“Christian Women (part 2 of 3)”
In the last article, we sought to dispell the notion that Christianity furthers the repression of women. Rather, Jesus came to challenge societal norms and restore womanhood through his kingdom reign. Some may protest, saying that Scripture reports some horrifying stories of the mistreatment of women. Indeed, it does report these incidents - often with excruciating detail - because Scripture is history. But in reporting these events, Scripture does not condone them. In fact, the biblical portrayal of women is positive from cover to cover. The text often goes out of the way to pay homage to women, to acknowledge their gifts, to celebrate their roles in society, and to exalt those virtues that are uniquely feminine (Prov. 31:10-31).
Scripture always gives due distinction to the wives of the patriarchs. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel stand out in their own right. Miriam was both a prophetess and songwriter. In Micah 6:4, she is honored with her brothers as having led Israel during the Exodus. Deborah, also a prophetess, judged Israel prior to the monarchy (Jdg. 4:4). King Solomon honored his mother Bathsheba (Ex. 20:12), by standing in her presence then bowing to her before being seated on his throne (1 Kgs. 2:19). Sarah and Rachel are explicitly named for their faith in Hebrews 11, while Moses' mother (Jochebed) is included by implication (v.23). In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman (Prov. 1:20). The people of God, in both the Old Testament and New, are described as his beloved bride (Isa. 61:10; Rev. 21:2). All of this stands in sharp contrast to pagan culture and religion.
Jesus' disciples included many devout women (Lk. 8:1-3), a practice almost unheard of among his contemporaries. He treated women with dignity and honor, perhaps especially those who were social, racial, and moral outcasts (Mt. 9:20-22; Lk. 7:37-50; Jn. 4:7-27). He blessed their children (Lk. 18:15-16), raised their dead (Lk. 7:12-15), forgave their sins (Lk. 7:44-48), and restored their lives (Jn. 8:4-11).
Christ first disclosed his messianic identity to a woman (Jn. 4:25-26). Women did not abandon Jesus while he hung on the cross (Lk. 23:49). They witnessed his death and his burial (Lk. 23:55) and, because they had gone to embalm his corpse on the following Sunday and found the tomb empty (Lk. 24:1-3), women were the first to bring the good news of Christ’s resurrection to the apostles (Lk. 24:4-12).
It is no surprise, then, that women became prominent in the early church (Acts 12:12-15; 1 Cor. 11:11-15). On the day of Pentecost, women were there with the apostles, praying in the upper room (Acts 1:12-14). Christian women were renowned for their good deeds (Acts 9:36), their hospitality (Acts 12:12; 16:14-15), their understanding of sound doctrine and spiritual-giftedness (Acts 18:26; 21:8-9). Paul regularly worked alongside faithful women (Phil. 4:3). He recognized and applauded their devotion, he celebrated their work, and thanked God for their talents in the Lord (Rom. 16:1-6; 2 Tim. 1:5).
Just because Christian women are not to exercise authority over men in the assembly does not mean they have no leadership role. On the contrary, Scripture plainly says the Spirit was poured out "on all flesh... your sons" as well as "your daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28-32). God didn't promise the gift of prophecy to women and then forbid them to exercise it. Women were gifted by God's Spirit in the same degree as men in the first century. They prayed and prophesied (Lk. 2:36; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5) for the "upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" of the church (1 Cor. 14:3). And this indicates some measure of leadership.
The exercise of feminine leadership in the church, however, was limited (1 Tim. 2:12). Mature Christian women were charged with teaching younger women (Titus 2:3-5). We may balk at the idea of limiting this leadership role but all roles of leadership in the local church are limited due to the simple fact that Christ is the head we are all subordinate to (Eph. 1:22-23). My role as both a Christian and evangelist is limited (Heb. 13:17). I cannot be an overseer of this or any congregation because I do not meet the Scriptural qualifications. Even the roles of our overseers are limited by Scripture. All Christians live in submission to Christ (Eph. 5:24; Jas. 4:7) and to one another (Eph. 5:21), enjoying equal status, value, and worth in the kingdom, yet retaining our unique and complimentary roles.
Men and women are "one in Christ" (Gal. 3:28), but this unity is not uniformity. Our gender is not obliterated in Christ, it is celebrated and serves to strengthen the church (Rom. 12:3-8). In Christ, the gender distinction is not a cause for division, as it is in the world, but is another part of our multi-faceted unity. Each of us have a unique role to play in the family of God (1 Tim. 3:15). Far from repressing women, the gospel of Jesus Christ elevates women to the status they deserve as joint heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7; Gal. 3:26-29). In Christ, women retain their femininity while gaining their proper status and inheritance as fellow image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-28).