Women in Ministry: What the Bible Says
By Betty Miller
Do women have a place in ministry? If so, to what extent? Is there scriptural basis for a woman to be in any position of authority in the church? What does the Bible really say about this issue? To understand God’s intentions, we must go back to the very beginning of creation to see His original purpose for both man and woman.
“Male and Female Created He Them”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27
Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. Genesis 5:2
It is interesting to note that God called both male and female, “Adam” in the day they were created. Adam means “man.” Adam and Eve were created with God-ordained differences from each other, but together they made a full “man,” or a complete picture of God Himself. There was perfection in their union. Their differences were not a source of discord or inequality, but a beautiful compliment to each other. Together, God gave them the task of overseeing and ruling His creation
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28
Notice that God gave the above commission to them both. There is no hint that there was anything but equal authority between man and woman as they existed in a sinless state. What changed things? In the next few chapters of Genesis, we find that sin entered the heart of Adam and Eve. The result was a temporary curse placed upon both man and woman, which would affect the whole earth.
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:14-19
This curse has affected all aspects of creation, from the ground itself (infested with weeds and thorns) to human relationships. (I say temporary, because in Christ this curse is removed, as we shall see later on).
When Eve ate the forbidden fruit and enticed Adam to sin with her, one of the consequences for women was the loss of equality with men, as men were to rule over women, instead of men and women ruling together. She would now be “ruled by her husband.” However, when Jesus came as sinless Man and died as the Messiah on the cross for us, all things were restored positionally. In actuality, the restoration of man (men and women) began to take place at that very moment.
Though the complete cleansing of the curse has not yet been manifested on the earth, the day is coming when it will be so. Or to put it another way, all those who receive Jesus as Savior receive restoration as Sons of God, but not all of us walk in that restoration – yet. Through Jesus, the curse upon women has been lifted. Women no longer have to receive pain in childbirth nor are they inferior to man with him ruling over them. Women can now be restored to their original place and plan that God had for all His “sons.” Although we do not see all things restored at this time, “legally” in the spiritual realm, they already have been.
Adam was the head of the first race of mankind; and Jesus is the head of the last race, the adopted children of God. God only sees two races – the Adamic race (all natural-born mankind) and His children through Jesus (all those born of the spirit).
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
Once we are born into the kingdom of God, we become new creatures in Christ. In the Spirit, we find there is “neither male nor female,” just as there are no race distinctions nor class separations. The Lord looks on the hearts of His new creatures and therefore does not discriminate when He offers His love and privileges. Women are not excluded from any of God’s promises nor callings merely because of their sex.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
God’s Masculine and Feminine Traits
As we stated above, the command to have dominion over and subdue the earth was given to both Adam and Eve. They were both to rule and reign over the Lord’s creation. The very act of subduing something requires authority, aggressiveness and leadership, as well as humility, tenderness, patience, and the ability to respect the intrinsic value of what we are ruling. Most of all, it requires love.
Within God’s own nature we find these same qualities. Both men and women are to become like Him as we are conformed to His image. Since this is true, there are times that under the unction of the Holy Spirit a woman should assert herself boldly. (This assertion, however, should not necessarily be toward others, but rather toward the enemy, Satan!) For men and women to become overcomers they must have this boldness and authority over the devil. God still desires that His people rule and reign with Him. His intention is to qualify us for that position, whether we be male or female. “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:6).
Even though “kings” is a masculine term, this is the ultimate destination He desires for all of His people. The Lord often uses both male and female terms to refer to both sexes. Women are to live in the “hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). Both men and women in the church are referred to as “the bride of Christ.” God has both a masculine and feminine nature. The mother heart of Jesus was evident as he prayed over Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Matthew 23:37
Submission is considered to be a feminine trait. However, Jesus submitted to the cross under the direction of the Father. If we walk in the Spirit, we too will possess both the masculine aggressiveness and feminine submissiveness of God.
Both submissiveness and aggressiveness are God-given strengths. Yet, both can be perverted, so that we become submissive and aggressive in the wrong ways, with the wrong attitudes. Because these qualities are so misused and misunderstood by the world, they have become distasteful and despised. If aggression is frowned upon, submission is viewed in an even more negative light in western culture. We equate submission with weakness and lack of spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was never a human being more submitted to God than Jesus Christ– yet never was there one as completely resistant to the system of the world! It took extraordinary submissiveness and aggression for Jesus to overcome the world. For the Christian, whether we are male or female, He is our model. We are to possess His qualities and use them according to the needs around us.
