In the Book of Acts we get a remarkable insight into the fresh, bright, joyous, and vigorous life of the early church. We find the apostle Paul and his company on the road to Jerusalem: “And we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which is one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21: 8-9). Here were women preachers of the Apostolic Age all in one church, and this too, in an age which constantly placed women on a lower level than men.
That there were numerous women preachers may be inferred from other passages of Scripture. For instance, Paul writes: “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). Here the Greek word for servant is diakonos which, while it probably did not have an official meaning at that time, could nevertheless be translated “minister” or “deacon.”
While this text in itself is not proof that Phebe was a woman preacher, taken in connection with other women workers mentioned in the same chapter, it is at least significant. Paul seems to refer to other women preachers when he writes: “And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).
As a matter of fact, the prevalence of women preachers is a fair measure of the spirituality of a church, a country, or an age. As the church grows more apostolic and more deeply spiritual, women preachers and workers abound in that church; as it grows more worldly and cold, the ministry of women is despised and gradually ceases altogether.
It is of the nature of paganism to hate foreign people and to despise women, but the spirit of the gospel is exactly opposite as expressed by Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
In the church of Christ there is no room for these ancient forms of prejudice and discrimination. We live in an enlightened age wherein women often have equal talent and more opportunity than men for artistic and social work.
Probably one of the greatest sources of the weakness of the modern church is that it has refused to women the opportunity for distinguished service within its ranks. By thus closing the door in the face of millions of its most talented and consecrated workers, it has diverted their strength into hundreds of other social agencies and thus robbed itself of an incalculable source of strength and influence in the modern world.
The late Charles E. Brown served as editor in chief of the Gospel Trumpet(now Vital Christianity) for twenty-one years (1930-51).
Brown, C. E. (May 1939) Excerpted from “Women Preachers.” The Gospel Trumpet, 5.