Women And Priesthood

Some of you may be aware that for the last two and a half years I, along with three other women bloggers, have been involved in a joint project-blog called Ishshah’s Story.  Ishshah’s Story has recently been retired due to our various commitments elsewhere, but I want to share the last article I posted there because the subject of spiritual abuse and gender injustice towards women and girls within institutional Christianity is one I am passionate about.


Recently one of the world’s foremost Christian leaders reiterated his organisation’s official stance excluding women from the priesthood. Elsewhere in the Christian world woman’s entitlement to ordination on an equal basis with her male counterparts is still being hotly debated and is far from settled. Women who believe they are being called by God to serve His church pastorally or in other leadership capacities are anguishing about how to both obey God and fall in line with their denomination’s opposing stance on the matter.

The arguments from both sides of this debate obviously can’t be covered in one article and there are many resources available for those who wish to study more widely¹. In this particular post I want to focus on three core elements and consider each of these from a Biblical perspective: calling, priesthood and ordination.

Calling

Whatever pathway we choose in service to God, most Christians would agree His Word is our first guidepost, accompanied by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that God is desiring us to follow a specific direction in which our God-given gifts can be best utilised for His people and His glory. This sense of deep, consistent conviction is what most of us would recognise as a ‘calling’ from God in a specific area of service to Him (1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 4:1-7).

There are certain areas of calling that are universal for all Christ followers, including the call to take up our cross and follow Christ, the call to love one another and our neighbour, and the call to share the good news of the gospel. Individual Christians, regardless of gender, can also experience a personal calling to a specific area of ministry, such as a deep desire to serve God in a particular location or within a certain people group.

Throughout Christian history women have sensed God’s calling to serve Him in the same way in which men have felt called to serve God. The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on females in a lesser measure or in a more limited way than on males (Acts 2:17). A man sensing God’s calling on his life may struggle with issues such as finance, education or social and cultural barriers, but a man is never restricted from serving God on the basis of gender. On the other hand a woman sensing God’s calling is frequently told she may not serve God in certain capacities simply because she is not a man.

Great swathes of Christianity still place severe limitations on the expression of a woman’s spiritual calling, regardless of how gifted she may be, based on a narrow, biased interpretation of some New Testament passages which are held above the fuller counsel of the whole of scripture.

Certain trailblazing women throughout history have challenged these restrictions and had fruitful ministries, usually at great personal cost. For the most part though, untold numbers of Christian women have historically been locked out from officially pursuing their calling to ministry by a church firmly dominated by male leadership and a culture of gender discrimination that does not reflect the words or the teachings of Jesus Christ. As the link in the first paragraph of this article demonstrates, in some powerful Christian circles things have not changed: calling and gifting take second place to gender.

Priesthood

So, despite this male dominated atmosphere, does the Bible shed any light on whether or not a woman who feels called to serve God in ministry can be a priest?

Under the Old Covenant, the whole nation of Israel, i.e. men, women and children, were appointed by God as a holy nation of priests among the nations (Ex. 19:6). Within that national calling to priesthood a specific priesthood from the tribe of Levi was also set apart from the general Hebrew community. Their role was to minister to God, observe the ritualistic Law, and serve as the people’s mediators before Him (Ex. 28:41; 29:44).

In the New Covenant, however, Christ alone is the one mediator between God and His people. Only He is designated specifically as our Priest and Great High Priest (Heb. 3:1; 4:14,15; 6:20). Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood and became the eternally risen mediator between God and humanity (Heb. 8:4-11; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Under this New Covenant of grace all God’s people are called equally to priesthood, regardless of ethnicity, age, class or gender (1 Peter 2:5,9). Neither is there any hierarchy in this universal priesthood of believers, for all are set apart and placed ‘into’ Christ, in Whom there are no divisions (Gal. 3:26,28). The book of Revelation confirms this new priesthood of all believers (Rev. 1:5,6) and declares that this priesthood will reign with Christ during the Millennium (Rev. 20:6). Again, there is no indication in these scriptures that this universal priesthood is exclusively male. It is a priesthood of believers, not based on gender or any other factor, but solely on faith in Christ.

It is vitally important for anyone sensing a specific call of God on their life to understand this truth. All believers belong to God’s spiritual priesthood, set apart for God’s purposes and for His glory. In the Kingdom of God women are joint heirs with Christ and as such have been appointed as serving priests on the same basis as men (Rom. 8:17). The right to serve in any capacity to which God calls her is a woman’s inherent entitlement under the New Covenant.

Ordination

The problem area is around the word ‘ordination’. Generally speaking, ordination is acknowledgement that an individual can officially serve in leadership within a Christian denomination. It is recognition that they have undertaken the required educational process and have the desired spiritual attributes to function within that denomination in an official capacity. The dictionary defines it as the act of receiving ‘holy orders’.

Ordination, however, is not known in the New Testament. It is a practice that, like many other church practices, gradually crept in to church life as Christianity grew and increasingly merged with the religious cultures of the world. There is no New Testament evidence that the earliest Christian leaders distinguished themselves from fellow believers either by wearing certain items of clothing or taking such titles  as reverend, bishop, priest, pastor, etc. Some were called apostles, some elders, others deacons, but these were descriptions of recognised function, not titles.

Neither Peter or Paul in their letters introduced themselves as Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter, but as ‘an apostle’, in the same way as they described themselves as servants, or bondslaves (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal 1:1 ; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1)

As Christianity began to embrace the practices of the surrounding world and formalised itself into rankings and heirarchy, a special title and specific clothing became necessary to set apart an individual from other believers and indicate his position in church leadership.

As an example of how Bible translators have sometimes interpreted scripture to support this creation of a priestly class let’s consider the following passage from 1 Timothy 3:1 in the KJV: “This is a true saying, if a man desires the office of a bishop he desireth a good work”.

