Women - Coming Back to the Original Blueprint - Part 5
Over the Centuries and into the Future
This article is part 5 in a series. If you haven’t read the other articles you can start with Part 1 here.
Over the centuries
The early church, that the original disciples and Paul knew and lived in, began to change after their deaths as different factions and beliefs began to infiltrate the church.
By the end of the second century the church had started to become institutionalised and even used for political purposes. It was made the state religion by both Constantine and Tiridates 111 of Armenia. Soon after that it split because of differing opinions, into two divisions – the Eastern church, and what would eventually become the western church as we know it today.
During these years women were slowly excluded from leadership positions, with many people’s views in regards to women reverting back to those of the secular world around them. Once more women were seen as being less than men.
Tertullian, the second-century Latin church father, wrote that "It is not permitted to a woman to speak in church. Neither may she teach, baptize, offer, nor claim for herself any function proper to a man, least of all the sacerdotal office." ( “On the Veiling of Virgins”). Yet there were still those who tried to defend women and stand up for their right to be all Christ called them to be.
Limits established in serving God
Around this time we see the beginnings of religious orders begin to be established – for both men and women. Monasteries and convents began to be established and for many women this was the only way they could follow the call of God on their life, to devote themselves to His service. Others, who were called by God, yet married, were forced to find their expression in serving the Lord in caring for their families, widows, and the poor.
As more convents arose the women leaders of those became women of influence and power, yet in the end, as great as that power was, it was still subservient to the men who ruled over them as Bishops, Popes etc. In the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church, the priesthood, and the ministries dependent upon it – such as Bishop, Patriarch and Pope – were restricted to men. At the first Council of Orange (441) they forbade the ordination of women as deacons.
By the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s both the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches had established convents, but the Reformation led to the closing of Protestant convents, leaving only Roman Catholic convents as places where women could formally serve the Lord.
Between the 3rd century and 10th century five women were given gender changes in historical documents, and even in the Bible itself. This gender reassignment, as we’ll see in another series of articles, had a huge impact on the church for centuries, promoting the idea that all New Testament leaders in the church were male and that male leadership of the church was God’s idea. It’s only been in the last century that the Bible has been corrected and the altered names changed back to the original female names.
From the time of those changes until the twentieth century the majority of Protestant churches upheld the traditional position of male headship and they restricted ruling and preaching roles within the Church to men. Around the late nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century there rose a couple of early exceptions to that, such as the Salvation Army, the Quakers and some Pentecostal movements such as Aimee Semple-McPherson’s.
However it wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that women in the church began to stand up for their God-given right to be accepted as the equals God created them to be, and to be allowed to follow the callings God had for them. From then until now we’ve seen great progress, but we still have a long way to go until the church is once again seen as the place where all are equal in God’s sight, and are allowed to follow the call of God on their lives.
Women in ministry today and into the future
We live in an age where women can do any job in the world – mostly.
Rena Pederson – Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of “The Lost Apostle” said it like this - “A girl can grow up to be almost anything today – the commander of a NASA space station like Eileen Collins, or Secretary of State like Condoleeza Rice, or a Fortune 500 CEO like Anne Mulcahy of Xerox – but not a minister, or even a teacher, in some of the larger Christian denominations.”
While that’s no longer true of all the church, sadly in many parts of the church globally we still face widespread unbelief and restrictions on what women can and can’t do. Many still don’t believe that God made women equal in worth and calling, or that God would call women to leadership roles in the church today. Sometimes they will agree that God made women equal in value yet will still deny that he made them equal in calling.
My ministry journey
When I became a Christian back in the 1970’s there were a few brave women who had dared to step outside the norm and follow the call of God on their life, despite what the church said. I aspired to be one of them – determined to follow the call God had placed on my life, no matter what! I had no idea at that time just how much resistance I would have to face.
I was saved in a Salvation Army church and there women were given equal right to be all God called them to be. A few years later I met my husband in an Open Brethren church, and we eventually became part of a Pentecostal church here in New Zealand. At that time, in the Pentecostal denomination my husband and I served in, he could be a Pastor but I could not. I could be a pastor’s wife, but not a pastor myself, and I certainly could not, according to many other leaders in the church in general, be a prophet. I could prophesy but not be called a prophet – even though God had called me to be one. I was told to my face by some male pastors that I could not be a prophet. Why? Because I was a woman. No other reason but that.
