Women & the Church, Part 2

Posted: May 20, 2012 in Uncategorized, Women & the Church
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A Liberating Purpose

Radical feminism has failed you, and here’s how; it released you from the expectations of men, and then bound you to its own expectations. But Jesus promises release from the unregenerate culture that restricts you. You can know God deeply…in spirit. You can be authentic, real, and true. Christ promises freedom from the limitations of the old culture, and establishes your place in the new culture of the New Kingdom.

So, we’ve learned what Jesus wants to free you from. But now the question is, “What does he want to free you for? We know that Jesus freed women from the bondage and expectations of an unregenerate culture, but what were they freed to do? This is no insignificant question! This is something that women who are either following Jesus or are considering following Jesus need to know.

WHY does Jesus offer me this freedom?” What’s the purpose of this gift? We know that freedom that doesn’t involve purpose is freedom without value or significance. You can release a woman from bondage, but unless you provide her with a function she will only find herself in a different sort of bondage. Christ never offers his gifts this way. Christ frees you from the past with an eye to your future. In the New Kingdom, freedom is always joined to function.

We can discover what that fundamental purpose is by taking a look at those women whom Jesus freed.

You Are Woman

George Orwell said, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” So here at the start of this message I’m going to restate the obvious; you are woman…I hear you roar (my apologies to Helen Reddy.)

Here’s the point of reaffirming that little fact; that while Jesus frees you from the bondage of an unregenerate culture, he doesn’t free you from your gender. In John 19, as he is dying, Jesus places his mother Mary among the disciples. He does this by identifying her as a woman…and not as his mother. Here’s what this means…at least in part; In following Jesus you don’t cease to be a woman, with all that womanhood entails. In the Kingdom of God you are freed from the limitations that the world’s kingdom may place on you, but the function Jesus frees you to perform will be in the context of being a woman.

One of goals of radical feminism was the creation of a social construct in which there was no difference between men and women. So, some feminist leaders essentially said, “Dress like men, act like men, talk like men, be aggressive, don’t get married, don’t be monogamous, and don’t bear children.” One leader said, “We want to make men more like women and women more like men.” One of the goals was a sort of gender neutrality…as if men and women weren’t really different.

Jesus doesn’t do that. He acknowledges that you are indeed a woman, and it’s as a woman…not some androgynous species…that he calls you.

Great! But what’s that calling look like? Well, we get a good look at it by examining the women who followed Jesus.

Called to Learning

Luke chapter ten includes a story about two women…sisters…named Martha and Mary who were Jesus’ followers. The story starts out by presenting both of them as functioning outside of cultural expectations. Martha, in her busy serving, was actually doing what no woman of the time would do if she had a choice. You see, women only served men at mealtime if they had no servant to do the job. Martha was distracted by what she had to do, and seems to have been a bit resentful about having to do it.

Then there is her sister, Mary, whom the Bible describes as sitting at Jesus feet, listening to his teaching. In our minds this paints a picture of Mary quietly and devotedly sitting on a cushion close to the feet of Jesus, gazing up at him serenely as he talks. But in reality, we’re being told that Mary was an official student of Jesus. The idea of ‘sitting at the feet’ of a rabbi or teacher meant that you were his student, that he had taken you on, and that he recognized you as one of his followers. This was outside of cultural expectations because women weren’t generally encouraged to seek learning, and certainly not in this capacity as an official student of a master.

So, in Luke 10, while Martha is functioning as a somewhat resentful servant, Mary is functioning as a student. When Martha complained to Jesus and asked that he release Mary from her studies so that she would help her, Jesus said to Martha, “Out of everything being done here, only one thing is necessary.” And then he puns on the idea of Martha’s kitchen service by saying, “Mary has chosen the good portion…the best dish on the table…and it won’t be taken away from her.”

Jesus isn’t so much devaluing Martha’s service as he is telling her where she needs to place her best efforts. By identifying Mary’s discipleship as the “good portion” Jesus is telling Martha…and by extension all women who follow him…what he calls them to. He calls you to be learners, to seek out knowledge of him and his ways, to “sit at his feet” and ask him questions. He wants you to be his students…and learn from him. He wants you to be students of him…and learn all you can about him and his ways.

Called to Nurturing

So…women are called to be learners. But learning in the New Kingdom is never merely academic. Knowledge is never given or acquired for its own sake. There’s always a purpose for the learning, an application for it, something to be done with it. If Jesus calls women to be learners, what does he expect them to do with the learning they acquire? I think a very good clue is in John 19, where Jesus speaks to his mother from the cross.

