Free Methodist News

Denominational Calendar 2021

Please be aware due to covid restrictions, the schedule may change and may be virtual or in person.  Thank you.

2021 DENOMINATIONAL CALENDAR

July

25-27   Acts 12:24 Churches Annual Conference (tentative)

August

7   Gateway Annual Conference

20-21   Welcome Home Conference, Clay City, IN

20-21   North Central Annual Conference

24-27   Chaplains Professional Development Training Conference, Colorado Springs, CO

September

October

3-5    ADLT, indpls (tentative)

5-7   Superintendent Leadership Team, Indpls (tentative)

8-9   Board of Administration, Indpls

9   GC23 Steering Committee, Indpls  (afternoon) (tentative)

November

8-12   India General Conference

December

as of 03/30/2021

 

Love-Driven Justice

Love-Driven Justice 

References from Scripture, the Book of Discipline, and L+L Articles  

The recipients of the grace and mercy found in Jesus’ mission. 

  • The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19 (emphasis added)) 

God’s heart for just action revealed in His Word. 

  • As to Foreigners: When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33–34) 
  • As to the Weak, Fatherless, Poor, Oppressed: Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. (Psalm 82:3) 
  • As to Our Obligation to Fairness and Equitable Treatment of Others: Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:9) 
  • As to Defending the Oppressed: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17) 
  • As to Our Commitment to Be Merciful and Compassionate: This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:9–10) 
  • As to Our Call to Mirror God’s Holiness, Righteousness and Justice: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) 
  • As to Religion That Is Acceptable to the Father: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27) 

Our pledge to active concern: 3221 and 3222 of the 2019 Book of Discipline  (See the 2019 Book of Discipline for the entire content of these paragraphs) 

Dignity and Worth of Persons (Introduction to ⁋3221) 

We are committed to the dignity and worth of all humans, including the unborn, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, color, socio-economic status, disability, or any other distinctions (Acts 10:34-35) and will respect them as persons made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection. 

The Old Testament law commands such respect (Deuteronomy 5:11-21). Jesus summarized this law as love for God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). He ministered to all without distinction and His death on the cross was for all (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). 

We are therefore pledged to active concern whenever human beings are demeaned, abused, depersonalized, enslaved or subjected to demonic forces in the world, whether by individuals or institutions (Galatians 3:28; Mark 2:27; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). We are committed to give meaning and significance to every person by God’s help. Remembering our tendency to be prejudicial, as Christians we must grow in awareness of the rights and needs of others. 

Sanctity of Life (Introduction to ⁋3222)

God is sovereign: the world and all that is in it belongs to God. Though God’s eternal purposes may never be thwarted by human action we are still free and responsible to make God consistent choices in matters of life and death. Christians live in the reality that human beings are created for an eternal purpose. As we attend to human suffering, we acknowledge that the ability of medical technology to end human suffering is finite. Therefore, we accept our responsibility to use this technology with wisdom and compassion; honoring God, who is ultimately supreme. 

Read  Love-Driven Justice by Bishop Matt Whitehead

Discipleship Materials: Engage small group conversation using this four-part small group series based on Bishop Matt’s L+L Article. They contain additional Scripture references and application. 

Christ-Compelled Multiplication

Christ-Compelled Multiplication 

References from Scripture, the Book of Discipline, and L+L Articles  

Bringing life from life is found in the First Commission and the Great Commission.  

  • God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” (Genesis 1:22) 
  • So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (Genesis 1:27-29) 
  • Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 

FMCUSA Statistics that support our call to awaken to multiplication: 

  • A quick review of our most recent annual report reveals that many of our churches have not reported a new convert in years. Very few have seen significant growth from reaching people who are not already following Jesus. 
  • In terms of the number of churches in our movement, the first Free Methodists planted 500 new churches in the U.S. between 1860 to 1880. Over the next 20 years, that number doubled to more than 1,000. Over the last 120 years, our total number of churches has declined to fewer than 850 churches. 
  • When it comes to membership, our movement climaxed in 1992 at more than 74,000. Our most recent count (2018) was just over 68,000. 
  • Our greatest area of growth has come in worship attendance with averages rising to more than 100,000 a few years ago, but even this figure has declined to just under 92,000 in our most recent annual report (2018).

Declarations of the Apostle Paul that stir us to be a movement once again: 

  • “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). 
  • “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
  • “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7–8).

¶6030 Disciple-making. 2019 Book of Discipline 

Disciple-making is the great commission of our community. The church earnestly engages in evangelization and disciple-making. We are not casual about pointing out the way of life and holiness. We are concerned for the spiritual growth of all those in our charge, whether pre-Christians, new Christians, or longtime Christians. 

Visit https://lightandlife.fm beginning April 1, 2021 for “Christ-Compelled Multiplication” by Bishop Keith Cowart and discipleship materials related to this value of The Free Methodist Way 

 

 

Cross-Cultural Collaboration

Cross-Cultural Collaboration 

References from Scripture, the Book of Discipline, and L+L Articles  

Scripture Passages 

Jesus Crosses Cultures. 

  • In John 4:4-42. The Samaritan woman at the well is a well-known passage, but indeed highlights Jesus, crossing cultural lines to offer living water. 
  • Acts 1:8seems to echo the event of John 4:4-42 as Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus includes Samaria in His declaration. 

Nations were united through a common message on the day of Pentecost. 

  • “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”” (Acts 2:4-11) 

Jesus prays for us to be one, in loving mutuality – shalom. 

  • Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and comes to restore people to loving mutuality in Him. Jesus prayed, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father,protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11) 

Revelation describes a kingdom made up of all nations. 

  • After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, peopleand language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10) 

 

Dignity and Worth of Persons. ¶3221 of the 2019 Book of Discipline 

We are committed to the dignity and worth of all humans, including the unborn, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, color, socio-economic status, disability, or any other distinctions (Acts 10:34-35) and will respect them as persons made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection. 

The Old Testament law commands such respect (Deuteronomy 5:11-21). Jesus summarized this law as love for God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). He ministered to all without distinction and His death on the cross was for all (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). 

We are therefore pledged to active concern whenever human beings are demeaned, abused, depersonalized, enslaved or subjected to demonic forces in the world, whether by individuals or institutions (Galatians 3:28; Mark 2:27; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). We are committed to give meaning and significance to every person by God’s help. Remembering our tendency to be prejudicial, as Christians we must grow in awareness of the rights and needs of others. 

  • See also the subsequent points of this paragraph from the Book of Discipline:
  •  A. With Regard to Poverty 
  •  B. With Regard to Racism 
  •  C. With Regard to Immigrants, Refugees and Those in Bondage 

 

Sanctity of Life. ¶3222 of the 2019 Book of Discipline 

God is sovereign: the world and all that is in it belongs to God. Though God’s eternal purposes may never be thwarted by human action we are still free and responsible to make God-consistent choices in matters of life and death. Christians live in the reality that human beings are created for an eternal purpose. As we attend to human suffering, we acknowledge that the ability of medical technology to end human suffering is finite. Therefore, we accept our responsibility to use this technology with wisdom and compassion; honoring God, who is ultimately supreme. 

  • See also the subsequent points of this paragraph from the Book of Discipline:
  •  A. Reproductive Technology 
  •  B. Abortion 
  •  C. Euthanasia 
  •  D. Other Ethical Dilemmas 

Free Methodist World Missions 

  • Free Methodist World Missions provides this statement demonstrating our commitment to overcome Colonial mindsets and ethnocentrism: Free Methodist World Missions makes disciples by mobilizing the global church and empowering international leaders to establish transformational churches. 

Visit https://lightandlife.fm beginning May 1, 2021 for “Cross-Cultural Collaboration” by Bishop Linda Adams and discipleship materials related to this value of The Free Methodist Way 

God-Given Revelation

God-Given Revelation 

References from Scripture, the Book of Discipline, and L+L Articles  

The Scriptures – Authority: ¶108 of the 2019 Book of Discipline 

The Bible is God’s written Word, uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit. It bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word. As attested by the early church and subsequent councils, it is the trustworthy record of God’s revelation, completely truthful in all it affirms. It has been faithfully preserved and proves itself true in human experience. 

The Scriptures have come to us through human authors who wrote, as God moved them, in the languages and literary forms of their times. God continues, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to speak through this Word to each generation and culture. 

The Bible has authority over all human life. It teaches the truth about God, His creation, His people, His one and only Son and the destiny of humankind. It also teaches the way of salvation and the life of faith. Whatever is not found in the Bible nor can be proved by it is not to be required as an article of belief or as necessary to salvation. 

Scripture Passages 

The Eternal Nature of God’s Word 

  • Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

The Sustaining Nature of God’s Word 

  • Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:1-4)
  • He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The Authoritative Nature of God’s Word 

  • For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, jointsand marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) 

The Heart that Yearns to Live Obediently to God’s Word. 

