Women in Christian Traditions: a review

A few years ago, a few local churches had a night of worship together to celebrate our unity in Christ. Each church had musicians as well as shared testimonies. One of our local churches had a young woman share a bit about a missions trip she was on and what God had done in her life. Everyone was in good spirits until she opened her Bible and read Scripture. Our host was a Southern Baptist church that is Complementarian, which believes that Eve (a woman) in Genesis was created to be a helper of Adam (a man) and that there is a creative order which means the man is above the woman. They took passages from Paul’s epistles very literally and did not let women teach men the Bible (or, in their case, even read it out loud in a microphone). While the storm didn’t erupt then, this one church made it very clear to the other that what had happened was not acceptable. While I knew of people who have had this sort of view, I had never heard of this extreme of a stance. Though I grew up in a theologically egalitarian tradition, it didn’t continuously operate like it and often ignored its rich history of female leaders and pastors. I have to admit that I had a bias toward male leaders that, as I grew through my twenties, thankfully shifted to where my wife sometimes refers to me as a feminist.

As my theological position has shifted through my study of Scripture, my knowledge of women throughout Christendom was limited. So, as I have gone back to do graduate work at Acadia Divinity College, I was excited to see that I had the option of choosing a piece of my choice to review for Church History. That is why when I saw that I could select Rebecca Moore’s Women in Christian Traditions. I was excited. This well-written book is easy to read, concise, and accessible, requiring minimal prior knowledge. 

While laying out the importance women have played throughout time within the church, Moore begins by laying theological precedence for female leadership by exploring the first three chapters of Genesis and various feminist critics such as Elizabeth Stanton, Phyllis Trible, and Pamela Norris. She notes that :

“Genesis 1 illustrates what is called sex equality or gender equality, in which men and women exist together in a nonhierarchical affiliation.” While some have “argued that Genesis 2 appears to show sex complementarity” (23).

The latter view props up the picture of the negative light often shaded onto Eve as the bringer of sin, which we read about in Gen. 3. While Moore’s first chapter was enlightening, I do have to say that I felt as though it lacked a theological kick in the pants. I was waiting for a rousing argument that just as it was prophesied in Joel, the death of Christ had reconciled all believers. That the endowment of the Holy Spirit negated any “curse” and that there was total equality across gender, race, ethnicity, or social-economic class. However, I realize this is a history book and not a sermon.

As Moore worked her way through history, she began by laying out the theological historiography of female leadership. From the woman of Jesus (31-35) to Mary, mother of Jesus and Mary Magdala, these women have been celebrated and victimized through the patriarchal leadership of the last two-thousand years. Not to be outdone, the women of the Roman Empire take center stage with Pheobe, Prisca, Lydia, Tabitha, and Junia. Moore demonstrates that if there was a problem with women in church leadership roles, Paul seems to be oblivious to it despite some of the more problematic texts in his letters, which Moore masterfully addresses.

Weaving throughout various periods, Moore exposes some of the trouble with works like this as there was/is suppression of women’s works, histories, and the women themselves. Yet, despite the adversity, women such as Empress Helena, Irene of Athens and Theodora, Maria, Marcina, Hilda, Walburga, and Leoba all made lasting contributions to the Christiandom we know. However, it was also the work behind the scenes where

“[w]omen religious also sewed, elaborately embroidering altar cloths, vestments for priests, and coverings for sacred objects” (75).

While I wish the highlights on each woman weren’t mere snapshots, each one exemplifies that no matter how hard humanity tries to suppress what God is doing, glimpses of light pierce through the veil. It could be their visions, which aided in the humanization of Jesus or the support of their husbands like Katherine von Bora and Katherine Schütz Zell. The historic church has demonstrated that the Spirit of God is active and moving, inching the church forward. Women have played a vital role, from Marguerite of Navarre protecting reformers to Jeanne d’Albert leading in the Protestant church, to Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer’s prophecies.

The section that I was most excited about was the 19th Century, where we see an undeniable outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As a Pentecostal pastor, this is a critical time in my movement, and women played an essential role. Moore starts the chapter with brief exposés on Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk who became the first Native American saint. We see the pain the church has caused as

“[m]issionaries wanted so-called heathens to conform to Western ideas of civilization, which—either tacitly or explicitly stated—required the destruction of Indian civilization” (110).

