Frances Willard was one of the most prominent women of the 19th century. As president of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, she devoted much of her adult life to promoting the prohibition of liquor in the United States. She was also a powerful proponent of suffrage for women and women in ministry. The article below is reprinted from her book on the latter subject titled Woman in the Pulpit, published in 1889.
Most clergy and laypeople alike would agree that Christ, not the apostle Paul, is the source of all churchly authority and power. So what do we find Jesus saying about women? How did He deal with them?
In the presence of the multitude, He drew from Martha the same testimony He required of His apostles, and she publicly replied, almost in Peter's very words, "Yea, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world" (John 11:27, KJV). He declared His commission to the woman at the well of Samaria, with an emphasis and a particularity hardly equalled in any of His public addresses, and the testimony she gave to her fellow Samaritans bore much fruit. What pastor would not rejoice to hear what the converts said to the woman: "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (4:42).
Some object that Jesus did not call any women to be apostles. True, He did not designate women as His followers; they came without a call. No utterance of His marks women as ineligible for any position in the church He came to found; rather, His gracious words and deeds, His impartation of His purposes and plans to women, His stern reproofs to men who did them wrong, His chosen companionships, and the tenor of His whole life and teaching, all point out precisely the opposite conclusion.
Indeed, Luke explicitly declares that "He went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with Him, and certain women," among whom were "Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance" (Luke 8:1-3, emphasis added).
What a spectacle that must have been for the scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus called hypocrites! What loss of caste came to those fearless women, who, breaking away from the customs of society and traditions of religion, dared to follow the greatest of iconoclasts from city to village with a persistence nothing less than outrageous to the conservatives of that day!
Only Christ's commission is authoritative. To whom did He give it after His resurrection, when the new dispensation was ushered in?
If we are to accept specific statements as conclusive of a question involving half the human race, let us take our stand on our Lord's final words and deeds. Luke 24:33-34 states that the two disciples to whom Christ appeared on the way to Emmaus "returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." Be it understood that women were among "them that were with them."
While they were thus assembled and talking of the wonderful experience of that day, Jesus appeared again, saying, "Peace be unto you." In John 20:19-23, we have an account of this appearance of Christ to His disciples, for it says explictly (after stating that Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord): "Then the same day at evening...came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you...as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained."
These are the words He spoke to the 11 and "them that were with them." He then "opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures" and declared that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," and declared, "ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you, but tarry ye in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high. And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:48-52, emphasis added).
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