Friday, December 14, 2018

When the Church Was Only Women!

Scholars debate when the church proper began. Many would say at Pentecost, others would trace it back through the righteous of Israel in the OT, while another possibility is the empty tomb. If we take the resurrection as the launch of the renewed people of God with Jesus as the first of a new humanity, then the church began then. I am somewhat drawn to the latter view, Jesus the firstborn of resurrection, the first fruits, and then believers men and women were added to his people. They were empowered for life at Pentecost, but for the forty days from the Resurrection, they were his people, building to 120 or so, gathered in prayer, as God's newly formed community of the ekklesia of God, waiting in obedience for God's power to be unleashed into them (Luke 24:46-52; Acts 1:8-14). 

Assuming this is so, aside from Jesus who is the head of the church in any decent ecclesiology (Col 1:18), the first church was entirely made up of women! This is confirmed in all four Gospels even if we are a little unsure of how many and exactly was there. Mark tells us that the group included Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1). They are told Jesus is risen and to go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee. Hence, one can argue that the first church service at which an angel preached was held at that moment, and they were commissioned to take the good news to the others (evangelists). Matthew confirms that at least Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there and Mark’s account is renarrated. We hear that they did go and the church had its second meeting in which the women leaders preached to the others and they then met Jesus in Galilee (Matt 28:1-20). Luke’s version confirms that the two Mary’s were there as was Joanna. Luke tells us that they went and told the apostles and others of their encounter (Luke 24:11). John too narrates that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, and then ran to tell the others (John 20:1–2).

From this, we can trust that there was at least Mary Magdalene, almost certainly the other Mary (not the mother of Jesus or Mary of Martha's sister's fame), and possibly Joanna and Salome. Incidentally, by cross-referencing the accounts of the women across the Gospels, it is likely that Salome is the mother of James and John. Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her, but she is not the woman who anoints Jesus in Luke 7 and is not a prostitute. Nevertheless, Mary Magdalene is an astonishing choice of the one who is the pioneer of God's church across all four Gospels. She is its leader, first preacher, apostle, and evangelist--one could argue.

All this tells me that the genesis of the church is women. They were planted as such by God through his angels. They are the first church planters. Obediently, as must all church planters, they went and did evangelism, announcing the good news. Others were only added as these first women told the men and they joined them. Hence, the whole structure of that church including its leaders and first preachers were women. Jesus, of course, is head, amen. So, not only was Mary the apostle to the apostles, she and others including Joanna, Salome, and the other Mary were the church. They are the “mothers of the living,” in an eternal sense so to speak (Gen 3:20)—the Eves from which the new creation was formed. They are the “mothers of Israel,” around whom the first church was formed (cf. Judg 5:7).

To this, I can add that the agreed head of the 
church, Jesus, came from Mary in his human form in which he heads God’s people. Her womb was the home of the head for nine months or so. The man came from women (1 Cor 11:12). He was utterly dependent on her, his life in her hands. She then mothered him to age. Indeed, we will celebrate this in the next weeks. What a joy! So while the church finds its origins in the Triune God, it also finds its genesis in women through whom God planted his Son and people, and who led that movement, even if for a short time.

The more I read Scriptures the more I find it implausible to deny women roles in church leadership and preaching ministries. Here, they are church planters and so apostles, evangelists and preachers, and the genesis of the new humanity in Christ. They were the first Jesus-formed church. They were the first Jesus-direct evangelists. They mother the church as they mothered Jesus and the new creation of God's people. May the Lord bless all people this Christmas, and especially blessed women.