Women As Ministers
How does all of this lead up to women ministers? Perhaps you are thinking that although we have laid a biblical foundation for “neither male nor female” in Christ, certain verses in the New Testament still seem to ban women from ministry positions in the church. Let’s examine these verses for the true interpretation:
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 1 Corinthians 14:34
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 1 Timothy 2:11-12
In these verses, Paul cannot be addressing women who were in the ministry, but rather those in the congregation who were out of order. How do we know this? We have many such proofs, many from Paul himself. Here is a partial list of women who were all in influential positions of leadership in the early church.
Pheobe (Romans 16:1-2): This woman was a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea, who was beloved of Paul and many other Christians for the help she gave to them. She filled an important position of leadership. It would be a difficult stretch of the imagination to say that this woman fulfilled her duties without ever speaking in the church!
Priscilla (Acts 18:26): Priscilla and her husband Aquila are often mentioned with great respect by Paul. Together they were pastors of a church in Ephesus, and were responsible for teaching the full gospel to Apollos. We are informed that they both taught Apollos, and pastored the church together. In fact, Priscilla is sometimes listed ahead of Aquila when their names come up. This has led some to speculate that of the two, she was the primary teacher and her husband oversaw the ministry. At any rate, we see here a woman in a very prominent position of teaching and pastoring. (Other references to Priscilla and Aquila are Acts 18:2, 18; Romans 16:3, and 1 Corinthians 16:19).
Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3): Here we see reference to two women who were “true yokefellow” and who labored with Paul in the advancement of the gospel.
Junia (Romans 16:7): In this verse we see Paul sending greetings to Andronicus and Junia, his “fellow-prisoners” who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a woman’s name. In some modern translations, an “s” has been added (Junias) because the translators were so sure a woman could not be an apostle, that they assumed a copyist has accidentally dropped the “s.” However the proper male ending would have been “ius,” not “ias.” No church commentator earlier than the Middle Ages questioned that Junia was both a woman and an apostle.
Though there were other women throughout the Bible in positions of leadership, such as prophetesses, evangelists, judges, leaders, etc., the above references should be enough to establish that women were indeed a vital and normal part of church leadership. Paul expected women to speak in the church, or else why would he have given the following directive? It would have been useless to give directions for women who were speaking in the church, if they were never allowed to do so.
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 1 Corinthians 11:5
Furthermore, if Paul believed that all women should never teach or speak in church, why does he commend many women who did just that?
With all this in mind, what then do we make of the troubling verses that command women to be silent in the churches? First of all, we must interpret those verses in light of what we have just established–that there were women in leadership positions of the church. Obviously, Paul is not writing to them. He must be addressing another issue entirely – the women who were loud and unruly during the service, causing disorder and confusion.
When he wrote the Corinthians, he was dealing with a church that was very disorderly in their services. Much of the letter was spent correcting excesses and abuses. Some of these pertained to women in particular and some were to the entire church. Paul is not being prejudiced against women when he instructs the Corinthian women to keep silence. In the early church the seating arrangement was quite different from our modern day churches. Men were seated on one side of the church while the women and children were seated on the opposite side. This is still practiced in many cultures today.
The women of Christ’s day were generally uneducated and usually only the men were privileged with an education. Due to this situation, when the church met the women were tempted to shout across the room and ask their husbands the meaning of whatever was being taught. This disturbed the service. Paul was simply saying during the service, “Women, keep your children quiet and you be quiet, and if you have anything to ask your husbands, wait until you get home.” Because of the new equality that Christianity brought to women, it could be that some of them were taking their freedom too far, to the point of being obnoxious.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he gave him a similar directive. Again, it is important to understand the context in which the letter was written. In 1 Timothy, a careful reader becomes aware that many severe heresies and false teachings that were being dealt with. We can draw a conclusion here that many of the proponents and victims of the false teachings were women. Timothy pastored in Ephesus, and it has been suggested that goddess worship might have played a large part in Paul dealing so severely with the women. Ephesus was a primary center of the worship of Diana or Artemis. The heresies being taught might have suggested that women were authoritative over men and had higher access to spiritual knowledge than men did.
Regardless of the particulars, in both cases we can see that Paul is dealing with specific incidents in specific churches for very particular reasons.
