by Cindy Jacobs
God is calling women in this hour to follow Him and to use all their talents, gifts and abilities for His purposes. For many, determining how to do this in a biblical way that pleases the Lord is stressful and confusing.
What are the reasons for the trepidation in the hearts of women called by God? Although they are varied, the following questions are the ones most frequently asked by women who desire to serve Him in the church:
* What about those difficult passages in the Bible? (Didn't the apostle Paul say women should be silent in the church?)
* Is God really calling me, and if so, what is He calling me to do?
* How will saying yes to a ministry call impact my family or relationships?
* What will my pastor and/or my church think?
* Am I having grandiose hallucinations in thinking that God wants me to be a woman minister?
Married women face an even more complex set of questions:
* How do I relate to my husband if I assume a place of church leadership?
* What about all the Scriptures about submission in marriage?
* How will I handle my duties at home if I go into ministry?
And, of course, single women face unique challenges:
* If I accept the call, will the man I fall in love with be happy about it?
* How will I financially support myself if I go into ministry on a full-time basis?
* What will people think of a single woman ministering without a husband to cover her?
These questions can tend to buzz around and around in your brain until you are brought to a point of desperation and tears. Believe me, I've been there!
Many voices bombard a woman trying to sort out her place, not only in ministry, but also in everyday life. For the woman who senses a call of God, the decision-making process is greatly compounded by the fear of missing His will for her life, as well as the fear of being labeled unbiblical.
If the woman is raised in a part of the world where women are repressed or oppressed or the culture frowns upon women doing any kind of work outside the home, a compound fracture often occurs that can cripple her ability to hear the voice of God.
RESTORING GOD'S TRUTHS ABOUT WOMEN
So how do you answer these questions and find God's will for your life? I wish I had all the answers. I can tell you only that I have personally sorted through volumes of resources, met with highly respected theologians and listened intently to the Holy Spirit's leading as I researched this subject.
Of one thing I am certain: God is calling women today in a greater way than He ever has before. Major prophetic voices are prophesying all around the world that this is the time to find a way to release women into the ministry.
The different prophecies say things such as, "God is raising up a new generation of women ministers in the anointing of an Esther or a Deborah." Others announce, "Make way for the women, for God is pouring out His end-time anointing on His handmaidens."
Dr. Bill Hamon often talks about what he calls "restored truth," or the fact that God emphasizes certain truths at different times down through the ages. Luther's ringing affirmation that "the just shall live by faith" was a restored truth that began the Protestant Reformation, but today even Catholics agree that Luther's insight was valid.
Part of the role of the prophet is to announce to the church the truths that God is restoring or that have been neglected. Such is the case with the role of women in the church.
ONE COMMISSION FOR TWO GENDERS
No issue in the church is more controversial today than the role of women in ministry. A good friend of mine who is the editor of a major Christian magazine said, "Just put 'woman' and 'minister' in the same sentence, and you won't believe how many angry letters we receive."
One extremely insightful comment came to me from pastor Gary Kinnaman of Word of Grace Church in Mesa, Arizona. During breakfast with me and his wife, Marilyn, one morning, Kinnaman brought up Galatians 3:28. "Cindy," he said, "the body of Christ has come a long way in recognizing that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, but we haven't begun to understand that there is neither male nor female."
As I've studied the so-called "difficult passages" about women, I have concluded that the conflicting interpretations of them are rather like those of passages related to end-time eschatology. Throughout the years I've heard excellent sermons on just about every position, all using Scripture and all sounding as if they had merit! When this kind of impasse happens, we must arrive at a position through personal study, prayer and seeking God's face.
I have had to work through my own cultural and denominational grids in order to discern what is from the Holy Spirit and what is simply "my own stuff." As I have considered my background, I have had to ask myself: Have I ever sincerely studied the opposing view while prayerfully seeking the Lord to give me His heart and mind on the matter?
When God began to deal with me about preaching, I had to move from the extreme position that it was unbiblical for women to preach at all, to saying yes to becoming a woman minister.
We must acknowledge the fact that many women throughout history have brought, and many today are bringing, great blessing to the body of Christ through their teaching ministries, missionary work or pastoring of churches. Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them" (Matt. 7:20, NKJV). One of the ways to judge whether God is working through a person's ministry is by measuring its fruitfulness and blessing.
Women in numerous different ministries teach both men and women and are producing godly, lasting fruit for the kingdom. Would that be happening if their work weren't sanctioned by God?
Wouldn't their ministries simply be dead and lifeless if God were not anointing them? This question alone should compel us to rethink some of the traditional positions the church has taken regarding women!
In studying Scripture, I have noted several facts related to women in ministry:
* God used women to further the spread of the gospel.
* Women were used by God in leadership positions in both the Old and the New Testaments.
