In his excellent book on the Protestant Reformation, “The Unquenchable Flame,” Michael Reeves tells the odd and fascinating story of the marriage of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. While on assignment as a priest in Lutheran Germany, Cranmer married, which was still forbidden back in England. Being recalled back to England, and wanting to hide the fact that he was a married man, Cranmer reportedly had a large box constructed with holes in it, for his wife to travel in. Wherever Cranmer traveled, his wife accompanied him in the box. As a result, this dear woman was named by church historians as a minor martyr of the Reformation, given the inconveniences she endured for love of God’s servant.
In telling you this story I want to reflect on the fact that it is somewhat of a metaphor for the sometimes sad treatment of women across church history. Perhaps more than we care to admit, women and their contribution to life, marriage and ministry have been confined to man-made boxes that have restricted their ability to exercise their gifts and calling in Christ. Too often, even as complementarians, we have over-emphasized what women cannot do in the church, while failing to talk up and set forth the breadth and beauty of God’s calling on Christian women. In the light of this imbalance, let us shout loudly and urgently that women are not inferior to men, that wives are not simple adjuncts to their husbands, that women are not under house arrest and that women are not the B team in church, but instead are active participants in its mission.
Pardon the pun, but Scripture challenges us to think outside the box, to embrace a broad and beautiful understanding of the role of women in life, marriage and the church. Beyond the prohibitions regarding headship in the home, leadership in the church and formally teaching men the Word, there is much for a godly woman to do for God’s glory.
First, there is ministry through prayer (Acts 1:14; 16:13). As priests before God, women can storm the gates of heaven in prayer. Second, there is ministry through spiritual mothering (Titus 2:3-5). Older women can teach younger women, and mentor the next generation. Third, there is ministry through financial giving (Luke 8:1-3; Acts 16:11-15). Throughout church history, women have been generous patrons of the gospel. Fourth, there is ministry through hospitality (1 Cor. 1:11; 16:19; Col. 4:1). Women have opened their hearts and homes to God’s people and leaders to great profit. Fifth, there is ministry through biblical instruction. Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is not absolute, women can justifiably teach other women, instruct children, and even disciple men alongside their husbands (2 Tim. 1:5; Titus 2:3-5; Acts 19:26). Sixth, there is ministry through song and worship (Ex. 15:20-21; Luke 1:46ff). Women have helped the church worship more beautifully by writing songs, using their voices, and applying their musical talents. Seventh, there is ministry through acts of mercy (Mark 15:41; Acts 9:36-43). Women have made the gospel wonderfully real through kind deeds and merciful actions.
It seems to me that the message of the Bible is “You Go, Girl!”