This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
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 slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy….”
• Acts 2:16-18, NRSV
• • •
“We faithfully live out our story when we display in our practice the reality of who we are at the core of our identity. As those marked by the Spirit without regard to gender, we must also faithfully steward the gifts Christ by the Spirit has given to the church without regard to gender.” (J.R. Daniel Kirk)
One implication of living after Pentecost that a number of Pentecostal groups have long recognized, but which many other Christian traditions have missed, is the ministry of the Holy Spirit which levels distinctions within the Body of Christ. Because we all have entered the community through baptism and the Spirit, it is inappropriate to discriminate within the Church based on old creation categories such as ethnic or racial identities, social class distinctions, or gender.
As J.R. Daniel Kirk says in his fine post, “Unifying Spirit,” — “common reception of the Spirit and common baptism into Christ disclose the gospel-denying implications of discriminating within the Body of Christ.”
Kirk points out that in Corinthians and Galatians in particular, Paul is not arguing merely about soteriology (salvation) when he stresses equality in Christ. Rather, in both epistles, the indicative truth that everyone enters Christ’s family the same way — through baptism and reception of the Spirit — leads to the imperative that we must not make distinctions about who can participate or serve based on “fleshly” differences. We should distinguish only the basis of the Spirit’s initiative, gifting, and calling (and I would add — the Spirit’s fullness in a person’s life). One need only compare Galatians 3:28 with Galatians 2:11-14 to see that the doctrine of equal salvation has immediate implications for practices of equality within the Church.
To be baptized and receive the Spirit is to be equal within the body.
This stands in clear contrast to the separatist nature of First Testament religion based on earthly, old creation categories. Under the old covenant, God’s people and leaders were set apart by biological and ethnic distinctions. One had to be born Jewish or convert and submit to Torah (i.e. “become” Jewish) to be accepted in the community. In terms of the main sign of the covenant, males alone were circumcised, stressing their primary responsibility to pass on the seed of (Jewish) life and take the lead in Israel’s life and affairs.
Now, in Jesus and by means of the outpoured Spirit, Gentiles enter the community by faith alone and are not required to become Jewish or take on the yoke of law observance in order to become disciples of Jesus. Likewise, whether male or female — all are baptized into Christ, not males alone. Each person who enters the family is marked with the same sign of the new covenant, and women and men alike receive spiritual gifts and callings. Even “your women shall prophesy,” declared Peter on Pentecost.
If Paul sometimes seems to contradict his own basic new covenant theology by placing restrictions on women in certain church settings, urging slaves and masters to live faithfully within the less-than-perfect structures of Greco-Roman culture, and so on, it is because believers live “between the times” — as members of the new creation that is dawning, but also as citizens within the old creation that is still in place (though passing away) — and in this age we must patiently plant seeds of mutual equality that will ultimately blossom in fullness at the consummation.
The Church’s witness involves living in peace within a multiplicity of cultural settings that are imperfect and awaiting redemption. Much of the time, the Church is not called to take radical revolutionary approaches in matters of cultural change. Rather, we quietly respect the societies in which we live and function within them as cooperatively as we can as faithful disciples. However in the Church, when we treat every baptized, Spirit-endowed individual who belongs to God’s family with equality and dignity, we testify to a fundamental difference that sets the Kingdom of God apart from the present age.
There may even be occasions in space-time history when the world sees these matters more clearly than the Church. A temptation Christians must regularly overcome is that of holding on to traditions that we have elevated as “essentials,” but which may, in fact, represent outmoded cultural norms. One can see in the Book of Acts, for example, that in areas of the Greco-Roman world where “prominent women” had more public roles in society, Paul reached out to them, elicited their partnership, considered them coworkers, and at times relied upon them as benefactors (see Rom. 16, Acts 16-17). I fail to see how the Church should do less in a culture like ours today, but at times it seems the faithful show less respect and give less opportunity to women than the world does.
As J.R. Daniel Kirk says so well, “We faithfully live out our story when we display in our practice the reality of who we are at the core of our identity.” And this is our identity: Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life; in the one Spirit all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, male or female—and all made to drink of one Spirit.
I, for one, would hope our practices would come to more fully reflect our identity.
* Original Icon by Fr. Theodore Jurievicz. Saints portrayed: Front – Anna, Elizabeth, Mary Magdelene, Nina (evangelizer of Georgia); Back – Juliana of Lavarevsk, Irene Martyr of Thessalonica, Barbara, Alexandra the Empress.