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Saturday, 08 November 2008 20:28

The role of women in ministry

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AMONG the more contentious issues within the Church is that of the role of women, and the place of women’s ministry. In the world right now, women are rising to the fore like never before and, maybe in the name of being “relevant” in the prevailing cultural climate, much of the Church is unquestioningly following a similar route.

However, our God is unchanging -- the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The truth of His word cannot be changed or bent to accommodate popular culture. As committed disciples of Jesus Christ, and a part of His corporate Bride, our passion should be to be thoroughly pleasing to Him and obedient to His will and ways and Word, in every area and in all matters.

As a woman, I have wrestled with my own role, earnestly seeking God’s heart and His Word and His Holy Spirit on this issue. I would like to share what He has revealed to me, particularly for the sake and edification of other women, that we may be and become everything He purposes, desires and requires -- nothing less, and nothing more than that.

I don’t claim to have all the understanding and all the answers, but stay with me and let’s consider the whole matter with honesty and openness to the Word and the Holy Spirit, and the heart of Jesus Christ, our captain and King.

The first prerequisite in considering a subject like this is to ensure that we approach it from a motivation of love: love for God and love for men and women, a desire to see God’s absolute best for all concerned.

We also need to ensure that our hearts are absolutely pure; that we are carrying in our souls no bitterness, unforgiveness or unresolved hurts towards anyone. I have encountered men, for instance, who resented their mothers for some reason, and they are still harbouring hardness in their hearts towards women in general. Exactly the same can be said for many women who are rampant feminists because they hate men (often because, also, there is unresolved hurt). So this is a subject that has to be approached with a heart of love and purity.

We need to realise that feminism is a demonic stronghold we don’t want to entertain, but so equally is religious Pharisaicism. The latter, sadly, all too often spawns the former. Religious hypocrisy, too, often produces rebellion.

Then, as a woman, I need to ensure that I am not carrying or walking in unredeemed ambition and desire for personal exaltation that makes me desire to have a ministry or a place of prominence. I mustn’t seek to use Scripture to justify myself in any way. My only motivation must be to be pleasing to Jesus and to be obedient to Him.

Let me say that, in the early years of my walk with the Lord, I was very shy, fearful and pathetic. To stand up and say anything in front of anyone, was an ordeal, and I was very happy to sit and never open my mouth.

But then, about 12 years ago, God really began to pour out His Holy Spirit upon me, and there began to take place a gradual transformation, culminating in a different woman who found herself always in a place of having something to say or pray or contribute, and having the boldness to do it, even in a public setting.

Now I had to learn to keep quiet, unless God was wanting me to speak out. I was in danger of overstepping my authority (which I certainly did do at times). Praise God for a loving husband who bore with me, waiting for God to complete and perfect His work.

God had transformed me from being a weak, pathetic woman, to becoming a strong woman, and He had given me a voice, which I had to learn to use in the right way for Him, and for the extension of His Kingdom on the earth.

I see God doing this work in many women in these days, as he has done in years gone by. I am sad to say there are those who tend always to label strong women as being Jezebellic. This, however, is only true if the strong woman is also propagating sexual immorality and seduction, compromise of the Truth, and ungodliness.

In my quest to know what my role, as a woman in the Church, is meant to be, there was a need to look at the handbook, the written Word of God.

Beginning at the beginning, in Genesis, God first created Adam, a man, and, while that man was still on his own, God gave him one, simple commandment to obey: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Genesis 2:16&17).”

Then God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him (Genesis 2:18).”

I note that she was to be a helper to the man, but was “comparable” to him -- not an inferior being.

Before Eve was brought forth, the beasts of field and the birds of the air were brought to Adam and he named them.

Then God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs and made it into a woman. Until after the fall the woman is referred to simply as “the woman.” When it is recorded that Adam “knew” the woman, her name is recorded as being Eve.

Genesis 3:1 tells us that the serpent was very cunning. The serpent had great insight, even as satan, whom the serpent depicted, has great insight. The serpent knew that Eve, the woman, could be persuaded by questioning and reasoning; she could be bamboozled and deceived. I would be so bold as to say that the serpent knew that the woman was the weaker one.