We must understand that many of Paul’s epistles dealt with local problems and his commandments are not meant to be taken as “commandments” across the board for all situations. Rather, we are to seek the Lord for the basic principal that needs to be incorporated in our churches. Because of Old Testament precedents that had already been set, apparently it never occurred to Paul to re-establish the case for women in ministry. Why would he need to? The early church took it as a matter of course that Jesus would call and ordain anyone He chose–and that settled it! As a matter of fact, the Bible mentions a prophetess who was in the Temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. Her name was Anna (Luke 2:25-35), and she was one of two people who recognized Jesus as the Messiah because of her sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s writings are sometimes misunderstood today because we do not know all the details that led him to write as he did. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the testimony of Scripture to interpret how we are to apply these things to our everyday lives. Scripture should always be compared with other Scripture and the context taken into consideration. Even in Paul’s day, there were those who tried to twist the meaning of his words.
…His (Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:16
It is a fair conclusion that the testimony of the bulk of Scripture, church history and God’s anointing upon them, all speak plainly for women being able to fulfill all positions of the five-fold offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist and teacher.
It has always been a strange doctrine that will allow women to go to foreign mission fields and teach heathen men, but will not allow the “heathen” men at home to be taught by the same women! It makes absolutely no sense to think that a female who is learned in the Scriptures cannot teach a male who is unlearned. Additionally, it is acceptable for many women to teach Sunday School to children, and for mothers to teach their sons. Where do we draw the line and say to the women that can no longer teach a male once they reach a certain age? This may seem like a ridiculous scenario, yet there are those in the church who teach along these lines.
Those that are dogmatic in excluding women from the ministries of God usually are not walking in the Spirit, as they see women after the flesh (viewing her sex), not after the Spirit (seeing her heart and calling). The Lord admonishes us in His Word that we are not to look at one another with regard to our sex, race, class or culture, but rather we are to see one another through spiritual eyes.
Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation: To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
God wants to use any person who will yield to His Spirit, regardless of that person’s sex or capabilities. Those who are a new creature in Christ have His capabilities.
Our problem is that we must see there are rules for the fleshly, or earthly man, and there are rules for the spiritual man. Then, we must discern when to apply the appropriate Scripture. We are admonished in 2 Timothy 2:15 to “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
The Five-Fold Ministry
The Lord gave the church gifts of His choosing in the form of men and women who would lead the church into perfection (Ephesians 4:8-12).
It is the Lord who calls men and women to His ministry. He does not call special people, but the call goes out to “whosoever will.” First, we are called to salvation; then as we walk in obedience to Him, He calls for us to be baptized in His Holy Spirit. As we continue to obey and follow Him, He then may choose us to serve Him in a full-time ministry. He chooses people for the ministry out of those who have walked in obedience to His other calls. He desires that all follow, but can only choose those who are obedient. These men and women who have answered the call are set in the ministry by Jesus Himself. Man’s ordination does not qualify them, but the ordination of God does. Men will recognize those who are truly called by Him. They will even recognize women who are called of God as God empowers them with His anointing and power which cannot be denied.
God has used many modern day women in His service as well as women spoken of in the Bible. Madame Guyon, Catherine Booth, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Aimee Semple McPherson, Corrie Ten Boom and Kathryn Kuhlman are only a few of the women on the list of great five-fold ministry gifts to the church. What are those gifts and that ministry? “And His gifts were (varied; He Himself appointed and gave men to us,) some to be apostles (special messengers), some prophets (inspired preachers and expounders), some evangelists (preachers of the Gospel, traveling missionaries), some pastors (shepherds of His flock) and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11, Amplified Bible.).
When this Scripture says, “appointed and gave men to us,” it does not mean just the male sex. The same man whom God created in the beginning which included male and female is the one referred to here. These “men” are both male and female and they have a responsibility to bring others into the maturity that they possess.
Ephesians 4 continues, “His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ’s body (the church), [That it might develop] until we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God; that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood….the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ’s own perfection — the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ, and the completeness found in Him” (Ephesians 4:12-13, Amplified Bible.).
The Lord has lofty intentions for His men and women and desires that they come into perfection and maturity even as Christ walked in that perfection. The Lord sends those whom He chooses to bring about this maturing and perfecting. If we have been raised in a traditional church, the idea of coming into perfection may sound impossible–even heretical! However, it is clearly a Biblical precedent and until we understand it we will not be able to understand God’s full intention for His body. The separation of laity and clergy is not God’s plan for His people. All that are called to salvation are called to a full-time ministry in the Lord. This does not mean that all should leave their secular occupations, but all should devote their lives to the Lord and be as committed and active in witnessing, learning and growing in God as the leadership.
