The often told story in John chapter 8 of an adulterous woman brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees is familiar to many of us. In this post I want to focus in on something Jesus said to the woman after those who demanded her stoning had quietly left the scene: “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?” (John 8:10a NKJV).
Jesus knew a little bit about being the focus of accusation. No. He actually knew a lot about it. John tells us the main reason the religious authorities had engineered this situation was in the hope Jesus might say or do something for which they could legally accuse Him of law breaking (Jn. 8:6). Surprisingly, Jesus in His righteousness, and the woman, in her presumed guilt, had something very much in common that day. They were both the subjects of serious accusation.
Woman’s accusers are not hard to find. Throughout human history those accusing voices have become very familiar to womankind. You may have heard them. They can present themselves in subtle whispered tones or loud shouted proclamations. They make themselves known to us from pulpits, theological volumes, church policy, seminary rules, church gossip and a multitude of other platforms. They can come from total strangers, or from well meaning Christian friends or relatives. They are both historical and contemporary. They may sound something like this:
“Woman, if you desire to teach men, you are guilty of desiring more than God has ordained for you.”
“Woman, if you do not acknowledge your husband as your spiritual leader, you are guilty of disobeying the Bible.”
“Woman, if you think you have leadership skills that would benefit this church, you are clearly guilty of being rebellious.”
“Woman, if you dare to think you were created for something beyond the role of helpmeet and mother, you are guilty of being prideful and in serious error.”
There are many more accusations that can be added to this ‘guilty woman’ list. But I want to return to Jesus’ question: “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?” Because the truth is, for many Christian women, the accusers are everywhere. The passage of years since Jesus posed that pointed question to the frightened woman before Him has not dimmed either the question or the accusing voices.
It is condemning, crushing accusation that is at the heart of the continuing oppression and subjugation of the female sex within the Christian church. The essence of the accusation is this: “Woman, you are not enough. You are not sanctified enough, trustworthy enough, knowledgeable enough, wise enough, good enough, and most of all you are not man enough.”
Of course these accusers believe they have scripture squarely behind them and are suitably horrified at the idea they are suggesting women are not equal to men. It’s merely a matter of God’s order they tell us, not a matter of equality. But at the end of the day what they are really saying is “Christ is not enough.” His redemptive work on the Cross was not enough to fully restore woman into the image of God as it did men. His resurrection means something different for females than it does for males. And “in Christ there is no male nor female” does not imply the same level of freedom on gender grounds as it does for class or race.
So we are left with the confronting question: what is lacking in the finished work of Christ that it does not include women to the extent it does men? Or is Christ’s redemptive work really incomplete for a very sizeable portion of the human race? I believe that suggestion, however subtly presented, should be rejected by sincere followers of Jesus Christ.
I am not writing as an academic, because I am not one. I do however speak with the authority of a woman who has labored at the coal face.
I began my Christ journey unquestioningly accepting the traditional teachings I was handed concerning my place as a woman in the home and the Body of Christ. Over more than fifty years of discipleship I have studied, researched both scripture and academic resources, and prayed, and am fully convicted that the Bible teaches nothing that would limit me, a woman, from all that Christ has provided for me to be a fully functioning disciple with no restrictions related to my gender. I care deeply about the multitudes of women still stifled by the bondage of false teaching and am burdened to advocate for them whenever possible.¹
In obedience to God’s call on me I have travelled nations to teach the word of God, and spiritually hungry men have gladly received it and begged me to return. I have prayed over countless emerging church planters, apostles, prophets, teachers, and pastors, male and female. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit powerfully convict, save, heal and deliver as the Word went forth. I have led teams of disciples to remote international locations and watched them transformed into ministers of God’s grace.
I have faced loneliness, sickness and dangerous, personally threatening situations for the sake of the gospel. I have done all these things without asking for the approval of anyone but God, and through it all He has faithfully provided for, protected and encouraged me. I bear convincing testimony of His faithfulness.
Yet I have found no functioning place in the Body of Christ in my own town or nation because, apparently, as a woman I need male ‘covering’. Evidently Christ’s covering is inadequate.
Whether I am perceived as just another rebellious woman, or as an experienced elder in the Body of Christ, I have this to say to those condemning voices that continue to echo the same old accusations that women are somehow ‘less than’ : in your quest to keep Christian women in what is to you their ‘rightful’ place, be careful you do not find yourself opposing the very Spirit of God. As a wise man in another place and time once warned: “if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God.”²
As one who has been accused of having ambitions beyond my God ordained female role, I urge you to understand that it is the Spirit of God Himself unfastening the chains that have restricted the functioning of women in Christ’s Body for so very long. We who know well what it is to be set free by the Son can no longer, for the sake of His Body, remain silent in the face of your accusations. Though you may dress them up with a kind smile and pious attitude, they remain accusations.
We do not wish to usurp you. Our preference is to walk beside you, but we will no longer walk behind you. We do not wish to replace you, but we will not stay in the place you have assigned for us. We acknowledge your authority, but we will no longer be intimidated by its misuse. We welcome your fellowship on a level playing field, but we will not stop playing while you decide whether or not we can join the game.
No longer are we defined by the trembling, helpless and accused woman thrown at the feet of Christ. We are defined by the dignity of Mary of Magdala, the wisdom of Priscilla, the leadership of Junia and the passion of the countless martyred female disciples who have testified to the resurrection of Christ throughout history and continue to do so even now.
Finally, thankyou for making us stronger, braver, and more aware of who we are in Christ by means of your resistance. That resistance has honed us, driven us more deeply into the Word of God, and caused us to value our freedom in Christ more than we may have without such determined opposition.
It has impelled us to become the talented and dedicated scholars, fierce spiritual warriors, prophets, pastors, leaders and functioning servants of God we may never have otherwise become.
We intend pressing onward into all our God calls us to be. We hope you will join us.
¹If you seek to study academic research supporting a more egalitarian view of gender in the scriptures there are many resources listed on our Resources Page. New Life and CBE are especially recommended..
Could not have been said more clearly and graciously. We who are directly affected by this misinterpretation of scriptures in regard to the role of women are grateful for your bold advocacy. Blessings
And much blessing to you also Lydia.
And the preacher preached 🙂 Amen, Cheryl.
Ha ha Nancy. The preacher can’t help it.