She fell for the lie of the snake, took the initiative (without checking out with Adam) of disobedience to God. She then gave the forbidden fruit to Adam and he ate of it unquestioningly. He followed the woman’s initiative, in this case to be disobedient.

From this, I glean woman are more open to deception. Men should not follow the initiative taken by woman, without checking it out with God first. Women should not take spiritual initiative without checking it out.

As a woman, I found God broke through in my life when I repented of the specifics of the sin committed by Eve, my forebear.

As I look through the rest of the Old Testament, I find it’s mostly about men. There are many wives mentioned by name -- Sarah, the wife of Abraham, being one of the more prominent.

Many of the women exercised influence over their husbands, sometimes positively, but too often negatively. I was relieved to find that God protected Sarah when she submitted to Abraham, even when that submission meant she went along with Abraham’s lie to Abimelech that Sarah was simply his sister, rather than his wife also (Genesis 20).

Miriam, with her brothers Aaron and Moses, became a leader of the people of
Israel. But when she criticised Moses, the Lord disciplined her with instant leprosy (Numbers 12:10-14).

Because of the fervent prayers of her brothers, God restored Miriam, but there is no evidence that her influence was again blessed of God. She died before reaching the Promised Land (Numbers 20:1).

The book of Judges tells us about Deborah, a distinguished judge and the only woman in Scripture elevated to high political power by the common consent of her peers. She was an exception, rather than the rule.

Another woman who stands out in the early part of the Old Testament is Rahab, a harlot, who showed spiritual insight and courage when she hid Joshua and the spies (Joshua 2).

Bathsheba is another well-known name, but not an inspiration, even though she produced King Solomon.

Raising the banner for women in the Old Testament are Ruth and Esther, both of whom have their own book devoted to recording their lives and impact for God. Both of them were, however, models of submission, especially to their husbands. Their exemplary behaviour gave them a place of favour with men. Many women today want to have the influence of Ruth or Esther but if this is a sincere aspiration, there’s a need to emulate them in every way.

There are a few more rays of hope for women in the Old Testament:

In 2 Kings 22:12-20, we have the account of Huldah, the prophetess, wife of Shallum, obviously highly respected -- so much so that the king sent the high priest and scribe to inquire of the Lord, through her.

Then we, as women, have two Old Testament cherries: There is Psalm 68:11: “The Lord gives the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host (NASB).” According to the CEV, the same verse reads, “You gave the command, and a chorus of women told what had happened.” My own NKJ reads, “The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those who proclaimed it.” (The word used for “company” is female).

And for most that is the sign of God’s seal of approval for women preachers, or proclaimers of the good tidings and, what’s more, it indicates a “great host” of women.

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is a great inspiration. She is the perfect woman. She is in right relationship with her husband, a homemaker and a businesswoman. Here we have a green light for women to be in business, but we also see that this perfect woman didn’t neglect her other responsibilities. Of course it is possible in this day for very capable and gifted women, with the added and special empowering of the Holy Spirit, to emulate the woman of Proverbs 31.

Then, who can forget, Joel 2:28&29: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My spirit in those days.”

This prophecy began to be fulfilled in the book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit was poured out and Peter stood up and said: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.”

From the Old Testament, I deduce women did a lot of childbearing. God used men for His work more than women, but He did use women -- especially those who were in right and respectful relationship with men.

So, we move on to the New Testament.

Jesus took human form, as a man, but the supernatural God-man’s seed was placed in the womb of a woman, in compliance with natural laws of childbearing. What an amazing responsibility given to a woman to carry and bear the God baby.

No, we should not be into venerating Mary, but I think many of us need to consider her more highly than we do, and seek to emulate her willing subservience and obedience, and her lowly or humble state.

God Himself is undeniably masculine, always referred to as such. It was obvious that He would take a male form. The male make-up is also stronger physically and emotionally, more able to endure a robust and uncomfortable life and lifestyle destined, in the case of Jesus, to culminate in death on a cross.

The acknowledgement of Jesus, as God’s salvation and Redeemer, is given both by Simeon, a man, and Anna, a woman and prophetess.