Psalm 119 is unparalleled in depicting the heart of one who desires to live in obedience to the Word of God. It beautifully depicts the self-awareness of the benefits of living according to the Word of God.  

  • Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart— they do no wrong but follow his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me. How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:1-11)

The Prophetic Nature of God’s Word 

  • Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. (Proverbs 29:18)

The Unified Authority of the Old and New Testaments 

  • 63 times in the New Testament (NIV search), the phrase, “it is written” appears, calling forth the prophecies of the Old Testament to substantiate the authority of Christ as our Messiah. 

Visit https://lightandlife.fm beginning June 1, 2021 for “God-Given Revelation” by Bishop Matt Whitehead and discipleship materials related to this value of The Free Methodist Way 

 

 

Life-Giving Holiness

Life-Giving Holiness 

References from Scripture, the Book of Discipline, and L+L Articles  

The Scriptural Call to be Holy People. 

  1. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15–16, quoting three occurrences in Leviticus). 
  1. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NRSV). 
  1. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14). 
  1. Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1). 

The work of the Spirit. 

  1. 2 Corinthians 3:6. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 
  1. Ephesians 2:8–9. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 
  1. Galatians 3:2b-3Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 

Holiness in Action.  

  1. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48). 

The Spirit Gives Life: 119 of the 2019 Book of Discipline.  

Sanctification is that saving work of God beginning with new life in Christ whereby the Holy Spirit renews His people after the likeness of God, changing them through crisis and process, from one degree of glory to another, and conforming them to the image of Christ.

As believers surrender to God in faith and die to self through full consecration, the Holy Spirit fills them with love and purifies them from sin. This sanctifying relationship with God remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart to God, and empowers believers to please and serve God in their daily lives.

Thus, God sets His people free to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves. 

Sanctification 3108 of the 2019 Book of Discipline. 

Christ gave himself for the cleansing of His church (Ephesians 5:25-27; Hebrews 13:12). His disciples are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Christ provided for believers to be entirely sanctified in the atonement (Hebrews 9:13-14; 10:8-10). Accordingly, Paul prayed “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Sanctification begins with regeneration. It continues throughout the believer’s life, as the believer co-operates with the Spirit. A deeper relationship with Christ is possible as the believer is fully cleansed in heart (Psalm 51:5-13; 1 John 1:5-2:1).

God the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). Coming into one’s life at conversion, He fills with His unrivalled presence when the Christian’s consecration is complete, cleansing the heart and empowering for witness and service (John 3:5; Romans 8:9; Galatians 3:3; Acts 1:8). He sheds God’s love throughout the heart and life of the Christian (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:12-13).

Accepting the promise of God by faith, believers enter into a deepened relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:6-7). They are enabled to love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:37-40; Galatians 5:25-26). They know an inner surrender to all the will of God, and their lives are transformed from inner conflict with sin to glad obedience (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16-25).

Sanctification cleanses Christians from sin and delivers from the idolatry of self (1 Peter 3:2-3; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:15-20). When they are cleansed, they are not made perfect in performance, but in love (Hebrews 6:1; 12:14; Matthew 5:43-48; 1 John 4:12-13). 

Read “Life Giving Holiness” by Bishop Linda Adams 

Discipleship Materials: Engage small group conversation using this four-part small group series based on Bishop Linda’s L+L Article. They contain additional Scripture references and application. 

Wesleyan Perspectives on Women in Ministry

This presentation was created to address a need in Free Methodist churches for education about the ordination and placement of women pastors in order that people in and out of the church might experience the salvation of God as preached and enacted by women pastors. In spite of our formal denominational stance, which is to ordain women as elders and located them, Free Methodist women face opposition from local congregations who have not resolved objections to women ministers.  Many steps have been taken to ameliorate this problem, which is, to a significant degree, one of lack of education, exposure, and experience. One such step, this paper, requested by the Board of Bishops, was created to address objections, and answer questions regarding women pastors.

 Those who resist women preaching and ministering often do so on the grounds of 1 Cor. 14.34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12-15, which seem to restrict first century Corinthian and Ephesian women from conversing and teaching in the emerging church. However some of the Free Methodists among these are unaware of why their church ordains women. Like many Christians, they think the New Testament allows women to serve in all sorts of capacities in the church except that of senior pastor. Thus, a large part of the discussion below examines these passages.

Free Methodist churches claim the Wesleyan theological foundation for faith and practice. The term “Wesleyan” means a holistic methodology that widely embraces Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience and evaluates the applicability of each point of the quadrilateral to present concerns, such as women in ministry. Thus, although the following includes examples of John Wesley’s his approach to Scripture and decision to encourage certain women to hold services and preach, it is not exclusively an examination of his view of women in ministry.

I begin, nonetheless, with Christ’s affirmation of women and the unfolding practices of the Jesus movement and early church in this regard. I then discuss in some detail the New Testament passages used most often to restrict women from preaching the Gospel and baptizing converts: 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, using Reason, Experience, Tradition, and Scripture itself to interpret Scripture. I will turn to John Wesley’s approach to women preaching and ordination in his day and conclude by presenting the arguments of B. T. Roberts, the founder of the Free Methodist church, who also tackles the “restrictive” New Testament passages, as well as practical concerns, using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to effectively argue for the ordination and placement of women.

Jesus and Women

In this discussion of women in ministry, we must first recall the revolution God created by becoming incarnate in Jesus and by pouring out the Spirit of Christ indiscriminately on all flesh, male and female (Joel 2.28-32; Acts 2.17). According to the Gospels, Jesus taught, discipled, touched, and healed women; he was himself cared for by women throughout his ministry; they followed him to the cross and to the tomb. Several of these women became apostles, sent by the risen Christ to tell his frightened, grieving friends in hiding that he had come back to life and to meet him in Galilee.[1] Jesus (especially in Luke) claimed an imminent reversal in cultural systems of hierarchy—the humble would be exalted, the mighty laid low.

Women were among the downtrodden and responded to Jesus’ message and association with them. God’s Spirit in Acts 2 descended upon women and men who began prophesying as the age of the immanence of God in the form of the Spirit dawned. Women were active in the earliest gatherings, including especially those forming around Paul.[2]

Women in Paul’s Churches

Paul believed that the new age had begun to dawn with a new creation: those baptized in Christ must not be divided along social lines, but unified. Gal. 3.28 is a baptismal formula for all sorts of people as they enter the community of Christ. Women must have been relieved to learn that in Christ they were not incomplete and inferior to men.[3] Although Paul preached that in Christ there was unity, he did not seek a social revolution such as freedom for slaves and equal opportunities for women. He saw differences between men and women reflected in the customary social roles (1 Cor. 11.3-16). Most importantly, time was short (1 Cor. 7.17)!

A passage often used to oppose women as senior pastors is 1 Cor 14.34-5.[4] Some argue that this is not Paul’s stance, but rather his opponents’ argument that Paul repeats in order to refute. (Such method is his custom elsewhere, and there is no Scripture “law” that says women are not permitted to speak in the assembly).[5] Others see vv 34-5 as an interpolation, since, in the earliest manuscripts, this section is found in different places throughout the narrative. If inserted into 1 Corinthians at a later point in the transmission process, it would reflect the accommodation to society’s mores that is also reflected in the Pastoral Epistles, to be discussed below. Clearly, it is a change of subject, for if vv 34-5 were removed, there would be no break in the topic under discussion: order in prophesying. In any case, vv 34-5 advises women against conversing and asking questions in the churches; it says nothing against them prophesying, preaching, or praying, which obviously occurred without censure for under these circumstances they were to cover their heads (1 Cor 11.5,13).[6]

Although he attempted to enforce customs such as head coverings, in Paul’s churches there was a clear movement toward equality that reflected Jesus’ attitude toward women—openness to women and their gifts. However, there are marked differences between the early letters of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles. To help us understand these differences, we must look at the perspectives of people living in first century Greco-Roman culture where the weak were expected always to be subservient to the strong. For example, women were to be dominated socially and sexually by men. To be dominated and/or penetrated would indicate loss of honor. Women who spoke or displayed any authority in any public setting were thought to be unnatural. The women who did attain levels of authority, contrary to custom, were accused of not knowing their place, being sexual aggressors, shaming their husbands and families. But Christian churches were started in households, the domain of women. Thus, it was only natural that women would be involved and prominent in their formation and the spread of the gospel. However, the inordinate number of women in the early churches was viewed as a weakness by the opponents of Christianity. Pagan writers criticized this movement and it appears such criticism affected later Christian writings, such as “the Pastoral Epistles.[7] The many defenders of the faith denied other accusations, but never this one.

Gradually, the church grew and took on a more public presence. More and more Gentiles were converted and their views on gender relations, thoroughly hierarchical, became influential. These views were called “natural.” Some interpreters of the Jewish Scriptures used them to support negative perceptions of women.[8] For example, some Christians used Jesus and Paul as support for celibacy and/or equal participation for women in the church. But this was unpopular with others! In addition, it was obvious that celibates could never produce new generations of believers.

