited for leadership because of Eve’s sin, women leaders, mystics, and missionaries offered strong moral, spiritual, and intellectual rescue to the church in the Middle Ages. These women were aided in their leadership partly by the church’s call to celibacy. For women, singlehood often meant freedom from childbirth, liberating them from the cares of family and domesticity. Singlehood also meant that fewer women died in childbirth. Women were able to devote their lives to intellectual and spiritual study and the enormous responsibility of spiritual leadership. Christian Mysticism Throughout the Middle Ages, women brought great reform to the church, particularly as mystics. Their deep spiritua... Read more
Editor's Note: It's Women’s History Month, which provides a unique opportunity to take a closer look at the historical imprint of Christian women. There is a long tradition of truth-tellers and pot-stirrers among Christian women. Ours is a heritage of immense power, prophetic voices, and deep love for the Lord. From the time Jesus walked among humans, women have lived out the gospel, modeling love, boldness, service, and leadership. In honor of these heroes of our faith, we invite you to join us on a journey through time. On every Friday of this month, we will celebrate a different group of historical women from the early church, the Middle Ages, the modern mission movement, and the early evangelicals. CBE’s president, Mimi Haddad, will profile these women and h... Read more