In the original NT language, the word translated ‘man’ is not gender specific – it is a Greek pronoun meaning ‘whoever’.   ‘Bishop’ is the Greek word ‘episcope’ which means someone who takes general oversight (not a title but a function). And the word ‘office’ is not present in the original Greek at all.

The nearest thing to ordination we find in the New Testament is the ‘laying on of hands’ which is mentioned in relation to the filling of the Holy Spirit and impartation of spiritual gifts (Acts 8:18; Acts 9:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; Heb. 6:2).

In Acts 8 we read about a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a city of Samaria during which ‘both men and women were baptised’ in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12). When Peter and John arrived to witness what was happening, they laid hands on these new believers and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). There is no indication at all that the laying on of hands was something reserved only for men in the early church.

Whether denominational ordination is God’s pathway for her is something each woman sensing a calling to ministry must work out prayerfully for herself. However, I firmly believe no Christian woman should ever believe herself disqualified from God’s holy spiritual priesthood on the word of any Christian leader or institution. If God is calling you, you have received your ‘holy orders’ – follow that call, even if it leads outside the walls of your denomination. God has not disqualified you, men have.

Summary

  1. Every Christian woman or girl is a member of God’s appointed priesthood by virtue of being ‘in Christ’, regardless of the rulings of human leaders and their institutions.
  2. Any Christian woman or girl may experience a calling from God and this calling is not Biblically restricted on the basis of her gender. It is restricted only by individual denominational doctrines.
  3. Some Christian women feel their calling to serve God lies within their denomination and therefore seek ordination within their chosen organisation. This decision should be respected, but denominational ordination should not be confused with God’s calling or appointment. God has already appointed women to His priesthood.

The full, equal and unrestricted priesthood of women and girls in Christ cannot be Biblically disputed. What continues to be sadly lacking is the ability and willingness of some Christian institutions to recognise and act on this foundational Biblical truth.

¹Women For The Nations is a good place to start studying if you’re new to this debate.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

In Whose Image?

Ceramic dishware arranged on shelf in pottery workshopOne of the most common accusations levelled at women by those who advocate male leadership in church and home (and some would add society in general), is that Eve (Ishshah) disobeyed God and led Adam into sin. For this reason, they say, God ordained that ‘her husband would rule over her’ (Gen. 3:16). In fact, God was not condoning male rulership at all.  That particular discussion is not, however, the subject of this post but you can check it out further here , here and here.

1 Timothy 2:14 tells us that Eve was deceived, but that Adam was not deceived. If Adam was not deceived by Satan, then he made a conscious choice to disobey and rebel against God. Yet this obvious Biblical truth is brushed aside by those who insist that God has entrusted males with authority over females.

If we are to accept the argument that Eve’s failure in Genesis 3:6 is evidence that all females are prone to deception, reason dictates the same guiding principle should apply elsewhere in scripture. With that in mind let’s take a look at the hours surrounding Jesus’ last moments on earth.

We find that at Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane, eleven of His close friends just hours after pledging they would die with Him, scatter in all directions.   Fearful of dying like common criminals beside Him, they betray their Lord by deserting Him at the moment of His greatest test (Jn. 16:32; Mark 14:50). One of Jesus’ closest disciples verbally denies knowing Jesus three times.

Not long after, we find the nation’s highest spiritual authority, the Sanhedrin, actively seeking witnesses to give false testimony against Jesus, despite the fact that bearing false witness was against the Law they so piously upheld (Matt. 26:59-62). The Bible says many false witnesses came forward and finally two were chosen to duly deliver their false testimony. Apparently there was no shortage of men needing favour with the powerful Sanhedrin who didn’t mind breaking the law to lie about Jesus, thereby betraying their Messiah (women were not legally recognised as witnesses in Jesus’ time).

Then there’s the High Priest, the scribes and religious authorities. Their great fear was that the people would rise up to enthrone Jesus, bringing the wrath of Rome down upon the nation, stripping them of their positions, power and influence. They had decided it was more convenient to betray one man, whoever He was, than face the growing threat of that potential scenario (Jn. 11:47-50). They were bent on removing the threat by having Jesus executed.

One of the twelve, Judas, had also been considering his options. As the realisation set in that Jesus had no intention of leading a popular rebellion and may even be executed, Judas decided to swap sides. It was the actions of Judas, one of Jesus’ chosen inner circle, that opened the way for the religious authorities to swoop and carry out their plan. For thirty pieces of silver Judas betrayed His Friend, His Teacher and His Saviour.

Finally, there’s Pontius Pilate. It’s clear he does not want to execute Jesus (Luke 23:20). He goes so far as to declare Jesus innocent (Luke 23:4, 14). He recognises that the Jewish authorities want Jesus executed out of jealousy (Matt. 27:18). He is even warned against treating Jesus unjustly by the one woman who would have had any influence over him, his wife (Matt 27:29). But when the Jewish leaders cannily imply Pilate may be accused of treason for freeing this so-called ‘king’, his own political future becomes his main concern, for none but the Emperor could claim the title of king (John 19:8-13). Knowing Jesus has committed no crime, he betrays the Lamb of God and orders His execution, then symbolically washes his hands of Jesus’ innocent Blood.

Now I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that in all of these dramatic developments, male after male betrayed Jesus. Where, apart from Pilate’s wife, are the women in the story?

The women of Jerusalem are there weeping and mourning as Jesus carries His Cross to Golgotha (Luke 23:27). Women disciples are standing by His Cross, hour by hour, agonizingly witnessing His torturous death with the one lone male disciple who dared to show up (Mark 15:40; John 19:26). They are watching on as wealthy men remove His body and place it in a garden tomb (Matt. 27:57-61). They are quietly making their way to that same tomb at dawn to anoint His broken body for burial (Luke 24:1). One of them, Mary, is the first to speak with the risen Christ, and the first sent by Him to proclaim the gospel (John 20:14-17).