The Pastoral Epistles

Instead of urging people to remain unmarried (1 Cor 7.8), 1 Timothy 5.14 urges young widows to marry, bear children, and protect their modesty, which was “natural.” And, as it is usually translated and interpreted, 1 Timothy restricts women from teaching (1 Tim 2.12-15). I will discuss this passage further below. Ironically the groups which now ordain women are accused of accommodating to society, which, were it not for the clear precedent of the Gospels’ pictures of Jesus’ and Paul’s ministries, would be a valid point. But it is not to the credit of God’s people when they do not lead the way, but follow.

We are shaped by what we see and don’t see; experience and don’t experience. Even in churches like the Free Methodist, which affirms the ordination of women, the power of exposure, custom, or the lack thereof, etches deep marks in our inner beings. Some Free Methodists recall the female ministers they knew as a child. They remember and tell stories about them because they impacted lives. Nonetheless, most Christians are accustomed to male pastors. Women converse, teach, and ask questions in our churches all the time, but women pastors are not common. We associate pastoring with males because of our experience and yet we believe it is the New Testament that says women can do everything in the church except preach and pastor.

My transformative education, in this regard, began the day I attended a lecture by Dr. Gordon Fee in the summer of 1988 entitled “Women in Ministry.” This New Testament scholar exposed 1 Tim 2.12-15 (“I don’t allow women to teach. . . “) in the context of the concerns expressed throughout 1 and 2 Timothy about the church at Ephesus. Fee argued for the ordination of women, asserting that the words about women in 1 Timothy were applicable only to that time and place, but were not part of a church discipline manual created for all churches for all time. Plenty of evidence in the letters indicates that there were false teachers leading young widows astray in their own homes and teaching others these false doctrines.[9]

A Wesleyan approach to this issue summons reason and experience alongside of Scripture to ask: Do the conditions present in some of the earliest churches exist today? Are women in this part of the world today still uneducated, unruly, and new to the forum as they were in Corinth; are they young widows, vulnerable to false teachers who settle in their homes to teach false doctrines and proselytize others as they were in Ephesus?  Experience answers, “No, these conditions do not exist here today.” Reason concludes: “If the conditions do not exist, neither should the rules.” In fact, this is how we treat most of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Do we insist on keeping the case laws found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers? What about the ritual for the wife of a jealous husband found in Numbers 5.14-31?  Do we insist that women cover their heads because of the angels when they come to church to pray and prophesy as 1 Cor. 11 urges? Do all Christian women have long hair and all Christian men have short hair?. Do we enroll widows and provide for them as prescribed in 1 Timothy, the same epistle where the English translations indicate that the author prohibited women from teaching in general?   Providing for the widows in local churches would be a humane practice, yet churches that jettison this insist on keeping the prohibition against women teachers—or rather, they distort the Greek understand it to mean no women preachers. In other words, they allow for women teachers, but prohibit women pastors and preachers. There are countless other examples of admonitions found in Scripture that that we glibly read over with no concern for making them normative

Nonetheless, there is more that must be said about 1 Timothy 2.12-14, which is the primary Scripture appealed to by churches and individuals against preaching, teaching, and pastoring women. A Wesleyan approach to this issue first examines 1 Timothy 2.12-14 in its original language as Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger have done.[10] Following the Greek closely, they translate this passage: “I do not allow a woman to teach[11] that she was the author or originator of man,[12] but she is to be in conformity[13] with the Scriptures. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. …” The Kroegers proceed to point out that this passage could be directed against a proto-Gnostic mythology glorifying Eve as the enlightener and savior who preceded man in creation and led him to knowledge of the high God through eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The man had been deceived into thinking he was made before Eve; it is this mythology the writer of 1 Timothy 2 attempted to refute.

A Wesleyan approach summons reason to ask, when examining 1 Tim. 2.12-15:  “Does Genesis 2 teach woman should not teach because man was created before woman, or is the author countering this theme embedded in demi-urgical creation myths, that woman was created before man and enlightened him with knowledge of the high God through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?”[14]  Clearly, in spite of a tradition of interpretation otherwise, the point of the Genesis 2 narrative is not who came first, or which is inferior, but that it is not good for humans to be alone, that God turned what was one and alone into two who became joyfully together, united in unashamed intimacy. One became two to solve the loneliness problem, then the two become one again and the first marriage was created.

Reason demands that we proceed to examine 1 Tim 2.15, which is normally translated: “But she will be saved through the childbearing, if they remain in faith and love and sanctification with good moral judgment.” The antecedent for ‘she’ is the prototypical woman of verse 14, who was deceived—unlike the enlightened, original woman of the Nag Hammadi documents. Woman will be saved in the situation of bearing children—in spite of the warnings against marriage and childbirth by the false teachers who forbad marriage and childbirth (1 Tim 4.3, 5.14). The Kroegers, in writing I Suffer Not a Woman . . . , are right when they say that this means that bearing children precludes no one from salvation. This directly relates to the corollary admonition for young widows to marry and have children (1 Tim 5.14-15).

Reason, experience, and tradition all affirm that no one in the Pauline tradition would assert that women are saved by means of motherhood—salvation is by the grace and faithfulness of Christ. Women could certainly obtain salvation even though they are mothers. Women don’t have to be celibate and childless in order to attain to salvation, as the false teachers were claiming. Salvation is for everyone, child bearer or not, who continues in faith, love, holiness, and good sense.[15]

Let us turn now to John Wesley’s belief and practice in regards to women preachers. Wesley was a realist, a pragmatist, and a reasonable man whose opinions evolved over time and influenced his practice as he responded to his world and to the needs and gifts of those in his large parish.

John Wesley and Women Pastors

Initially Wesley denounced the Quaker practice of allowing women to preach to a church assembly, but in his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, he qualified the 1 Corinthian admonition that women be quiet by saying: “unless thy are under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit.” He observed the effectiveness of women speaking in the cells and he had to wrestle with the difference between women “exhorting” or “testifying” and “preaching.”

Wesley was a reformer in regard to women in ministry. His assumption was that Paul forbade women preaching, but his experience demonstrated that women were some of the best preachers and pastors. He noticed that Paul’s experience included women praying and prophesying in the church. Thus, at first Wesley encouraged women touched by God to “testify” and avoided the word “preach.” Later he claimed the movement of God of his day was an extraordinary situation similar to the Acts 2 narrative where God was clearly no respecter of persons in pouring out the Spirit. He began encouraging women to preach in society meetings. At the end of his life, when he finally began to ordain ministers, he ordained two women. Sarah Mallet was an effective Methodist preacher whom Wesley advised as was Sarah Crosby who was a tireless itinerant preacher. Their success was aided by the backing and support of Wesley who believed that opposition to women in ministry decreased in his later years. But after he died opportunities for women to minister publicly quickly declined.[16]

It is ironic that the Free Methodist church has so few women pastors given that her founder, B. T. Roberts, argued for women ministers and wrote the compelling treatise, “Ordaining Women,” 101 years ago. This document should be shared in its entirety with our churches, especially where the Bible has been used to thwart the present call of God on women. I will express only a few high points of his argument here, and urge any reader to purchase the book through Light and Life Communications.[17]

Addressing 1 Cor. 14.35-36, Roberts said:

There was disorder and confusion in the Corinthian church, all wishing to speak at once, to advance different views. Corinthian women were perhaps recent converts from heathenism, ignorant, incompetent. The text says women should learn in quietness not silence and doesn’t apply to preaching at all, only to learning and the manner of learning. Paul rebuked these women not in their effort to preach, but in their effort to learn. This is a remedy for a specific difficulty, and to construe it against public efforts of competent and orderly female teachers… in the face of all the unanswerable proof that females did teach under divine sanction is doing violence to the word of God.

Roberts points out that all through out the epistles we have evidence that women did pray and prophesy (i.e. preach) and teach in the earliest churches (1 Cor. 6. 5, 6, 13, 14, 15; 11. 6; Phil 4.3, Ro 16 passim [Junia was an female apostle v 7], 2 Pet 3.15). Stating that the situation discussed in 1 Timothy 2.11-15 is similar to Corinthian situation where the church is composed of converts from heathenism, affirms:

When a woman is properly authorized to teach, she does not usurp authority. The authority duly given her, she has the right to exercise in a proper manner and within the proper limits. If woman, in using her voice, in praising God, or declaring His truth, in your churches, is a transgressor, then silence her at whatever cost; if she is doing right then remove all shackles and give her the liberty of the Gospel. These are the only passages of the kind in the Bible. If a denomination applied these literally they would not allow singing, praying, testifying, teaching, or writing religious books.

Citing a letter by governor Pliny to the Roman Emperor, Trajan, dated about the year 107 C.E., which refers to the torture of two young women ministers of the Christian church, Roberts protests: “Women, it seems could be ministers of the church at this early age, while it was poor and persecuted, but afterwards, when it became rich and popular, they were set aside.”