Next, there is the story of the mother of the great Wesley boys, Susanna Wesley, who, though she died in the 1700s, influenced her son to let women such as Sarah Crosby and a slew that would follow preach. The person to which I was most intrigued and would like to do more reading on is Maria Fearing. Talk about perseverance, Fearing, growing up as an enslaved person and not having formal education followed her calling to go on the mission field. Though she was denied going, the aging woman showed tenacity in following God selling her house, paying her own way, learning the language of the Congolese she served, and creating a home for orphaned and kidnapped girls. 

Bringing us back around to my Pentecostal roots, while describing various “denominations,” Moore places Shakers, Mormons, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventist, and Pentecostals in a section together. As the old children’s song goes, one of these things is not like the other. Whether intentional or not, Moore’s clumping of Pentecostals with the “Cults” is problematic and may have to do with brief mentions of only Lucy Farrow and Aimee Semple McPherson. While Moore readily admits,

“[t]he sight of white men kneeling in church before black women in order to receive the Holy Spirit shattered all sorts of cultural fault lines in the early twentieth century, and Pentecostalism today reflects the economic, racial, and ethnic diversity with which it started” (126).

There was an opportunity to highlight the prominent role of women that enabled the Pentecostal movement to become the second-largest Christian movement behind Catholicism in less than 100 years. This brings us to the second missed opportunity. Though she was a little crazy (although, aren’t we all), Aimee Semple McPherson moved the needle. A missionary, megachurch pastor, preaching to thousands, you might say she was the original celebrity pastor. Her creative messages changed how we preach, and she started the Four Square denomination. Yet there is barely a paragraph.

While ending on the most recent past, Moore draws our eyes to semi-current revolutionaries demonstrating that God is using women to establish the kingdom of God across this world. Whether Religious institutions will recognize them or not, women like Corrie ten Boom, Leymah Gbowee, and Victoria Way DeLee have made differences in people’s lives on a global and local scale.

Though the world and the church within it are far from perfect, Moore helps us see the light that pierces through the canvas we shroud the remarkable women of time with. She gives us hope that what God has done in the past will continue in the future, slowly inching us forward to the ideal God designed for us in Genesis 1. I encourage you to give Moore’s book a gander and allow it to challenge and inform.

Learning to wear my skin

Last night I did something I’ve never done before. It started so innocently. I was watching the Super Bowl in a mixed crowd of couples and singles, men and women from my church. As the crowd dwindled and came to an end, I found myself hanging around after the game watching something I never imagined I would just 24 hours earlier. As the game came to an end, one thing led to another and there, for the first time, I sat with my mom watching the Masked Singer.

I had only ever seen a part of the Asian version of the show, and Ryan Reynolds was dressed as a big fluffy mascot, singing.

As I watched, I was riveted. Mystery, clues, singing, and crazy outfits—how could something this cheesy be so captivating! As one of the characters stepped up to the microphone, they told her story/clues. She spoke of adversity and scandal—of trying to make a name for herself again. Then this costumed character sang exquisitely, afterward sharing that hidden in a ridiculous boxing kangaroo costume seemed to be the only way she felt comfortable to share who she is again.

I thought, how sad.

To be comfortable in our own skin should be a given, but I fear that for most of us, we’re not. Whether introvert or extravert, a 1, 4 or 9 on the Enneagram, or a D, I, S or C, there is an internal struggle to accept and be who we are.

No matter who you are, there are expectations placed upon you. A spouse wants you to be more of what they wish, a parent wants you to follow a particular trajectory when it comes to education and career, or a job expects you to look, live, and speak in a foreign way, continually expectation that we feel we need to live up to—a box we seem to be squeezed into—becomes reality.

As an extraverted introvert, the pressure is real. As one who serves in the public space as a pastor, it’s real. To be comfortable in my skin is a struggle I’ve dealt with my whole life.

Trying to fit in will only work for so long. We have to learn to be comfortable with who we are. We look at our abilities, interests, aptitudes, and we find ourselves in a crowd, viciously trying to stay there. We can also classify others, imprisoning them into the category we’ve created for them in our minds, a life sentence of sorts in the confines of the cell we’ve created, never released unless an appeal is heard and won. We imprison others, and we are imprisoned, sometimes even doing it our self.