But not one woman is recorded as betraying the Lord.

Referring back now to our guiding principle, it would appear the scriptural evidence indicates males in general may be prone to disloyalty and betrayal. Should they therefore be trusted with the weighty responsibilities of shepherding the Body of Christ?

But my intention here is not to play a blame game. My intention is to advocate for balance and call out injustice.

Who among us would dare venture an opinion on which is worse, being deceived or betraying Christ? And who among us would pass sentence on an entire gender because of one individual’s sin? Yet, this is exactly what has been done, and continues to be done, to countless female members of Christ’s Body on earth.

After His resurrection, Christ held no grievance with those of His followers who had betrayed or abandoned Him. The very ones who had failed Him were the ones to whom He entrusted the growth of His Kingdom.

What happened in that first Garden is completely cancelled by Christ the Last Adam, the Firstborn from the dead, who triumphantly leads a new creation of individuals bearing no trace of the old order. To not understand this is to not have understood the gospel.

The Cross cancels every debt. The Resurrection promises new hope, new life and new creation. The Gospel declares a new day of reconciliation between God and humanity, and between male and female. The Spirit bears witness that “behold: all things are new”.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Cor. 5:17

Let no-one hold you back from what God has called you to pursue, for you are neither Eve nor Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Rom. 8:29). You are a new creation, bearing the image not of Adam, not of Eve, but of the heavenly Man Christ Jesus.

Accept nothing less.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

This article has also been posted at Ishshah’s Story blogsite.

The Woman Who Touched God

dollarhandtouchedgod

There came a day when a woman, ritually unclean, dared to approach Jesus, and with trembling hand, reached out and touched His rabbi’s garment¹. Defying all convention, disobeying the Law, risking sudden and violent death, she carried within those tremoring fingers years of hope unrealised, nights of anguished tears, and one last act of final desperation.

She hoped, no doubt, that no-one would notice: that she could just brush those fingers momentarily against the fringe of His robe and slink away, face covered, unknown and undiscovered within the pushing, trampling mass of bodies pressing together to see Him, hear Him, and petition Him.

And so she would have if He had been any ordinary rabbi. But He was not.

Who touched Me?” she heard Him call out as she struggled to make her way back through the crowd. But they, trying to hear what He was about to say, only pushed back harder, enclosing her like a trapped, frightened rabbit in a cage of flesh and human odour. She turned fearfully towards His voice, part of her desperate to hide in anonymity among the swirling mass, another part of her longing to throw herself at His feet begging for forgiveness and mercy.

She had come searching for Him that day in one final attempt to end the misery of her daily life. She had no right to be among this crowd. Indeed, if they knew her condition they would draw back in horror: some would take up stones. She had wondered if that should happen if it could be any worse than returning to this life that was not life that had seemingly become her destiny.

It had been many years since she had felt human touch, even from those closest to her.   Like the lepers confined outside the city gates, her condition had made her untouchable. She was unclean and nothing could deliver her from the stigma of that uncleanness except a miracle from this strange and unfamiliar rabbi.

Now He was making His way through the crowd, moving towards her. Without looking up, she knew that He knew what she had done. She knew also that He had healed her, for she sensed the change in her body. Having received her life back, would she now be condemned to lose it? “Rabbi, it was I” she blurted, her voice breaking with sobs as the story of her long shame and despair tumbled out.

We are familiar with the rest of the story. That same day the woman with the issue of blood was restored to her community. That same day the word ‘unclean’ was replaced with another word: “daughter”. And on that day, in word and action, Jesus made clear to all who witnessed, that a woman’s life, wellbeing and dignity were as deeply valuable to Him as any man’s. On that day God affirmed a woman as His own beloved daughter.

On that day a woman touched God and God was not in the least offended.

And yet, there are those in the Body of Christ who would still, by various means, infer that women are in some way ‘spiritually unclean’. “Woman is a temple built over a sewer” stated church father Tertullian, and similar sentiments have been uttered by male church leaders throughout history². Recent statements from influential male leaders such as Mark Driscoll (former pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle), and teachings regularly churned out by others (see here and here) bear witness to the truth that women are still regarded as ‘less than’ by many Christian leaders, who continue to pass on their biased opinions to the crowds who follow them.

This post is not about debating the scriptures that are still regularly used to limit the ministry and gifts of women in church life. Pat Joyce and I have provided a full examination of those scripture passages elsewhere. (Furthermore, there are abundant materials available from respected theological scholars that competently and forcefully challenge the traditional interpretations of such passages for anyone who wishes to undertake a serious study on gender issues.)

But I am moved, when thinking again about the woman with the issue of blood, to ask when will the daughters of God be recognised by some sections of the Body of Christ as full and equal joint heirs in all areas of church and family life?

If Christ Himself was not offended by the touch of a woman, in a culture where a ritually unclean woman may not touch a man, when will women be allowed to touch the spiritual Body of Christ freely and fully, without limitations being put on what they may do and to whom they may minister?

Moses, who was called a friend of God, sought to see God’s face and was granted only a glimpse of His back. But a woman, deemed unclean by her religious leaders, touched God and was received, healed, restored and affirmed as His daughter. It’s the difference between Law and Gospel we are talking of here my friends. It’s the finished work of the Cross. It’s the miracle of being ‘in Christ’ where there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. It’s the power of the Blood of Christ that makes all who will believe clean, worthy, righteous – equally.

To those who still believe they have a right to limit the ministry of women: who taught you that you may call unclean that which God has called clean? Though you may not say it in those words, and may even object loudly at such a suggestion, in effect that is what you do when you continue to dictate exactly what women may or may not do in Christ’s Name, based on your, and their, gender.