The leadership that God raises up is those men and women whom He trains for His work in the kingdom. Women have been limited in traditional churches to certain positions that men would give them, but the Lord is restoring His full five-fold ministry in these last days to prepare the body of Christ for His return.
If Jesus wanted women to minister, how come all His disciples were men? This question is actually raised from a misunderstanding of the word “disciple.” Jesus had many women disciples. These include, Mary and Martha (John 11:1-4, and many other references as well. Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus were among Jesus’ closest friends). In addition, Jesus had many other women followers as well.
And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. Luke 8:1-3
For the sake of brevity, I will not include other lists of names of women who followed Him. However the Scripture makes it clear there were many of them.
In another incident, Jesus motions to the crowds that followed him and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).
In John 4:1-42, we see that it is a Samaritan woman who leads a large population of her community to Jesus.
Why didn’t Jesus choose any women to be among His twelve original apostles? Jesus could not choose women to be among the twelve because it would not be wisdom for men and women to be travelling about together when many of them were single. Also, the twelve apostles fulfilled the “type and shadow” of the twelve patriarchs, so they had to be equal to men (Revelation 21:12, 14). However, this doesn’t mean that he does not anoint women to fill an apostolic role today, as we already established in the case of Junia.
Jesus showed a great deal of respect for women–and children as well. In the culture of Jesus’ day, these were often deemed “lower class” so to speak, and not worth paying serious attention to. However, Jesus repeatedly broke this unspoken rule. Because His actions were so unusual, those closest to Him were often surprised and annoyed.
Woman, Thou Art Loosed!
We pray that this teaching will encourage many women, who might otherwise relegate themselves to the “back burner” to instead step forward into the full calling of God upon their lives. Likewise, we pray that men who have been taught against letting women minister will see the truth of the fullness of God’s plan. No matter who we are in the Lord, we will be held responsible for how we treated others and how we either hindered or helped the cause of Christ on Earth. Those in leadership especially need to heed this warning with reverent fear. Just because we have believed something our whole life, or because our denomination or culture teaches us so, doesn’t mean it is correct. If you have a problem with seeing women in the pulpit, or in any position of leadership, we pray that you will prayerfully seek the Lord with an open heart on this issue.
In conclusion, let us read the following promise from the prophet Joel. This prophesy was initially fulfilled at Pentecost, and as we draw closer to the End, we can expect to see it fulfilled in even greater measures.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:17-21
Personal Note from Betty:
My own personal call to the ministry came as a surprise to me. I was not expecting the Lord to use me because I did not realize God used women in the ministry. At the time of my call I was in the medical profession. I had been filled with the Holy Spirit and because of the tremendous transformation in my own life, I was eager to share with others this beautiful blessing. I had known the Lord since the age of twelve. However, I had not known Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. After my baptism in the Holy Spirit, I found I had a new holy boldness that I had not had before. I found myself witnessing and sharing with all who would listen. I wanted them to know of my new joy, love, peace and faith. I did not intend to pursue the path of becoming a female preacher. (I really did not know such existed). I just found myself sharing and preaching. Actually all of us who know Christ should be “preachers.” Preaching is simply sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. The clergy should not be the ones who do all the preaching! This is the responsibility of every member of the body of Christ.
When the Lord spoke to me about His plan for my life, I immediately thought of many objections. My first was that I was a woman, so how could He use me? I told Him I didn’t have the kind of tremendous testimony that would cause people to listen to me. He said, “Betty, it is not your testimony that will cause people to listen, but it will be My Spirit and My anointing.” He then ministered to me in a beautiful way to show me in His Word that it was Scriptural for women to minister. Most of these truths are in this teaching. Our confusion over women ministering comes by misunderstanding the full counsel of God’s Word. The verse with which this chapter begins is one of the first He revealed to me, “…there is neither male nor female…” in the Spirit. In heaven there will be no sex; so if we are walking in the Spirit now, we will not be conscious of sex, but only of the Spirit of God.
For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. Matthew 22:30
My husband and I have been privileged to serve the Lord together as evangelists, pastors, teachers and now pioneering this new work on the Internet. It’s rewarding to allow the Holy Spirit to minister through us as He sees fit. We only want to be those vessels who stand ready for the Master’s use. The Lord uses Bud to relate to many that I could not reach, and He uses me to minister to others that he could not reach. Together we are able to accomplish much more for the Lord than we would if we were ministering by ourselves. We are grateful that the Lord called us into His service together.
