April 20, 2015 Peg de Alminana

Pentecostalism’s Preaching Women

 In an authorized position paper approved by its General Presbytery, the Assemblies of God notes the original place and position of female leaders at its inception. It says: “Supernatural manifestations and gifts of the Holy Spirit have played a distinctive role in the origin, development, and growth of the Assemblies of God. From the earliest days of our organization, spiritual gifting has been evident in the ministries of many outstanding women.” Pentecostals believed that the twentieth century outpouring of the Spirit was a true fulfillment of the scriptural prediction: “Your daughters shall prophesy…and upon…the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit” (Joel 2:28-29, KJV).[1]

I will pour out my Spirit.

Early Pentecostal women took their leadership mandate from the Joel prophecy. A woman, Agnes Ozman, was first to speak in tongues in the 20th century in January, 1901, at Charles Parham’s Bethel Bible School, in the earliest days of the Pentecostal movement. Jennie Evans Moore Seymour, wife of William Seymour, ministered together with her noted husband at the Azusa Street Mission. Following his death, Ms. Seymour oversaw the mission alone. Florence Crawford assisted with publishing The Apostolic Faith, the newspaper sponsored by the mission. She went on to found the Apostolic Faith organization, one of the earliest Pentecostal denominations in the USA.[2]

Early Pentecostal women believed that the same Spirit dwelling in and qualifying men for ministry inhabited them. Maria Woodworth-Etter said, “It’s high time for women to let their lights shine; to bring out their talents that have been hidden away rusting…God left the glorious work of saving souls in the hands of the church.”[3]

Accepting the ministry of women despite cultural and religious imperatives that tended to relegate them to second-class citizenship is an acknowledgement of the authority of the Holy Spirit beyond the proclivities of people.

If the Holy Spirit empowers and gifts females, then who can reject them?

Doing so would be a rejection of the authority of the Holy Spirit, the right of the Spirit to dispense the gifts of God to whomever the Spirit chooses, whether male or female. Rejecting the gifts of females would be the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s gifts residing within them, as well as Spirit’s authority to place them in the body.

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills;” “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (1 Cor. 12:11,18, NAS).

In addition, Pentecostal forbearers considered that embracing the preaching of women held profound implications in light of the Great Commission and the purpose of the church generally. It was a mandate spoken to both genders equally:

And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of sight (Acts 1:4-9).

These witnesses of the ascension—both men and women—received the Great Commission to go and preach the gospel. Jesus told them: “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…’ So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven…” (Mark 16:15,19). This same group of commissioned men and women waited in the upper room together, praying for the fulfillment of the promise. There, both men women were equally empowered for the task. So astonished was the group that they scrambled to find an explanation for this gender-inclusive event precipitating Peter’s explanation from the prophet Joel:

But this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

“And it shall come to pass in the Last Days,” God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy’” (Acts 2:16-18).

Both men and women received the Holy Spirit’s baptism, and both men and women evangelized the world.

The Bible simply says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” The prophetic hope of God’s people is found in the promise of the Pentecostal Spirit where in the dividing line of partition is taken away, where all members are baptized into one Spirit and partake of one loaf (see 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Cor. 10:17, NIV). “In the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, therefore, the long story of God’s will for justice found an empowering dynamic when Spirit baptism enabled the charismatic community to break down the middle walls of partition between men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, and even demarcations of religious backgrounds within the Christian community itself.”[4]

In conclusion, Pentecostalism’s historical embrace of the ministry of women is one of its most noteworthy and noble distinctives—one that should be guarded and embraced, one that should be celebrated as a confirmation of God’s Holy breath upon this great and enduring movement.

 

[1] “The Role of Women in Ministry,” General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA); (Official A/G Position Paper), http://www.ag.org/top/beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_4191_women_minsitry.cfm.

[2] Lee, Joyce and Gohr, Glenn, “Women In the Pentecostal Movement,” Enrichment Journal, (Assemblies of God USA), Fall 1999, http://womeninministry.ag.org/history/index.cfm.

[3] Maria Woodworth-Etter, A Diary of Signs and Wonders (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1916, nd): 215.

[4] Murray Dempster, “Pentecostal Social Concern and the Biblical Mandate of Social Justice,” Pneuma: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 9 (Fall 1987): 148.

About the Author

Peg de Alminana Dr. Margaret English de Alminana is an assistant professor of theology for the College of Christian Ministries and Religion and holds a PhD from the University of Wales at Glyndŵr. Dr. de Alminana served as the senior chaplain of women at Orange County Correctional Facility’s Female Detention Center, overseeing a vibrant ministry for more than 3,000 women in crisis annually.