Thursday, August 6, 2015

Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Part 3 - Ezers & Eves

The concept of Women's Ministry (WM) can often evoke strong emotions for many of us, perhaps because we've either seen or encountered poor examples of women's ministry in action. Whether it involved theologically false/unsound teaching or efforts that inadvertently challenged and usurped the authority of the male ordained leadership within the local church, our strong reactions against unfounded models for WM are surely warranted in those cases.

It seems though that the question at hand yet is whether or not there is a true Biblical warrant for having a WM in the local church at all. Since we could spend weeks or months citing the many ways that WM can go terribly wrong, and in the spirit of avoiding heresy hunts and conjuring up counterfeits, I'd like to continue (see Part 1 - Intro and FAQ and Part 2 - Ministry?) by attempting to put forth the positive case for a Biblical philosophy of WM in this post. I'll attempt to do so primarily by looking at Genesis as providing the essential groundwork and necessary attributes for an effective WM. Meanwhile, I'll be saving future posts for the topics of 1) unhelpful and unbiblical variants of WM and 2) the ever-popular Titus 2 model.


Genesis and Women's Ministry: Our 'Ezer' Calling

Perhaps the most important factor in considering the necessity for WM, according to the PCA's Committee on Discipleship Ministries, originates with the very creation of mankind in Genesis 1:27
"So God created mankind in his own image,    in the image of God he created them;    male and female he created them."
and in Genesis 2:18:
"The Lord said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
This suitable helper in Hebrew is signified by the word "Ezer", which is used throughout the Old Testament as a word that also describes particular attributes of God himself.


The following descriptions (from page 35 of Women's Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt) provide an excellent contrast of what the women's helper, life-giving ministry should look like in contrast to what our flesh, the world, and the devil would tempt us be like instead. These "Ezer" words are strong, compassionate, relational, life-giving words.

HELPER/LIFE-GIVER                                 HINDERER/LIFE-TAKER
----------------------------                                    ---------------------------------
Exodus 18:4: Defends                                       Attacks
Psalm 10:14: Sees, cares for oppressed           Indifferent, unconcerned for oppressed
Psalm 20:2: Supports                                        Weakens
Psalm 33:20: Shields, protects                          Leaves unprotected and defenseless
Psalm 70:5: Delivers from distress                    Causes distress
Psalm 72:12-14: Rescues poor, weak, needy    Ignores poor, weak, needy
Psalm 86:17; Comforts                                      Avoids, causes discomfort


The PCA's goal for WM is that each woman will “know Christ personally and be committed to extending His kingdom in her life, home, church, community, and throughout the world” and thus God will be glorified. This purpose for WM is ideally suited to enable us to glorify God, because it mirrors the Lord's own "Ezer" attributes.


Under the Ministry Umbrella

In an earlier post on the Mortification of Spin, Aimee Byrd insightfully asks, "What Goes Under the Umbrella of Women's Ministry?" In the article, Aimee points out many issues with the way that WMs are often employed in the local church context. As previously mentioned, in a future post, I hope to look at some of the unhelpful and unbiblical approaches to WM that are prevalent around us.  My initial reaction to the question of what goes under the umbrella of WM was that the underlying premise seemed off. It seems that the question ought not to be so much about what falls under the umbrella of  WM, but rather it ought to be about what umbrella WM falls under and about how WM functions within the framework of the Church
.

Informal, non-public ministries in historically reformed churches traditionally operate under the oversight of a session or a presbytery. Whether we're considering the children's nursery, the outreach soup kitchen, elder care, or a campus ministry (just to name a few), each informal ministry ideally falls under the umbrella of authority given to the ordained, formal ministers of the Church (for a more thorough explanation, see my previous post on "Ministry?").

Within the local church, these informal ministries which have oversight by the formal ministry umbrella, may also be likened to the swirl in a marble cake. Rather than being silo-ed off as lone ranger groups, they ought to be interconnected and intentionally partnered along side the other works the church -- in order to support and build up the leadership and formal, overall Ministry of the local church.  Paul describes this overall concept for ministry even more clearly in Ephesians 4:15 - 16: 

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."
In the case of WMs, women should proactively involve their sessions in planning and decision making, by at least submitting any materials and names of Bible study teachers for approval in advance. Likewise, the women chairpersons ought to coordinate and collaborate with the overall ministerial direction of the congregation, so the discipling efforts of the local church's WM projects its complementary nature of the "ezer" design on a corporate level.

Furthermore, this concept for a ministry model within the church, as well as our "Ezer" image-bearer design, dovetails nicely with the teaching of Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) in Chapter 26, which states:


The Westminster Confession of Faith
Chapter XXVI

Of the Communion of Saints

I. All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory:[1] and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces,[2] and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.[3]
II. Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification;[4] as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offers opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.[5]


Thus, a healthy, Biblical WM will equip and encourage each woman to be better church members - and - to fulfill her "ezer" image-bearer function to glorify God in her life, home, church, community and throughout the world.
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Genesis and Women's Ministry: Eve as Life-Giver

In addition to our ezer/helper design, Susan Hunt also reminds us in her books and talks that women have been given the name and the promise of "life-giver". When Adam named Eve, Genesis 3:20 tells us that it was because the woman would be the mother of all the living. And we know that Eve literally means life-giver. God's promise of redemption by the Messiah, through the seed of the woman was also a promise that a key redemptive purpose for womanhood is tied to this aspect of "life-giving". Paul in 1 Timothy 2:15 also picks up on this redemptive theme in Eve as life-giver and the miracle of child birth. Matthew Henry writes in his commentary on the passage, "But there is a word of comfort; that those who continue in sobriety, shall be saved in child-bearing, or with child-bearing, by the Messiah, who was born of a woman. And the especial sorrow to which the female sex is subject (Gen. 3:16), should cause men to exercise their authority with much gentleness, tenderness, and affection."

In a healthy, vibrant WM that is Biblically informed, the theological foundation will specifically orient toward these building up and life-giving attributes that conform us to Christ and aid us in discerning His good and perfect will (Rom. 12:2). This includes all women, single, widowed, divorced, young, and old (another topic, for another post?)


For instance, let's take the recent exposure of Planned Parenthood's atrocities, and the notion that many Christians (especially many women) have been relatively silent on the topic. I know I have reserved my voice quite a bit compared to most of my friends. However, given that Planned Parenthood is the diabolic opposite of the name Adam gave to Eve and the promise that God gave to women in Genesis 3:20, I have to wonder whether we've become desensitized to the practical and functional outworking of what it means to be a Godly, life-giving woman? As those who are called and identified by God as "life-givers", we above all others should so overwhelmingly understand, embrace, and cherish the beauty and miracle of life that there would be no room for peace or tolerance for these gruesome and horrific actions of Planned Parenthood.


In the final analysis (or perhaps just in attempt wrap up this overly long and rambling post), whether a local church has an official women's ministry or not, we do need to answer the question of whether we are equipping women to be helpers and life-givers? These are specifically female callings that are God-given, and women will not learn these principles outside of the church. We do need to ask ourselves if we are being intentional about how to build up distinctively feminine disciples - female image bearers and life-givers who live holy lives that glorify God in their homes, their church, their communities -- and all of life. The PCA has chosen to address these discipleship needs by providing denominational, presbytery level, and local level training in women's ministry. Visit this site for more information: PCA CDM Women's Ministry.

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Related resources: Women's Ministry in the Local Church by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt.
The Session and Women's Ministry, ByFaith Magazine
Philosophy of Women's Ministry by Susan Hunt

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Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 


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