Guest Post: When Men and Women Ministered Together as Equals…in the Early Church

In our efforts to restore the equality of women in the Church, it’s so important to honor and thank those men who have consistently championed mutuality, using their influence and gifts to advance the partnership between men and women as we work together for the Kingdom.  In evangelical circles, I think of Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington, Frank Viola, Gordon Fee, Jon Ortberg, Roger Olson, John Stackhouse, Brian McLaren, and many more, including my friend, Ed Cyzewski. 

Ed is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and is the co-author of the forthcoming book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus (Due out in August 2012). He shares his imperfect and sometimes sarcastic perspective on following Jesus on his blog, In A Mirror Dimly In one of the coolest, most affirming series on the Web, Ed has invited women to share their experiences in ministry—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in a series of guest posts entitled Women in Ministry series. If you haven’t had the chance to read through some of those, do yourself a favor and check them out.  I’ve always believed that the purpose of building a platform is to share it. And Ed has modeled that for me, and for so many other readers, in a beautiful and life-giving way.  Today I’m returning the favor. Hope you enjoy this guest post on Priscilla and Aquilla as much as I did!

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Transient

Have you ever heard of the Apostle Peter’s wife? No? 

We know he had a wife. However, we know nothing about her, save that Paul seemed a little put out that Peter could travel with his wife and enjoy financial support for the two of them while he had to sew tents all day. We have no record of Peter’s wife preaching, teaching, organizing a potluck, or running the first nursery in Jerusalem. 

While we know nothing about Peter’s wife, we know quite a bit, comparatively, about Priscilla, as in the wife of Aquila. 

Do you know how many times we hear about Aquila by himself? Zero. 

Of the seven times we read about Priscilla and her husband, her name is listed first five times. 

In a male-dominated culture where patriarchy defined the Jewish culture of guys like Paul, this is worth noting. It’s likely that Priscilla came to mind first when people thought of Priscilla and Aquila. 

However, the point of mentioning Priscilla and Aquila (let’s call them P and A) isn’t to debate whether one is superior to the other. The point is that P and A formed a ministry powerhouse that not only kept up with a stone-dodging, beast-fighting hoss like Paul. They routinely emerged as leading characters at key points in the growth of the early church, first converting Apollos and then hosting a church in the pivotal city of Ephesus. 

These are critically important accomplishments. (In fact, even if a lot of Calvinists prefer that women don’t teach in their churches, they have to admit that any woman chosen to work with Paul and to teach Apollos SHOULD be the dream woman of every male Calvinist. Come on guys, admit it!)

Getting back to the importance of P and A…

Ephesus was a major port city, religious hot house (remember “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”?), and cultural center back in their time (with a lecture hall AND a library for crying out loud.). Having a healthy church there was critical. 

In addition, Apollos not only dominated the Jewish leaders of his day, he was in much higher demand than Paul himself—a notion that may strike some evangelicals today as sinful. The way Luke describes his conversion makes it sound like schooling Apollos was a typical Saturday afternoon for team P and A.

So here’s the highlight reel for P and A:

• When God needed someone to assist his top missionary, he tapped P and A. 

• When God needed someone to straighten out his top preacher, he tapped P and A again. 

• When God needed a home for a church in a major city, he flashed the P and A light in the sky. They pulled up their tent-making business and moved in. 

P and A show us a wife and husband working together as equals, even if Priscilla sometimes came to mind first. Regardless, they shared the work of ministry. They’re always mentioned together, while just about every other male minister in the New Testament is mentioned without any reference to a wife, let alone a wife equally sharing in the ministry. 

We don’t have many details about P and A. To many of us, they’re just footnotes in the bigger stories about Paul, Peter, John, and Barnabas. However, at critical moments in the advancement of the Gospel, this woman and man suited up in their spiritual armor, jumped into ministry, and lugged the Kingdom of God forward into hostile settings. 

Women have historically had a vital role in the ministry of the church. For exhibit A, see Priscilla. Women didn’t start ministering because of the modern feminist’s movement. Priscilla risked her life for the Gospel long before women risked their lives to obtain the right to own property or to vote.

There’s no doubt that many women today are following in Priscilla’s footsteps. Some serve equally alongside their husbands, while others sense God’s calling for themselves and pursue it faithfully. These women often hear criticism and proof texts from the church. Sometimes the criticism can be hateful and mean-spirited, as if these women are stealing the Bible or surrounding churches with land mines and barbed wire. 

I don’t know what exactly is behind some of the anger and criticism Christians sometimes direct at women in ministry. I suppose some critics are trying to stop women from “sinning.” Others may fear that the Bible falls apart for them if 1 Corinthians 14 or 1 Timothy 2 are read alongside the stories of Deborah, Huldah, and Junia (I’ll just add that I’m not interested in debating this here, but encourage complementarians to read NT Wright on this topic and to lodge complaints with him). The fear and anger of some may even suggest that they worry women will “rise up” and displace men in the church. Sometimes even women attack fellow women who speak about their ministry calling.

If there’s one thing the story of P and A teaches, it’s that a wife and husband can equally share a ministry in a healthy, God-honoring way. Paul didn’t bat an eye writing about them both ministering together, even if his eyes were pretty gross. 

We don’t know the details of how P and A worked together in their ministry. Perhaps it’s better that way. Heaven knows we’d probably try to create a strict husband and wife ministry manual if Luke told us the details. 

It’s enough to know that P and A risked their lives for the Gospel together, taught people together, hosted a church in their home, and set out on missionary journeys together. Neither of them owned the ministry. Aquila wasn’t the husband of a church planter, and Priscilla wasn’t the wife of a missionary. 

They were both ministers in the early church used mightily by God regardless of gender. 

To the surprise of some and possibly the chagrin of others, it worked.

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Check out Ed’s blog
Check out Ed’s awesome Women in Ministry series
Find Ed on Twitter. 

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This is the tenth post in our series, One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society. You can read the rest of the posts here.

To participate in the Week of Mutuality synchroblog: 

1.  Write a post around the theme of mutuality in the Church, home, and world. 
2. Share your post on Twitter using #mutuality2012, and it will show up in the live scroll here on the blog.

3. To be considered for Mutuality Week’s Sunday Superlatives, submit your post here

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