Thankfully that has changed and I’ve continued to push forward into all that God has for me, and more and more men (and women) have come to accept that we have been taught wrong for centuries.
It took a while before people would even consider that maybe they’d been taught wrong, and that Scripture actually said something different. Even then it still took years before women began to be ordained as pastors in our churches here. Now we are seeing women step into their God-given callings as pastors, prophets, teachers, evangelists, elders, apostles, leaders of ministries, missionaries and more. Still, even with the advancements we’ve made, we cannot sit back and think that this little bit of freedom is all that God has.
Church/home - the problem remains
In the home women fared no better. The church’s teaching on male headship had a very real effect in marriages. The law or doctrine of coverture ensured that for many centuries women were considered the legal property of their father or husband. Fathers had the right to say who their daughter married and often sought marriages that would benefit them without consideration of their daughter. Upon marriage a woman became the legal property of her husband. Those legal rights gave the husband the right by law to do as he wished with his wife and children, and be immune from prosecution in most cases. Married women could not own properties of their own or receive inheritances - these went automatically to their husband. They also could not legally earn money of their own, or vote. Their husbands also had the legal right to mistreat them physically and sexually. While a lot of that has changed in western countries, even today in many countries men are still given either the legal or religious right to rule over women or even to view them as being their legal property.
Where to from here?
There is a world full of people who need women to take their rightful place in the church, if we are to truly offer freedom from bondage. We’ve said to women worldwide over the years, “Come to Christ and you’ll be free” and then, once they became Christians, we told them that because they were a woman they couldn’t be, do etc. What sort of true freedom is it we’ve offered women? Is that really what Christ meant when He said He had come to give us life abundantly, in all its fullness, or is the thief still being allowed to do his work of stealing from women, killing their hopes and dreams, and destroying their lives?
It’s time for the church to truly offer freedom to everyone, and for them to truly know that in Christ there is no condemnation, no shame, and that life in Christ really is an abundant, free life.
It’s time to see women apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, workers of miracles, missionaries, mothers, friends, CEO’s, administrators, factory-workers, etc. be all they are called to be – free to operate their gifts both inside and outside the church, free to follow the callings of God on their lives and release the Kingdom of God on earth with love and power.
Each of us has a part to play in this story – the story of the fullness of redemption, and of women being liberated and set free to be all God called them to be. Ask the Lord what your part is. Maybe it’s you living free yourself, being an example to all who know you of what true freedom looks like. Maybe you’re called to help other people find freedom, to bring healing or to teach and disciple people into freedom and wholeness.
If you’re a woman you may have experienced some of the prejudices I’ve talked about in this series. Maybe you’ve believed in your heart that God made you equal in worth and calling, but you’ve had no scriptural foundation for that. Can I encourage you to do some study so that you can share what Scripture really says in regards to this.
Or maybe, like I did, you’ve been hurt by people who have actively tried to dissuade you from following God’s call on your life, simply because you’re a woman. If that’s the case please deal with that hurt to stop it becoming bitterness. Allow God to heal any wounds – let Him unveil the often hidden things such as anger, grief, rejection, childhood woundedness, etc. that all feed into that hurt. Forgive the men that you need to forgive, and ask the Lord to give you the grace to work alongside men in a way that honours both you and them, and the call of God on your lives.
Also if you don’t know what the call of God is on your life ask Him what He has for you to do, what gifts He has given you, and step out and use them. Make the difference you were created to make, and do it unashamedly, with both boldness and wisdom.
If you’re a man, ask God to show you any prejudices that you have in your heart toward women and determine to honour women as He does. If you’re a pastor then consider doing some teaching on the subject and then follow that up with real true equality – recognise and release the gifts on people’s lives regardless of their gender. Encourage and train women to find their spiritual gifts and callings and follow the leading of Holy Spirit in them.
Maybe some repentance (changing the way you think, coming into agreement with how God sees things) and apologies may be in order. If so, then apologise to the women you need to apologise to, ask their forgiveness, and pray for them. Pray that their wounds would be healed, pray that they would realise their value and know what their gifts and callings are; help them find out what they are, if possible. Then make place for them to function in their God given gifts and callings.
It is time for the church to function with everyone having the freedom to respond to, and follow, the call of God on their life. It’s time for women to step up, and step out, and be all the Trinity intended them to be when they created them.
Our mandate as men and women has always been to be fruitful, multiply and have rule over the earth. For centuries that’s been a very one-sided rule, but it’s time for it to come back to it being male and female working together as one, to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.