Women and the Church

I recently had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at another church, and in conversation with one of the elders afterwards (while sipping the usual Nescafé Blend 43 and eating an iced vovo) I discovered that they don’t allow women to preach. Now before I go any further, it’s worth making a very strong note that I am not going to lay out what I think on the matter in this very short article, nor give a theological treatise on the topic, nor is anything I say necessarily the perspective of PostcardRadio. My intention is just to open up the topic, so that you our intelligent readers can have the conversations, because I believe it’s an important conversation to have.

Now a few observations. First, without going into any of the details, it needs to be said that the culture in first century Palestine where the church first started is not the same as the culture of 21st Century Australia. With that in mind, the answers the New Testament church came up with to various questions (including this one) may not always fit as snugly in our world today. Whatever answers we come up with today (to any of the “how to” questions) need to reflect both the way of Jesus and the needs of our own culture. I’ll leave you to nut that one out.

Secondly, it might be worth pointing out that women feature much more in the New Testament than people usually suppose. Jesus’ official twelve disciples may have been men, but there were also at least a handful of key women who seem to have been very supportive of Jesus – some scholars even suggest they may have been providing financial support to his missions.

Now look at the conversations. Through the gospels on almost every occasion the general impression is that most people – including the twelve – basically had no idea of what Jesus was on about. Yet there are at least two significant recorded occasions where Jesus seems to be impressed that someone actually got what he was saying… both times with women (John 4, Mark 7).

Fast-forward to Good Friday, where all of his followers have run away in fear. Wait, all? No, not all.

“Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there.” (Mark 15:40-41)

And they stayed with him, following when his body was taken down from the cross, to see where it would be placed. Then as soon as the sabbath ended and shops opened they purchased spices to prepare his body. Everyone knows the rest of the story. Sunday morning the women were there at the crack of dawn and were the first to discover that Jesus was alive – and not only that, but it seems they believed it before any of the men. They rushed back to tell the disciples (and where were the disciples? Hiding in a room). In the meantime, the resurrected Jesus thought it important to make a short stop off on his way back to the Father to have his first conversation, with who? Mary Magdalene. Read it again and notice how much women feature in this the climax of the story. In a male-dominated culture, what do you think this said?

It doesn’t end with the gospels. In a culture filled with male leaders, the early church features a significant number of key women as well. At the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul writes, “Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house.” At the end of Romans: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me. Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home…. Give my greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard for your benefit.” Women play significant roles and feature in prominent places right through the New Testament. It seems that the early church had no problems with women in influential roles.

What about your church? Does it show the significance of both genders in its organisation and leadership? Are there any “rules” in place (even unspoken ones) that might need to be reconsidered? Could your church benefit from some more feminine creativity?

Recently I’ve been hearing a fair bit about how previously male-dominated fields – such as science and technology – are discovering just how much women can add to the conversation. Personally I would like to see the church leading this charge, and benefitting just as much from the new and fresh ways of thinking that women can bring.

Over to you.