26.9.14

Men to farm the land whilst women spread the gospel

This post is a little tongue in cheek, really.


My attention was caught by a post by Elesha Coffman, guest writer over at the Her.meneutics page of Christianity Today. She writes satirically about how 
if we play certain hermeneutical games with the word of God then surely men are are called to be farmers!


The more serious point I want to make is that this is relevant when some evangelicals are reasserting their beliefs regarding gender distinctions for men and for women. A basis of faith for one Church of England group now asserts that men are to be given certain appointed roles in the church and not women. This is the theology of complementarianism. Many Christians subscribe to this, including me. Women and men are indeed equal but different. Biologically, and often by attributes, whether conditioned by nature or nurture, or a combination of both, it is hard to tell, we are different. However, in the church, where we are all one in Christ Jesus, and Paul's teaching about marriage and women's education is so radical for his time, this is not so. The Holy Spirit gifts people to lead in the church, who then just so happen to be men and women. There is no ceiling or distinction on ministry because of gender.


In fact, if we look at the scriptures, they explain perfectly why Jesus chose men to witness his resurrection to the world. The amazing thing, is that he chose women to witness his resurrection to the church. If anything, then, it could be women championing complementarianism, who advise men to be evangelists to the world, whilst women might argue it is their job to preach the gospel in the churches where Christians have gathered. 


How can I say this? 

Well, because quite simply in the culture of Jesus' day only men were considered credible witnesses. So a witness to the world would be far more effective from a man. Hence the male disciples following Christ. But Jesus considers the church to be different to the world and he asks those same Christian men to accept the word and witness of the women from the empty tomb. 

Angels gave the gospel first of all to women. But in their spreading it first to men, the men failed to believe. Mary, Joanna, Suzanna and many other women accompanied Jesus and were his disciples too, even financing his ministry out of their own resources. 

St Paul is certainly an egalitarian. His 'Let a woman learn', in the epistle to Timothy, echoes Jesus' own affirmation of another Mary who sat at Jesus' feet to learn (Luke 10:42). It was on my own engagement with this story of Mary in Mary and Martha that I first considered serving God more formally in the church.  

Paul and Jesus were advocates of education and education without gender barrier. Kenneth Bailey describes how as the Mary of Mary and Martha is 'seated where the men would have traditonally sat in that story, at the rabbi's feet,' something radical is happening regarding 'the traditional cultural separation between men and women,' which has been broken1. Tom Wright describes how you would sit like this at the feet of your master 'in order to be a teacher, a rabbi yourself.'2

The Mary, Joanna and Suzanna who accompany Jesus are also doing so against the backdrop of those same cultural conventions.

Could it be that, yes, Jesus did deliberately choose 12 men to witness his resurrection to the world? 

But could it also be that Jesus deliberately assigned women to be the first witnesses of the resurrection to the church? 

“Go quickly, tell His disciples, He has risen from the dead” 
(Matthew 28:7-8),

...and not only do angels commission women but Jesus himself: “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren...”

In the book of John, the Mary who financially supports Jesus, sees the resurrected Christ and is commissioned with these words: “go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”

But the men would not believe the gospel given by the testimony of women and Luke goes on to tell us how 'these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe....' (24:11)

On the road to Emmaus, for this, in part, these disciples are to discover that they are 'slow of heart.' 

These disciples were acting like the world in their failure to receive the testimony of women.
It is not to surprise us, then, that groups of Evangelical Christians are still finding this hard to accept and even reasserting gender demarcations as they react to the news that women can now be consecrated in the Church of England. Female witness to the resurrection has always been a witness that has struggled. That it was slow to be received then should have prepared us better to understand why it has been slow to have been received now, indeed, how in some circles it is still being vehemently resisted. 

The command has always been for women to testify to the resurrection. The testimony of women to the power of the resurrection was designed by God to be the first witness to the church. 

It came from angels. 
It came from the Lord Jesus Himself. 
The Church of England has at last caught up. 

Long ago Jesus removed the stigma of women as unreliable witnesses and prepared his own disciples to receive women accepting their gifting through the commissioning of the Holy Spirit. 

It is definitely good news that the Church of England has now opened up all three orders to both genders and we just now need to pray for a generous patience as some of our evangelical brothers and sisters catch up. 

What is so good about God is that this formal recognition now of a truth established long ago will only help to make the gospel more credible to a culture for whom such gender distinctions make little sense. Let's present a radical Jesus and a radical Paul to people everywhere so that the good news equips everyone to live out their call. Let's practise an intentional and generous waiting for that very testimony to be received by everyone.


1BAILEY, K.E., Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. Cultural Studies in the Gospels, p.193-194.


2WRIGHT, N.T., Women's Service in the Church, p.4

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.