* God chose women (such as Deborah, Esther and Miriam) to be leaders in Old Testament times, which put them in roles that affected the whole nation of Israel. In the New Testament, we could liken this choosing to that of leadership in the church if we think of ourselves as "Jews inwardly" (see Rom. 2:28-29); "the Israel of God" (see Gal. 6:16); and a "chosen," "royal" and "holy nation" (see 1 Pet. 2:9-10; Deut 7:6). There is never any indication in Scripture that using women in leadership will "pass away" in New Testament times.
* Both the Old and the New Testaments tell us that God is going to pour out His Spirit upon His "maidservants" as well as His "menservants" (see Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18).
WOMEN OF GOD IN SCRIPTURE
Let's use Deborah and Esther as examples. These two women leaders, by God's appointment, had high governmental positions that affected the entire nation.
Deborah ruled Israel as the senior judge of all the judges (see Judg. 4:4-5). She was the top authority. She instructed and prophesied and commanded Barak to go to war (see Judg. 4:6-7). In fact, she warned Barak that the honor for the victory would be given to a woman, not to him (see v. 9).
Some people today would accuse Deborah, as a woman, of being totally out of place in instructing a man. Perhaps she would be branded as a Jezebel!
Esther called a whole nation to a solemn assembly to fast and pray to save God's people (see Esth. 4:16). I have heard people say that this is "only one exception." However, calling Esther's action "only one exception" reflects a bias against women. Why not say that it was "precedent setting"?
Let's take a look at ways other women were used of God in Scripture.
Deacons. According to Romans 16:1, Phoebe was classified as a "servant" or "minister" of the church at Cenchrea. The word used to describe her, diakonos, is a masculine form. I found a number of different explanations regarding her office.
Dr. A. J. Gordon's paper "The Ministry of Women" was particularly enlightening to me:
"The same word, diakonos, here translated 'servant,' is rendered 'minister' when applied to Paul and Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5) and 'deacon' when used of other male officers of the church (1 Tim. 3:10,12-13). Why discriminate against Phoebe simply because she is a woman?
"The word servant is correct for the general unofficial use of the term, as in Matthew 22:10; but if Phoebe were really a functionary of the church, as we have a right to conclude, let her have the honor to which she is entitled. If 'Phoebe, a minister of the church at Cenchrea' sounds too bold, let the word be transliterated and read, 'Phoebe, a deacon'--a deacon, too, without the insipid termination "ess" of which there is no more need than that we should say teacheress or doctoress."
Clearly Paul held Phoebe and other female fellow-workers in high esteem. In fact, of the 29 people Paul greets in Romans 16, 10 (including Junia) are women!
Apostles. For some, the thought of a woman ever being among the highest levels of authority in the church is simply too big a stretch. However, let's take a look at a woman whom many believe was an apostle and then see if, experientially, we can validate that God is anointing women to do the work of apostles in more recent times.
In Romans 16, Paul mentions Junia and Andronicus (see v. 7) as being "of note among the apostles." There is much controversy as to whether the name should be the female "Junias."
There are two reasons I believe Junia was a woman. First, Andronicus and Junia were likely a married couple. The context suggests they were: Junia's name is paired with a masculine name, and the only other pairing of a female and a male in Romans 16 is in the phrase "Priscilla and Aquila," which names two people we know to have been married (see Acts 18:26). Second, John Chrysostom, an early church father, praises Junia, the woman apostle.
Why is it difficult for some to accept that Junia was a woman? Surely we've accepted other stances in Scripture to be true with much less supportive historical evidence than this one. Then why the struggle?
Because the office of apostle is the office listed in Ephesians 4:11 that is believed to have the highest spiritual authority. If Junia was a woman, then the whole theology barring women from ministering in leadership roles in the church would have to be changed. The paradigm shift would be massive.
Elders. Many people believe Jesus would have chosen a woman in the original twelve if He had wanted to establish that women could be apostles. Charles Trombley's answer to this objection, as put forth in his book, Who Said Women Can't Teach, is: "Christ ministered primarily to the house of Israel (see Matt. 15:24). He preached to Jews who were governed by both civil and religious matters."
Although the original twelve were male, we need to keep in mind that Jesus took the radical step of having female disciples. And even if the early women disciples were not explicitly named as apostles or elders, this does not mean they were not functioning as teachers or exercising authority in the early church. Many apostles and elders in the early church were unnamed.
Traditionalists may argue that "elders" were always male. However, from the book of Hebrews, we see that at least sometimes the term "elders" could also include women.
In Hebrews 11:2 we read, "This [faith] is what the ancients were commended for" (NIV). The word "ancients" comes from the Greek word presbuteroi (plural of presbuteros) and has traditionally been translated into English by the terms "elders" (KJV, NKJV, ASV) and "men of old" (RSV, NASB).
