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Uncovered Heads and Unfettered Tongues

Women Heroes and the Church

Caveat Lector

A few months back I resumed my role as a member of the writing team for "Living Life" - a daily devotional based in South Korea. A recent assignment from 1 Corinthians 14 had me in a bit of a pickle. 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35 says the following quite plainly:

"Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says."

A casual and isolated reading of this passage can cause one to think Paul seeks to confine women to childlike silence in church. Yet, this can’t possibly be so as he already recognized the authority of women to pray and prophecy in Chapter 11. We must remember that this letter was culturally embedded within a patriarchal worldview that placed a premium on public honor. This is where the Greco-Roman context comes into play. Paul was dealing with a community that had a baseline cultural assumption that men are more important than women. Assumptions of this nature are so deep - and often so natural that they go unnoticed as assumptions - that radical proposals for change are ineffective. You can't convince someone to run out of a burning kitchen if they can't smell the smoke. The fact that Paul would earlier commend women for their ability to prophecy and speak in tongues is itself a testament to his insistence that female involvement in church is vital.

You can appreciate the cultural quagmire Paul was in. He is convinced that the Gospel of Christ has ushered in a new era of relationship paradigms. Bigotry, misogyny, racism - all must bow to the Cross. Thus, this same man who wrote 1 Cor. 14 also wrote this in Galatians 3,

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Paul isn't saying that socio-economic, race, and gender categories don't exist. He's saying that these categories are no longer to be areas of division. A further look into the entirety of 1 Cor. 14 assures us that Paul's concern is purely that of orderly and edifying worship not to subjugate a portion of the population. In Christ, all are welcome to be full citizens of the heavenly kingdom. All we can know for sure is that these women within this church were violating cultural propriety by their unending disruptions thereby publicly shaming their husbands. The (actually quite elegant) solution to maintaining ordered worship while ensuring these women's questions were answered was to encourage them to discuss this when at home.

So.... Superman ,Batman , Spiderman Ironman...

Until recently the hero genre of film and literature has been preoccupied with men in leading roles: Superman, Batman, Ironman come to mind. While there is still much progress to be made towards true equality women heroes are beginning to emerge on the cultural stage. The truth is women have always been heroes, it’s just that their acknowledgement has been long overdue. It shouldn’t be all that surprising to see that the early Christian church is indebted to women heroes of its own. For those looking to read first-hand accounts of women leadership in the Early Christian Church I recommend picking up Elizabeth Clark's book "Women in the Early Church". You might be surprised to see just how significant their roles were at times. For the sake of time I'd like to offer a few examples.

Perpetua and Felicitas

Perpetua and Felicitas are two of the most courageous martyrs in Christian history. Rather than renounce their faith for the sake of living they continued in prison so that their fellow believers would be emboldened. These women considered their persecution to be a means by which the Gospel could be declared and Christ’s victory demonstrated. Record states that during her execution Perpetua was trampled by a crazed cow; leaving her body all but broken. Still she stood upright, adjusted her clothing and retied her hair because loose hair was a sign of mourning, and this was a day of joy.

Macrina

The brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa are giants of 4th Century theology but even they sought insight from another with a considerable intellect; their sister Macrina. Macrina’s influence on her brother’s theological and ministerial work cannot be overstated. The monastic community she established in Pontus served as a model for her brother Basil and her counsel to Gregory supported him in making significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Heroic women were essential to our Church’s legacy and they will continue to be.

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