He answers an objection often raised against women ministers: “If women are to preach, why did [Christ] not choose a woman among the 12? We ask, if gentiles are to preach, why did he not choose a gentile among the 12?”  After showing how woman’s condition has been one of slavery in most were cultures, Roberts says: “Though Christianity has greatly ameliorated the condition of women, it has not secured for her, even in the most enlightened nations, that equality which the Gospel inculcates.” Using the example of the enslavement of Africans which was SUPPORTED by many churches until finally made illegal, Roberts says: Roberts goes on to ask the world of his day:

If those … who expressed the prevailing sentiment of their day were so greatly mistaken on a subject which we now think so plain that it does not admit of dispute, that every man has a right to freedom, is it not possible that the current sentiment as to the position which WOMAN should be permitted to occupy in the Church of Christ may also be wrong?”

Roberts noted that Wesley didn’t regard ordination as bestowing on the ordinand a Christian, much less an angelic or godlike character. Ordination was necessary to prevent improper persons from thrusting themselves into ministry, and thus bringing the Gospel into contempt. The following are direct quotes from Robert’s treatise.

Why then we repeat does not Christianity root out all false religions? And why does it not have a more marked effect upon the lives of those who acknowledge its truth? There must be a cause. The reason is that the vast majority of those who embrace the Gospel are not permitted to labor according to their ability, for the spread  of the Gospel. . .. It is said that about two thirds of all the members of all the Protestant churches of this country are women. Yet in these churches a woman, no matter what may be her qualification, and devotion, and zeal, is not permitted to occupy the same position as a man. The superior must, sometimes, give place to the inferior. The bungler must give directions, the adept must obey.  The incompetent coward must command. A Deborah may arise, but the churches, by their laws prohibit her from coming to the front.  And these laws must be enforced though all others are disregarded.  She suffers in consequence, but the cause of God suffers most. It is impossible to estimate the extent to which humanity has suffered by the unreasonable and unscriptural restriction which have been put upon women in the churches of Jesus Christ. Had they been given, since the days of the first Apostles, the same rights as men, this would be quite another world. Not only would the Gospel have been more generally diffused among mankind, but its influence, where its truth is acknowledged, would have been incomprehensibly greater. Our so-called Christian nations would have been more in harmony with the teachings of Christ, in their laws, their institutions and their practices. The great Command of Christ requires that they who make converts should be invested w/ authority to administer the sacrament of baptism. Woman must either be permitted to baptize, or she must not be permitted to make converts. . ..Men had better busy themselves in building up the temple of God, instead of employing their time in pushing from the scaffold their sisters, who are both able and willing to work w/ them side by side. Reason and grace should serve to overcome prejudice. Christian men and women should not wait until a righteous cause is popular before they give it their influence. Those who do, are simply following fashion, while they may think they are following the Lord. It is not enough to say the right will ultimately triumph; if we claim to be righteous we should help make the right triumph.

Finally Roberts cites Gal. 3.28: “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.”

We must understand Gal. 3.28 to teach, as it actually does, the perfect equality of all, under the Gospel, in rights and privileges, w/out respect to nationality, condition, or sex. It cannot apply only to salvation or the female would not have been mentioned, for all regarded women as included in the general provisions of salvation of humankind, though all (like Peter) did not regard Greeks and slaves in these provisions from the outset.

On the subject of Galatians 3.28 a sermon by Rev. Luther Lee preached at ordination of Miss Antoinette Brown 9-15-1853 in NY is also enlightening.

I cannot see how text can be explained so as to exclude females from any right, office, work, privilege, or immunity which males enjoy, hold or perform. If the text means anything, it means that males and females are equal in rights, privileges, and responsibilities on the Christian platform. If I deny her the right to exercise her gifts as a Christian minister, I virtually affirm that there is male and female, and that we are not all one in Christ Jesus, by which I shall contradict St. Paul…” If males may belong to a Christian church, so may females; if male members may vote in the church, so may females. If males may preach the gospel, so may females; and if males may receive ordination by the imposition of hands, so may females. The reason being Gal. 3.28.

To conclude this article I concur with the conclusion reached by B.T. Roberts who said: “Then we conclude that there is nothing in the creation of woman or in her condition under the law which proves that no woman should be ordained as a minister of the Gospel.”

I say if women may be ordained they must be given churches or their ordination, their call, their training, their gifts mean nothing; and we work against God instead of cooperating. To break the barriers our churches must be trained and educated and it is the responsibility of all of us in leadership to do this.

Expositions and arguments are persuasive for many, but personal experience is far more effective with the general church population. We can have the greatest impact on our world and encourage women and men called into ministry if we educate our congregations regarding the ordination and location of women pastors and give them women pastors.

 

[1] Matt 27.55, Mark 7.24-30, 15.40-41, Luke 3.1-3, 23.49, John 4 and 20.

[2] E.g., Acts 16.1-15: Lydia: head of household and head of church. 1 Cor. 11.4-6: women prophesying. Romans 16: Phoebe, a deacon at Cenchreae carries a letter to Rome. Prisca, responsible with Aquila for Gentile mission and correcting Apollos, a teacher might in the Scriptures (Acts 18), supports a congregation in her home, Mary works among the Romans, Tryphanena, Tryphosa, Pirsis (coworkers for the gospel), Julia mother of Rufus, and Junia “foremost among the apostles.” Philippians 4.2: Euodia and Syntyche. Thecla, a story of a celibate woman, seems to have drawn a fierce reaction against church from outsiders. Though fictional it shows women were drawn to chastity and freedom gospel offered.

[3] In antiquity, people thought of men and women as different, not in kind, but in DEGREE. The male was the more fully developed human; the female was the less developed human. Women were born on their way to becoming men, thus they were imperfectly—only partially formed in the womb. Their lungs had not fully developed and their penises had not yet formed. What’s more, their development, unlike that of adolescent boys, would NEVER be complete. Men were made to be penetrators and women penetrated; therefore this was additional proof of women’s lower status and men’s right to dominate. Thus, by their very nature, women were WEAKER VESSELS. See Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 341-350.

[4] It is very important that the reader refer to the passages under discussion to follow my argument.

[5] See Gilbert. Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985).

[6] The Greek term laleo usually translated “speak” means “converse.” There are numerous Greek words for speak, but only laleo means converse. See further, John Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women. New York: Harper and Row, 1988, 63-65; 49—66 for further discussion.

[7] In fact, the Christian church came under severe fire for the responsibilities women shouldered; see Against Celcius.

[8] The earliest blaming of the woman for the humans’ disobedience in the Garden and extrapolating this to women in general is found in Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 25.24 (second century B.C.E.). To trace interpretations in this regard, see Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender, ed. Kristen Kvam, Linda Schearing, and Valarie Ziegler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).

[9] 1 Tim 1.3-7, 4.1-5, 7; 6.3-5.

[10]  I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Tim. 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, by Catherine and Richard Kroeger, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, especially chapter 16 and pp 171-177.

[11] Didaskein elsewhere refers to the content of teaching, never the activity of teaching.

[12] Authentein, usually translated “have authority over” means to dominate or to claim authorship and ownership. Kroeger shows that authentein was also used in the first century to mean murder or simulated murders in religious rituals (185).

[13] Hesuchia, usually translated as “be silent” means harmony or conformity. The next reference is to Genesis 2.

[14] A “demi-urge” is an evil “god” found in numerous documents in the Nag Hammadi library. Often associated with “Gnosticism,” these documents vary widely, except that most refer to the demi-urge as the creator of humanity and the material universe. This demi-urge was himself a mistake, misbegotten, and produced the decaying world, as well as mortal humanity, which, with each generation, founders farther away from the high god of enlightenment. See Michael A. Williams, Rethinking Gnosticism  An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Antifeminist prejudice hardened in the decades following Wesley’s death and nineteenth century Methodism was far less liberal on this matter than Wesley had been.” See Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987), 240.

[17] Original Printing, 1891; reproduction, 1992, second printing 2003, (Indianapolis: Light and Life Communications. I am using the oldest version whose page numbers do not align with the recent publications. I am combining quotes from different pages that treat the same passage. Please refer to the book.

A Pastoral Letter from the Board of Bishops – FMCUSA Regarding the Equality Act.

A Pastoral Letter from the Board of Bishops – FMCUSA regarding the Equality Act.

The Board of Bishops continues to call the church to the values of the Free Methodist Way, including God-Given Revelation. We are committed to the Word of God and, like our founders, believe God calls us to articulate biblical mandates prophetically. In keeping with our forebears’ example of guidance on moral issues, we stand in strong opposition to the so-called “Equality Act” recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. While we agree that the civil rights of all U.S. citizens must be protected, this act violates the constitutional rights of religious persons and institutions to freely live and legally operate in accordance with their deeply-held religious convictions. For further explanation, we endorse the excellent statement recently released by Dr. Brent Ellis, President of Spring Arbor University, attached here.

