I would like to address some misery in ministry that I am wrestling with. I wanted to write this devotional as an encouragement and exhortation to any woman who has ever felt like she doesn’t have a voice in a male dominated society. I am not writing just to the church, I am writing to a entire world system that is still overrun with misogynistic, ego-centric, power-hungry, humility-lacking, emotion-less men. I am writing to a society that has embraced a “glass house shrouded in a power suit.”
Let’s begin with a famous passage that has been used for abuse for centuries in society:
“Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.” (1 Corinthians 14: 34,35)
The Apostle Paul was referring to “interruptions” and not “gender equality.” During the first century, women’s rights had deteriorated even though in traditional Judaism, women were completely equal to men. “In traditional Judaism, women are for the most part seen as separate but equal. Women’s obligations and responsibilities are different from men’s, but no less important (in fact, in some ways, women’s responsibilities are considered more important, as we shall see).
The equality of men and women begins at the highest possible level: G-d. In Judaism, unlike traditional Christianity, G-d has never been viewed as exclusively male or masculine. Judaism has always maintained that G-d has both masculine and feminine qualities.”( http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm) As we can see, the Jewish Tradition indicates that women are separate but equal and even the view of God is define as male and female.
Unfortunately, in the first century, education was not available to women and culture maintained that they must remain silent and veiled in the public space. However, this was not God’s intention. In the Old Testament, we read about women in leadership, commerce and worship. Proverbs 31 indicates that a woman “consider a field and buy it” (16); it also says that a woman “makes linen and sells them; she delivers them to the merchant”; it also says she “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” and she is to be “blessed” by her children and “praised” by her husband.
In Psalm 68:25, women were a part of the worship teams: “Singers are in front, musicians behind; between them are young women playing tambourines.” During Israel’s wandering, Miriam was a prophetess and led worship in the nation of Israel, dancing to the Lord (Exodus 15:20,21). Deborah was judge and prophetess as well who ruled over the nation of Israel (Judges 4:4). Huldah was also named a “prophetess” (2 Kings 22:14). There are many more instances that women ruled with men. People have grievances with the Old Testament but gender equality should not be one of them. The Bible clearly outlines God’s plan for men and women to rule at the same level and receive the “same pay”.
Back to the first century church and this passage in 1 Corinthians 14. Why would Paul tell women to be silent? He isn’t telling all women to be silent all the time. During the First Century, women had lost many of the rights they had hundreds of years prior and they were predominantly uneducated. There were many interruptions during the sermon, as the women strained to gain clarity and education on the topics, and because of this, the pastor couldn’t get through the sermon.
Today, this is why churches have nurseries, family rooms, youth classes and kids church. As preachers, it is difficult to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. So, Paul is introducing a new rule, asking uneducated married women to ask their questions at home, when the husband had time to answer the questions.
If this was written today, Paul would be speaking to men and women who have “many questions.” He would ask men and women to be “silent” during the sermon but this was not the cultural context Paul was writing to. In fact, I dare say that there are many more “educated women” in the church today than men. Just look around on a Sunday morning.
Have you ever “nudged someone” during a sermon to ask them what the pastor meant when he/she said something you didn’t understand? Have you ever “googled something” during a sermon to uncover the meaning of something unclear? This was happening a lot and so Paul was telling the ladies of the house to ask their husbands at home, so that the sermon could carry on smoothly.
But how can we be sure that Paul was saying that women were equal to men? In many instances, we read verses about women speaking in church and serving in the local church. 1 Corinthians 11:5 indicates that “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” Now, many reading this will still be offended because women were told to wear head covering but this was “cultural.” This passage was insanely provocative because Paul actually states that women were permitted to pray and prophesy in church.
Many miss the provision for women in this passage, focusing on the division.
Acts 2:17,18 says, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
In this passage, which was first written 800 years before the book of Acts by Joel, Peter stands up and basically says: ‘everyone who has ever felt like they have been silenced will be filled and will be heard.’ Peter is speaking to anyone who “feels marginalized” in society. Paul and Peter both express a desire that men, women, slave, free, old and young will be used by God. This provocative statement points to God’s desire that women should be equal and included in the worship service.
Okay, so women can speak, pray and prophesy in church. What about leadership?
Paul is very clear to indicate in Acts 18 that both Priscilla and her husband Aquila were used in ministry to lead and counsel Apollos in the ways of the Lord.
“When Priscilla and Aquila heard him(Apollos) preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.” (Acts 18:26)
They specifically called him aside for “leadership development.” Throughout this account, Luke (the author), is careful to write Priscilla’s name first and then Aquila. I believe that Priscilla was the Ministry Leader and Aquila was supporting her in ministry. I see egalitarianism in our Foursquare Movement as well and I believe this is healthy.
Furthermore, I wanted to discuss deacons and deaconesses for a moment. In Paul’s personal greetings to the churches in Romans 16, look at his opening remarks: “ 1I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. 3Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.”
Here we see that Phoebe was a Deacon (diakonos- servant, waitor) not a Deaconess. She was equal to other Deacons. Men created the position of Deaconess, not God. Paul writes in his letter to Timothy about Deacons and says,
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (2 Timothy 3:8-11)
It would seem, according to most translations, that Paul indicates that men are to be Deacons and “their wives” are to be “dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded and faithful.” However, the word “their” doesn’t exist in the original language and the word “wives” (gune) can be translated “wife” or “woman”. In fact, this word is used for wife 71 times but is used more frequently as woman in the rest of the New Testament 96 times. So, I could interpret this as a “deacon’s wife” or as “deacons that are women.”
If I use an open mind and think about Priscilla, Phoebe and women in leadership throughout the Bible, the correct reading of this scripture is Deacons that are “Women [who] must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” and not the wives of the Male Deacons. Paul is giving “Deacon Job Qualifications” to both Male Deacons and Female Deacons but not to Male Deacons and their “wives at home.” Again, this is my humble opinion.
To land this plane without further turbulence, I would say that God needs all people of all race, age, ethnicity and gender to win this world to Jesus. If we are “disqualifying” people based on any of these issues, we are shooting the body of Christ in the foot. We should just pack up, close the doors and bury our heads in the sand. God needs everyone and if He can speak through an Ass in the Old Testament, He can speak through you and me, regardless of how uneducated or unlikely we might be.
If you are a male leader in the church, open your mind to the powerful women of God around you. If you are a female contemplating God’s call and purpose on your life, go for it! God gave me five beautiful children and an amazing woman of God that I am privileged to call my wife. Each of the women in my life are qualified for ministry. They are Deborahs, Priscillas and Phoebes to me. They are not veiled and silent bystanders.
I will do anything in my power and ability to communicate how amazing and powerful God has made the women in my life to be. Jesus and Paul do more to release women in ministry than any other human beings in all of history.
I’m not here to “introduce egalitarianism.” I am simply here to re-iterate God’s intention that the Church and society would be egalitarian. Women should be held in equal regard in our churches.
I hope that more churches will follow suit and not just follow “the suit.”