Jesus chose 12 men to be His closest followers or disciples. They shared the rigorous lifestyle of Jesus and a number were martyred. Imagine, if you would, the talk and gossip if Jesus had had a harem of close women disciples!

However, women were among His devoted followers: his own mother, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and others, Mary and Martha, too.

As we look at the life of Jesus, we see He had very great tenderness and compassion for women.

His love for them was absolutely pure. Jesus, the Christ, the God-man was celibate -- even though Hollywood would want us think otherwise.

The women who followed Jesus loved Him with pure passion, which they were not ashamed to express openly. Like typical women, they loved with abandonment and even perceived foolishness -- and Jesus loved them and commended them for it.

Empowered by their love, Mary Magdalene and others sought out the crucified Christ in His tomb, unlike the fearful male disciples. Jesus honoured them, especially Mary Magdalene, and she and the other women, became the first to declare the good tidings: “He is risen!”

In the book of Acts and in the epistles we find mention of women disciples, servants of the Church, and women who had churches in their homes. The apostle Paul even commends one, Phoebe (Romans 16:1&2).

In all honesty, though, I don’t find mention of shining preaching lights and workers of the miraculous being female. I am encouraged, however, to read in the account of the ministry of Apollos that the husband-and-wife team of
Aquila and Priscilla took him aside “and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).”

Mention is also made of the four virgin daughters of evangelist Philip who prophesied (Acts 21:9).

But, by and large, the men were definitely the leading lights.

All of the teaching recorded in the New Testament is done by men. There are some who’ve suggested that the book of Hebrews was written by a woman, but that is unsubstantiated.

The book of Acts, which recorded the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy, makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit was poured out on men and women. No, the words brought through women, were not recorded in Scripture, nevertheless we know that God was true to His Word and used women also.

Justin Martyr, who lived until about AD 150, says in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, “both men and women were seen among them, who had the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit of God, according as the prophet Joel had foretold.”

Dodwell, in his dissertations on Irenaeus, says “the 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 -- all sorts and ranks of men had these gifts; yea, and women too.”

And there are other historical accounts, too.

When I read the letters of Paul, I gather that he is of the impression that women can be gullible and foolish. An impression, no doubt, based on personal experience.

However, when Paul teaches about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there is no suggestion that the gifts are only for men.

Teaching about the subject of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul says, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head.” (The issue we’re looking at here is not the subject of head coverings). We see here that Paul speaks about women praying and prophesying publicly. This means that they are opening their mouths and speaking out -- publicly, in the church.

But then, 1 Corinthians 14:34&35, says: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” Here, Paul was addressing the subject of order in Church meetings.

Now in the light of Joel, Acts and even Paul’s own words in 1 Corinthians 11:5, this passage makes no sense. The explanation which has been given by those who know far more than I do, is that the first passage which advocates that women pray and prophesy with their heads covered, refers to the devotional and religious services of the church, while the other, which forbids women to speak, refers to its disciplinary assemblies. The “law” which Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 14:34 was a Jewish ordinance of the time, where women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions.

Let’s move on to 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Here Paul writes: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith love, and holiness, with self-control.”

So, a woman, when she is being taught, must learn and absorb what is being said, in silence. No cheeky questions and backchat. Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” Notice he says “
I.” He doesn’t say “The Lord does not permit.”

Paul gives his reasons why he does not allow women to have authority over men -- and they are valid reasons. Paul also suggests that childbearing has a redemptive purpose.

I do believe that praying and prophesying are not the same as teaching. Even the proclamation of the “good tidings” referred to in Psalm 68:11 is more a case of giving report or testimony, even evangelising, and it is not the same as exercising authority over and teaching. It is only in teaching that one is exercising authority over another, even exercising discipline.

In prophesying, the vessel (male or female) is seeking to speak forth the oracles of God (supernaturally). These prophesies then need to be judged or discerned by those in authority in the Church.

All of Paul’s teaching on Godly order and government within the Church clearly indicate the woman’s role of submission to her husband.