A grave injustice is taking place in the Body of Christ. The elevation of male over female is bearing horrible fruit. The tree is bad and thus its fruit is rotten. Women are suffering ongoing abuse because they are ‘biblically’ counselled to remain with violent husbands. Children are suffering trauma and life-long injury at the hands of abusive ‘heads of the family’. Little girls are being primed by extreme submission teaching to enter marriages in which they will suffer emotional, sexual, spiritual and/or physical abuse, and fear of displeasing God will keep them there.  All in the Name of Christ.

If you are a woman reading this, whether you are in such a situation or not, know that in God’s sight you are not ‘less than’. God has not limited His love, His giftings, His calling on you because you are female. God does not condone destructive relationships or require that you continue to submit yourself or your children to a relationship in which you or they are unsafe.

Friends, who the Son makes free is free….indeed. It’s time for hearts to be examined, and for the war against women that has been plaguing the Body of Christ for centuries, to be confronted, called for what it is and outrightly rejected.

It’s time for the daughters to go free.

¹Mark 5:25-34

²For more such negative statements about women see here: http://ishshahsstory.com/2014/08/13/who-do-we-think-we-are/

Further Reading: Are Women Also Sons?

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Introducing Ishshah’s Story

wfnjpgimageI’m excited to be able to announce today the launch of a new joint venture blogsite, Ishshah’s Story (www.ishshahsstory.com).

Ishshah’s Story is a collaborative effort between myself, (Cheryl), Melody of Meanwhile Melody Muses, Nancy of Wellspring of Life and Pat from Women for the Nations, and will be a sister site to Bread for the Bride.

Ishshah’s Story is about women who love, serve and follow Jesus Christ.  Together we are going to explore, learn, communicate, contribute and discover what extraordinary creatures we women can be when we are actively encouraged to blossom into all we are in Christ.

But hey, I don’t want to give the impression Ishshah’s Story is a ‘girl’s only’ blog.  No, we’d love nothing more than to have the support and input of our Christian brothers who care enough to come alongside  as Christ’s female followers emerge from almost two thousand years of gender bias within organised Christianity.  So, guys, I know you’re out there and you’re more than welcome to add your support!

Ishshah’s Story grew, the same way many ideas do, out of two ingredients:  vision and frustration.  For many years I’ve nurtured a vision to see Christian women functioning freely in Christ on totally equal terms with men.  The frustration came with a growing realisation that there’s so much discussion around this issue (and that’s a good thing!), but still multitudes of ordinary women worldwide remain limited in roles and stifled in their spiritual giftings due to gender bias that finds its justification in what I believe is an incorrect interpretation of certain Biblical passages. (I shared a little about that frustration here.)  Friends, this is nothing less than spiritual abuse on a grand scale.

There are many bloggers contributing to the discussion on gender equality in the church, and doing it well.  Your will find some of them in the Resources Section of Ishshah’s Story.  I wanted to move beyond the discussion. I wanted to establish a practical avenue that would assist women, perhaps women who have never before been given a platform, to find their voices in a safe and affirmative environment.  Ishshah’s Story is the culmination of that desire.

So Ishshah’s Story will be an online hub where we hope you, (yes, that’s right you, shy little lady hiding behind the keyboard) will eagerly share your beautiful offerings for the edificaiton of Christ’s Body.   Nancy, Pat, Melody and I will facilitate, moderate, encourage and contribute out of the depth of our own journeys, but you, your gifts, talents and journeys, will be the main event.

We are inviting you to send us your original articles and creative input that will glorify Christ and testify of your journey as you have been learning what it is to overcome in Him.  We’ll also be celebrating the female heroes of the Christian faith, past and present, and offering in depth teaching on vital scripture passages.

Curious?  Then come on over and check out Ishshah’s Story, and while you’re there we’d love to have your comments.  You’ll find all the guidelines on how to be part of Ishshah’s Story on the blogsite.  Be sure to take your time and have a good look around, and consider following along with us.  Don’t forget to visit Nancy, Melody and Pat as well.

Oh, and who is Ishshah?  Come on over and find out!

Cheryl McGrath

Bread for the Bride

The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

Jesus-female-followers-in-Jerusalem

We spoke little as we hurried through the streets of Jerusalem. Slivers of warm sunlight were already piercing the dying darkness as the long night fled away. I pulled my cloak tightly around my face as if to protect myself against the harsh realities coming daylight would bring. Between us we carried the oil and the spices specially purchased for the task that lay ahead: Mary with her jar of olive oil, Joanna with the myrrh, and I with the finest spikenard I could find in the marketplace.

Each one of us, and the other women in our company, had understood it must be us, the women, who would carry out this last act of worship for Yeshua. Had we not stood, alongside His mother, there on that desolate hill while He was lifted up on that cruel Roman stake? Were we not eye witnesses to His suffering, His humiliation and His final breath? We had remained together as always, silent observers, and no man stood with us save John. I had listened while the men argued on the road about which of them was greater. I had heard of Peter’s boast that he would even die with Yeshua. Yet where were our brothers while we huddled in unspeakable anguish watching Yeshua’s execution? But such is the way of men.

And afterward, again we had observed in silence, following the two wealthy citizens as they removed His body to the tomb, hurriedly wrapping it in crudely anointed linen for fear of the Sabbath overtaking them. Why had they not openly declared their allegiance to Yeshua while He was alive, and joined our company? Why had they come after the crowds had moved on, after the soldiers had lost interest, to steal away His broken body secretly?

It was then we had agreed on our plan. Yeshua’s body must be properly anointed for burial, and in this matter for once we would not be the silent observers. We were willing to risk our lives to render Him this last act of reverence. Since time unspoken it has been so. Men rule the world, make the big decisions, and jostle for position. But it is women who quietly observe, consider and get on with what must be done.