As President Ellis writes in his last sentence, “A true ‘Equality Act’ would find a way to provide civil rights protection for the SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) population without incriminating institutions and persons of faith.” Please be in prayer for our legislators to protect freedom of religion in our nation. Pray for our nation and for your church in these challenging days.

View the PDF of Dr. Ellis’ statement here: https://fmcusa.org/…/The-In-Equality-Act-SLFinal.pdf 

Additions to The Pastoral Letter from the Board of Bishops – FMCUSA

Friends in Christ,

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) has watchfully followed The Equality Act for at least two years and has been working with legislators to craft an alternate bill called Fairness For All. The implications of The Equality Act for our universities and indeed our churches are real. We realize that our members follow diverse news sources and draw their own conclusions. We continue to seek to learn more about the best way forward, as Christian organizations and legislators from both parties are working across the aisle on this matter.

The Free Methodist Church is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “Founded in 1942, the NAE seeks to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians in the United States. It represents more than 45,000 local churches from 40 different denominations and serves a constituency of millions. NAE has been a longtime advocate for the religious freedom for people of all faiths and none, and seeks continued protection for all people of goodwill to live in accordance with their genuinely and deeply held convictions.”

A link to the NAE statement about the Equality Act is posted below.

From the onset of articulating The Free Methodist Way, we have lived in the tension that our biblical commitments on a variety of issues do not line up with any political party and all five of the values must be held together as a whole. Love-Driven Justice is indeed a biblical value; so is God-Given Revelation. We cannot sacrifice one for the other. Let’s keep listening to one another as we engage in respectful discourse and seek the Lord together for wisdom and discernment.

As always, we call the church to fervent prayer.

For further information, see these two resources:

https://www.nae.net/equality-act-religious-freedom…

https://www.cccu.org/news-updates/fairness-for-all

 

 

A Biblical Case for Women in Ministry Leadership

Is it biblical for women to be in leadership in the church?  My answer, the FMC answer, is a resounding “Yes!”

In this session I want to note the biblical warrants for this “Yes!”  First let me offer several orienting comments for understanding/applying the Bible, then note the flow of the Bible’s story; and then mostly tell you how I understand the two difficult passages that seem to prohibit women leaders.

 

ORIENTING COMMENTS (HERMENEUTICS)

“Hermeneutics” is the art and science of proper interpretation.  What is the appropriate way to understand a text of the Bible (or any document)?

Here is a foundation principle.  You must understand the Bible on its own terms.  A cookbook is different than a novel.  You read and benefit from each according to the kind of book each one is.  So, what kind of book is the Bible?  A Huge Question.

A big book.  In two parts: OT and NT; First covenant and Final covenant.  Each part should be read in light of the other.

The Bible is a huge story.  Gen—Rev. So, one should interpret one part of story in light of the other.  If it is a story, the way the story unfolds is important to observe.  If it moves from promise to fulfillment; from problem to solution; and if it unfolds to a climax in the person of Jesus, interpreting a passage in one part must keep all of these things in mind.

E.g., passage that describes the problem—say, what is wrong with world? must be read differently than a passage that describes the solution—how has God responded?

You cannot understand a passage on the problem without reference to the solution, and cannot understand passage on solution without reference to what the problem is.

If the story unfolds, progressively or purposefully in some way, you must take that into account when reading any part of the story.

Which brings us to note how the story unfolds in general terms.

 

THE FLOW OF THE BIBLE’S STORY

If one reads Genesis 1—2, and didn’t know anything went wrong, you would never wonder whether women could lead.

If you read Gen. 1—2 and then Rev. 21-22, you would know something dreadful went wrong in between.  But, again, you wouldn’t question that women could lead.

The limitation and frustration of both men and women come from the fall, from what went so dreadfully wrong.

Then, if Jesus—his ministry, cross and resurrection, and the kingdom he proclaimed and introduced into the world—provides remedy for all that is wrong, then we should expect a relational reality that reflects and fulfills Gen. 1—2 again.

The flow of the biblical story in its entirety does not disappoint this expectation!  There is no time to elaborate this here except to say: Given hints we find all throughout the middle parts (in Old and New Testaments), the way Jesus valued women, and what women did in the early church, I conclude: Whatever Paul meant in I Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2, should not nullify the clear indications from elsewhere in Scripture and the entire flow of the story.

But some are troubled when I draw this conclusion.  They ask: “If Paul clearly says women shouldn’t teach or exercise authority over a man, shouldn’t the church follow that rule?”  That is precisely the question that we must do our best to answer.

 

TWO DIFFICULT PASSAGES

There are these two passages that seem to suggest such things, but I maintain that there are reasons to question this.   Let me begin by stressing that the question, “what does scripture clearly teach?” is the all-important question but it is not as simple a question as it appears.

Paul tells the Galatians:

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(Gal 3:28 TNIV)

In the larger context, Paul is drawing out the implications of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith.  He clearly states that all who are in Christ become children of God, clothed with Christ, and as a consequence there is neither Jew nor …, neither slave nor … neither male nor female, for (this is the reason) you are all one in Christ.

Note, Paul speaks of all three sets of social pairs (ethnic, class, gender) in the same way.  He is not suggesting that we lose ethnic identity or that slaves are automatically free, or that there are no differences between male and female.  Yet, he is contending: being in Christ means that such social categories no longer determine who we are and how we live, as they did in Paul’s world.

In the first century there were definite limitations placed on people according to ethnicity, class, and sex.  But if there is neither male nor female, then being male or female does not limit whether a male or female may belong to the family of God; nor does it limit how male or female may participate in the church of Jesus.  Therefore, on the basis of this text, this scripture passage, we must conclude that being male or female does not determine either membership or ministry.

Our friends who disagree, commonly say that male and female are equal in value, but different in role.  But Paul does not say that here, and implies just the opposite.  We wouldn’t say that Jews and gentiles are both equally valuable but only Jews really are qualified to lead in the church.  We wouldn’t say that about persons ethnically different, and we shouldn’t say that about men and women on the basis of this text.

To be sure, the passage in 1 Corinthians 14 seems to say something different, as does 1 Timothy 2.  But on what basis do we conclude that in light of 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, Galatians 3:28 in its context (“no male or female in Christ”) must somehow mean something different than it clearly says?  Why wouldn’t it be the other way around, especially when we see there are some things in the 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 texts that are strange or mystifying?

What makes people almost automatically assume that 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 “trump” the teaching of Galatians 3:28?  Some might say, it doesn’t seem right, feel right, and therefore simply is not right for women to lead.  But that is not the Bible speaking; that is something else.

So what about those two texts.  Shouldn’t we follow what Paul clearly teaches?  I would say absolutely, but I do not believe these texts offer clear teaching, certainly not as clear as Galatians 3:28 (in the context of the whole of Galatian letter) does.  Why do I say this?  Well, let’s look at those texts.

 

1 Corinthians 14

31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.

32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace–as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

37 If any think they are prophets or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.

38 Those who ignore this will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1Co 14:31-40 TNIV)

In 1 Corinthians Paul is responding to several issues and questions that he has heard about or has been asked regarding the Corinthian House Churches (see 7:1, concerning the things you wrote about, 7:25; 8:1; 12:1).

Chapter 14 is part of Paul’s response to questions about worship, specifically the use of gifts of tongues and prophesy during worship gatherings.  Clearly, there is disorder and strife in the church and in its worship.

Note in this passage: in v. 31 we find mention prophesying, as also in v. 32.  In v. 37 and v. 39, again, Paul refers to prophets and prophecy.  And, in v. 33 and v. 40 Paul stresses God’s desire for there to be order and peace in the worship and among those who participate.  In other words, the context reveals chaotic worship practices relating to the use of tongues, whether unknown or in the form of prophetic utterance.

In this context, Paul says (v. 34), “Women should remain silent in the churches.”  That is the Today’s NIV version.  Literally, the Greek reads, “The Women are to be silent …”

Now, when the definite article “the” is used in Greek grammar it normally means that the noun “women” is either definite, referring to specific women in question, or generic, referring to women in general.  Many translators, including the TNIV which I quote above, translate it as though it is “generic,” that is, women in general or women as a class.  But a number of others include the article, “the women” (ASV, NAS, RSV—though not the NRSV, NET, ESV, CEV, among others).

How do you decide which is the best understanding?  The context is the primary determiner.  This verse either says women in general should remain silent; they are not to speak.  Or it says, the women, that is, certain ones whom you know very well, should remain silent and are not to speak.  I would argue that it is the latter.  Here is why.

Paul has already stressed that, in fact, women in general do not and should not remain silent.  He has instructed that when women pray or prophesy they must have a covering on their heads (See 11:5, 13).   The same language used in chapter 14 for prophesying is used in chapter 11.  Paul does not say they should not prophesy, he says it would be shameful for them to do so without a covering.  The same for when women pray, they must have a covering on their heads.

