WOMEN IN CHURCH HISTORY

Where would the Church be without women? That’s a question and one that we can just as easily ask as, “Where would the Church be without men?” As followers of Jesus, we are partakers in the saving grace of God through the work of Jesus. We are heirs together to the promise. The answer to the question must begin with the fact that women and men are both equal in worth and dignity as image bearers of God. From there, we can look to some specific examples of women throughout history who have imaged our Savior and pointed to the character of our unchanging God.

We can start as early as 28 AD with the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. We don’t know the cause of her illness, but we can understand the consequences this hardship brought to her life. Her blood made her ceremonially “unclean,” and therefore, untouchable. She would not have been touched by anyone for those 12 years for fear that others would have been made “unclean” as well. Anything she would have touched, sat on or laid on would have also been considered “unclean.” All of this allows us to infer that she had been cast out of society. She wouldn’t have been able to attend the Temple and would have been separated from others, both socially and physically. Mark chapter 5 describes that she had given all she had to doctors in an attempt to heal this illness. She gave all she had and it had only gotten worse. And then came Jesus, walking by. She had heard about how He had healed so many others. This was her opportunity! She took the chance of breaking the law just by being present in the crowd that day. And then, she reached out and took hold of Jesus’ cloak; just the fringe of his tunic. And that is where she received healing in response to her bold faith. What a reminder that Jesus is the one with “healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2)! Jesus knew that power had left Him and addressed the woman. But He did not condemn her for breaking ceremonial laws. Instead, He publicly called her daughter and proclaimed that her sins were forgiven.

We can jump from this woman in church history, whose story was well known in each of the three synoptic gospels, to a woman who also knew the oppression and power of the Roman empire. Vibia Perpetua was born in 182 AD in Carthage to a wealthy family. Around 201 AD, the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, made it illegal for anyone within the empire to convert to either Christianity or Judaism, and the Roman governor over Carthage enforced this edict. Perpetua had come to know Jesus as her Savior. She and five of her friends were arrested for their faith in Jesus. They were given a trial and the opportunity to renounce their faith, but they refused. For this, they were sentenced to die in the arena. Perpetua’s family was so desperate to protect her that they pleaded with her to renounce her faith. She kept a diary of these experiences and recording the following reflection:

“While we were still under arrest my father, out of love for me, was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. 'Father,' said I, 'do you see this vase here, for example, or water pot or whatever?' 'Yes, I do', said he. And I told him: 'Could it be called by any other name than what it is?' And he said: 'No.' 'Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.' At this my father was so angered by the word 'Christian' that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.”

Perpetua met torment after torment in the arena for all spectators to witness, until she died on March 7, 203 AD by the sword. Every attempt to get her to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ failed, as she held fast to her profession of faith (Hebrews 10:23). Her life served as a bold witness to the glory of God.

Through these women, and many others like them, we see a boldness of faith that led them to risk everything and endure consequences in order to stay true to the Word. They risked everything temporal for what they could never lose. They both experienced a healing; a wholeness; a restoration in Jesus. We know that this is true for countless other women — from Abraham’s wife, Sarah, to the women in our church who will pray for you without being asked to. We can see, through this boldness and steadfastness of faith, the sacrifice of countless women throughout the history of the church. This includes within the present life of the church.

All of these things give testimony, not to their own strength or abilities, but to Jesus Christ — the One we worship. It is the Father’s love, poured out through Jesus for His daughters, that never stops. He gives us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). And, just like the woman who was healed that day in Galilee, and the women who gave their lives to keep His name on their lips, we can find the same source of bold faith, steadfastness, and hope. Seek Him as we honor women this month and find that He does the same.

Amanda Bryant, M.Ed., LPC


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