So, some women may say Paul was celibate and a male chauvinist. Why take to heart his teachings? Well, I believe that every Word in the Bible needs to be taken to heart, especially all that’s in the New Testament. Nothing is dispensable. It is written in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

If you are tempted to dismiss Paul as one who disliked women, then consider his love and respect expressed for his female co-workers in Romans 16:3,6&12 and Philippians 4:3.

The apostle Peter, who was married, held to the same kind of instruction regarding the role of women as Paul. Please read 1 Peter 3:1-7 in this regard.

3:28 tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all heirs together of the grace of life. Christ’s salvation, and also the outpouring of His Holy Spirit, is without discrimination or partiality according to race, gender or position. But this Scripture doesn’t negate God’s order or authority structures and vessels, needing to be operative and in place within the Church for the sake of order and effective government.

God is very thorough in giving us His blueprint for order in Church life. While chaos and lawlessness may reign increasingly in the world, God wants His Church to be different, the very opposite of the world.

The qualities for elders and deacons are clearly laid out, and we would do well to heed all those prerequisites or criteria in choosing elders. The qualifications for elders and deacons are clearly laid out in 1 Timothy 3, and also in the book of Titus 1:6-9. Clearly, these Scriptures indicate that eldership and governing or disciplinary authority is male.

So what can I do in Church, as a woman? When can I open my mouth?

I can open my mouth to sing -- even sing a song like Miriam or Deborah. I can play instruments and dance. All these are done, as unto God, not exercising authority over men. Wonderful creative opportunity is held out for women in the area of worship.

I can pray. I can prophesy. I can operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Publicly. I may even have a public ministry in healing and the working of signs and wonders. I can testify and, in the light of Psalm 68, I can tell the good tidings and be an instrument of evangelism.

As a parent I have been given authority over children, so I can teach children. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to respect Lois and Eunice (his mother and grandmother) for instructing him in the faith (2 Timothy 1:3-5). I can teach other women. Older women, especially are exhorted to be “teachers of good things,” admonishing the young women “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed (Titus 2:4&5).”

I can serve with my hands and exercise love and care to anyone.

I may do all this, as long as I am submitted to my husband and/or those who are in authority over me in the Church -- with their approval and blessing. Otherwise, I have my head uncovered and I am a sitting duck for being hijacked or destroyed by evil demonic forces.

What if I am called to be like Deborah, an exceptional woman elevated to high governmental power in Scripture? Well, then truly I will be an exception, not the rule. Bear in mind, also, that Deborah was not self-appointed, but had the approval and consent of God and her male peers.

One thing I do feel the need to state is that I believe where men are absent from the Church, or ungodly or compromised, God will use women. I believe Mary Magdalene and her women counterparts are a case in point.

In all this consideration, I conclude that the one area where women are generally excluded is in the area of exercising authority over, disciplining or teaching and instructing men. But the account of Deborah indicates there may be exceptions.

If, as a woman, you are truly given the platform (without pushing yourself) in a mixed gathering, do ensure that the Head of the Church and earthly church elders have really given you the green light. And be respectful. Do not assume that, because in the world women have full clout, you have the same in the Church.

If you are truly called to a public platform, do be a woman in dress (although not in seductive dress). Ask God to help you become an effective communicator and orator.

Recently I read a biography on Katherine Booth and concluded she really was one of those exceptions. She was also a wonderful communicator and orator. (Women are not effective when they deliver with screeching and copious, emotional tears, for instance.)

What of women who are in ministry, some very publicly, today? I believe there are some Deborah-like exceptions, and time and lasting fruit will affirm the validity of their ministries.

Looking into post-Biblical history of women in the Church and women’s ministry, I found there have indeed been a great host of women down through the ages who’ve had public ministries. With some exceptions, most of them have lived in obscurity, being much less prominent in name and reputation than the men of their times. But a number of them have played an influential role in the lives of many a great man of God.

Together with men, we women are called to reflect the image of God. We need to be in right Godly relationship with men. We, women and men, need one another, and cannot be independent of one another.

The healthy Church that is fully reflective of Jesus, is a gender-mixed one. There is a need for mutual love and respect, and an appreciation for our different roles. We need to be women who are women, and men who are truly men, living our lives as lights in a world of great gender and role confusion.

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