Read chapter 11 and you will see that it has its own share of mystifying and befuddling elements, but not at this point.  Paul clearly refers to women in worship praying (and it would be out loud, which was the custom in the ancient world) and prophesying.  That is, in chapter 11 Paul says women do speak, and it is fine when done appropriately, and in chapter 14 he seems to say just the opposite.

But he doesn’t say just the opposite if he is referring to a certain group of women, “the women” who in Corinth were misbehaving.  Since Paul is responding to questions which the church has asked, it would not be necessary for him to give more details.

This way of understanding makes good sense of what Paul then says.  They should be quiet, and if they have questions, let them ask their husbands when they are home.  In other words, they are disruptive and unruly and out of order, perhaps especially when others are giving prophetic words to the Body.

Paul goes on to say they should stop, and be silent.  It is shameful, in fact, for such a woman to “speak” in the church gathering.  The word “speak” is the common word for talking, not for teaching or other forms of utterance.  Which makes good sense if Paul is referring to some women who disrupt by talking and asking questions or otherwise commenting during the worship times.

This does not answer every question, but it does suggest a way for what Paul says here to be understood in its context without contradicting what he clearly says earlier in the same letter where he is assuming that women do not remain silent in the church.

Here is a final observation about this.  Most who disagree with my interpretation do not really obey what they understand to be Paul’s “clear teaching” here.  Not at all.  Paul says “(the) women should remain silent; it is not right for them to speak in church, wait until they are in their own homes.”  It doesn’t say—hereanything about women preachers or leaders, it says women should be silent period.  No one I know really accepts it as such and no church I know really practices it.  But that, in fact, is what Paul seems to say, the view I am arguing against.  The women should not talk—period.  Let them be silent.  This would not allow women to teach other women in church, or children in church, or even simply to talk about the weather or anything.

The way our friends who disagree handle this is to insist from 1 Corinthians 14 that women should be silent, and then soften or qualify it by referring to 1 Timothy 2, which I will comment on below.  But before I do, let me ask again: if you are not going to let 1 Corinthians14 stand absolutely and conclude that women should just be silent, period, but qualify it by something else Paul wrote, why not qualify it by what he wrote in Galatians 3:28?  Thus, you say, on the basis of Galatians 3:28, in general we expect some women in Christ to be called to do whatever some men are called to do (no male or female), but apparently there are some women who should keep their mouths shut … ?   Why should the only legitimate way of qualifying Paul’s absolute statement of 1 Corinthians 14 be that women must be silent as found in 1 Timothy 2?

 

1 Timothy 2

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

15 But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.  (1Ti 2:8-1 TNIV)

Again I have quoted the TNIV along with verses that come before and also after the verses in question, for better context.

Once again it is important to note the context that Timothy is facing as he pastors in Ephesus.  There are controversies, arguments, and wrong teaching going on and especially in relation to the law.  Paul tells him to have nothing to do with endless speculations and arguments over difficult passages which just cause division and distract from sound teaching.  Then, he reminds Timothy that the law was given in view of behavior and lifestyle that is contrary to God’s will, not to establish credibility or standing in relation to God or other people.  The goal of it all, he says, is love flowing from pure hearts, a good conscience, and genuine faith, which some in the church have forgotten by using the law in ways it was never meant to be used.  They have been and are in grave danger (see 1: 3-11).   One final note.  Chapter 2 begins with a call to pray for all in authority so that the church might live a tranquil and quiet life in godliness and dignity, for the sake of the mission to bring salvation to all people (see 2:1-6).

In this context, when Paul repeats the call for silence for “a woman” who should learn in silence (same word) and complete submission, we should view this as a particular application of the calling Paul has just given to the whole church.  It is not that Paul all of a sudden calls women to be quiet but that he calls women to this quietness in terms appropriate for some particular situation.  Read on.

Paul says that a women should learn, but in quietness and submission (2:11).  In Paul’s world that was not common and would be unexpected, reflecting a different way of viewing women in general than the surrounding culture did.

In this context Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach” (v. 12).  But is that really true absolutely and is that the best way to understand this assertion?  When women prophesy, as in 1 Corinthians 11, are they not giving words that are instructive to all who hear them?  In Acts when Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately (see 18:26) there is no indication that Priscilla wasn’t at least part of the teaching team with her husband.   Many scholars suggest that Luke’s habit of listing Priscilla first when he mentions them reflects that she was more the leader than he, because normally the man would always be listed first.

In Acts 16 when Lydia is the first convert in Philippi and the new church is hosted in her home, certainly she would have some legitimate occasion for teaching.  And when Paul lists women who are his fellow servants, ministers and even apostles, as he does in his other epistles, surely it is reasonable to think that they would be among the teachers in the church.  We have good reason to question whether he is really asserting that he does not allow women to teach, as it is often understood.

Then Paul adds something that suggests another way to understand him.  He says he does not allow women to “assume authority over a man; she must be quiet,” (v. 12).  The world translated “assume authority” is very rare and it means to dominate or lord it over.  There are other ways of designating and describing the exercise of authority and those words are very common.  Here however you have this word chosen by Paul.  I conclude that these are likely gentile women, converted and set free in Jesus, presuming to tell the men and other believing women what to do, thus dominating and disrupting.  And they needed correction.  Such women were not qualified to teach or to exercise any authority, not over men (which would be especially shocking and off-putting to the pagan culture) or women.

Add to this another fact.  These women were likely deceived and unreliable without knowing it. Paul described them at the beginning of this letter:

6 Some have wandered away from those teachings. They would rather talk about things that have no meaning.

7 They want to be teachers of the law. And they are very sure about that law. But they don’t know what they are talking about. (1 Tim. 1:6-7 NIRV)

This helps explain why Paul then refers to the Genesis account of the creation, the temptation, and the trespass of Eve, and then Adam which Paul strangely omits (vv. 13-16).  He notes it was Eve who was beguiled and deceived and in turn offered the fruit to Adam.   (We might observe however that if the woman was deceived, the man was simply defiant or careless.  The Genesis text says, 3:6, she ate it and then gave some to her husband who was with her!).  And when Paul says this about Eve, he is not blaming the women and suggesting she was more prone to deception than the man.  Rather, Paul is citing the text of Genesis 3:13, where Eve explains what happened by saying the serpent deceived her.

Paul refers to what Eve says in this text about being deceived because somehow the women Paul refers to are prone to error or are likewise being deceived.   This is not the way Paul usually talks about this sad episode.  Normally, when talking about the fall of humans into sin, Paul cites Adam.  See Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.  This is the only place where Paul makes Eve the central character, assigning blame.  Why does he do this?  The best answer is:  he saw such a reference as helpful in dealing with a particular situation Timothy was facing in the church.

Then, he adds that though the woman was deceived she can be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith etc.  This too follows the Genesis story which spells out the consequences of sin for Eve in terms of pain in childbirth.  Paul is speaking on several levels here.   Women (and men too) will be saved through childbearing in at least two ways.  In the Genesis story Eve’s and Adam’s posterity and future are saved through bearing children, the human race continues; then, in the ultimate story, everyone is saved through a woman bearing the Child who is Messiah and Savior.  In both cases, women and men are necessary if there will be salvation, and in both cases they/we are saved by faith.

Let me note two other things arguing against understanding that Paul is giving an absolute command against women teaching, ministering, leading in the church.  In this same passage Paul instructs, or commands, that when men pray they should lift up holy hands (v. 8).  But no one I know seriously regards this as mandatory.

Likewise, and maybe more to the point, Paul commands certain styles of dress, jewelry, and hair for godly women.  Hardly anyone takes this seriously anymore.  Few would call it a sin to wear socially appropriate clothing and jewelry, within reason.

FM people once did insist on such an understanding, but we now see otherwise and lament the legalism of the past that often threatened the spiritual vitality of the church.  Yet, these commands about dress and hair are in the very same passage as those concerning women’s roles and activities.  Few object to understanding one set of commands as context specific.  But, in the case of women’s roles, it is a different story.

On one hand, hardly no one insists women dress to Paul’s commands, but on the other many insist on taking the limitations on women’s roles in church as universal and binding even though clearly Paul himself and the early church, not to mention Jesus, did not.  On what legitimate basis can you pick and choose in this manner?

The 1 Timothy passage, more than that of 1 Corinthians 14, is difficult, and arriving at a confident or assured answer to all the questions may not be possible.  But remember what Peter said about some things Paul wrote.  They are hard to understand (see 2 Peter 3:16)!   Even in the first century some things were not clear to sincere followers of Jesus and there were those who were confused.

Thus, we are not alone in finding some of what Paul wrote hard to understand.  I would argue that these two passages are “difficult,” especially in light of other things Paul says that seem quite clear.

