Monday, June 7, 2004

Early church held women in esteem

Your voice: Beth McCabe

It is a sad commentary on today's society when women have more rights in the work force than in the church. If the rights of equal opportunity for women were actually enforced in today's church, the church would have a landslide of sexual discrimination lawsuits.

Competent women are being denied church roles for the sole reason of their gender. (But isn't the harvest ripe and the workers few?) What hinders women? Surely we can blame the apostle Paul. After all, wasn't he the one who said women can't teach or have authority over men? And if it applied nearly 2,000 years ago, we should still regard it as a universal mandate for all time, right?

Actually, women were esteemed in the eyes of Paul; consider Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple who held a church in their home. Sixty-seven percent of the occurrences in the New Testament list the wife previous to her husband or having the leading role. Surely being a "pastor" involved teaching and speaking to men. Or what about the apostle Junia - recognized as a woman by all the church fathers?

Douglas Moo, a Bible scholar, writes, "Pauline recognition of a female apostle would support the notion that the New Testament places no restrictions on the ministry of women." And we shouldn't forget Phoebe, a deacon and entrusted carrier of Paul's letter to the Romans, which speaks volumes about what Paul really thought of women.

But what about John's view on women? Is he guilty of restricting their roles? Hardly. In 2nd John 1, he writes to the elect lady and her "children." But according to John's lingo, "children" is just another way of saying believers. So we have a woman in charge of a house church, exercising authority over others.

The point is, women were doing much more than cooking for the church potluck. In comparison with the workforce, the church is more than half a century behind. In Cincinnati, the traditional view of male leadership has been shattered by appointing a woman as the athletic director of Xavier University and a woman as the president of the University of Cincinnati. But progress for women in the church has been stifled, bound by an age-old mentality that perceives women as unequal.

So the next time there's an opening in the church for a leadership position, consider your options.

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