Yet among these "elders" mentioned, we find Sarah (see v. 11); Moses' mother (see v. 23); the women among the people who crossed the Red Sea (see v. 29); Rahab (see v. 31); possibly Deborah, one of the judges who administered justices (see v. 33); possibly Esther, who "out of weakness [was] made strong," and who saved her people from destruction by foreign armies (see v. 34); and the woman of Zaraphath (see 1 Kings 17:17-24) and the Shunammite woman (see 2 Kings 4:8-37) who received back their dead, raised to life again (see Heb. 11:35).
These "elders" are the same ones who surround us as the great "cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1. Clearly, in biblical usage the term "elders" does not always exclude women. In fact, because the Old Testament was the Bible for the New Testament church and thus, precedent setting, it certainly would not have seemed unusual for women to hold responsible positions of eldership such as did Moses' mother, Rahab and Deborah.
A troublesome passage that often limits women's ministry in the church is 1 Timothy 3:1: "'If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work (NKJV).'" At first reading, it would seem clear that a woman cannot be a bishop because the text reads, "If a man...." In fact, Christian tradition has leaned heavily in the direction of male bishops.
However, the word translated "man" is actually the Greek word tis, a gender neuter pronoun meaning "anybody" or "anyone." Thus this verse should read: "If anybody or anyone desires the office of a bishop...." This seems to leave room for a woman to be a bishop.
Space does not permit me to detail all the uncommon callings of women who have greatly affected the face of the church. But permit me to list some of these women, for their names will bring obvious and immediate recognition of their roles as leaders and elders today: Aimee Simple McPherson, Catherine Booth and Henrietta Mears.
Teachers. As far as I can determine, the most powerful example of someone teaching another person the way of Christ is that of Priscilla. We are told that Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, taught the great orator Apollos (see Acts 18:26), and in spite of Paul's declaration in 1 Timothy 2:12 that he does not permit a woman to teach, there is no indication that this was in any way seen as wrong either by Luke, the author of Acts, or by Paul.
Chrysostom said of Paul's listing Priscilla first, "He did not do so without reason: the wife must have had, I think, greater piety than her husband. This is not simply conjecture; its confirmation is evident in the Acts."
Note that the order of translation from the Greek is reversed in the King James Version as well as in the New King James Version. According to Dr. Bruce Metzger, eminent scholar of New Testament textual criticism, this is only one of the places where there is a blatant tampering with the original text by scribes with a bias against women. Both the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible show the correct translation.
Pastors. I have wondered, who were the New Testament pastors? How did they function? How were they structured? It is pertinent to our study to think about them.
The churches during this time period were "house churches." The basic social and economic unit at the time of the early church was the oikos (Greek for "house" or "household"), or extended family, which consisted of husband, wife, and children and might also include: grandparents or other relatives; in-laws; apprentices and/or artisans connected to the economic basis of the house; and servants and their wives, children or relatives.
Obviously the oikos was very different from what we know as a "nuclear" family: husband, wife and children. The lives of the people in an oikos were connected in many ways; they saw each other every day and knew each other very well.
The early church spread like wildfire "from house to house" (see Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20). If the head of the household believed and got baptized, often so would the whole household, as in the cases of Cornelius (see Acts 10:1-2,23-27,44-48); the Philippian jailer (see Acts 16:31-34); and Crispus, the synagogue ruler (see Acts 18:8). Sometimes, as appears to be the case with Lydia, the head of the household was a woman (see Acts 16:13-15).
The "caregivers" of the church, or what we would think of as the pastors, could very well have been the presiding elders of the local house churches. No men or women are actually referred to as pastors in the Bible; however, they functioned as shepherds or pastors.
THE CALL TO COUPLES
Priscilla and Aquila must have left Paul at some point and established a church in their home because 1 Corinthians 16:19 says, "The churches of Asia greet you, Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord."
Note that in this passage, Aquila's name is mentioned first. It's quite possible that he had a higher anointing to lead a local house church than Priscilla did and her gift was used more in teaching or perhaps even in a traveling ministry.
I hope that the example of Priscilla and Aquila working together as team ministers is going to be the norm one day rather than the exception. Even though the spouse with the strongest anointing and public ministry gifts may be the visible leader, the combined strengths of both are needed to fulfill the work God has called them to in order to complete the purposes of God for their lives.
It is certainly this way with my husband, Mike, and me. Many people do not realize the extent of the ministry of Generals of Intercession and the amount of work it takes, not only administratively but also in other ways, to fulfill the vision of God.
In the future, churches will call both the husband and the wife to pastor a church. The one with the strongest anointing will be the prominent one, but both will be necessary for the church to function as it needs to. Many men who have involved their wives only with ministry to the women of the church will seek their wives' counsel and begin to work as teams.
Women are not token accessories in ministry. They are a vital and integral part of God's kingdom. If churches exclude women from leadership roles, then they diminish both their effectiveness in ministry and their witness to the power of the gospel, which clearly proclaims, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-28). *
Cindy Jacobs is president of Generals of Intercession, a prayer ministry in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her most recent book, Women of Destiny, will be available in June from Regal Books.