Again, following on from the recent article on Christine Caine and women in ministry, it was interesting to recently meet a woman who is boldly declaring the gospel to her peers in a situation so tense that I can’t give full details.
I was ministering in a small meeting in London of around thirty people from an Asian background of Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, when I was introduced to a woman who is the wife of an eminent and well-known personality in an Asian nation which is predominantly Buddhist.
I can’t give the names of either, or the nation, because their ministry may be prejudiced, but it helps raise an issue and gives an example of why those who take the New Testament writings, especially of Paul, so far out of context when they turn grace into law especially regarding women in ministry.
Putting context into context
Although he declared that in certain situations he did not permit women to teach or hold authority over men, Paul also gave instructions in other passages for how women can address congregations in ministry.
He is not contradicting himself. He is addressing issues in certain congregations.
There is more to context than the surrounding words of the written discourse. There is also the frame of reference of those he is addressing, and any correspondence from the recipients that may have come between, say, the two letters to the Corinthians (it is generally understood that there must have been at least one other letter to which we do not have access from Paul to the same congregation).
There is also the cultural context, of course, because Paul related to both Jewish and Greek converts even though his primary call was to the Gentiles. Take for instance his letter to the Galatians, which was certainly addressed to both Jews and Greeks.
Some of the cultural context is direct and refers to the immediate congregation. This is more than evident in the first letter to the Corinthians. There is also a more general context concerning the global Church of the era. And there is the context of the future and destiny of the Church as a whole.
Paul was a man of his times who pitched the gospel into the future that is impacting us today. But we cannot make law out of grace and create legal constraints on such a huge portion of the Body of Christ by eliminating women from ministry altogether.
Women with a missionary call
So when I was talking to this Asian woman in the meeting she let me know that God had been using her in an amazing capacity to bring eminent women out of the prevailing religious culture in her nation into a recognition of Christ through the power of the gospel.
She was not looking for this ministry. She did not force it or promote it, and, indeed, it has been conducted behind closed doors and not advertised at all. Yet God is using her in a mighty and powerful way to reach families for Christ.
I’m not sure if you are aware of this but, because of the persecution endured by the underground church in some major Asian countries, male leaders have been taken out of the field and locked away. As a result, and in some cases by necessity, many young women find themselves with travelling ministries pastoring huge flocks of people in house churches across these nations.
Lee Grady writes:
Sister Peng pays a high price to be a Christian in China. She has been arrested many times, and she will go to jail again if the police catch her preaching the gospel. Forced to live as a fugitive, she must sneak into her home at night to visit her husband and young daughter.
The first time Peng was taken into custody, just after the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989, she was delivering a fresh shipment of Chinese Bibles to some unregistered pastors.
She was thrown into a dirty detention cell and tortured with an electric cattle prod in an effort to force a confession of her “crimes.” She shivered in that cell for months. Guards offered no coats, blankets or feminine hygiene supplies. “For eight months I had no contact with anyone. I just ate soup in my cell,” Peng told me when I visited China three years ago.
“It is really God’s mercy that he fed me and kept me warm.” When Peng was transferred to a women’s prison, she spent two lonely years there. But during that time she led 32 female inmates to Christ. Upon her release, she immediately resumed her itinerant preaching ministry.
Now 43, Peng doesn’t let her thin frame or her femininity stop her from taking on dangerous assignments. And she is not alone. She is one of the many female heroes of China’s underground church movement.
When I visited a group of unregistered church leaders in a city near Hong Kong in 2001, I discovered that between one-half to two-thirds of all church planters in China today are women, most between the ages of 18 and 24.
These women, along with their male colleagues, lead an estimated 25,000 people to Christ daily. One evening after a meeting with these humble Chinese leaders, I returned to my hotel room and discovered two of the female leaders waiting at my door with a translator.
“They would like you to pray for them,” the translator said. “Are you pastors or evangelists?” I asked, hoping to better understand their needs. They smiled and replied, “Yes.” “How many churches do you oversee?” I inquired.
The translator pointed to the woman on the left. “This one oversees 2,000 churches, and this other one oversees 5,000 churches,” he said. I was stunned. Some denominations in the United States are still arguing about whether a woman can stand behind a pulpit, I said to myself.
Meanwhile, women in China are engaging in dangerous missions and governing thousands of new churches. There’s something wrong with this picture!
I can testify to this kind of scenario. I was on a teaching trip to an Asian nation which is predominantly Muslim when I was introduced by my host to two women, one senior in years and the other in her mid-twenties, who seemed at first to be very unassuming and quiet. When my host introduced them I asked what they did they let me know they were overseers of churches.
One was the planter of several churches of thousands, with converts who now pastored those churches, and the other was one of her pastors who runs a church of over 2,000 people. They were meeting with me to discuss whether our movement was in a position to assist them to purchase land for a Bible School, which we later visited and our movement was able to help. All praise and honour to God for calling faithful people and providing their needs.
There are many other stories like this, some of which I have personally witnessed, others I have talked to fellow ministers about, and those that are written down. God, it seems, has no issue with women leading people to the Lord, even in religiously bound nations, and overseeing the congregations they are called to plant and nurture.
When critics of women in ministry look deeper into what is really happening on the planet amongst those bold and brave missionaries in the field, including women, I pray their eyes will be opened to the reality of God’s commission, and see that, when we inhibit and prohibit women from ministry we are preventing tens of thousands, maybe millions of people from receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
It’s time for the Body to realise the value and calling on the women of God.