Friday, May 12, 2006

Women and the Church

Mabery-Foster, Lucy. Women and the Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

In Women and the Church, Lucy Mabery-Foster provides a much needed resource for local churches and para-church organizations. She recognizes the need for leaders in churches across America to minister to the needs of women, who make up a majority of their congregations. In the pages of this book, Mabery-Foster covers the topics ranging from challenges involved in women’s ministries, biblical perspectives of the role of women in the church and society, feminism and its affects on modern Christianity, the unique needs of women in the church and how to meet them, and the establishment and building of women’s ministries.

Mabery-Foster begins by convincing the reader of the need to address women’s issues in the church. Whether one is a pastor, lay-leader, or concerned Christian, one can only benefit from a better understanding of caring for the unique needs of women, particularly as times and ideologies change. She then shifts into introducing arguments concerning views of biblical womanhood, examining different interpretations of hierarchy and roles within the church, and asking the question of whether or not feminism is biblical. Once believers truly know where they stand on these issues, they can effectively minister to the needs of women in the church. These unique needs must be met by helping women take responsibility for their actions and emotions by placing them under the lordship of Christ and counseling women who are hurting. Mabery-Foster further details how one might meet the needs of single women, married women, working women, and ethnic women. Taking all of the above into consideration, it becomes obvious for the necessity of establishing a women’s ministry in the local church. The author lays out an outline of how to develop a discipleship program for women, followed by tips on how to raise up leaders for the ministry using Old Testament examples of and New Testament guidelines for godly leadership. Leaders in women’s ministries, Mabery-Foster concludes, must develop a philosophy of ministry that ministers to the whole woman: providing fellowship, discipleship, and growth in the women of the local church.

Throughout the book Mabery-Foster addresses issues involving women’s ministry that were not prevalent twenty years ago. Divorce has become the norm. More women are working outside the home. America’s transient society has displaced many women away from their families once they are on their own. Such issues cannot be ignored when working with women in the church. Rather than alienating women who do not fit the traditional mold of what evangelicals once thought Christian women ought to be, Mabery-Foster asserts that these are the very women that need to feel a part of that ministry. While the traditional family ideal appears to be crumbling, the church must provide the fellowship, encouragement, counsel, and growth that women need within the family of God.

Many modern women are confused about their roles in the home, society, and the church. Feminism has swept through our society and has permeated the church. The consequences of Eve’s sin have affected all generations following her. It does not appear, however, that Eve’s “desire” for her husband has affected society at large to such an extent as it has the past thirty years. In response to feminism, Mabery-Foster does not deny woman’s responsibility in the Fall of mankind. She masterfully works through the Scriptures to reveal God’s design in the creation order and the joy found in submitting to the authority found therein. Yet, feminists seem bent on seeing Christian faith through the lenses of their assumption that men and women are equal in all respect. Mabery-Foster points out that as a result of their presuppositions, feminists deny the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of God, and the doctrine of humanity. Even “evangelical feminists”, in order to maintain their position, must make such statements as “Paul was wrong.”

Below are listed three particularly relevant quotes from the book to women’s ministry:

• “[T]he wife’s submission is not to be an unthinking obedience to her husband’s harsh rule but rather a grateful acceptance of his care.” (47)

• “We must teach our women to embrace their singleness, developing themselves to the fullest of their potential in Christ, believing that God’s highest goal for them is to glorify Him—while waiting on His timing to place them in relationships of His choosing.” (165)

• “Another problem is that young couples today try to draw all their emotional support from each other, since the extended families are so far removed, and this puts more stress on their relationship. No two people can supply everything that each other needs. People need people—people whom they can depend on for maturing them in their faith, for encouragement, for advice, for support, and for accountability.” (206)

Lucy Mabery-Foster’s study in chapter five regarding the role of women according to the New Testament is stellar. While most feminists and many evangelicals tend to place a negative connotation on the term submit, Mabery-Foster shows that Paul and Peter were not demeaning women, but rather, the Apostles affirmed women as created in God’s image, co-heirs with Christ, equal in receiving the gift of salvation and spiritual gifts, and complimentary to men in their roles as women in the home and church. Women do not submit to men as one would to a tyrant. Instead, Men are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Husbands have authority over their wives, just as Christ has authority over the church … not as tyrant, but as Savior (Ephesians 5:23). Mabery-Foster asserts Christ’s headship is not characterized by his lordship, but rather by his “saviorhood.”(46) Such love! Such sacrifice! Who would not desire to submit oneself under the headship of such a One? Thus a woman submits to her husband out of “grateful acceptance of his care”(47), not out of blind, unwilling obedience to tyranny.

Throughout the text Mabery-Foster rebukes feminists for reading Scripture through the lens of how they want to perceive Scripture in light of their own views. They twist Scripture to fit their views or reject its teachings entirely when they do not match their beliefs. What is truth in Scripture? Or is it all relative? Mabery-Foster stands for the Bible in all areas, except when it comes to her own situation, it seems. A professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, as well as, a speaker at pastor conferences and seminars, Mabery-Foster justifies her having authority over men in matters of teaching the Bible by stating that Paul’s commands do not extend to organizations outside the local church.(62-63) Such an argument seems faulty when considering that at the time of Paul’s writing there were no para-church ministries. Surely, anything involving the ministry of preaching and teaching God’s Word then pertained to his exhortation regarding women’s roles not to excercise the authority of teaching Scripture to men.

Despite that one inconsistency, Mabery-Foster writes a very fine book that ought to be on the required reading list for all seminary students, on the shelves of all pastors, and in the hands of all women who desire to be leaders in their churches’ women’s ministry. Because women make up the majority of church congregations, not to mention 55% of the nation’s population, ministers of the gospel must understand the special needs women have. Women and the Church is not written with a female audience in mind but for all who desire to effectively minister to the entire body of Christ.

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