The United Pentecostal Church International has always recognized the ministry of women, including ordination to the preaching and teaching ministry. Over the past several decades, the percentage of credentialed ministers who are women has declined, but in recent years there have been renewed efforts to affirm and encourage women in ministry. Let’s take a look at this subject historically and biblically.
Historically the Roman Catholic Church has never allowed the ordination of women as priests, and until the mid twentieth century the many Protestant denominations followed this precedent by restricting pulpit ministry to males. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Holiness and Pentecostal movements recognized the ministry of women based on the anointing of the Spirit. For example, both men and women served in the leadership of the Azusa Street Revival. When William Seymour, the founder of the Azusa Street Mission died, his wife, Jennie, became the pastor. Maria Woodworth-Etter was the featured evening speaker of the 1913 worldwide camp meeting in Arroyo Seco, California, that served as a catalyst for the emergence of the Oneness message. In the earliest Oneness Pentecostal ministerial directory that we have (1919), 203 of 704 ministers, or 29 percent, were women.
In the UPCI women have served as general youth secretary, general Sunday school secretary, district youth president, district home missions director, Bible college president, national board member (outside North America), and General Conference evening speaker, as well as pastors, evangelists, teachers, and missionaries. Currently, several key offices are restricted to males: all district board members, district global missions directors, and men’s ministry officers. However, other key offices are open to women: general superintendent, assistant general superintendent, general secretary, general global missions director, and other general and district offices not already named. The reason for these distinctions appears to be more cultural and historical than theological.
The proportion of women ministers has diminished over the years probably due to several factors. First, the early Pentecostal movement was about two-thirds female, but as more men entered the movement and as it became more socially accepted, men increasingly assumed leadership roles. Second, there was a backlash against the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as Pentecostal women did not wish to be identified with the attitudes and mannerisms of worldly women who fought against biblical morality. Third, Pentecostals were influenced by the theological and social positions of Fundamentalists, who strongly opposed women in ministry. Consequently, many Pentecostal women fulfilled their ministry without seeking ministerial credentials. Often, those who experienced a ministerial call married ministers and worked alongside their husbands without seeking credentials of their own.
In the Old Testament God used women as judges and prophets. (See Judges 4:4; II Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3.) The new covenant opened the door for greater involvement in ministry by everyone including public prophecy (anointed proclamation) by both male and female (Acts 2:17; I Corinthians 14:31). The general principle is that in the body of Christ opportunities are not restricted on the basis of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender (Galatians 3:28). In the early church, women served in various leadership and ministry roles.
- The daughters of Philip were prophets (Acts 21:9).
- Priscilla was a teacher and apparently a pastor along with her husband, Aquila (Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3-5).
- Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1).
- Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Euodia, and Syntyche were Paul’s coworkers in the gospel Romans 16:12; Philippians 4:2-3).
- Junia was an apostle along with Andronicus, apparently her husband (Romans 16:7).
In dealing with a situation in Ephesus, Paul explained that women were not to usurp authority over men but were to minister under proper spiritual authority (I Timothy 2:11-12). Apparently some women there had begun teaching contrary to the established doctrine of the church. Thus he instructed Timothy, the overseer, that they had no authority to teach but needed to be silent. Because of a problem in the Corinthian church, Paul also explained that women were not to interrupt a public assembly to ask questions (I Corinthians 14:34-35).
The instruction to be silent is not absolute but specific to the conditions being addressed. Otherwise, if interpreted absolutely, women could not sing, pray aloud, testify, or teach Sunday school, contrary to the principles of New Testament ministry that we have already seen. Paul taught that women could speak in public worship as long as they did so with proper respect for authority and while upholding their feminine identity (I Corinthians 11:5-6).
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