God bless you!
Women Throughout History Served As Leaders
A Brief History of Some Women in Ministry
by Richard M. Riss
The involvement of women in public ministry is as old as the gospel. Historian Richard Riss pays tribute to women whose amazing ministries have transformed lives throughout church history.
Leaders in the Early Church
Women have always been active in public ministry. On the pages of the New Testament we find mention of many who filled positions of leadership in the first century church. Acts 2:19 mentions the four virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist as prophetesses who lived in his home at Caesarea, where Paul and his associates visited during his third missionary journey. Priscilla, or Prisca, and her husband Aquilla, were known as fellow-laborers in Christ with the apostle Paul. Their expertise as teachers enabled them to explain the way of God more accurately to Apollos of Alexandria, another important leader of the early church (Acts 18:25-26).
Another associate of Paul’s, Lydia, a seller of purple dye, opened her home for ministry (Acts 16:40), as did many other Christian women in the Roman empire, including the “elect lady” to whom John addressed his second epistle. Close examination of 2 John would suggest that she was functioning in a pastoral capacity, as would also have been the case for Lydia (Acts 16:40)(Acts 16:40), Nympha (Colossians 4:15), and Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11). Phoebe was a leader of the Church at Cenchrea. In Romans 16:1,2, Paul commanded the members of the church at Rome to receive her as such, and to help her in whatever manner she requested. Paul also mentions that Andronicus and Junia were outstanding among the apostles (Romans 16:7), and there is little doubt that Junia was a feminine name. Both John Chrysostom and Jerome made reference to her as a woman apostle, and no commentator referred to her as a man until the late thirteenth century.
Martyrs for Their Faith
As Christianity spread, women along with their male contemporaries, lived their faith “even unto death,” and through heroic deeds of love, helped build the foundations of God’s Kingdom in their countries. In the early fourth century, Catherine of Alexandria defended the faith at Alexandria before philosophers and courtiers, before she was tortured to death by Maxentius, the son of the Roman Emperor, Maximian. At about the same time, Dorothy of Caesarea in Cappadocia was martyred (A.D. 313). As she was being led to her execution, Theophilus, a lawyer, taunted her, asking her for a basket of flowers and fruit. Soon afterward, a child came to her with a basket laden with roses and apples. She sent this to Theophilus, who as a result of this incident became a Christian and later gave his own life as a martyr.
Macrina the Younger (A.D.328-380) was founder of a religious community for women in the eastern church. With her brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, she was a pioneer in the monastic life. She healed, prophesied, and actively spread the faith. John Chrysostom wrote of her that “she was a great organizer, and independent thinker, and as well educated as Basil himself.” After the death of her mother, she reared and educated her younger brother Peter, who became Bishop of Sebaste.
Marcella (325-410) was an important teacher in the early church who was highly esteemed by Jerome. She was in the front lines in interacting with heretics and bringing them to a better understanding of Christian truth. Her palace on the Aventine Hill became a center of Christian influence. At one point, when a dispute arose in Rome concerning the meaning of the Scriptures, Jerome asked Marcella to settle it. Her Church of the Household was not only a house of study and prayer, but a center for deeds of Christian charity and sacrifice. It was here that another woman, Fabiola, received inspiration to establish the first hospitals in Rome. Marcella later established on the outskirts of Rome the first religious retreat for women.
It was also at Marcella’s Church of the Household that Paula (347-404) and her daughter, Eustochium, first made their decision to assist Jerome in his Latin translation of the Bible. They went to Bethlehem in order to aid him in this work, revising and correcting his translations and making new Latin translations from the Hebrew and Greek texts. In turn, Jerome dedicated some of his books to them. Paula founded three convents and a monastery in Bethlehem, where Biblical manuscripts were copied. This became a model for what soon became the universal practice at monasteries for many centuries.
Genevieve (422-500) lived in Paris when Attila and his Huns invaded France in 451. She assured the inhabitants of Paris that God would protect them if they would pray. While the men prepared for battle, she persuaded the women to pray for hours in the church. Then, after Attila destroyed Orleans, he decided not to touch Paris. At a later time, she was said to have averted a famine in Paris and the surrounding cities by distributing miraculous gifts of bread.
Bridget, also known as Bride (455-523), inspired the convent system that made an indelible impact upon life in Ireland. After settling in Kildare, she built for herself and her female friends a house for refuge and devotion. As other houses were founded through her missionary efforts, she became known as the “mother abbess” of all of Ireland.