By the time we drew near the tomb the sun was visible on the horizon. Quietly, Joanna asked how we would remove the great stone we had seen rolled across the entranceway. In our urgent desire to anoint Yeshua’s body we had not considered such a practicality. While we pondered, the earth beneath our feet shook violently and unexpectedly, causing each of us to fall to the ground. Afraid and shaken we rose and continued on our way. Nothing must keep us from what we had determined in our hearts.

The scene before us as we arrived at the tomb’s entrance halted us abruptly. Three Roman guards were lying unconscious among the trees, but it was not this that arrested our attention. The great stone had somehow been moved and the tomb lay open before us. My heart pounding like a beating drum I stepped slowly through the tomb’s entrance, the others following, but Yeshua was not within. Before any of us could speak, a man, I knew not from where, stood by us.

“Don’t be afraid” he told us. “Yeshua is not here. He is risen. Go, tell His disciples.”   Other things he said to us also but I could not take in his words for fear and shock. Trembling and uttering not a word to one another we backed out of the tomb, each of us heading as fast as we could towards the house where we knew Peter and the others were gathered. Questions beyond my understanding crowded my mind and gave speed to my feet. Perhaps the men would have some explanation for the confusing events of the morning.

Outrunning the other women I burst, breathless, into the house. Locating Peter and John I struggled to compose myself. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him!” I blurted. Others eyed me dismissively, glancing knowingly at one another and whispering about the foolishness of women. Peter and John, however, looked wordlessly at each other with alarm, then took off running. Still breathless I followed, unable to keep pace with them, but compelled by the growing realization that someone had removed Yeshua’s body from the tomb. Could it be the members of the Sanhedrin, the Romans, or tomb robbers? No matter, whoever it was, we must know where they had taken Him!

Both men had entered the tomb by the time I arrived. Their suntanned faces paler than I had ever known them to be, they emerged, glanced at me and left hurriedly, no doubt to confer with the other nine.

Alone now, the aching sorrow that had been threatening to overwhelm me for almost three days rose like the squalls that blow without warning on Gennesaret. A sudden torrent of grief and shock swept over my weary body, draining all remaining strength. So deliberately had I kept myself busy, first with Sabbath duties and then with the preparations for anointing Yeshua’s body. For the sake of the other women, I had reasoned, I must show strength in this terrible hour. I had put from my mind lingering visions of His crucifixion….the nails, the blood, the tearing thorns pressing into His brow.

Just as determinedly, I had pushed aside memories of our first encounter when He had delivered me of my devilish tormenters. I had refused to think on the hope that had grown in me as He taught us of His coming Kingdom, lest sorrow overwhelm me beyond reason.   I would hold the crushing sorrow at bay, defer my gnawing grief, until afterwards when all that could be done was done. Then, I knew, I must give place to a depth of heartbreak I had never known before.

Now that heartbreak was here, before I wanted it, and I had no strength left in me to resist. Surrendering, I lay sobbing on the ground, shaking uncontrollably. It was not enough that my Lord had been unjustly executed, and had been buried by strangers, but now we had been robbed of His body and denied the chance to render Him this last small act of devotion. They had taken Him, and I knew not where to find Him. For me not to be able to follow Yeshua was unbearable beyond words.

“Why are you weeping woman?” came a voice from inside the empty tomb. Rising slowly to my feet I looked and beheld two men in white. I cared not who they were or what they might do to me now. Whatever befell me for following Yeshua, I would not deny Him. Defiantly I answered: “It is because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve taken Him.” Yes, let them know and understand that Yeshua was still my Lord, and I would not turn back even though they kill me as they killed Him. He had given me back my life and in return I had vowed to serve Him till my dying breath. Let God determine my fate, for without Yeshua life would not be life.

Another voice then, from behind me this time: “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Turning to a man I assumed to be a gardener I hardly looked up. My eyes swollen from weeping, my voice quivering, I answered: “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away”. I knew that I, a woman trespassing in the garden of a wealthy man, risked being brought before the authorities for my audacity. But love and desperation compelled me. Even if no other disciple came with me I must locate Yeshua’s body and somehow convey Him to a safe place where He could lie undisturbed.

“Mary!” The unexpected familiarity of the voice startled me. Could it be that such deep grief had deluded my mind? Dare I look at that face? But I must. None but One had ever spoken my name like that. Reason told me I was sick with heartbreak, but something else told me I had never heard anything more clearly.

Turning again, my eyes desperately seeking the eyes of the One whose voice had uttered my name, I looked fully upon that Face…that Face that I had so recently seen contorted in pain and anguish. It was indeed Yeshua, not bloodied and beaten, but joyful and glowing with the vibrancy of life!

In the twink of an eye the despair of the last few days was transformed into a joy that cannot be spoken. I had watched my Lord suffer, heard His final cry, seen the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed His limp and lifeless body removed from that most dreadful stake. Yet, here He stood before me, more alive than any person I have ever met.  I had thought to find my Lord, and instead He had found me! Falling at His feet in the same place where I had just laid weeping, joyful, adoring worship poured out of me: “Rabboni! My Master! Rabboni!”

I had come to the garden in mourning, bearing oils and spices to anoint the dead. Instead, through some divine mystery for which I have no words, I found Life. Surely whatever has transpired this day can never be reversed.

Surely this day is the first glorious day of forever!

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Footnote on Mary Magdalene: Mary was called Magdalene after Magdala, the Galilean town she came from. We may assume Mary from Magdala was an unmarried woman, otherwise normal practice would be to name her as ‘wife of………”.   Church tradition has grown up around Mary from Magdala suggesting she was a former prostitute.  However, neither the Bible nor historical records give any indication this was the case. She has often been confused with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11 or the woman ‘who was a sinner’ from Luke 7:37-48,  but this confusion came into the church from non-Biblical sources and has been perpetuated throughout history through art, literature, Hollywood movies and such theatrical shows as “Jesus Christ Superstar”.  In fact there is no Biblical passage at all that indicates Mary of Magdala had ever been a prostitute.  We do know from scripture she had been tormented by seven demons.  

