Go and Tell! God's Word to Women in the 21st Century
by Eddie L. Hyatt, D.Min., M.Div., M.A.
During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus appeared to His disciples at various times and on one occasion appeared to over five hundred of His followers. The gospel writers, however, are very explicit in noting that it was Mary Magdalene to whom He appeared first after His resurrection. The importance which the evangelists attach to this fact indicate that it was no accidental occurrence, but that Jesus purposely appeared first to Mary Magdalene.
It has been noted that we teach a little by what we say; we teach more by what we do; but we teach most of all by what we are. Jesus knew that actions speak louder than words and He taught His disciples, not just by precept, but first of all by example. When He wanted to teach them about humility He did not, first of all, give them a lecture. He demonstrated the virtue of humility by taking the role of a slave, girding Himself with a towel and washing His disciples' feet. When He desired to teach them about faith, He first demonstrated the power of faith by cursing a fig tree and allowing the disciples to see it wither and die. Only then did He give them a lecture about the power of faith.
Therefore, in appearing first to Mary Magdalene, Jesus was making a very important statement to His followers. It was a statement, perhaps, that they could not have grasped and retained by a mere lecture. This statement was further clarified and enhanced by the words which Jesus spoke to her on this occasion. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene He gave her certain, specific instructions. Matthew 28:10 records His words to Mary: "Go and tell my brethren...." In other words, He sent her on a specific mission defined by the words, "Go and tell." Interestingly, the New Testament word apostle literally means "one who is sent" or "a sent one." Mary, therefore, was a "sent one" and as such received the first apostolic commission from the Risen Lord.
Her commission was to go and tell the other disciples that Jesus was risen. What is preaching but telling about Jesus and His resurrection? A perusal of the book of Acts will, in fact, reveal that the essence of the preaching message of the early church was Jesus and the resurrection. Mary, therefore, received the first apostolic commission to preach the good news of the resurrection. And notice that her commission was not limited to a "women's ministry," for Jesus said instructed her to "Go and tell My brethren." She, in effect, became the apostle to the apostles.
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
USHERED IN A NEW DAY FOR WOMEN AND ALL MANKIND
By appearing first to Mary Magdalene and giving her an apostolic commission, Jesus was saying that His death and resurrection had ushered in a new era of freedom for all of humanity. He was saying that In Him the walls of separation between the races and the sexes had been removed. Paul echoes this in his letter to the Galatians saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek ... there is neither male nor female (3:28) This was revolutionary thinking since the orthodox Jewish man of this time normally began his day with a prayer that included thanks to God that he was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. It was revolutionary thinking because in both Roman and Jewish courts of law, the testimony of women was not allowed as evidence. By appearing first to Mary Magdalene Jesus was, therefore, cutting through all the disdain and prejudice of his male disciples toward his female disciples. He thereby declared His equal acceptance of women and confirmed their ministry by bestowing on Mary the first apostolic commission after His resurrection. He showed his approval and respect for all women and their testimony by sending her as the first to bear witness to the most important event of human history.
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT WOMEN FUNCTIONED AS
APOSTLES, PROPHETS, EVANGELISTS, PASTORS & TEACHERS
Those parts of the church which do not accept female leadership in the Church base their rejection on primarily two verses in the New Testament written by Paul. These problem passages, however, must be considered both in their historical context and in comparison with the more numerous possibility passages. For example, in Romans 16:1, Paul commends to the church at Rome our sister Phoebe who is a "servant" of the church in Cenchrea. Paul refers to Phoebe as a "servant" which is the Greek word "diakonos." "Diakonos," or its verb form, is translated "minister" in 23 other places in the New Testament. For example, in Eph. 3:7, Paul says that he became a minister (diakonos) according to the gift of the grace of God. Phoebe, therefore, was a minister, quite possibly a pastor, from the church in Cenchrea and had been sent by that church to Rome on a special assignment. In vs. 2, Paul refers to Phoebe as a "helper of many and of myself also." The Greek word translated "helper" in this verse is "prostates" and, according to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, means "to set over, to rule, superintend, preside over, protect," and "care for." Phoebe was obviously a leader in the Church who had nurtured the faith of many, including that of Paul himself. She knew what it was to "Go and Tell."
In verses 3-5 of the same chapter, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in Scripture which indicates that they worked and ministered together as a husband and wife team. This is confirmed by Acts 18:26 where both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and both explained to him the way of God more accurately. Many commentators feel that because, in the Greek, Priscilla is always mentioned first, that she was the spiritually gifted one and probably the pastor of the church that was in their home. Priscilla knew that she was called to "Go and Tell."