Theodora I (500-548), wife of the emperor Justinian, was an important and influential Christian. A woman of outstanding intellect and learning, she was a moral reformer. Justinian, as Christian Emperor, was, for all practical purposes, head of the Church of his generation, and his wife, as Empress, shared his power to select church leaders. The inscription “Theodora Episcopa” or “Theodora, Bishop (fem.)” in a mosaic at the Basilica of Sts. Prudentia and Praexedis in Rome, may have been a reference to the Empress.
Hilda (614-680) was appointed by Aidan as abbess of the convent at Hartlepool in County Durham in 649. Ten years later, she founded a double monastery for men and women at Whitby in Yorkshire, which became world famous as a school of theology and literature. Five of her disciples became bishops and a sixth, Caedmon, became the earliest known English poet.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a German abbess, and writer known throughout all of Europe. Skilled in subjects as diverse as theology, medicine and politics, she did not hesitate to rebuke the sins of the greatest men of her time in both Church and state. She exerted a wide influence among many people, including the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and various kings, prelates, and saints. Many miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime.
Clare (1193-1253) was co-founder, with Francis of Assisi, of the Poor Clares, a mendicant order which spread rapidly through Italy and into France, Germany, and Spain. In 1249, when she was lame, her convent was attacked by a group of Saracens. She told the sisters to carry her to the door of the monastery, then addressed the Saracens and prayed aloud that God would “deliver the defenseless children whom I have nourished with Thy love.” She heard a voice answer “I will always have them in my keeping,” and turning to the sisters, she said, “Fear not.” At this moment, the Saracens scrambled down the walls of the cloister, recoiling from her valiant words. Clare’s care for the poor was a tremendous inspiration to Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), a princess who, in the last years of her short life, led a life of rigorous self-sacrifice and service to the poor and sick.
Some other significant women of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries included Hechthild of Magdeburg, Gertrude the Great, Angela of Foligno, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Sienna, Catherine of Sweden, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Genoa, Isabella of Castile, and Maragaret Beaufort.
During the Reformation, a member of the Bavarian nobility, Argula von Grumback (1492-1563), challenged the Rector and all of the faculty of the University of Ingolstadt to a debate in which she would defend the principles of the Protestant Reformation. She offered to base this debate upon a translation of the Bible published prior to the outbreak of the Reformation. She was permitted to present her position in 1523 in Nuremberg before the heads of the Empire. Martin Luther wrote of her, “that most noble woman, Argula von Stauffer, is there making a valiant fight with great spirit, boldness of speech and knowledge of Christ.” Her extensive education and fine critical abilities enabled her to become a force to be reckoned with. She conducted church meetings in her home and officiated at funerals.
Two other important leaders of the Protestant Reformation were Margaret of Navarre (1492-1549) and her daughter, Jeanne d’Albret (1528-1572), the grandmother and mother of King Henry IV of France, who issued the Edict of Nantes, granting religious toleration to the French Protestants for almost a century. Jeanne d’Albret held services of the new Reformed faith in her palace apartment. A friend of John Calvin, she also used her palace as an institute for Reformation study.
Leaders in Denominational Movements
During the Puritan era, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), became influential in Boston, and opened her home to large classes of women. It is estimated that as many as eighty overflowed to the doorsteps of her house, at a time when Boston had a population of roughly 1,000 people. These meetings grew rapidly, and soon men, also, began to attend. Among her loyal followers was Henry Vane, who served for a short time as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Within two years of her arrival from England, she had the strongest following of any leader in the entire colony. Her large following, coupled with her strong exegetical and homiletical skills, deep Christian commitment and insightful understanding of spiritual truths, may have incurred the jealousy of several New England ministers, who became uncomfortable enough with her successes that she was accused of heresy and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638.
Margaret Fell (1614-1702), the mother of Quakerism, was an English peeress and wife of Judge Thomas Fell, member of the Long Parliament and Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster. Her home became a place of refuge and renewal for the persecuted Quakers for almost fifty years. She was arrested for holding Quaker meetings in her home, Swarthmoor Hall, and imprisoned for four years. After her release from prison, she visited Quakers in jails and traveled on horseback with her daughters and servants to remote farms and villages as an itinerant preacher. Many people sought wisdom and advice from her, including Thomas Salthouse, and, of course, George Fox, who married her a number of years after the death of her husband. Because she had his blessing in her preaching ministry, she wrote many tracts and letters on the subject of women in ministry.
