She had just blazed through a list of reasons why she did not like the Church and, ‘did not like’ is perhaps too polite because the emotion of it was anchored in something deeper and stronger: She was not the first during that weekend to express anti-church and anti-God sentiments. In conversation after conversation it became evident that we were possibly the first living, breathing Christ-followers with whom these 70 students had ever authentically interacted. The majority of who or what they believed Christianity to be had been gathered from the media and sound-bites.
My current conversational partner described herself as a half Canadian and a half French human rights activist studying gender equality at a German university. The voice in my heart inserted itself, “Tell her.” I questioned the wisdom after her statements about the Church, but followed what I felt was the Lord’s prompting.
“What if I told you that I am an ordained minister?”
She literally stopped and I watched her weigh ‘church’ with ‘woman in spiritual leadership’. I watched her weigh ‘Christian’ with ‘concern for human rights’. I watched her weigh ‘minister’ with ‘woman’
“Hmmm. I’ve never heard of … well, that is quite intriguing. A woman as a minister in the Church? Is that possible? I like that. Yes – that does give me hope.”
WHEN WOMEN PREACH
And, it should give hope because women and men working together with equal authority in the kingdom is a life-giving, God-honoring, redemptive step forward in Christ’s reconciling plan for humanity. It is part of God’s will for us, his creation.
When women preach, the new kingdom is proclaimed – it is a kingdom where God’s spirit is poured out and both men and women prophesy. (Acts 2:17)
When women preach, the new kingdom, where we are baptized into Christ and clothed with Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female is proclaimed. (Galatians 3:28)
When women preach, the world sees a glimmer of the Christ kingdom breaking into today and we are able to prophetically imagine the shalom of the kingdom that is to come.
When women preach, we become the visible reality of Christ’s redemptive work bringing healing today to our broken systems.
BROKEN SYSTEMS – GENESIS 3
Eden is a marker in our story of what the kingdom we await once looked like. But, as Adam and Eve shouldered the crushing blows of their sinful choice, the walls that sin built became apparent. The Genesis 3 story is a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive, account of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. After Eden:
- Intimacy with God in the garden in the way that they had known it ended.
- Work took on new and unpleasant characteristics.
- Woman’s desire became for a man and that gave him rule over her.
- Bringing life into the world was now filled with pain.
- Physical death became a new reality.
The results of the fall, seen here in Genesis 3, represent the reality of sin’s dreadful work. They describe sin’s consequences, but this is not God’s prescription for how men and women should relate to one another. It is a statement of sin’s distortion of the world, of nature, and of our relationships with one another and with God. The descriptive nature of Genesis 3:15 rather than the prescriptive nature of this passage is important to note.
Just as Genesis is the beginning of our story, Revelation gives us the end of our earthly story and it reveals to us our ultimate hope in Christ. Humanity is ever-journeying towards a return to the shalom of Eden – that Kingdom where earth and heaven exist together in and with Christ. However, we do not press on only for the hope of eternity, we believe that God’s redeeming grace transformatively affects our world today and in this very moment. Where hope can seem to be fleeting amidst the brokenness of our world, we join our voices with the prophet Amos and cry, ‘let justice roll on like a river.” (Amos 6:2)
In a world so broken and fractured by sin, our only real hope lies in God’s transformative work in us, in our broken systems, and in fact in all of his creation.
•God is transformatively moving all of creation forward back to the Garden where heaven and earth are perfectly held together in Christ. This is our final state of redemption and shalom.
•And, God’s presence and grace in this place at this moment is redemptively establishing the Christ kingdom now. It renders transformative change now. The kingdom is breaking into and redeeming systems of injustice and sin, it is healing broken people, it is redeeming all of creation … now.
Therefore, the Christ-follower journeys knowing that though I yet live outside of the garden, having been redeemed, I orient my heart, my mind, and my actions to the new kingdom’s principles. I am called to live today amidst the brokenness, amidst the pain, amidst the injustice, amidst the hopelessness in faith – clothed with the naked shalom of Eden – for the kingdom that is and the kingdom that is yet to come. This is the essence of Peter’s message in I Peter 2:11 – that having received mercy, we live as strangers and aliens in this world. This is a radical and intentional choice to live by faith for what we do not yet fully see but choose to believe, and as such, we journey through our life clothed for a kingdom, living by a kingdom code, and speaking of a kingdom that is not fully yet come.
This understanding of the Christ kingdom which is and is yet to come defines our interpersonal interactions with one another. It becomes the baseline for how I enter into the flow of Christ’s grace extended to all of creation and it becomes the lens for how I view the world. I can no longer say that because sin corrupted the balance between male and female, God’s redeeming power leaves this relational state untouched. Rather, I receive his gift as a new creature in Christ – the old has passed away and the new has come. Paul’s words here speak so clearly to this particular point.