While we wrestle with voices from our past and a lack of confidence in ourselves, we try and tackle the question, who are we really? Who are we behind the expectations, interests, social class, possessions, or abilities? To be honest, I find the question extremely hard to answer. What I have found is that it’s the wrong question. It is a great question. However, I believe it is a question we will grapple with for as long as we live. What I have found is that I have found my place in a much richer way in not asking who I am, but whose I am.

In moments of insecurity, I try and keep on the tip of my tongue three crucial scriptures.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14

You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

It reminds me that I was created with intention and purpose and that I have enough value that I can try and fail, search and discover and not worry about what others think, that I don’t have to dress up in the proverbial big fluffy boxing kangaroo costume to be comfortable in my skin. I can trust and know that I have purpose, intention and am loved. I can know that no matter what others think that God ascribes to me great value, so much so that he bought me at a great price. A price so costly that he was willing to give his life and all for you, me, and anybody else in any category they happen to find themselves in. Learning to wear my skin has been a process of learning who gave it to me, learning God’s heart and learning God’s love.

P.S. The kangaroo is SOOOOOO Natalie Imbruglia and the Tiger is Rob Gronkowski.

Photo from: https://www.goldderby.com/article/2020/the-masked-singer-spoilers-who-is-the-kangaroo-natalie-imbruglia/

Hidden Faces — Are you defining yourself by possessions or Christ?

THE FOLLOWING IS A EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK HIDDEN FACES: DISCOVERING OUR TRUE IDENTITY IN CHRIST

If our base of who we are is the view of the Scriptures, we need to begin where it all started. I mean the very beginning: Genesis 1. It says that we were all made in the image of God: 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
So God created mankind in his own image, 
in the image of God he created them… 
male and female he created them.

I love the insight that John Sailhamer gives about this verse. He writes, “God’s command…is not an impersonal (third person) ‘Let there be,’ but rather the more personal (first person) ‘Let us make.’” If you read the whole of Genesis 1, you see the birds, trees, and unicorns (okay, it doesn’t say that one, but I’m still hoping they’re real) were all created with, as Sailhamer points out, “Let there be.” Adam and Eve’s creation, on the other hand, denotes something much more intimate. This passage reveals a personal God who does His creative works out of a community. Sailhamer continues, 

Whereas throughout the previous account the making of each creature is described as ‘according to its own kind,’ the account of humankind’s creation specifies that the man and the woman were made according to the likeness of God… The human likeness is not simply of himself and herself; they also share a likeness to their Creator.

God has sewn His divine image within us. As the Psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” God declared that this creation (that means you) is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We see in Genesis that this “very good” creation had a special relationship with God. 

We also see in Genesis that there was nothing that inhibited the relationship. Everyone was in right standing with each other. That’s when the enemy of God and humanity came to sew lies, attacking who we are. 

Genesis 3 records that the serpent came and put seeds of doubt in Eve’s head. The serpent begins to tell her that though God has told her that she’s “very good” and made in “their image,” the image of God, that she isn’t good enough. The serpent tells her that there is something else she needs. Something is missing.

The serpent is smart. The lie isn’t that we’re garbage, although often we often believe that. It’s much more subtle. The lie becomes that God’s holding out on them; that God didn’t give them everything that they need. Erwin McManus writes, “The serpent, of course, questions the truth of God’s story. He becomes a conflicting voice. He convinces the woman and the man that God isn’t telling them the whole story, that the voice of God isn’t the one who would guide them to life—that he is, in fact, holding out on them, keeping the best for himself.” 

The serpent becomes the first advertiser. 

Look more beautiful—Buy this. 

Be stronger—Drink this. 

Be envied—Wear this. 

Be powerful—Eat this.

According to the serpent, Adam and Eve could finally find that fulfillment, all they had to do was have a little taste of the fruit, the fruit God had told them to refrain from eating. Genesis 3 tells us that Eve believed the serpent, ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and brought deadly consequences on us all. 

What are these deadly consequences? 

This deadly consequence is believing the lie. The lie that we aren’t who God says we are. That God’s lying to us—we aren’t very good—we aren’t made in the image of God. The lie is believing that somehow we can do something to fill up our life through our own devices to achieve this “very good” ideal that we seek. 

We pick and prod at our faces.

We buy clothes we cannot afford.

We work hard to keep up appearances.

We strive for status and power.

