A Consistent Church? | CBE International

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A Consistent Church?

Is the church consistent in its view and treatment of women? Consider the following.

Jane is a missionary in a third world country. She translates scriptures, leads many to Christ, preaches to and teaches men and women of all ages. Yet, when she returns home on furlough, she is not allowed to preach in the very church that spends thousands of dollars so Jane can do just that overseas? Why?

Karen works as a pastor to children ages 6-12, shaping and developing their Christian faith. The church has entrusted to her care the spiritual formation of its most vulnerable, impressionable members—children. Yet, the same church will not allow Karen to teach or preach to adults. Does this make sense?

Julie attends a church that prays for renewal. Members pray for an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit to quicken and empower their ministry. Yet, they want God to honor their gender bias. God may pour out His Spirit on all, but only men may exhibit the Spirit's empowering.

 These attitudes are not only inconsistent but also incongruous with scripture, and with the history of the church.

Let’s look at history

History is filled with examples of Joel's prophecy fulfilled: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28). Writing in the second century, Justin Martyr recognized this: “men and women were seen among them who had the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit of God, according as the prophet Joel had foretold."1

The 17th century theologian Henry Dodwell observed that both men and women received the gift of prophecy. "The extraordinary gift of the spirit of prophecy was given to others besides the apostles; and that not only in the first and second, but in the third century, even to the time of Constantine, men of all sorts and ranks had their gifts; yea, and women too." The prophetic saying of Psalm 68:11 was verified: ‘The Lord gave the word, and great was the company of those women who proclaimed it.’

A. J. Gordon, the great 19th century pastor and educator, saw evangelism and the participation of women in ministry as inseparable events. Pentecost, Gordon asserts, "brought equal privileges to women ... female prophecy is not the exception but the rule."2 Equality of women and men in revival work appears to be a hallmark of our evangelical heritage, claimed American Church historians Lucille and Donald Dayton.3

Jessie Penn-Lewis, (1861-1927) an evangelist and expert in spiritual warfare, recognized the integral role women share with men in evangelism. Penn-Lewis said that "The Spirit of God has never been poured forth in any company, in any part of the world, in any nation, without the ‘handmaidens’ prophesying, and this as the spontaneous and unvarying result of the Spirit of God moving upon women as well as men, as at Pentecost."4

Why the Inconsistency?

The church’s inconsistent treatment of women seems to have one root; a desire for power that demands a shallow reading of Scripture. Many Christians have confronted a superficial reading of scripture has divided and confused Christians, discouraged women in ministry, and undermined evangelism.

Frances Willard, who worked as an evangelist with Dwight L. Moody, addressed the shallow exegesis and sophistry used to keep women from public ministry.  Willard reminds us that Scripture must be harmonized with Scripture. She found "forty passages which support the public ministry of women, and only two against it, and these not really so when rightly understood."5

Charles Prideon, Presbyterian pastor, Bible Institute founder, and coworker with D.L. Moody, decried an erroneous interpretation of the Timothy passage with its dire eternal consequence. Prideon said, "While millions are perishing we split hairs, when the whole trend of God's Word supports the ministry of women."6

Katharine Bushnell, turn of the century physician, missionary and Bible scholar, who was skilled in both Hebrew and Greek, believed that through miss-reading of scripture some people hinder women’s public ministry and place themselves “across the path of the fulfillment of God's Word, ”7 Instead of "hasting the coming of the day of God, they are hindering the preparation for that coming."8

Phoebe Palmer, a prominent woman of the 19th century, was a sought- after speaker during the revival meetings that swept the US and Europe. She was convinced that the church has been deceived regarding the role of women. Palmer wrote:

It is through the workings of the Man of Sin, whose aim it is to withstand the upbuilding of Christ's kingdom on earth, that this deception has been accomplished. We believe that he who quoted Scripture to our Saviour has in all deceivableness quoted Scripture to pious men, - men who ... from a failure in not regarding the scriptural mode of interpretation, by comparing Scripture with Scripture.9

Fundamental to a flawed reading of the Bible is the belief that God holds women more to blame than men for the fall in the Garden of Eden. Bushnell said that it was a wicked and “cruel superstition and unworthy of the intelligence of Christians”10 to teach that women are more responsible for Eve’s sin. Bushnell believed that such teachings damages “woman’s self-respect, self-confidence and spiritual activity, from which causes the entire church of Jesus Christ suffers moral and spiritual loss.”11

How Do We Resist Inconsistency?

How do we stand against a shallow and inconsistent reading of Scripture that obstructs evangelism and limits women from using their God-given gifts? First, we must begin with prayer. Since prayer preceded Pentecost (Acts 1:14), and the Great Awakenings, and since "Satan trembles to see the weakest of Christians on their knees"12 we too must pray for evangelism. Second, as Christ rebuked Peter (Mt 16:23), so we too must confront a hunger for power and a shallow reading of scripture. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness that operate in and through human institutions, even the church. Finally, we must remind our Christian brothers and sisters that if Pentecost is a paradigm of revival then "The church which silences women will be found to silence the Holy Ghost."13 As Dr. Bushnell said, "a sect, or sex, or race which attempts a monopoly of the Spirit's voice and power, will find that the Holy Spirit will flee far from it."14

Notes

  1. Justin Martyr, as quoted by Francis Willard, Woman in the Pulpit (Boston, MA: Winthrop Co., 1888), p. 151.
  2. A. J. Gordon, as quoted by Janette Hassey, No Time For Silence (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1986), p. 107.
  3. Donald and Lucille Dayton, "Recovering A Heritage: Part II Evangelical Feminism" Sojourners, Vol. 3, No. 6 (August/September 1974), p. 7.
  4. Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Magna Charta of Women (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), p. 101.
  5. Frances Willard, Woman in the Pulpit (Boston, MA: Linthrop Co., 1888), p. 34.
  6. Charles H. Pridgeon, The Ministry of Women (Gibsonia, Pa.: The Pittsburgh Bible Institute, no date), p. 26-28.
  7. Katharine Bushnell, God's Word to Women (Piedmont, California: Published via reprint, ed. Ray Munson, Box 52, North Collins, N.Y., 1976), cited by paragraph, 794.
  8. Katharine Bushnell, God's Word to Women (Piedmont, California: Published via reprint, ed. Ray Munson, Box 52, North Collins, N.Y., 1976), cited by paragraph, 794.
  9. Phoebe Palmer Selected Writings, ed. Thomas C. Oden (N.Y.: Paulist Press, 1988), p. 39.
  10. Katharine Bushnell, as quoted by Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Magna Charta of Women (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), p. 72.
  11. Katharine Bushnell, as quoted by Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Magna Charta of Women (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), p. 72.
  12. Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life; An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press 1979), p. 155.
  13. Katherine Bushnell, as quoted by Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Magna Charta of Women (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), p. 102.
  14. Katherine Bushnell, as quoted by Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Magna Charta of Women (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1975), p. 102.

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Barring women from using their God-given talents is an injustice that diminishes the gospel and its impact in the world. CBE International works to inspire and mobilize Christians with the Bible’s call for women and men to co-lead and co-serve as equals.

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