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Church History

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
Sarah Lindsay
“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
Early in his writings, Paul authored Galatians, a book primarily dedicated to explaining to Jewish Christians that their uncircumcised Gentile brothers were not second class members of the church. Paul directly refutes this concept of hierarchy in Christian community in Galatians 3:28: "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  We can also observe this equality lived out in the structure of the early church leadership in Ephesus. Ephesus was a key city in the formation of the global church. Scripture gives us a great deal of information on the Ephesian church. It is highlighted in Acts 19 and 20, and three of the New Testament Epistles are written to encourage its growth (Ephesians,... Read more
It will be my privilege to offer a pre-conference workshop at CBE's LA Conference on Friday, July 24 titled, "Women in Church History." This introductory session will explore the names, lives, thoughts, and contexts of notable Christian women across the centuries as well as provide a select chronological bibliography spanning the past one hundred and fifty years.  As you offer support in prayer for the upcoming communion in Los Angeles, consider four reasons why I believe the study of women in church history is valuable. God's Word Scripture directs us to the value of history. Everything and everyone has a history. Preparation to better understand these realities, and engage them as resources, is a major asset in becoming a wise servant and culture creator.... Read more
When I was a child, there were two things I always wanted to do—become an archaeologist and become an astronaut. I couldn’t decide which was more intriguing—the hidden secrets of the past or the things yet to be discovered in the future. I read medieval fantasy and science fiction voraciously, anything that would whisk me away to another world. And my favorite movies were Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Perhaps it was no surprise that I received a call to missions: I love God, and I love travel, culture, anthropology, and eschatology: voila—missions! The word “missionary” often conjures up images of Indiana Jones-type explorers like David Livingstone and Adoniram Judson and Hudson Taylor. Reading missionary biographies convinced me that if Chri... Read more