I have had people tell me they just cannot “get past” what Paul says in these two passages.  For my part, and the understanding of the FMC, we cannot get past what the whole story seems to suggest, namely, that the limitations on women in human history are mostly the result of sin and its brokenness, that in the beginning God created the man and women as co-stewards and co-trustees of the world he created,

that sin messed up these and all other relationships resulting in horrendous woe and evil—not least on women at the hands of men who lord it over and abuse them, and that redemption in Christ Jesus undoes this sin and its damage.

We are a new kind of humanity in Christ that approaches by grace the restoration of what God intended in the beginning.  We see signs of this undoing in the several notable women who appear in Israel’s story, in the ministry of Jesus, in the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit would fall upon and fill both men and women and both would prophesy, and so they both did in the life of the early church.

If we understand the big picture of this great salvation that God is working out, we cannot rewrite the story or dismiss it on the basis of two “difficult” passages from Paul, that are “difficult” even and especially compared with other things that Paul himself says.

David W. Kendall

 

Women in Ministry

The General Conference of 1974 passed a resolution “giving women equal status with men in the ministry of the church” (General Conference Minutes, p. 388).  According to the General Conference report in the Light & Life magazine, the vote was unanimous.  That vote, in the minds of many, settled the issue and they turned their attention to other concerns.

During the intervening twenty years, the denomination’s position has not changed.  However, outside the denomination, the voices opposing women in ministry and limiting the leadership roles of women in the local church have become more assertive.  Some of those voices are respected evangelical leaders (e.g., refer to J.I. Packer below) who seem to be ignorant of Wesleyan/holiness church history, inferring that anyone who differs from them is playing fast and loose with Scripture.  This is confusing to many.

On the other hand, within the denomination there is growing concern over the fact that, though women officially have access to full ordination and any role in the church, few women are in leadership positions.  At a time when women are entering formerly male-dominated professions in increasing numbers and providing community leadership, the percentage of women among Free Methodist pastors, especially senior pastors, and in church and conference leadership roles, is not growing as would be expected.

Given these concerns, the Study Commission on Doctrine believes it is time to articulate anew the church’s position on women in ministry.  In the following pages we will examine the historical support for ordaining women, the appropriate principles of biblical interpretation, and the Scriptural bases for releasing the daughters of God in leadership and ministry.

Our History                                                                        

Writing in Christianity Today, J. I. Packer claimed that the call for the ordination of women is a modern concern resulting in part from social changes since World War I.  He also stated that “Bible-based evangelical communities of all denominational stripes within Protestantism, agree in opposing this trend” (Packer, p. 18).  Packer apparently has no awareness of Wesleyan/Holiness history or the status of women within Wesleyan/holiness denominations.  The Salvation Army, the Anderson Church of God, and the Church of the Nazarene, all founded in the last decades of the nineteenth century, have ordained women since their beginnings (Dayton, pp. 94, 97-98).

Believing it is God who must place the call on any minister, they have accepted that God could choose to call women as well as men.  Since its founding, women, called and empowered by the Holy Spirit, have ministered in the Free Methodist Church.

As early as 1861, when the church was just one year old, the minutes of the Genesee Convention report the discussion of women preaching (see Richardson, p. 53).  Bishop B. T. Roberts believed strongly in the equality of men and women.  He argued that women should be working shoulder to shoulder with men in building the kingdom of God.  He tried to lead the denomination toward the ordination of women.

The General Conference of 1874 established a class of ministers called Evangelists.  They were persons called of God to preach the Gospel and promote revival but not called to a pastoral charge.  Both “brothers and sisters” could be licensed as Evangelists.  Thus, women were licensed and ministered as lay preachers in the church.

To the General Conference of 1890, “B. T. Roberts offered the following Resolution.  That the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the provision which it makes, and in the agencies which it employs for the salvation of mankind, knows no distinction of nationality, condition [or] sex: therefore, no person who is called of God, and who is duly qualified, should be refused ordination on account of sex, or race or condition” (1890 General Conference Minutes, p. 131).  After much debate, the motion lost by a vote of 37 to 41.  Deeply grieved by this action. Roberts took up his pen.  In 1891 he published On Ordaining Women–Biblical and Historical Insights.  In the preface Roberts states the purpose for his writing:  “that truth may prevail, Christ be glorified, and His Kingdom be advanced on earth” (Roberts, p. 8).  Unfortunately, Roberts died in 1893 without seeing women fully released to build the Kingdom of God through the Free Methodist Church.

Although the 1890 General Conference refused to grant ordination to women, a step of progress was made for women.  The Free Methodist (the denominational magazine) for October 22, 1890 reported, “Two of the lay delegates having seats in the General Conference [sic] are ladies….Both are doing some committee work.  Most of our readers will be glad to know that the question of admitting ladies as lay delegates did not in the least disrupt the equanimity of the conference.”  Throughout its history, the Free Methodist church has not officially limited the role of women in the church except in the case of ordination.

The General Conference of 1894 again addressed the place of women in ministry.  It added a paragraph to the section on Evangelists.  “When women have been licensed by the Annual Conference, and have served two successive years under appointment as pastors, they may…have a voice and vote in the Annual Conference; and in the transaction of Conference business they shall be counted with the preachers” (see Hogue, Vol. 1, p. 218).  Though Evangelists were supposed to be lay, non-pastoral preachers, the church acknowledged that women Evangelists were pastoring.

Ordination was finally granted to women by the 1911 General Conference.  But it was a limited ordination.  They could be ordained Deacon, “provided always that this ordination of women shall not be considered a step toward ordination as Elder” (Hogue, Vol. 1, p. 218).  Women could preach and pastor, but they were barred from senior leadership in the church until 1974.

In the Foreword to the 1992 reproduction of On Ordaining Women, John E. Van Valin says “for the last 132 years, the Free Methodist Church has with honor taken her place among many other groups within the Christian faith who accord to women honor and respect in ministry.  For our church this honor is in part symbolized by…ordination….The reprinting of this centenarian volume signals not so much a new era in the life of the church but a presentation of her cherished heritage.”

Interpreting Scripture                                                                            

In the search for truth, Free Methodists want to know what the Bible says on any issue.  Scripture is the ultimate authority on which we depend.  But Scripture must be interpreted to ascertain God’s message for us.  How one approaches the task of interpretation makes a great deal of difference in the meanings discovered.  Before examining the biblical bases for women in ministry, let us identify the principles which should guide interpretation.

First, Ward Gasque in his article “The Role of Women in the Church, in Society and in the Home” identifies several principles which need to guide our study of biblical texts. First the contextual principle. What is the author discussing in the surrounding verses?  How does the verse under study relate to the theme and logic of the whole passage?  The context provides insight on the meaning.

Second, the linguistic principle.  The Bible was written in Hebrew or Greek.  Translating meaning from language to language is a challenge.  Understanding God’s word for us requires an honest examination of a passage in its original language.  What meanings might words have carried?  Is that meaning accurately and fully translated into the English?  Have translators used different English words for the same Greek or Hebrew word in different passages?  For example, in Romans 16:1 Phoebe is called a “servant.”  The Greek word used here is usually translated “deacon” or “minister” in verses speaking of men.  Why is Phoebe not similarly called a “deacon” or “minister”?

Third, the historical principle.  Without an understanding of the historical setting in which biblical authors were writing, we often miss the revolutionary nature of Scripture in contrast to pagan ways.  Reading Paul’s letters to the churches without knowing the historical setting is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation.  Our interpretation may be distorted if we do not seek to understand the heresies being spread in the early church and the lifestyle issues which infant Christians brought into the church.

Fourth, interpret a particular text within the context of an author’s writing as a whole.  To discern Paul’s views on women, one must wrestle with all that he said on the subject and make sense of the whole.  When there seem to be contradictions, the historical and contextual principles may help unravel the mystery.

Fifth, the principle of the analogy of faith.  Christians assume the consistency of Scripture as a whole.  Any individual text must therefore be interpreted in the light of the whole.  Understanding the flow of Scripture is important in discovering its consistency.  Gilbert Bilezikian in Beyond Sex Roles suggests that creation – fall – redemption summarize the flow of Scripture (Bilezikian, pp. 15ff.).  In Genesis 1 and 2 we find God’s creation design;  Genesis 3 records the fall and the rest of the Old Testament tells of God’s first covenant with fallen human beings.  The New Testament proclaims the story of redemption and the new covenant through which persons can be redeemed and empowered by God’s Spirit to live in accordance with God’s will–the creation design.  When interpreting specific scripture passages it is important to distinguish between the creation design, descriptions of God working patiently with fallen humanity under the first covenant, and God’s vision for those who are redeemed.

It is interesting to note that where persons begin their study of what the Bible has to say about women impacts their final conclusions.  Some begin with statements from Paul and Peter which seem to limit the role of women in the church and make them subservient to men in the home.  They then see the rest of Scripture through these verses.  Others begin with Genesis 1-3 and move on through Scripture.  They are amazed by Jesus’ treatment of women, thrilled by Acts 2:16 and Galatians 3:28.  They celebrate the equality the Bible portrays for women and men.  In the light of the whole, they wrestle with the difficult passages and discover the harmony of these verses when sound interpretive principles are used (see Gasque, p. 1).

