Chapter 4 WOMAN’S MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH

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Alexander R. Hay

To the women of our congregations to whose faithful ministry so much is owed.

Chapter 4  WOMAN’S MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH

In the Church’s life and witness, the woman has a sphere and a ministry as great and as necessary as in the home. It is natural that this should be so. Her special qualities, which God has given her, fit her to take this place. In all the man’s work, in the Church as well as in the home, she is the essential helper-companion.

It is natural that the same principles that govern the work of the woman in the home and its relation to the man’s work should also rule her ministry in the Church. In both, her work is coordinated with that of the man, different to his but complementary and equally necessary, supplying a part that is essential to complete ministry. A true understanding of this is vital to the Church’s work.

Because of this, Scripture has much to say on the matter. In both the Old and the New Testaments the evidence is clear and always consistent. God’s order for the woman’s spiritual ministry and the purpose of that order are amply illustrated by the manner in which He has used women through the ages, making them his instruments in many different ways. Always her part has been indispensable.

While a wrong exercise of ministry by women can result in harm to a congregation, a failure to exercise their true ministry is equally harmful. It means the loss of a part of the congregation’s witness that is vital, making its work and witness incomplete. This affects both the witness to the world and the work of building within. And its effect upon the future also is great because, as in the home so in the Church, woman’s work today has much to do with the carrying on of the witness by those whose responsibility it will be tomorrow.

We shall take up in order some of the most important passages. First of all we shall see where the woman’s position is identical with that of the man and then note where her ministry becomes different and complementary.

In the Old Testament

In the Old Testament we find that the ministry of women in the things of God is always consistent with the principles of the order which God ordained for the man and for the woman. There were no priestesses. The spiritual authority of the priest in the Tabernacle and the Temple was exercised by men. But four prophetesses are mentioned, whose important participation in the religious affairs of the Jewish nation give them a permanent place in Old Testament history.

Miriam, “the prophetess”, occupied a prominent place, the third after Moses and Aaron: “I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). In praise to God she led the choir of women who took a responsive part in the music with the male choir.

We are informed that Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (8:3).

Huldah, the prophetess, was consulted by Josiah (even though Jeremiah, the prophet, had already been exercising his ministry for some years).

Deborah, the prophetess, was also a judge. It was at her call that Barak went to war against the oppressor, defeating Sisera’s army. These women received revelations from God, spoke as He commanded them, and preached publicly. As is seen, the exercise of their ministry was not restricted to addressing women; on the contrary, it is its exercise to men that the record deals with particularly. All this is in accordance with the Law, in which there is no hint of any restriction of such ministry by woman.

At Pentecost

In the New Testament this same order is continued. Contrary to the custom of the Pharisees, Christ did not hold Himself severely aloof from women. The Pharisees would not be seen conversing with a woman in public; Christ’s attitude was one of full and open fellowship with them in spiritual things. He did not call a woman to be an Apostle. That authoritative spiritual ministry was given to men, but at his resurrection it was women He sent to proclaim the glorious news to the Apostles. Thus women were the first to proclaim the good news of the resurrection, sent personally by Christ to give it to man, even to the Apostles (Jn. 20:17-18).

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled all, both men and women, who were gathered waiting for him at Christ’s command, and used both in public witness to the Gospel message, what happened had been explicitly prophesied in the Old Testament. It was in accord with the spiritual principles that had ruled then and shows the continuance of these same principles in the new Dispensation. Men and women were gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem praying together in accordance with Christ’s command, which was to both men and women. Then we are told that,

“When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because every one heard them speak in his own language… But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy’” Acts 2:1-4, 6, 16-18).

Note Paul’s definition of prophesy in the Church in 1 Cor. 14:3. It is preaching. See also definitions of the Hebrew word in the next chapter.

This prophesy refers not only to the day when the Holy Spirit came but to the whole Church Dispensation. Christ had said that the Holy Spirit would come to abide, and it is the whole period during which the Holy Spirit continues in the Church on earth that Joel refers to. The period began when the Holy Spirit came down and it still continues. Where are we now in this period? Discussing this matter, Campbell Morgan writes:

“Joel saw the age of the Spirit poured upon all flesh; the age when sons and daughters and menservants and maidservants prophesy; the age when the old men dream dreams, and young men see visions. Then he said, before the day of the Lord comes, there shall be signs on the earth and in the heavens, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke; and during that day of signs, whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.

In Joel’s prophecy then we have a description of the whole dispensation of the Spirit; its commencement – ‘I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh’; its characteristics – ‘Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and also on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days’; its consummation – before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord – ‘I will show wonders in heaven above.’

Thus, according to this prophecy, the dispensation of the Spirit is not measured. There is no time given. It opens with the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh. Its characteristics are those of prophecy and vision. It will end with supernatural signs.

When on the Day of Pentecost, the multitudes amazed, perplexed, critical, enquired, ‘Whatever could this mean?’ Peter answered, ‘This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel’… Where then are we placed now? The dawn has passed away. The day is proceeding. The darkness has not yet come.