We get rich or die trying. 

I believe that all the brokenness in the world stems from this one lie. I think that this lie is the root of it all. Whether we believe we’re worse than everyone else or better, this is the lie we believe; we’re not who God says we are. One of the first leaders in the church, the Apostle Paul wrote that the “wages of sin is death.” Paul was speaking of the whole fallout from our decisions, thoughts, actions, and words. 

The reason for the fallout? We‘ve rejected God’s truth and declared our own. When we believe we need something other than God’s love and grace, we begin to compensate emotionally, materially, and relationally. Instead of finding worth in the love of God that can never be lost and will never run out, we try and fill that void with perishable things. 

In the shadow of their choices, both Adam and Eve looked and saw they were naked. They tried to do what we all do, cover up what they now believe they are with perishable things. They tried to cover their shame and their guilt and their brokenness with fig leaves.

Just as Adam and Eve hid their brokenness with a fig leaf, something that will eventually decay, so we fill our lives, sometimes even unintentionally, with stuff. This stuff may be physical but often is emotional. The physical items are usually the compensation for our emotional depravity. It’s a longing to compensate in some way. There are times when this can be dangerous to both us and others. Whether it’s dangerous or not, it’s not healthy.

This compensation can be the most popular topic to talk about in church circles. Too often we side on moralism and doing the correct things. All the while we screech from our perch to not do bad things. Our moralism, in the meantime, turns a blind eye to our brokenness that manifests itself in more socially acceptable ways.

That’s the problem!

For most of us, what we try and cover our life with is what is deemed admirable, a  worthwhile pursuit, one might say even responsible. However, when we  allow our morality to define who we are, all we’re doing is trying to compensate for the brokenness we all have. These things should never form our identity, mainly because they’re all perishable. It’s only when we begin to cover ourselves with the imperishable that our identity begins to come into focus.

The Apostle Paul put it like this: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” The immortal/imperishable is what Adam and Eve forsook all because of a lie. Ever since we‘ve been trying to compensate for it.

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What if that politician was made in the image of God

It is election season in Canada, where I live. The signs are out on the lawns and along the road. The politicians are having their debates and going door to door. The pundits on the news and in articles are voicing pleasure and concern–who won or who lost the debate, or which candidate dirty past faux pás is the most damaging.

The big telltale sign that there is an election happening…

Facebook!

It is that time when everyone is sharing the articles and expressing their opinion toward each candidate.

What shocks me is the verbiage I hear and see Christians use when speaking of someone. I understand the politics can be dirty. I get that the decisions our leaders make, affect our lives in very real ways.

I hear words like,

Idiot
Pig
Stupid
Worthless

People expressing sentiments about wishing said politicians had never been born.

When I reflect on Scripture and words of Jesus, what I see is that these sentiments toward politicians are un-Chrisitan. I feel quite safe saying, anti-Jesus.

Genesis 1 states that we were all created in the image of God.
Psalm 139 says that we were created in our mother’s womb by God.
Jeremiah 29 declares that God has plans for a hope and a future.

The basic premise is that we need to see every person as a child of God who He loves–who God creates in His image.

When you call them a “moron” or “garbage,” you are calling God’s image-bearer, His child, whom He loves, names.

It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their policies. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be critical of campaign promises, track records, and their integrity. We must understand, however, that this does not change the value of a person.

Politicians are people too.

They have parents. Siblings. Children. Spouses. Friends.

Most importantly, they have a God who loves them.

When we look at Jesus’ life, he had some very harsh words toward leaders. We do not see him calling names. Instead, we see word pictures calling out their integrity.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!

Mt 23:13.

You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Mt 23:15

You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Mt 23:24

You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Mt 23:25–26

You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

Mt 23:27

These are some harsh words! They address action and character, not a person’s value. Jesus loves them and wants to see them whole.

Jesus’ call to us is to be agents of His love. The Apostle points out in Romans 5:6 that when we were still totally opposed to who God is, He came and gave His life for us. As we have received grace, we are to extend that same grace forward.

After all, Jesus stated,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour 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.

Mt 5:43–45

Next time you see one of those posts, brother and sister in Christ, I encourage you to pray for that politician. Pray God’s favour on them. Pray that God blesses them and reveals Himself to them in wonderfully new ways. Be willing to extend grace.

Let’s be people of love.