WOMEN IN MINISTRY...OR NOT?
What spiritual stronghold stands against the liberation realized at Pentecost?
PENTECOSTAL PROMISE. Trying to seize on the rare convergence of Pentecost Sunday and Mother’s Day, on Sunday I attempted to explore the implications of Pentecostal grace for women and the church. Focusing on the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2 (“upon my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy”), I laid out the following points by Scripture, story and application (CAPS are my emphasis):
1. In obedience to Jesus’ direction WOMEN gathered along with the eleven Apostles and other disciples in prayerful anticipation of God’s promised gift. Acts 1:12-14.
2. When God poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, ALL of them—including women—were FILLED and began to SPEAK of the wonders of God. Acts 2:1-4.
3. Women PROPHESYING, or declaring God’s Word publicly under the unction of the Holy Spirit, is a FULFILLMENT of Joel’s prophecy. Acts 2:16-18; Joel 2:28-32.
4. Pentecost AFFIRMS Jesus’ teaching and regard for women and sets the STANDARD for the future of the church. Galatians 3:26-29.
MIXED SIGNALS. I got mixed signals from the congregation as I preached what I'd hoped would be an informative and inspiring message of transformation. But it was as if the Scriptures that are so plain to me and so clearly articulated by those in the historic Wesleyan-holiness stream as liberation of women for ministry were completely new to some ears. Or, that some hearts and minds were under the sway of a prevailing spiritual stronghold that has accepted patriarchal hierarchy and domination in human relationships as a natural or even Godly given.
ABANDONING A CORE FREEDOM? Perhaps I misread the congregation; I pray so. But I am wondering if the current evangelical church culture has so succumbed to patriarchal cultural underpinnings and the tenets of Fundamentalist influence that it is unable to recognize the radical freedom and renewal of the terms relationship with God and one another that was embodied by Jesus and unleashed at Pentecost? If it is not able to recognize and embrace this whole-heartedly, then the church has abandoned one of the core freedoms of the Gospel at a time in which it is critically needed to be articulated and incarnated in the world.
WORLD-WIDE CONCERN. The domination and manipulation--even servitude--of women by men around the world is profound. In greater and lesser degrees, I witnessed this directly and repeatedly in India last year. It is common in the culture at large in India, but also clearly noticeable in the church. Glaring double standards between men and women abound. Women are regarded in pre-Christian terms and treated in sub-Christian ways. Reading about the subjection of women across cultures leaves me with the impression that this is widespread in other world areas and in the church. Certainly, there are entire branches of the church in America, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, in which women are prevented on a so-called "Biblical basis" from teaching, preaching, and leading.
THREE BARRIERS TO HURDLE. If we cannot see the radical reversal regarding the very definition of womanhood and the liberation for ministry in the witness of Jesus and the impact of Pentecost, then we will certainly fail to embrace a vital part of our own witness and mission in the world today. In order to embrace Pentecostal grace in this dimension, I am convinced there are three significant barriers that must be hurdled:
JESUS’ DESCRIPTION OF WOMEN. 1. Over against prevailing cultural roles and identifiers, we must embrace Jesus’ description of women. According to Jesus, a woman’s identity and significance is not based on her ability to bear a male child through which to satisfy her husband and live out her ambitions, it is through apprehending and doing the will of God. This places all of us on common ground—male, female, younger, older, wealthy or poor, etc.
MUTUAL SERVICE-BASED RELATIONSHIPS. 2. Over against the common misconception that patriarchal hierarchy in family relationships is God’s design for healthy families, we must recognize (1) that domination-based relationships are part of the curse of the Fall, not God’s original intention, and (2) that mutual service-based relationships are the new norm in Jesus’ message and the best teaching of the early church.
WOMEN LED IN THE EARLY CHURCH. 3. Over against proof-texting a few references in the New Testament which would seem to reinforce “keeping women in their place,” we must read the fuller context of the New Testament witness to the teaching, preaching, prophesying, church planting, Apostolic partnership, and leadership of women in the early church.
UNFULFILLED PROMISE. Unless we can grasp and embrace these Biblical and spiritual realities of the Gospel, our ability and readiness to speak and act in liberating ways is severely hampered. Unless we align our understanding and behavior with the witness of Scripture regarding women and women in ministry, there are thousands of places and perhaps millions of people for whom the full promise of the Gospel will never be realized.
UNBOUNDED HOPE. On the other hand, if we dare to act in the Spirit of Pentecost, I am convinced that long-held spiritual strongholds of domination, oppression and distortion will ultimately be broken and the vibrant promise of the Gospel will be realized in individual lives, interpersonal relationships, churches, communities and nations.