I want to open up this topic of gender prejudice by stepping back to a time when the church was newborn, alive and growing after the resurrection, and there was an outpouring of God’s Spirit on both sons and daughters. The gospel was being released in both word and deed as the resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed. Panicked temple leaders, in an attempt to calm the storm, arrested Peter and John when a man who had been lame for forty years was healed.
They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:18 Message)
The they in this interaction refers to the religious leaders of their day, and Peter and John are the ones who were sternly warned. This wonder performed in the name of Jesus, the healing of a man, had thrown wide open a door to preach Christ the risen Savior. The Jewish leaders found themselves between a rock and a hard place because there was no denying the healing of this crippled man. They reasoned among themselves:
By now it’s known all over town that a miracle has occurred, and that they are behind it. There is no way we can refute that. But so that it doesn’t go any further, let’s silence them with threats so they won’t dare to use Jesus’s name ever again with anyone. (Acts 4:16–17 Message)
We all know that threatening these two disciples did not work. If anything their tactics had the very opposite effect and actually strengthened their resolve.
But Peter and John spoke right back, “Whether it’s right in God’s eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there’s no question—we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18–20 Message)
As far as Peter and John were concerned, the religious leaders could continue to argue among themselves for as long as they liked, but they would not be stopped. They realized trying to convince these leaders would be an exercise in futility. They had no choice but to continue teaching and preaching what they knew to be true. These men understood that there are times when silence equates to disobedience.
These threats echo in our ears even today. The recipients of this threat look different now. This is no longer an isolated directive given by religious leaders to uneducated fishermen from Galilee. It has grown into a cultural push the world over. It sounds different now, but the objective is the same. Our secular world will allow you to talk about God and be as spiritual as you like, just as long as you don’t use the name of Jesus.
And though we should not be surprised when secular arenas block teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus, when the church obstructs its members and silences their voices . . . well, that is another animal entirely.
For more than two millennia religious leaders have limited and at times prohibited thousands of the church’s daughters from preaching and teaching in the sacred spaces under its governance. Read Acts 4:18 again:
So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
As I pondered this verse, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “Far too many of the daughters I called and gifted by my Spirit for ministry have been held back and denied their call by the church.”
You might have heard religious leaders say, “Women can teach other women but not men.” Or, “Women can share, but there is to be no preaching.” And: “Women can lead, as long as it is outside the church.” These veiled threats appear to be more reasonable, but the result is the same: the gospel is contained. Women who are bold with their faith are too quickly labeled aggressive. Women who are confident in their God are mistaken for ambitious. Yet the question before us is the same one raised by Peter and John. Is it right in the sight of God to listen to men rather than to obey God? And what has God instructed both his sons and daughters to do? We find our answer in the words Jesus spoke right before he ascended:
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. (Mark 16:15–19)
This directive was given to all who believe. The Great Commission is permission, it doesn’t even require a building or an organization, and this mandate is inclusive of both genders. In Christ all are called and liberated to declare God’s good news. Once we’ve known God’s freedom and truth we should never allow human threats to silence us.
SHAMELESS PLUG: If this post resonated with you, I spend much more time addressing this issue in my book Without Rival. Grab your copy as part of a three book bundle here.