The History of Women in (ECC)

The History of Women in the ECC

The Evangelical Christian Church (ECC) welcomes and ordains women in ministry according to our history.?In the midst of shifts in theology and church policy, the ECC became the first institution where both women and blacks made an important contribution in leadership roles. Women in many black churches came, to an even greater degree than in white churches, the backbone of church life; many became preachers. Black women so reared upon joining integrated churches, found it difficult to accept less crucial tasks where white men dominated. In the face of chaos, women pressed ahead with the duties of pastor. The ECC acknowledges that women as pastors were valuable assets to the preaching and teaching the Bible.

The contribution of women to the carrying out of the Great Commission is sometimes sadly overlooked. What would the history of the Restoration Movement (RM) look like without its women? The influence and efforts of women to bring about changes in the lives of individuals through the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus has been greatly felt and should be acknowledged, recorded and remembered. Kind and benevolent acts have been done through their work that has forever changed the course of this nation because of women. There have been loving and devoted wives, such as Elizabeth Rogers, who have borne the business of raising children and running the day to day activities of home life while their preaching husbands spent months away preaching and planting churches. There have been women, such as Charlotte Fall Fanning, who have actively pursued the education of young women to help train them for successful life. Women such as Emma Page Larimore, who was not only known for her encouragement to T.B. Larimore in his senior years as his second wife, but excelled in writing for publications, and was an author of children's literature as well as biographical information. There were wealthy benefactors, such as Emily H. Tubman, who through their blessed fortunes blessed churches, evangelists, schools, and missionaries through financial assistance.

Many of the achievements of women of the Restoration Movement, as well as their influences have been recorded. While documentation is scarce, efforts are being made to record and give tribute to their efforts. This chapter is dedicated to these women in hopes that greater awareness of their commitments and contributions will be remembered.

Women in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement believed that the church defaulted within its beliefs found in Holy Scripture. They understood God's amazing grace and felt liberated, knowing that God was no longer angry with man, and they too, were accepted before our Lord as one body and one church. Women everywhere are loved and commissioned to preach the gospel of grace to every living person by our Lord Jesus Christ. Gender or race means nothing to God because all who accept Christ have been saved through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.

The women currently serving in the ECC pastorate often face an uphill battle in their efforts to garner respect and cooperation from male churchgoers. These RM women experience difficulties in transcending what church historian Dr. David Lavigne of the ECC in Canada defines as, "barriers to female advancement even in denominations with a long tradition of women's ordination - gender does not disqualify one from the preaching of the gospel." Few historians recognize that a significant number of black and while women took up the cross as preachers more than a century before the Civil War.

Few contemporary women ministers know that they hail from a long line of women who willingly sacrificed emotional and financial security and respectability to “labor in the harvest.” Moreover, because denominations that once eagerly ordained women eventually shunned them and chose to ignore their contributions, each generation of women preachers has been obligated to defend its right to preach the gospel of grace. The stories of one hundred women who heeded the call to preach the gospel during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been resurrected. These black women's determination to heed God’s call helped swell the membership roster of many churches during the RM and the Great Awakening.

Because of their contributions and their heroic deeds in the ECC, we acknowledge the importance of women in ministry. Our scriptural references have proven that many denominations and organizations are in fact wrong in their theological interpretation about why women should not be in ministry. So boldly we stand with all women who dare to answer the call to ministry as leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.?The witness of the New Testament to the ministry--service and participation--of women in the New Testament Church is ambiguous. This ambiguity should neither threaten nor discourage us; it is, rather, reassuring. God has called no “plastic saints”; they are all flesh and blood, and they all fail. We are called to patience born of love. We are saved only by grace, and not by our understanding or by our work.?Women follow Jesus, and Jesus encourages their ministries to him, for him, and with him. At no time did Christ discourage women from following him. Records show that during the time of Christ, many great women experienced healings, and leave a legacy of great testimonies. At the end of the Gospels, when the men who followed Jesus have fled, the women remained with him. Women were “faithful to the end.” Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. The men who followed Jesus, and then fled, did not see the resurrection and did not believe the testimony of the women. Even when they finally saw the risen Lord, they doubt. The women never doubted.

In the Acts of Apostles, the women who followed Jesus in the Gospels are among the “120” who “devoted themselves to prayer” and, on Pentecost, they were “all” filled with the Holy Spirit. They were also called disciples among the 120 who waited in the upper chamber. They received gifts from the Holy Spirit, but the men who had taken charge did not set them apart for any “office” or “work.” The men ignored, overlooked, and denied the gifts and ministry of the women for the same reason that they denied baptism to anyone who was not a Jew.?Jesus is male and the “apostles” of the Acts were all male; they were also Jews. To assert on the basis of the masculinity of Jesus and the “apostles” that women may not preach or pray or serve the Lord’s Table or perform any public function in the worship of the church or serve in any public “office” of the church is to suggest that the church’s doctrine of ministry us based on gender. “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh” (Rom 8:5).

Paul’s declaration in Galatians 3:28 that “in Christ… there is no male and female” alludes specifically to Genesis 1:27 (“male and female created he them”) and is based on Paul’s fundamental teaching that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This teaching is essential to understanding the authentic Paul, as opposed to his opponents, compromisers, revisers, and rehabilitators. It is present in every authentic letter of Paul. Its absence is a certain sign of pseudo epigraphy.