Madame Guyon (1648-1717) was French woman who was imprisoned on several occasions for long periods of time because of her beliefs, but she was never known to complain about this. An author of forty books, including a twenty-volume commentary of the Bible, she had a wide following, particularly in France and Switzerland. Among those profoundly influenced by her ministry was Archbishop Francois Fenelon.
The founder of the first Methodist congregation in America was Barbara Heck (1734-1804).
In England, Lady Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), founder of the Calvinistic Methodist denomination during the Evangelical Awakening, functioned as a bishop by virtue of her right as a peeress to appoint Anglican clergymen as household chaplains and assign their duties, and to purchase presentation rights to chapels, enabling her to decide who would conduct services and preach. Among the many chaplains whom she appointed and continued to finance for many decades was George Whitefield. In 1779, after sixty chapels were already functioning under her auspices, this practice was disallowed by a consistory court of London. Therefore, in order to continue to function, she was able, under the Toleration Act, to register her chapels as dissenting places of worship, known as “The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.”
Lady Selina frequently invited members of the aristocracy to her home to hear the preaching of the Wesleys, Whitefield, Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, Benjamin Ingham, John Fletcher, John Berridge, William Romaine, Henry Venn, and others. She founded Trevecca House on property adjoining the home of Howel Harris. A seminary for the training of ministers for all denominations, its first president was John Fletcher. Joseph Benson eventually became headmaster on John Wesley’s recommendation. George Whitefield preached the inaugural sermon when it opened in 1768.
Notable America Preachers
In America, two important preachers during the first years of the Second Awakening (1800-1808) were Deborah Pierce of Paris, N.Y. and Martha Howell of Utica. Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874), “The Mother of the Holiness Movement” began her ministry in 1835 with her Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness, which continued for 39 years in New York City, where she lived with her husband, who was a physician. Hundreds of Methodist preachers, including at least five bishops, were profoundly affected by her ministry. The success of Phoebe Palmer’s informal meetings encouraged other women to conduct the same type of ministry, and dozens of them sprang up throughout North America. These meetings brought together Christians of many denominations under the leadership of women, particularly among Methodists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Quakers.
In 1858, Walter Palmer, Phoebe’s husband, purchased the periodical GUIDE TO HOLINESS, which under her able editorship, grew in circulation from 13,000 to 30,000 subscribers. She traveled widely with her husband, conducting evangelistic meetings during the summer months. In the fall of 1857, she and her husband traveled to Hamilton, Ontario, where they attracted crowds of several thousand people when an afternoon prayer meeting became a ten-day revival meeting during which four hundred people were converted to Christ. They experienced similar successes in New York City and in England, where they preached for four years to packed houses at Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, and dozens of other places. It is estimated that within her lifetime, Phoebe Palmer brought over 25,000 people to faith in Christ.
Catherine Booth (1829-1890), with her husband, William Booth, founded the Christian Revival Association in 1865 and the Salvation Army in 1878. The Booths regarded the active participation of women to be vital to Christianity. Before 1865, when they were still Methodists, Catherine began preaching. Soon after her pulpit debut, her husband became ill, and his slow recovery paved the way for her own preaching ministry. For a time, he was so ill that she had to take over his entire preaching circuit. She eventually became one of the most famous female preachers of England, and her last sermon was delivered to an audience of 50,000 people.
Hannah Whitall Smith, author of THE CHRISTIAN’S SECRET OF A HAPPY LIFE (1875) catalyzed the development of the Holiness movement in Britain and throughout Europe. Her activities in England led to the Keswick Convention in 1874.
Leaders of the Pentecostal Movement
Carrie Judd Montgomery was a healing evangelist of considerable prominence beginning in 1879, and became a founding member, along with A. B. Simpson, of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1887. She later became a part of the Pentecostal revival and was ordained a minister by the Assemblies of God in 1917, continuing in ministry until 1946.
Maria B. Woodworth-Etter was also involved in the Holiness movement before she rose to prominence as an early Pentecostal leader. In 1884, she was licensed to preach by the Churches of God general conference, founded by John Winebrenner in 1825. Within a few months of this time her meetings were already beginning to receive national press coverage, and in the late 1880s she started twelve churches, added 1,000 members, erected six church buildings, and started several Sunday Schools. Her work at this time resulted in the licensing of twelve preachers. The revivals that she held at this time were accompanied with unusual manifestations of God’s power, many healings, and mass conversions. During the early Pentecostal movement, Woodworth-Etter was in continual demand, becoming a featured speaker at the Worldwide Pentecostal Camp Meeting at Arroyo Seco, California, in April 1913. She founded the Woodworth-Etter Tabernacle in western Indianapolis in 1918, which she pastored until her death in 1924.