The last principle mentioned by Gasque is the history of biblical interpretation.  For centuries Christians used Scripture to prove the rightness of slavery.  Finally, principles similar to those identified above were applied to the verses referring to slaves and nineteenth century evangelical Christians began to call for the abolition of slavery.  Their approach to biblical interpretation also led them to support the ordination of women (see Dayton, p. 90).  It is interesting to note that in the first chapter of On Ordaining Women Roberts states, “If those who stood high as interpreters of Reason and Revelation, and who expressed the prevailing sentiments of their day, were so greatly mistaken on [the slavery issue]…, is it not possible that the current sentiment as to the position which WOMAN should be permitted to occupy in the Church of Christ may also be wrong?” (Roberts, p. 11).  Sound principles of interpretation are needed to clear up misunderstandings and destructive error.

Biblical Support for Women in Ministry   

In recent years, many excellent books have been written to articulate the biblical perspective on the place of women and men in the Church and home.  Many of the insights presented by these modern writers had already been anticipated by Roberts in his brief book.  Since we are here addressing Free Methodists, we will turn first to Roberts for help in seeing what the Bible says about women in ministry and amplify his work with insights from other scholars.  The bibliography at the end of this article provides resources for further study.

Old Testament Insights

Roberts begins his biblical study with Genesis 2:18, “The Lord said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.'”  Some use this verse to prove that women are simply to “help” men, to serve them.  Roberts reads this verse to mean that “woman was created, not as the servant of man, but as his companion, his equal.”  Adam Clarke, he notes, understood the Hebrew to imply “that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority or superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself.”  The word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 appears nineteen times in the Old Testament.  Fifteen times it refers to God helping needy people.  It therefore carries no connotation of inferiority (see Evans, p. 16).

To both man and woman, God gave the order to be fruitful and to take dominion over the world (Genesis 1:28).  There is no hint of woman’s subjection before the fall.  Roberts notes that when Jesus was asked about divorce in Matthew 19:3, he based his response on Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Why did Jesus refer back to the time before the fall?  “To re-enact the law enacted then.  Thus Christ restored the primitive law.  He said nothing about the subjection of women–not one word….Christ came to repair the ruin wrought by the fall” (Roberts, pp. 35-36).  Christ calls redeemed humanity to live out the creation design.

The Old Testament tells of two categories of religious leaders, priests and prophets.  All the Hebrew priests were male.  With the coming of Christ as our great high priest, the order of priests ended.  The prophets are therefore more the Old Testament counterparts of contemporary Christian ministers.  And there were women prophets including Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).  The Scripture presents their stories, making no issue of their gender.  Women judges and prophets are both recognized.

Roberts concludes his review of the Old Testament by stating “there is nothing in the creation of woman or in her condition under the law which proves that no woman should be ordained as a minister of the Gospel” (Roberts, p. 37).

New Testament Insights

Jesus shocked his world by the way in which he treated women.  He respected them, taking time to talk with them (John 4), heal them (Luke 8:48), forgive them (John 8:11), engage them in theological discussion (John 4:19-26; 11:23-27), and welcome them as disciples–i.e., learners (Luke 10:39, 42).  He drew into his teaching parables from their experiences (Luke 15:8-10).  No other rabbi of Jesus’ time did such things.  Jesus’ treatment of women was revolutionary.  He even commanded a woman to be the first witness to the resurrection (John 20:17).  Moreover, Jesus made no statements limiting women in their ministry for him.

But, some may say, the twelve apostles were all men.  Does that not indicate church leaders should be men?  To this objection Roberts responded, “If gentiles are to preach, why did [Jesus] not choose a gentile among the twelve?  Why were the twelve Jews, every one of them?  The example is as binding in the one case as the other” (Roberts, p. 37).

The key  text on women’s ministry for the nineteenth century holiness movement was Acts 2:16-18, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'”  One Methodist woman preacher declared Pentecost as “Woman’s Emancipation Day.”  A new age began with Pentecost, an age in which the Holy Spirit anointed daughters as well as sons to preach and prophesy (Malcolm, pp. 120, 127).

For Roberts Galatians 3:28 was the key verse which settled the question of whether or not women could be ministers, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Some claim that this verse refers only to salvation.  To this objection Roberts replied, “If this verse referred only to salvation by faith, the female would not be specified….In the many offers of salvation made in the New Testament, woman is not specially mentioned….’He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,’ included woman as well as man.  Everyone so understood it….We must understand [Galatians 3:28] to teach, as it actually does, the perfect equality of all, under the Gospel, in rights and privileges, without respect of nationality, or condition, or sex.  If this gives to men of all nations the right to become ministers of the Gospel, it gives women precisely the same right” (Roberts, pp. 37-39).

But, you may be asking, what about the verses that seem to limit women’s involvement in the church?  Are they in conflict with the rest of the Bible, or is there a way of understanding them which is in harmony with the flow of Scripture?  Two such passages are 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul talks about women covering their heads when they pray and prophesy.  Those instructions would not be needed if all “women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34).  Paul’s theme in chapter fourteen is orderly worship.  Verses 26-35 identify three groups of persons who apparently were creating disorder and needed to be silent:  persons speaking in tongues when there was no interpreter (v. 28), those who continued to speak when someone else received a revelation (v. 30), and women who were speaking out during worship (v. 34).  John Bristow notes that the word translated “speak” in verse 34 is laleo which of all the verbs that may be translated “speak” is the only one that can simply mean talk to one another (Bristow, p. 63).  The Corinthian women were told not to interrupt the church service by conversing together; if they had questions about the topic at hand, they should wait and discuss them at home (v. 35).  Probably these women were experiencing new liberties as Christians.  They were not accustomed to being in public gatherings.  Paul is calling, not for the silencing of women preachers, but for the silencing of women who disrupted worship with their conversations and questions, along with the silencing of others whose behavior detracted from worship (see further Evans, pp. 95-108).

We have already noted that Free Methodists historically have not silenced women in the church.  Women have testified, sung, preached and taught in the church.  But for over one hundred years the leadership and authority of women were limited by denying full ordination. One speaker in the 1890 General Conference debate declared, “We would give her the same educational advantages, and the same property rights as man.  We would acknowledge her to be the equal of man in intellect, equal in ability, but not equal in authority (see Gramento, p. 77). 

Persons holding such a view would probably quote 1 Timothy 2:12 as their biblical support, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”  A look at linguistics and the historical context can help shed light on the meaning of this passage.  In verse 12 Paul uses the Greek word authentein for authority, rather than the common word he uses in all such cases.  Authentein carries the idea of autocratic or totally self-directed behavior, of usurping authority or domineering.  Paul forbids women to usurp authority that is not rightly theirs (Evans, p. 103).  The word translated “man” in this verse is the Greek word often translated “husband.”  Some scholars believe verse 12 speaks to husbands and wives as they relate to one another in the worshipping community and not to the role of women in general.

Pastor Timothy was dealing with false teaching in Ephesus.  Paul was concerned that Timothy not allow men or women to teach false doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3).  In the context of this concern, Paul stated that women “should learn in quietness and full submission” (1 Timothy 2:11).  The call for an attitude of quiet submission on the part of the learner probably reflected first century educational ideas rather than limitations prescribed for women.  But the significant point in verse 11 is that Paul wanted women to be learning.  In our day of education for all, we miss the radical nature of Paul’s statement (Evans, p. 102).

At the end of her study on 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Mary Evans concludes, “While the prohibition [to teach and have authority] is not absolute, it remains a prohibition.  No believer, male or female, has an automatic right to teach.  Any, particularly women, who are untaught and easily deceived, must continue to concentrate on learning rather than on usurping an authority which had not been given them” (Evans, p. 106).  When viewed in their literary and historical context with insights from the Greek, these passages do not contradict what we find elsewhere in Scripture.

Conclusion

What does the Free Methodist Church believe the Scriptures teach about the place of women in the Church?  Bishop Roberts summarized those beliefs well:

  • Man and woman were created equal, each possessing the same rights and privileges as the other.
  • At the fall, woman…became subject to her husband.
  • Christ re-enacted the primitive law and restored the original relation of equality of the sexes.
  • The objections to the equality of man and woman in the Christian Church, based upon the Bible, rest upon a wrong translation of    some passages and a misinterpretation of others.
  • We come, then, to this final conclusion: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the provisions which it makes, and in the agencies which it    employs, for the salvation of humankind, knows no distinction of race, condition, or sex (Roberts, pp. 103-104).
  • With these beliefs, women should be encouraged to take their place in all areas of church leadership and ministry.  Jesus calls us all,  women and men, to make disciples and build the kingdom of God.
  •