Dawn: ‘I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh.’
Day: ‘Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.’
Darkness: ‘The great and awesome day of the Lord.., the sun turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.’ That has not yet come.

This prophetic teaching should make us cease speaking of the day of Pentecost as though it were passed. This is the day of Pentecost. The dawn has passed, but who regrets the dawn when the sun has climbed to the heavens..? The New Testament prophet is a witness in speech and the prophets are to be men and women, bond and free. This Spirit came to scorch and burn and destroy the false divisions which existed; He came to recognize humanity, irrespective of caste or sex; sons and daughters, menservants and maidservants.”(“The Acts of the Apostles”, pp. 55-56, 58).

On the day of Pentecost men and women were together praying in obedience to the Lord’s instructions. As members of the Church the women were taking an equal part, sharing with the men the same responsibilities. The Holy Spirit fell equally upon both and manifested himself in the same way through both. Of interest in this connection is the Revised Version rendering of Psalm 68:11: “The Lord giveth the Word: the women that publish the tidings are a great host.”

In this Old Testament prophecy quoted by Peter, the active, public proclamation of the Gospel by women in our Dispensation was foretold and when the New Testament Church began at Pentecost, filled with the Holy Spirit, we see the immediate fulfillment. Not only is it stated that women were to participate along with men in public preaching but it is made clear that women of all ranks – not only “daughters” but “maidservants” – would preach.

It was thus that the Church began. The Holy Spirit made no mistake when He inspired the Prophet thus to prophesy or when He used the women in public witness. On the day of Pentecost He acted in accordance with both prophecy and the general spiritual principle that governs the woman’s work. Women as well as men preached the Gospel publicly in Jerusalem to both men and women. To say that on that day the women preached only to women is pure invention to back an argument that has no ground in Scripture, injecting into Scripture something that is foreign to it. There is no instance or suggestion in Scripture of a meeting in which women preach only to women.

Christ’s Teaching

What happened at Pentecost is in accord with the teaching regarding the Church which our Lord had given to His disciples. In Matthew 16:18, He says: “And I also say to you that you are Peter (Petros – a little piece of rock), and on this rock (Petra – rock) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Peter, later, in his first epistle (2:4-5, 9) makes clear the meaning of this figure which Christ used: “Coming to him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Peter and all those who are the Lord’s (in whom the Lord dwells) are likened to pieces of the Rock, which is Christ. It is these “living stones,” men and women, that Christ is building upon Himself, the “Living Stone”, constructing his Church, “a spiritual house.”

All in this Church, both men and women, are “holy priests” with authority and responsibility to minister in spiritual things. This priesthood of all believers is referred to again in Revelation 1:6: “And has made us kings and priests to his God and Father.” In this priesthood, no distinction is made between men and women, the responsibility for priestly ministry falling equally upon both.

In the teaching on the church which Christ gave in Matthew 18:15-20, the same principle is evident. The local church is described : “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” This is clearly irrespective of whether those gathered are men or women, although, normally, both will be present. The Lord was speaking of a case of discipline and how it should be handled. If the sinning believer would not repent, even after two private attempts had been made to convince him of his sin, then the case was to be taken before the church. If he would not hear the church, he was to be excluded from communion. The church is the simple congregation which Christ describes – two or three met with him (v. 20). Such a small congregation would have no Elders. It does not need them. It is a gathering of “priests”, composed of men and women, the women having to exercise the responsibility in this matter just as the men.

Christ spoke also of the necessity for agreement in prayer among the two or three gathered together with him (v. 19). It was necessary that they all know his will so as to ask it unanimously as a congregation and receive the answer. Here again the women are equally responsible with the men.

Thus we see that women as members of the Body of Christ are not excluded from any of the great spiritual privileges or responsibilities that devolve upon the church. They are priests unto God as fully as the men are and cannot avoid, or be relieved of, that responsibility. They must fulfill their office.

There is not a hint in Christ’s teaching that women should not preach or pray in the church or that they should not do so in the presence of men. At his resurrection it was women who were sent to tell the good news to the Apostles.

In the Epistles

When we come to the Epistles we find there also many things in which women share equally with men. In 1 Corinthians 12, where the manifestations, or grace-gifts, of the Spirit for service are dealt with, Paul writes: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.., but one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills… But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (vv. 7, 11, 18. The Greek for ‘each one’ is Hekastos – each or every. It is used also in 1 Cor. 14:26; 15:23;2 Cor. 9:7; Eph. 4:7; Phil. 2:4, etc.). As priests unto God, both men and women are seen as instruments in the Spirit’s hands, filled with him and used by him in the place which God has chosen for each individual.

The Church continued as it began at Pentecost. Women as well as men preached, and taught. We find it mentioned casually, as something normal, that Philip, the Evangelist, had four daughters who were preachers (Acts 21:9). Paul wrote to the Corinthians advising women to observe decorum in dress, according to the usage in that city, when they prayed and preached in the congregation (1 Cor. 11:5) – so it is clear that women both prayed and preached in the congregation in the early Church. Priscilla (her name is placed first) and her husband gave spiritual teaching to Apollos. Phoebe took Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. The names of many other women are given who were active in many forms of ministry in the churches.