‘So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view…‘ Why? Paul continues in verse 18, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:…‘ and in verse 20, Paul concludes, ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us, …’ (2 Corinthians 5: 15-21)
When gender hierarchy stands as the ideal within society, or our relationships, or ministry in the church, we allow the stain of sin to continue to function where the power of Christ’s blood and resurrection would wash away the old system’s reign. Genesis 3:15 is not God’s plan, rather it is a consequence of sin. The resurrection of Christ restores that which sin distorted, makes us new creatures, and redefines how we relate to one another. ¹
THE TEXTUAL MEANING OF ‘HELPER’
Genesis gives us a clear understanding that Adam and Eve, as male and female, co-existed in beautiful harmony with God. They labored together in shared authority. When woman is introduced in Genesis 2, she is defined as an ‘ezer’ – a word used 21 times in the Old Testament. In 16 instances, this word is used as a reference to God as helper, which would not be understood as a subordinate or submissive role.
Neither the connotation nor the denotation of ezer is connected to subordination or subservience, rather the biblical texts where it is found use it as a reference to vital and significant help. An example of this would be in Psalm 33:20 where the Lord is ‘our help and our shield’ or Psalm 70:5, where God is ‘my help and my deliverer’. Auther Walter Kaizer uses Rabbi David Freedman’s treatment of ezer to suggest a more suitable translation for Genesis 2:18 to be, “I will make a power (or strength) corresponding (or equal) to man.”²
JESUS ESTABLISHED A KINGDOM PRINCIPLE REGARDING WOMEN
It is both our responsibility and our privilege to live as Christ followers in a sinful world with kingdom principles. Certainly, we see Jesus living out that kingdom principle
- as he welcomes women on the journey with him to the towns and the cities
- as he accepts their financial support of his ministry
- as he welcomes and affirms their right to be students of his rabbinical teaching (Luke 10:38-42)
- as he affirms a woman’s faith over and above that of his disciples (Matthew 15:24-28)
- as he engages in theological discussion with women (John 4:1-42)
- His first resurrected message is to a woman with the instructions to ‘Go and tell.’ (John 20:16)
Each of these actions, by themselves are already radical cultural shifts, but taken as a whole, it cannot be denied that Jesus is establishing a kingdom principal that challenges the gender barriers of the ancient world and that pushes the boundaries of his own Jewish culture. We must look to Jesus to define how we relate to one another in this world as we serve in his kingdom.
WHEN WOMEN AND MEN PREACH
When women preach, we become a proclamation of God’s gracious and mighty healing power for our societies – those that are fractured racially, ethnically, economically, politically, socially. But, to be completely accurate; when both women and men preach, serve, minister, and lead spiritually according to the call of God on their lives, it is then that we most fully proclaim Christ and the hope of his kingdom. As we give ourselves to Christ as his ambassadors, may the world see in us more than our gender of male or female. May they see the reflection of the Christ that dwells in us and swells out of us in waves of hope and love. Indeed, for the love of Christ, let us – all of us – Go and Tell.
¹I borrow here from Eugene Cho’s article in which he pulls from a portion of a larger document, Called and Gifted, produced by the Evangelical Covenant Church. Click here for Cho’s article. Click here to go to the download of Called and Gifted.
²I draw from Walter C. Kaizer, et al, in their book, Hard Sayings of the Bible. Kaizer sources Rabbi David Freedman for his treatment of the word ezer. Click here for an excerpt of the book dealing with this explanation.
I have the privilege of serving as an ordained minister along with an ethnically diverse group of Nazarene women and men from 12 countries across the Central Europe Nazarene field as well as many more across the EurAsia Region. Women serve as district superintendents, pastors, church planters, district advisory board members, presidents of theological colleges and educators right alongside their male counterparts. I am personally encouraged, indebted, and proud of the men in our larger denomination for being vocal and active advocates for the calling and inclusion of women at all levels of the church structure. Most personally, I am thankful for my husband, Dr. Jay Sunberg, who has encouraged, prayed for, and made space for women at the table of leadership and service on the Central Europe Field.
A special note of thanks to Dr. Dan Copp, Director of Clergy Development, and to the International Board of Education who are intentionally emphasizing the inclusion of women to all ministerial roles.
WHAT IS IN MY LIBRARY?
Why Not Women by Cunningham and Hamilton is my personal favorite for exegeting various passages in the Bible and a general, cohesive conversation regarding the topic.
Two Views on Women in Ministry by Beck and Gundry
Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God by Sunberg and Wright. Co-written by my sister-in-law, Dr. Carla Sunberg, who serves our denomination as president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.
Paul, Women, and Wives by Keener