Around the sixth century, the Catholic Church under Pope Gregory began to identify Mary Magdalene as a woman of loose morals because they equated her demonic oppression with sexual uncleanness.   Jesus, however, always distinguished demonization from wilful sin.  He rebuked sin and delivered the demonized. Prior to her healing and deliverance,  Mary could well have been suffering from what would now be identified as any one of several mental illnesses,  or some form of self-destructive behaviour.  There is absolutely no Biblical basis for assuming she was a prostitute.  Another thing we can surmise about Mary is that she was a woman of financial independence since she was free to contribute to the itinerant ministry of Jesus and the twelve.    Mary was not only among the ‘many women’ disciples of Jesus who stayed with Him at His crucifixion (Matthew 27:55), she is the only person mentioned by name in the gospels who witnessed Christ’s death, His burial and His resurrection (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56, John 19:25). She was chosen by Jesus to be the first disciple He revealed Himself to after His resurrection and the first one sent with the gospel of salvation.  

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

 

Headship, Heirarchy and All That Stuff

Last week fellow Christian blogger Teague McKamey posted an article called Get Your Head on Straight.  As a frequent reader of his posts, I challenged some of the views he expressed in it.  The unexpected (for me) result was that Teague invited me to put together a guest post sharing my own views on the same subject matter.

My response has now been posted on Teague’s blog site, The Voice of One, and Teague has invited discussion.  I am also sharing that response article here below on Bread for the Bride, but would encourage you first to read Teague’s original post here and then consider heading on over to The Voice of One to leave a comment.  I know Teague would appreciate constructive feedback and so would I!

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Firstly, I’d like to thank Teague McKamey for offering me the opportunity of writing a guest post for his blog, The Voice of One.  Teague recently posted some comments about male headship which, as a follower of his blog, I challenged.  After some discussion Teague has graciously (and bravely!) asked me to put forward my own views on this subject.  As a Christian blogger myself, I know it’s no light decision and a huge display of trust to open your blog site to someone else, especially one whose views differ somewhat from your own.  For that, though our views may continue to differ, Teague has both my sincere gratitude and respect.

What the Bible actually teaches about women’s role in the church and the home is a very wide–ranging subject and one that is often hotly contested.  I will not attempt here to cover the whole subject but try to focus my comments on the topics of male headship in marriage, submission of wives and traditional teachings about hierarchy in the home and church.  Further articles expressing my views on these and related subjects can be read here and here

Let me start by saying I minister frequently to women whose Christian experience has been hugely impacted by the traditional teaching that God ordained that wives are to be submissive (obedient) to husbands, and/or that women need male ‘covering’ either through a father, husband or brother.  It is difficult to over-emphasize the damaging results of such teaching in the lives of individual Christian women and in the church in general.  Having said that, I wish to be very clear that this kind of teaching is not wrong because women are being damaged by it; rather women are being damaged because this teaching is wrong.

1.Male Headship in Marriage

The scriptures most often quoted to support the ‘wives must submit to husbands’ teaching are 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22-24.  I will come back to 1 Corinthians 11:3 later. For now let’s examine the Ephesians passage from the point of view of context and culture:  “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church;  and He is the Saviour of the Body, therefore just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (NKJV) 

The culture in which we are reading these words differs greatly to the culture relevant to the Christians living in ancient Ephesus, to whom Paul wrote his letter.  In that cultural environment marriage was very often nothing more than a legal arrangement used by men as a means through which they could sire legitimate heirs devoid of any commitment to their wives.  It was common for men to have several mistresses and wives were kept simply for the purpose of childbearing and rearing.  Hence Paul’s further admonition in verses 25 to 33 that husbands should love their wives ‘as themselves’, a new and radical idea to the new converts he was addressing whose cultural history did not include a close relationship between spouses.

Returning to verses 22-24 there are several things to note.  Firstly, when we hear the words ‘submit’ and ‘subject’ in the English language, our minds immediately understand them as ‘obey’ and ‘obedience’.  The word Paul used, however, was ‘hupotasso’, which when used in the middle voice as it is here, we now know means “to give allegiance to or be supportive”.  There is no inherent idea of obedient submission or subordination in this word in the way that it has been traditionally interpreted and taught in the Christian church.  I will say more about the word ‘head’ later.

Furthermore, the original text of verse 22 actually states: “wives to your own husbands as to the Lord.” That’s right, the word ‘submit’ is not there.  It was added by translators trying to fit the phrase to their own cultural understanding.  Please remember Paul did not write letters with chapters and verse numbers! The verse is actually joined to the previous verse 21, which in the original text ends with a comma, not a full stop or period.  The correct wording of verses 21 and 22, which is one undivided statement, is therefore:  “support one another out of respect for Christ, wives, your husbands as the Lord.”   We can get the gist of the kind of marriage Paul was promoting amongst the new Ephesian disciples when we remember Colossians 3:18 in which he wrote:  “Wives, (submit to) be supportive of your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” 

There is so much more that can be said about the interpretation of this crucial passage but let me just add this: Throughout his earthly ministry Christ continually affirmed the women he encountered, who otherwise existed in a society in which, from birth to death, they were regarded as the possessions of men.  His male disciples were amazed at His revolutionary attitude toward women (John 4:27).  Furthermore, all indications are that in the early church women were viewed on an equal spiritual footing with their husbands and male brethren.  For instance, if we take a close look at the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 we see that Sapphira was given opportunity to account for her actions separately and on equal terms to her husband.  There is no suggestion that as a wife she was expected to submit to her husband or that such an expectation may have been a mitigating circumstance, making her less responsible for their joint deceit.   