In verse 7 of the same chapter, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a feminine name and so we have here a woman who is recognized by Paul as an apostle. An early church father, John Chrysostom, commenting on this verse, said, "Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle." We thus see that in the New Testament church, women as well as men functioned as apostles. Junia, as "a sent one" had, like Mary, been commissioned by the Lord to "Go and Tell." In Philippians 4:3, Paul urges the church at Philippi to help those women [Euodia and Syntyche] who labored with me in the gospel. The word "labor," which Paul uses here, refers to the exertion and effort that is required in preaching and teaching. This reminds us of the admonition of Jesus in Matthew 9:38 for His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out laborers into His harvest. Also note that Paul says that these women labored "with" him, not under him. Gerald F. Hawthorne in the Word Biblical Commentary, says that Paul is using a metaphor which means "to fight together side by side with." Paul thus sees these women as highly esteemed members of his team who have labored at his side in the cause of Christ. They knew what it meant to "Go and Tell."
"But," some will ask, "what about Paul's admonition in I Corinthians 14:34 and I Timothy 2:12 for women to be silent?" First of all, a doctrine should not be formulated without giving equal consideration to Scriptures such as those presented above. Also, it is more than likely that the restrictions of these two verses are related to local, cultural situations and are not universal edicts pertaining to the whole Church in every age. These restrictions are, rather, on the same level as Paul's instructions concerning the wearing of veils in I Corinthians chapter 11 and his admonitions for believers to greet one another with a holy kiss (a handshake or hug will do just fine, thank you). An examination of the Greek text and the historical situation in which Paul wrote these passages, confirms that this is the case.
RECOGNIZING AND RESPECTING THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN WOMEN MADE A KOREAN CHURCH THE LARGEST CHURCH IN THE WORLD
In 1988 I spent one week in Seoul, Korea observing the ministry of the largest church in the world pastored by David Yonggi Cho. At that time the Yoido Full Gospel Church had over 600,000 members and was growing at the rate of 13,000 per month. Ninety per cent of those new members were entering the church through the 50,000 cell groups that met weekly in homes and offices throughout the city. I learned that a number of years previous, during a time of crisis, God dealt with pastor Cho about mobilizing the women in his congregation. He protested because in Korea women have traditionally been very subservient to men and not allowed to function in leadership roles. He finally yielded and began appointing called and gifted women as cell group leaders and as pastors. That was when his church exploded in growth. At the time of my visit, ninety percent of his 50,000 cell groups were led by women. Sixty-five percent of his pastoral staff of 565 were women.
In the 1980s a friend of mine spent 6 weeks in Seoul studying the Yoido Full Gospel Church, seeking to learn the secrets of its incredible growth. After returning home to America, he wrote a book entitled, Cho's Secret Weapon--Women. Indeed, when Cho began to mobilize his entire congregation without regard to gender, unprecedented growth and harvest began to occur.
Although Cho seems to have retained some of the vestiges of his traditional thinking about women (he seems to still think a man should always be in charge), his experience is a shining example of what can happen when a congregation is mobilized by allowing people to function according to their gifts, rather than forcing them into restrictive roles according to their gender. And this approach is necessary if the Church is to function as the body of Christ.
MINISTRY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT IS BASED ON GIFTS AND CALLING--NOT GENDER
In I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, Paul pictures the Church as a body made up of many members. Each time he shares this concept it is in the context of Spiritual gifts. This is because it is the possession of a Spiritual gift that gives each member of the body its particular function or ministry. The authority to minister is thus rooted in one's possession of a divine call or gift. Ordination is simply the Church's recognition of that gift. When John Wesley was asked why he gave recognition to women preachers, he replied, "Because God owns them in the conversion of sinners, and who am I that I should withstand God."
Much of the Church has refused to recognize the gifts of its female members and has, thereby, violated Paul's command in I Thessalonians 5:19 not to quench the Spirit. As a result of this disobedience, many gifts have lain dormant while millions have perished without Christ and the Church has languished in defeat. The Great Commission has not been fulfilled and the Lord's coming has been delayed. Thus, it is time for the Church to allow the gifting of the Spirit rather than religious tradition to determine who should function as an evangelist, pastor, teacher, or preacher.
This is a time when God is pouring out His Spirit on all flesh. It is a time when both sons and daughters are prophesying. Much, therefore, is hinging on the Church's response to the work of the Spirit in its midst. If the Church will truly embrace an "every member" ministry this decade might yet usher in the end of the age and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 68:11 might yet be fulfilled which, in the Hebrew, literally says, "The Lord gave the word and a great company of women proclaimed it." Millions of Marys are even now hearing the inner voice of the Spirit instructing them to "Go and Tell."
Eddie and his wife, Dr. Susan Hyatt, reside in Dallas, TX and are co-founders of Hyatt International Ministries which includes Hyatt Press, the International Christian Women's History Project, and Revival Research Institute. Their passion is to see authentic revival transform the Church and impact the world in the 21st century. For information on their ministry and/or a catalogue of their writings, write to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org