Women Missing in Church History: Filling Out the Historical Record – Week 3

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

Based on Women in the Mission of the Church, by Dzubinski/Stasson
(Used by permission: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021)

A Taste of Chapter 1: Patrons, Missionaries, Apostles, Widows, and Martyrs
By Rebecca Hopkins www.rebeccahopkins.org

Lydia was the first in her town to become a Christian. Then she planted a church. And as a patron of that church, she was a leader, too.[1]

How do we know this story? The Bible tells us so.

Lydia, from first century Philippi, is just one of many names the New Testament and Paul’s teachings show us about women’s involvement in missions, church planting, leadership and teaching. And this all happened from the very beginning of Christianity.[2]

The authors of a new book want these names to known, be examples, and be reminders of the partnership of men and women who are called into Christianity. Together university professor Leanne Dzubinski and historian Anneke Stasson have authored, “Women in the Mission of the Church, Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History.”

“The issue of women in ministry was debated in the early church; some in the church opposed the leadership of women, but not Paul,” they wrote in Chapter One[3]. “Time and time again, Paul affirmed the women who were his coworkers in the mission of the church.”

In fact, the early church was more open to women’s leadership than the church in the following centuries. [4] Soon pressures from Roman society “curtailed” women’s leadership in the church.

“Women’s leadership made Christianity subject to attack from Roman critics,” the authors wrote.[5]

Romans believed women weren’t as smart as men. They believed women were more easily deceived than men were. In short, the early church’s inclusion of women was destabilizing to society. [6]

The Bible also tells us that pastors and missionaries aren’t the only ones with special positions in the church. Widows, virgins and deaconesses were included in a special order. Widows, for instance, were ordained, and included in their responsibilities teaching, prophesying, praying, hospitality and caring for the sick and poor. You might even call their work “pastoral,” the authors stated.[7]

A couple of centuries later, some women became martyrs, and through their martyrdom examples of the faith. This faith showed that they prioritized Christ over the typical expected female duties and allegiances to their fathers and sons. Such an idea would’ve been consider “wrong,” “dangerous” and “immoral” by the surrounding culture, the authors wrote.[8] Not only that, the courage women like Felicitas and Perpetua showed would’ve been considered “manly” traits, even though they did it as young mothers nursing their babies.

But these women’s stories are only the beginning of the partnership of men and women growing the church. More to come.

[1] Leanne Dzubinski, Anneke Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church, Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 17.

[2] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 19-20.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 21-22.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 23-26.

[8] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 32.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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