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The tradition of women raising the eucharistic cup is witnessed from the late 100s to the mid-500s, including evidence from the three oldest surviving iconographic artifacts that depict early Christians in real churches.

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Recently I heard someone say that while they support women in leadership, ultimately all final authority should be male. They went on to say that though women may exercise their God-given gifts in new spheres of service such as teaching adults, as deacons, or even as a pastor, Scripture teaches that men should exercise ultimate authority in a church, marriage, denomination, or Christian institution. This perspective is commonly held by “soft complementarians” who are willing to grant new opportunities of service to women. While we are grateful for this bit of progress, the belief that men hold the final position of authority represents a further biblical challenge.

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Perhaps we ought to express amazement not only at the size and success of Promise Keepers, but also that the idea of someone keeping his promises should be considered so revolutionary as to start a movement! Perhaps we should pause to ponder what kind of church we have become, now that many Christian men seem to require their own books, videos, magazines, Bible study guides, conferences, seminars, support groups, even their own praise and worship music in order to find the motivation to lead lives of godliness and moral virtue.

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Sarah Trimmer (1741–1810), Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896), and Elizabeth Baxter (1837–1926) are three foremothers of faith who have left us an extensive legacy of published works. 

 

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Throughout history, charismatic men and women of God have risen up, almost out of nowhere, to lead spiritual movements and shape theological discourse. These leaders often build churches and large followings before the institutional church pulls them in for a chat. The air is tense, awkward. At some point in the conversation someone asks a deceptively simple question: “Who gives you the authority to do the work you are doing?”

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The passing of Mary Daly last week brought back memories of my graduate class in Feminism and Christianity. In 1984, I was in a class of about 20 women, all of whom were post-Christian (as they defined themselves). They were convinced that Christianity, and even Christ, had nothing good to say to them as women. I hoped at that time I might have the opportunity to present the early church and the New Testament with historical sensitivity. That goal takes shape as my new book, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians.

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I could not have realized in 1972 that my ecclesiastical and professional commitment to women in ministry, already established, would lead to one of the most important and consuming professional and personal aspects of my life as a New Testament professor, churchman, and advocate for a position I came to see as part of my commitment to the gospel.

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The phenomenon of cultural relativity, with the adaptations it imposes, is repeatedly illustrated within the bible itself. We see the Israelite nomads moving from the wilderness into the settled agricultural life of Canaan; we see a peasant economy giving place under the monarchy to an urbanised mercantile economy, with the attendant abuses against which the great prophets of Israel inveighed; we see the post-exilic adjustment to life in a unit of a great, well-organised empire—first Persian, then Hellenistic, then Roman. Even within the limited confines of the New Testament we see the gospel transplanted from its Jewish and Palestinian matrix into the Gentile environment of the Mediterranean world. In this last respect we could pay special attention to the way in which John, while preserving the authentic gospel of Christ, brings out its abiding and universal validity in a new idiom for an audience very different from that to which it was first proclaimed.

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In the struggle to serve God, women have used their musical talent and influence in various ways. From Bible times to the present day, music has played an important part in worship of our great God. Students continue to explore, search out, and discover the part women played in this area through the years.

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Do you have family or friends on the mission field who are women? How many of them preach, teach, and exercise their gifts of leadership beside men on the mission field? Yet, many of the churches that send these women to the mission field do not provide opportunities for them to preach, teach, or exercise leadership when they return home. Does this seem consistent to you?

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