Beginning in 1906 and 1907, Florence L. Crawford, Mabel Smith, Ivey Campbell, and Rachel A. Sizelove were some of the first women to spread the blessings of the early Pentecostal revival through their separate itinerant ministries. Florence Crawford planted and pastored several churches in the Pacific Northwest, founding and becoming general overseer of the Apostolic Faith Church based in Portland, Oregon, which later became part of the Open Bible Standard Denomination.
Other pioneers of the Pentecostal movement in the U.S. included Mrs. Scott Ladd, who opened a Pentecostal mission in Des Moines in 1907, the Duncan sisters, who had opened the Rochester Bible Training School at Elim Faith Home, “Mother” Barnes of St. Louis, Missouri, who, with her son-in-law, B. F. Lawrence, held tent meetings in southern Illinois in the spring of 1908, and Marie Burgess, who preached in Chicago, Toledo, Detroit, and New York City, where she founded Glad Tidings Hall, which soon became an important center for the spread of the Pentecostal revival. Another early Pentecostal pioneer in New York was Miss Maud Williams (Haycroft).
Canadian and European Pioneers of Pentecostalism
In Canada, some early pioneers of the Pentecostal movement included Ellen Hebden in Toronto, Ella M.Goff in Winnipeg, Alice B. Garrigus in Newfoundland, the Davis sisters in the Maritime provinces, Mrs. C. E. Baker in Montreal, and Zelma Argue throughout all of the Canadian provinces. Aimee Semple McPherson of Ingersoll, Ontario, began a preaching ministry in 1915 which began in Toronto and took her along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, and across the United States in 1918. She eventually founded Angelus Temple in 1923, where she continued as senior pastor until her death in 1944.
An outstanding authoress and minister at the turn of the century was Jesse Penn-Lewis who was directly involved with the revival in Wales. Evan Roberts, the chief evangelist of the Welsh revival joined Mrs. Lewis in penning some of her writings on the overcoming life. Mrs. Lewis had a wide public ministry. Perhaps the most popular book she wrote was WAR ON THE SAINTS, a book on spiritual warfare.
An Outstanding Healing Ministry
Kathryn Kuhlman’s ministry began in the summer of 1923. After her ordination by the Evangelical Church Alliance in Joliet, Illinois, she established the Denver Revival Tabernacle in 1935, which she pastored for three years. In the mid-1940s, she went to Franklin, Pennsylvania, where she began to thrive as a preacher and radio evangelist. Many people were healed with notable miracles at her meetings beginning in 1947, and she gained a reputation as one of the world’s outstanding healing evangelists, carrying on as a leading figure during the charismatic movement until her death in 1976.
Pastors of the Charismatic Movement
A few of the women working as Pentecostal pastors during the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s included Charlotte Baker, Myrtle D. Beall, Helen Beard, Aimee Cortese, Sue Curran, B. Maureen Gaglardi, Anne Giminez, Ione Glaeser, Hattie Hammond, Alpha A. Henson, Marilyn Hickey, Violet Kitely, Janet Kreis, Freda Lindsay, Fuchsia T. Pickett, Iverna Tompkins, and Rachel Titus. A sampling of a few of the other women who were vital during the time of the charismatic movement as speakers, authors, or evangelists, would include Eleanor and Roberta Armstrong, Rita Bennett, Edith Blumhofer, Hazel Bonawitz, Roxanne Brant, Mary Ann Brown, Shirley Carpenter, Jean Darnall, Josephine Massynberde Ford, Katie Fortune, Shirlee Green, Nina Harris, Sue Malachuk, Daisy Osborn, Dorothy Ranaghan, Agnes Sanford, Gwen Shaw, Bernice Smith, Ruth Carter Stapleton, Jean Stone, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Corrie Ten Boom. Mother Teresa was also an outstanding woman who ministered in the helps ministry to the poor of India.
The women mentioned here are, of course, a mere sampling of important figures who have been mightily used of God in every conceivable capacity of leadership in the church throughout history.
This article was taken from a recent issue of the IRN Reports with copyright permission.
To read more about the role of women in ministry order Betty Miller’s book Neither Male Nor Female today!
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