Helping Disciples Become Disciplers

Discipling as Women: Our Foremothers

Part 2

In the first part of this three-part series, we looked at the responsibility of every member within God’s kingdom to use their gifts for His glory and the good of others. We also discussed God’s created order and that He created the masculine and feminine to display different aspects of His image and character within His creation. Men and women have equal dignity, are equal in Christ, and have equally good roles to play in God’s created order.

But because of the Fall, there has been a continual struggle between men and women to accept God’s created order as good. Especially in our modern age, women frequently hesitate to affirm male headship and many even rage against the idea. And not without good reason. Since the Fall, women have often been subject to belittlement and abuse at the hands of men. As mentioned in Part 1, though, any act of diminishment toward the opposite sex is not because of God’s good order but because of our sinfulness.

C. S. Lewis addresses this age-old struggle between the sexes in his fictional books Perelandra and That Hideous Strength (the second and third books in Lewis’s Space Trilogy). In That Hideous Strength, Jane Studdock—an atheist, an academic, and a new wife—is pulled into a spiritual struggle against demonic forces that are seeking to destroy humanity. Jane simultaneously struggles with the life in which her role as a woman seems to have bitterly placed her: “In reality marriage had proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement.”1

Throughout the story, Jane seems anxiously concerned with others perceiving her as a silly and frivolous woman, and she longs to be taken seriously and valued as someone important. Toward the end of this third book in the series, as Jane grapples with the existence of God and the idea that she might be a created being designed with a specific role, a spiritual experience upturns her previous beliefs:

Supposing one were a thing after all – a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one’s true self? Supposing all those people who, from the bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was? . . . For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came.2

In this moment, as Jane is walking through a garden, she enters into the presence and knowledge of God like never before. She finally understands the implications of being His creation—“made to please Another and in Him to please all others.”3

We can only guess what Adam and Eve’s relationship was like before the Fall, but Lewis tells us how he imagines it in the second book of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra. In this story, God (often referred to as “Maleldil”) has created living creatures on the planet Venus (or Perelandra), including a new species of man and woman who are meant to reign as King and Queen on the planet. Similar to the Fall in the Garden of Eden, there is a Satanic scheme to corrupt this new creation, and Maleldil brings Ransom, a man from Earth, to Perelandra to stop this scheme. Ransom succeeds in his quest, and when the King and Queen are reunited after having been separated almost from the moment of their creation, the two appear so intertwined that the King hardly knows the difference between his own thoughts and those of his Queen. As they are discussing new words and concepts, the King declares, “Splendour of Deep Heaven! . . . It seems there are too many new words in the air. I had thought these things were coming out of your mind into mine, and lo! You have not thought them at all. Yet I think Maleldil passed them to me through you, none the less.”4 In Lewis’s imagination, Man and Woman might be created with different roles, but in their original form, untouched by sin, there is no competition. In their shared task of subduing, ruling, and multiplying, though their distinctions matter, they work so harmoniously together that they act almost as one.

The apostle Paul discusses a type of oneness in his letter to the Galatians—our oneness in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Paul does not deny distinctness in this passage but demonstrates that in Christ there is no preferential status given to anyone for any reason. Christianity is often hated as a religion that perpetuates a toxic, patriarchal system, and Paul is often accused of being misogynistic. But Paul, and especially Christ, are anything but this.

Paul commends the ministries of women throughout his epistles, and after Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus reveals Himself first to women. According to Michael Kruger, in the 2nd century A.D., Christianity was mocked for being a religion of women.5 Christianity at its core is not misogynistic. It gives women value and cherishes their distinctness the way no other culture and no other religion can. It’s worth it to listen to all of Kruger’s breakout session from The Gospel Coalition’s Women Conference 2018, but in his talk, he states, “Christianity was robustly filled with active, involved, gifted women from the earliest phases, and they were doing tons of real, valuable ministry. None of them that we know of were ordained ministers.”6

The Old Testament offers several examples of faithful women who played important roles in God’s plans for His people:

  • Deborah serves as the only female judge of God’s people in Judges 4-5. Though Deborah’s situation is unique, she isn’t reluctantly praised as a good and faithful leader. She’s celebrated and honored.
  • In the story of King David and Abigail (1 Samuel 25), David doesn’t tell Abigail to go back to her wicked husband to submit to him. Instead, she’s praised for doing what is good and right despite her husband’s wickedness.
  • Ruth is not rebuked for calling on Boaz to fulfill his role as kinsmen redeemer but is blessed by him (Ruth 3).
  • Esther, though afraid, is used by God to save His people from destruction.

The New Testament is also full of examples:

  • Mary, a woman, is chosen to carry, give birth to, and be the mother of the Son of Man (Luke 1:26-56).
  • Anna is chosen as a prophetess and as one of the voices who would confirm the coming of the Messiah when Jesus was presented at the temple (Luke 2:36-38)
  • In Luke 8:1-3, the gospel writer notes that in addition to Jesus’s twelve disciples, Jesus also had many women following Him and providing for His and His disciples’ needs. Women supported the ministry of the Son of God.
  • As mentioned above, all four gospels record women first observing Christ’s empty tomb following His resurrection, and women are the first to declare the good news that Jesus has risen!
  • In Acts 9:36-43, we read about the death of Dorcas. Dorcas, “full of good works and acts of charity,” faithfully used her skills and talents to care for others. Her sisters-in-Christ mourn her death greatly, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter raises her from the dead. Many believe in the Lord because of Dorcas’s life.
  • Acts 16 tells us of Lydia whose entire house is baptized as followers of Jesus because of her belief and faithfulness.
  • On several occasions, Paul writes about the faithful service of women who are teachers, evangelists, or willing to minister however they are needed, and in his farewell to the Romans, the first two people whom he commends are women (Rom. 16:1-4).
  • Lastly, in 2 Timothy 1:5, we hear how the faith of Timothy’s grandmother and mother became his own.

God’s Word shows us that women are created distinct from men but that they are no less valued and useful. If we follow Jesus, we possess gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit meant to be used for God’s glory and for the building up of His kingdom. Though we still fall short and battle with sin and the flesh, in Christ, we have been redeemed, transformed, and equipped to work together to display the image of God and to share the gospel to a lost and dying world. We might struggle to work perfectly together as men and women in the way God designed, but we can trust that He will use our faithful offerings of service for good. And one day, when Christ returns and makes everything new, including our relationships with one another, we will once again see fully God’s good design and how He intended life to be.

In the third and final part of this series, “Discipling as Women: Our Modern Context,” we’ll look at some practical ways we can faithfully serve and build one another up in Christ today.

  1. Lewis, C.S. The Space Trilogy (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013), 349.
  2. Ibid, 653.
  3. Ibid, 654.
  4. Ibid, 331.
  5. Kruger, Michael. “The Church in Her House: The Dynamic Ministry of Women in Early Christianity.” The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference 2018. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/conference_media/church-house-dynamic-ministry-women-early-christianity/.
  6. Ibid.

Additional Resources to Keep Learning...

A Guide for Cultural Engagement: A Letter from the Early Church

Discipleship

Growing in Wisdom

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