The “new creation” in Christ restores the primeval condition of humankind before sin erected barriers between humankind and God and between human beings. The barriers of the old creation--race, class, and sex--are broken down by the reconciling act of God in Jesus Christ. While the new creation shall in the end time, at the return of the Lord Jesus, be fully manifest, it is not merely “eschatological,” but it is intended to be present in the here and now. It begins at baptism, when we “put on Christ.” If it does not happen now, it will never happen at all.

Paul in Romans 16 names Phoebe of Cenchrea as a diakonos--a “deacon,” not a “deaconess”--and also a prostates (“guardian”) of himself and others. Priscilla and her husband Aquila are “my collaborators” or “fellow workers.” Mary “has worked hard among you.” Junia, with her brother or husband Andronicus, is a relative of Paul, a “fellow prisoner,” and a person “well-known” or “outstanding among the apostles.” Tryphaena and Tryphosa are “workers in the Lord.” In Philippians 4, Euodia and Syntyche “have walked with me in the Gospel, with Clement and the rest of my collaborators.” Paul does not distinguish the “work” of these women from the “work” of men whom he names; clearly he mentions them because of the value of their “work” and the faith their “work” expresses. These names, mentioned only in passing, and only in the letters of Paul, remind us that there are many heroes of faith whose names and biographies we do not know, and many of them are women; we do not know their “works,” because no one wrote them down.

In 1 Corinthians 11 women pray and prophesy. They are not forbidden to speak, but they are instructed to cover their heads when they speak to God or speak for God, “because of the angels.” In 1 Corinthians 14 “all” may prophesy, and “all” may learn and be encouraged. In many Churches of Christ in the twenty-first century women are forbidden to pray and prophesy, but they are permitted to join in the worship assembly and to join the men of the congregation in singing various prayers and prophecies (many of them composed by women), with uncovered heads. Here we may pause to marvel at the convoluted consequences of exegesis.?The entire case against the public ministry of women among the ECC clergy rests on a misunderstanding of two controversial proof texts, both attributed to Paul. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 plainly contradicts the instruction of Paul in 11:2-16 and 14:31. That is why Paul responds in the way that he does in 14:37: “Did the word of God come out from you? Has it reached you only?” Paul is quoting the letter or statement of a Corinthian faction--just as in 1:11-12, 3:4, 5:1, 6:12, 6:13, 7:1, 8:1, 8:4, 10:23, 11:18, 15:12--and his response is swift, direct, and appropriate. Those who presume to exclude women from speaking in the worship assembly are claiming a monopoly of the word of God from which they seek to assume the prerogatives of God.

In 1 Timothy 2:8-15 we should translate the words from the Greek "aner" as “husband” and "gyne" as “wife” (as in 1 Corinthians 11:3); read in this way the text is more coherent, but no less troubling. The author is concerned throughout not with teaching and encouraging a “new creation” but with winning the respect of polite society. The vocabulary is unique in the New Testament. The proof text from Genesis is misapplied in a way that “Paul” elsewhere never uses. Among other things, 1 Timothy 2:15 plainly contradicts Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 7. The author is attempting to rehabilitate Paul and align him with conventional mores.?The Pauline epistles are consider by the ECC to be the fourteen books in the New Testament, traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle, although many dispute the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews as being a Pauline epistle. A common objection is that Paul only restricted the women of Ephesus from teaching (1 Timothy was written to Timothy, who was the pastor of the church in Ephesus). The city of Ephesus was known for its temple to Artemis, a false Greek/Roman goddess. Women were the authority in the worship of Artemis. However, the book of 1 Timothy nowhere mentions Artemis, nor does Paul mention Artemis worship as a reason for the restrictions in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

While Paul was preaching in the church which was in the house of Onesiphorus, a certain virgin named Thecla (whose mother's name was Theoclia, and who was betrothed to a man named Thamyris) sat at a certain window in her house. She claimed that Paul spoke on the topic of celibacy in Rome, asking women and married women alike to keep their flesh undefiled (or pure). She took this message as a call for those married to remain sexually pure by practicing total abstinence. Her beliefs spread over East and West to many women in different countries while making her the most famous of virgin martyrs. However, 1st Corinthians 7 appears to share more ambivalence about marriage, with the statement "it is well for a man not to touch a woman." This opened a can of worms among their husbands in the church because the women abruptly share their views in the light of these beliefs. The Corinthian women were determined to speak out these views towards the leadership by interrupting the church services.

Paul addresses this same problem in many well-known passage of Scripture where it teaches us much more than the simple fact that husband and wife ought to have ongoing sexual relations. In a very important respect, a Christian woman has authority over her husband.

"Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. . . . The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does" (1 Cor. 7:1-5; emphasis added).

That is why Paul is only referring to husbands and wives with this problem, not single men and women in general. The Greek words in the passage could refer to husbands and wives; however, the basic meaning of the words refers to men and women. Further, the same Greek words are used in verses 8-10. Are only husbands to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger and disputing (verse 8)? Are only wives to dress modestly, have good deeds, and worship God (verses 9-10)? Of course not. Verses 8-10 clearly refer to all men and women, not only husbands and wives. There is nothing in the context that would indicate a switch to husbands and wives in verses 11-14.

Since 1945, the ECC believes that there is scriptural evidence indicating that women were used in many areas of ministry. Jesus in the four gospels never hesitated to use a majority of women as front runners to his miracles and work. Women continue today to fulfill these roles effectively in areas where men are unable to perform. The only objections churches face today is a misunderstanding of what the scriptures are really saying from the perspective of Paul. After all, Paul was facing "in-house" family problems within the church. None of his statements were meant to be "law", but "order" in the House of God.