The real tragedy is that such a large part of the Christian church, in its quest to justify a belief in the inherent right of males to lead in all structures of society, has taken what was written to Christians in a vastly different society, pulled it out of cultural context and made it a” law” affecting all Christian wives for all time. In the same letter Paul gives advice to slaves, (often translated “bondservants”), and masters (Eph. 6:5-9), yet most Christians would be hard pressed to find any relevant application for these instructions today.  The New Testament letters written by Paul, Peter and others are inspired writings addressing both practical and spiritual matters affecting the early church.  God intended us to interpret them through the eyes of the Spirit of grace and revelation, not turn them into the letter of the law with which to subjugate other believers.  

2. Hierarchy within Marriage and the Godhead

Many Christians adhere to the traditional church teaching that there is a ‘chain of command’ in the Godhead, not realising this teaching has its roots in the fourth century heresy of Arianism which held that Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father.  This doctrine was officially rejected by the early church at the Council of Nicea in AD325.  (For an in depth, historical and scripturally based study of this subject please see Kevin Giles article here.)

The main scripture passages used to support this view are found in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” , and Ephesians 5:23:  “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”

The Greek word translated ‘head’ in both these verses is the controversial word ‘kephale’.  In the English language the word ‘head’ can mean leader, someone in charge, or having authority over others, and this is how we tend to interpret what Paul was teaching.  However, none of these concepts are inherent in the word ‘kephale’, which simply meant ‘physical head’ or ‘source, origin”.  There is a Greek word meaning ‘ruler, leader or commander’ and it is ‘archon’, but Paul, a fluent Greek and Hebrew speaker, chose not to use that word.   To quote one scholar: “For Paul and his correspondents the use of the word kephale as a synonym for ruler or authority would have been as meaningless as attempting to do the same today with tete in French, or Kopf in German.”*

Paul was writing in a time when various pagan beliefs predominated across the Greek speaking world. One of these was that women were made of a different, more inferior substance than men.  Another was that Eve was a mother-goddess, superior to Adam, and that she created humanity.  Remember many of the Christians to whom Paul was writing had formerly held these beliefs.  I believe, as do many, that in using the word ‘kephale’, or ‘source’, Paul was speaking against these beliefs by teaching Adam was the physical source of  Eve, just as Christ is the spiritual source of the church. The woman and man are physically the same substance, she being “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh” (Gen. 2:23), just as the church is the same spiritual substance as Christ, being “of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30).

With a correct understanding of ‘kephale’ 1 Corinthians 11:3 also takes on quite a different meaning. But I want you to know that the head (source) of every man is Christ, the head (source) of woman is man, and the head (source) of Christ is God.”  Paul is not in this verse describing a chain of command in the Godhead.  If he was it makes no sense that he uses the order Christ-man-God rather than God-Christ-man. Christ, who is the source of all creation (Col. 1:16, 17), is the source of the male, the male is the physical source of the woman, and God is the source of Christ (in His incarnation only).

Scripture clearly teaches there is no submission, subordination, ranking, or chain of command within the Trinity.   We do not worship three gods rolled into one, we worship a God who is One and expresses His perfect Oneness through three Personalities equal in authority, power and will.  All three members were instrumental in creation and they are eternally One (Gen. 1:26, Deut. 6:4, Jn 10:30, Jn 17:22).  There is no need for any member of the divine Trinity we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit to submit or defer to another member, because they are One in will and intent (Is. 44:6).

During the time of His human incarnation Christ, who is God, submitted to and became willingly subordinate to the Father (Phl. 2:5-9).  He chose to humble Himself in order that humanity could be delivered from sin and death. However, in eternity Christ is equally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and He has risen as fully God and fully man (John 1:1-3, Col. 2:9, 1 John 5:20; Titus 2:13). He was equal God before His incarnation and remains equal God in His resurrected state. This has been a core tenet of orthodox Christianity since the Council of Nicea which decreed Christ to be “the Son of God, begotten of the Father (the only-begotten;  that is of the essence of the Father, God of God), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

It is not unusual for those who support a doctrine of God-ordained male headship in marriage to also promote a ‘chain of command’ doctrine concerning the Godhead.  One teaching tends to support the other. It is also not unusual that such teaching goes hand in hand with the belief that God originally created the man to lead and the woman to help and submit.  There is not space or time here to explore all the reasons why I believe the Genesis account does not support this belief, or why I believe the first woman was created equal to her husband in everything, including in authority.  That’s another subject for another time.

At the beginning of this article I stated: “This kind of teaching is not wrong because women are being damaged by it; rather women are being damaged because this teaching is wrong.”  There are many men, both leaders, husbands and fathers, who sincerely seek to ‘head’ their families wisely and lovingly. They are deeply disturbed and appalled by the fact that these verses are so often used to justify abuse against females.  However, dealing with an error by saying male authority is God ordained but is simply being misused due to the fall, no matter how sincere, does not do away with the error or justify its continuation.  It simply covers the mess and perpetuates the damage.

Voluntary submission of believers to one another is Biblical.  Christ led by example when He humbled Himself to take on the form of man, and taught it on several occasions.  I believe it is meant to be a ‘gift among equals’, given freely to each other within a safe and loving environment of true Christian community, whether that be within home life or church life.  It is not, however, something that can be permanently applied to one group of people on the grounds of gender, role or marital status.  Paul gave advice and instruction to the church, not commands, within the context and culture in which he was ministering.  I highly suspect he would be horrified to learn two thousand years later some sections of the church have turned portions of his epistles into Old Covenant type law that is to apply for all time to certain sections of the church.  That is not Biblical submission, that is subjugation.

*Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, pgs. 277-78

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission. 

Related Articles:

The Sound of Broken Silence

Rocking the Boat

The Lady at Number 31

I’ll Cover You

Husbands as Priests: A Different Gospel

Rocking the Boat

There are two ways to view scripture.  Either it’s the word of God to humankind infused with the living Spirit of God whose fruit is always abundant life, or it’s the dead letter of religious law-keeping, the fruit of which is always condemnation and spiritual death.  The first view is rooted in the sure knowledge of New Covenant grace and redemption by Christ’s Blood.  The second is rooted in an Old Covenant mindset of legalism that has failed to grasp the difference between the letter of the law and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 3:6;  Rom. 8:2 

One area in which these two opposing views continually clash is in the area of women’s role in church and home life.  As soon as one voice is raised encouraging women into ministry and/or leadership on an equal footing with their brothers and husbands, up jump the legalists wielding their familiar hammer of  ‘it is written’ quotes on the heads of any woman (or man for that matter) daring to interpret scripture differently from them. This subject is possibly the most divisive doctrinal issue in the institutional church today. 

So great is the fear of ‘feminist’ infiltration that rarely is any attempt to sincerely listen, pray, or humble oneself displayed by those who are convinced of the God-given right of males to lead, rule and organise.  No matter that their constant hammering  of “the Word” has crushed half the church into subjugation for nearly two millennia; no matter that the church is hindered and denied the fullness of its potential in gifting, ministries and subsequent fruit;  no matter the evidence that countless women and girls continue to suffer emotional, sexual, physical and spiritual abuse at the hands of a male-dominated hierarchical religious system that bears no resemblance whatever to Christ’s command to serve rather than rule. The hammer must keep being pounded because those who wield it are so desperately afraid of losing something only known to them. 

In over 40 years of church life I’ve seen more than enough abuse of women and girls in the name of Christianity.  And I’ve been around long enough to know the greatest danger to healthy church life is not so called ‘feminism’.  It’s the adultery, pornography, domestic violence, child sexual abuse and spiritual abuse too often hidden and protected behind the ‘only males are chosen to lead’ teaching. But we’d all rather not talk about that stuff, right?   

When any section of society is constantly told they are specially chosen to always govern and another section of society is constantly told their role in life is to submit without question, you have a recipe for disaster, but more to the point this is not even what the Bible actually teaches.  And yes, I’ve heard the one about men and women being equal in being but unequal in function which is simply a nice way of saying we’re all equal but some are more equal than others. 

I don’t regard myself as a Christian feminist.  I find the label unnecessary and limiting. To me, “feminism” is a political term.  Nor am I much interested in the current battles taking place in some denominations over women’s ordination.  Personally I think it’s a waste of time and effort to seek official recognition and acceptance in an institutionalised religious system that is far more political than spiritual.    

I am, however, sure of who I am in Christ.   A woman yes, but more than that:  a son of God, a called, anointed and sent servant to the Bride of Christ, a friend of Jesus, and a fully functioning, equally serving member of His Body. If anyone has a problem with that I’m happy for you to move on and leave me to do what I’m called to do with those who don’t. God and I don’t have an issue about it.    

It’s time the Body of Christ grew beyond viewing ourselves through gender-defined roles to seeing ourselves, and each other, for who we really are: our Father’s children.  Women and men are different, yes, but in Christ those differences do not define us (Gal. 3:28).  We are defined as new creations, a brand new race of spiritual beings created IN Christ Jesus,  and joint heirs, male and female, together.   

There is now abundant evidence provided by far greater minds than mine that many traditional interpretations of certain scriptures regarding women are fundamentally biased, even to the point where some words, phrases and names have been deliberately translated inaccurately to favour a pre-conceived mindset of male headship and leadership. This evidence can be argued convincingly and accurately from the perspective of language, culture, and history.  These resources are available in full supply on the internet and in Christian bookstores for anyone who sincerely wants to get into the nitty gritty of what Paul was really saying, or what really happened in Eden.   There comes a point when if you’re going to argue this issue you need to do it from a fully informed perspective.  

And then there comes a further point where the argument becomes redundant and boring and the Spirit beckons onward. 

My purpose here is not to prove something that doesn’t require proving. Rather it’s to encourage the many women struggling to emerge from under the hammer of law and religious tradition, to jump in, the water’s fine.  Sure, you’re most probably going to face opposition, subtle and overt, some of it from very close quarters, but the Spirit beckons and it’ll be OK.  There are many of us ready to support, encourage and cheer you on.   

You will be told that Paul said you should be silent despite the fact that the first person Jesus sent with the gospel message was a woman;  you will be labelled unsubmissive and rebellious, despite the fact that when Mary of Bethany took a male  disciple’s position at Jesus’ feet He said what she had chosen would not be taken from her;  you will be ostracised by those sure they have the order of things all worked out, despite Jesus having taught the first shall be last and the last first. You may even be cursed and verbally condemned to hellfire by some (as I have been), but take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus too was called evil. 

Legalism with its unending condemnation will always vehemently oppose all that the Spirit of God is doing, saying and facilitating.  Here’s the thing:  this male as leader/woman as helpmeet boat is actually being rocked by none other than the Spirit of God Himself.  Right now He’s calling ‘woman, you are needed. It’s time to rise up from the crushing bondage of gender-based condemnation and come fly with Me”, and the legalists are in a tail spin over it.  That looks and sounds like God to me! 

©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012

Related Articles:

The Sound of Broken Silence

The Lady at Number 31

Courage

Some places you can find further resources on this subject: 

http://www.cbeinternational.org/ 

http://godswordtowomen.org/ 

www.ministryto-silencedwomen.com 

http://strivetoenter.com/wim/  

Husbands as Priests, a Different Gospel