Very quickly (because we don’t have time to examine the idea in detail) let me say that Jesus’ mother, Mary, had a hard time separating Jesus’ identity as Messiah from that of his identity as her son. It’s understandable…mothers will be mothers, after all. Reading the exchanges between Mary and Jesus up to John 19 will provide ample illustration of this. In these stories Jesus makes a definite and determined effort to reduce the status of Mary’s motherhood in relation to him personally. She had no special authority over him and his destiny because she was his mother. And, he granted her no special place among his disciples…as the mother of Jesus. In fact, it’s not at all clear that Mary really was what you’d call one of Jesus’ followers in the sense that she understood and believed in his redemptive mission.

That changes in John 19. As Jesus is dying on the cross, with Mary and an unnamed disciple looking on, Jesus says to her, “Woman…behold your son.” And then to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” This was a commonly accepted legal declaration of a transfer of guardianship. Jesus is on one level providing for the care and protection of his mother after his death.

But on another level, we’re being told that something additional is happening. First, it’s important to notice that Jesus doesn’t introduce Mary as his mother…but as a woman. He doesn’t say, “Mother…behold your son,” but “Woman behold your son.” Next, notice that the disciple is left unnamed. We assume him to be John, but we’re told that Mary is becoming mother to a disciple…who could in fact be any disciple. Or, he could stand for all of the disciples. On this other level we’re being told that Mary is being brought into the body of Jesus’ disciples as a
mother…not as Jesus’ mother, but as a mother-figure to them all. Her function in the group is being assigned; Mary is to mother the disciples.

Here’s what I take from this; that women in the church are called by Jesus to be nurturers. A nurturer is someone who cares for the growth and development of another. Caring for someone’s growth and development in the context of the church certainly includes providing them with knowledge and information to aid their growth. So you can see why being a learner is so important. You are called to learn, and then you are called to impart that learning as you nurture others in the family of faith.

Called to Sharing

I have to move on now and try to wrap this up…but I can’t do that without sharing this one last item with you.

We know that the story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the center of our faith. Many Biblical scholars think that the Passion Narrative was actually the first thing written down about the life of Jesus. But have you ever thought about how that story came to be known? We read about it in all four gospels, but not all four of those writers were actually personal witnesses of the Passion Event. Mark, whom we believe wrote the first Gospel as it was dictated to him by Peter, wasn’t there. For that matter, Peter wasn’t there either. Luke was a gentile convert to the Faith some time after Pentecost; he certainly wasn’t there. And neither was Matthew. In fact, none of the eleven disciples were there expect the one unnamed disciple of John 19.

Do you know who was there? You guessed it…the women who were Jesus’ followers. They were there at the cross, witnessing all of the horror and agony of the crucifixion. They were there as Jesus’ body was taken down and carried to the tomb. And, the Scriptures tell us, they were the first ones to witness and believe that Jesus was alive again.

Do you know what this means? It means that we know the Redemptive Story, the story of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus mostly because of the witness of your sisters of ancient days. It means that the first people to share this incredible story of hope and new life were likely the women who followed Jesus.

Do you know what this means? It means that women today, too, are called to share with others what they have witnessed, what they have experienced in Jesus.

Closing:

So…you see your calling, sisters. Jesus doesn’t ignore that you’re women. Instead, he calls you to follow him as women. It’s in the context of womanhood that he calls you to learn of him, to nurture others in the faith, and to share your witness with the world. Each particular and specific calling that he may have for you personally will find its foundation in these; learning, nurturing, and sharing.

Whatever the limitations or expectations of the unregenerate culture around us, you can find liberty and fulfilment as a woman in the New Culture of the New Kingdom.

Comments
  1. Natasha Boyd says:

    Life changing, purpose driven, tools in the new Kingdom!

  2. Paul says:

    Brother Den, excellent post here…I like what you said about Mary being a “mother” to the disciples.” Feminism has killed the “woman” in many women. Her completion as we know comes in Christ not in a position, status or pulpit for that matter.
    Thanks for your ministry today. The Lord bless you
    Bro Paul

    • Dennis Munn says:

      Thanks for your comments, Paul. These two posts on “Women & the Church” are teasers for a mid-week series we’re starting in June here at The Refuge.

  3. Well said! I really found both parts of these posts to be enlightening! Now I have something to think about for the rest of the week, and a new viewpoint on certain Biblical passages. Thank you for sharing and have a blessed day!
    ❤ Passionate Pentecostal

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