Women and Christianity
For as long as there has been spirituality and religion, women have been involved as strong leaders and believers in the word of God. Throughout history, women have faced limitations to a variety of roles, but recently a large number of theologians have begun analyzing the role of women and recognizing their positive influences in the Christian faith.
Throughout the world, the role that men and women have played through a cultural lens has changed drastically from that of even 50 years ago, let alone several centuries ago. Throughout this time, people’s faith in the Bible and God has not changed or altered. Through the study of early practices within the church, and with an examination of early scriptures, a very different picture of women of faith and the roles they have played in history has been painted. It is theorized that over two thousand years ago, women of faith were allowed to practice as priests.
What really matters is how we see Jesus treat women in the scriptures. In truth, Jesus loved and supported women who were believers in the Lord. In a society where women were not encouraged to be leaders, Jesus empowered women of faith to consider themselves equal with men. If Jesus did not promote women in such a way, it is hard to imagine where women would be in Christianity now.
The way Jesus treated women in this time frame was respectful and gracious – for example, the way Jesus treated the woman at the well (recorded in John 4). When Jesus explains to her that He is the Messiah, she shares her conversation with Jesus with the local village. She wanted to spread the news about the man who gave her a new hope for her future. Because of this woman, many Samaritans became believers in the Lord as a result. She exclaims, “We are certain that He’s the Savior of the world!” John4:42(b).
At the time, the way Jesus treated the woman at the well was regarded as radical and atypical behavior. However, this was a fundamental and essential movement towards equality for women, and the realization that women are not substandard to men.
One of the most astonishing pieces of history that have been discovered, however, is that many familiar scrolls containing women’s names and stories are throughout the history of Christianity. Take Mary Magdalene, for example. Mary Magdalene was known as being an adulteress and a whore. Stories of her have not been favorable or complimentary. However, discoveries of new texts and a better understanding of the scripture have revealed that this is not an accurate portrayal of this prominent woman. She was a well-known figure in Christianity. It is more accurate to say that she was a leader of an early Christian movement that advocated for women’s leadership within the religion. She was a valued disciple that Jesus entrusted with His life.
Women have come a long way since the 1800s and 1900s and have made incredible gains within society. Women were encouraged to be homemakers and have children, and had very specific expectations imposed on them. It may be beneficial to review the role women played in Christianity by thoroughly exploring each period in time separately.
Apostolic Age (33 AD – 100 AD)
Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus was when the first church began to form. From the very beginning of the first Christian church, women of faith played an important part of the movement. Many women activists took part in Christian Church, such as St. Priscilla. St. Priscilla was rumored to have founded the Christian community at Corinth. She traveled as a missionary with her husband and St. Paul. Other known Christian women of this time line were the four daughters of Phillip the Evangelist who were said to be acting prophets. They were also hosts to St. Paul within their home.
Patristic Age (AD 100 – AD 451)
From the beginning of this age, prominent teachers and minister titles were reserved for men throughout most of the church. Though Christian women’s roles changed in this era, included several women martyrs, who were made to suffer under the Persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire. Some of these martyrs were Agnes of Rome, Agatha of Sicily, and Blandina. Saints Perpetua and Felicity recorded an account of their incarceration in 203, and this told of their martyrdom. This document is thought to be one of the earliest recordings of a woman from early Christianity.
Middle Ages (476 AD -1500)
The Middle Ages were known as the age of chivalry. During this time the value of women began to be recognized. This was an age where women of faith were allowed to become more involved with the church. During this time frame, the Pope became a central player in politics, and as a result, religion flourished, making Catholic women a foundation to society in Europe.
Because of this, other significant roles began to become available to Christian women. After the fifth century, Christian convents became an opportunity for some women of faith to choose a path other than marriage and child rearing. Women were given the opportunity to learn how to read and write alongside men. They also played a more active role in the practice and promotion of religion.
One of the most iconic Christian women of this time was Saint Teresa of Avila. She played a large role in the development of religious and spiritual discussion within the church and was later declared a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church.
Another household name of this era was Joan of Arc, who took up a sword and participated in the accomplishment of military victories for France before she was captured and burned at the stake for being a witch. Joan was said to have received a message from the Archangel Michael as well as the Saints Margaret of Antioch and Catherine of Alexandria. This compelled her to partake in tasks that would normally be unthinkable for a woman of her time. Joan’s recognition from the Archangel and different saints was revolutionary in having women recognized for their ability to be favored by religious and worshiped figures.
It is thought that women were more prominent in the Christian Church during the middle ages than any previous period of time.
Post-Reformation (1517 – 1685)
During this time it was important for kings to have a proper heir to the throne. Pope Clement VI refused to grant an annulment to the marriage of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, which enabled Hunter to become Supreme Governor of the Church of England, thus prompting a rivalry of Protestant and Christian faiths.
It is thought that through this rivalry, the Protestant faith overwhelmed Christianity, thus abolishing the opportunity for women of faith to participate in their church to the same capacity as they previously did. There were several Protestant preachers who were open to the idea of women preaching, but the majority of Protestant churches upheld their position and enforced their restrictions on only men being able to preach until the 20th century.
Several influential figures of this time (John Wesley and Adam Clarke) supported that Christian women should be encouraged to become more involved in their church, and if they felt a strong impulse from the spirit in such a manner that not to do so would be detrimental to them.
King Henry VIII’s views of the religious houses dissolved the convents which had been a prominent feature of Christianity in England. Sisterhoods were later redeveloped, though women have the right to participate in their faith and religion actively this was significantly suppressed compared to the Middle Ages.
Margaret Fell Fox was a notable figure during this time. She founded the Society of Friends and is considered to be one of the Valiant Sixty early Quaker preachers. She wrote several religious pamphlets and epistles, the most famous one being “Women Speaking Justified”. This text prompted women’s religious leadership in the 17th century.
In this age, women helped develop and orchestrate both the education and health care systems. Their roles began to expand more and more. Several different Sisterhoods were established worldwide and provided a network of hospitals and schools.
The well-known Florence Nightengale was essential to the development of modern nursing and brought attention to the significant roles a Christian woman could play within the church structure. During this time, some Bible Christians and Primitive Methodists began to allow women to preach, and many Christian women sought out this privilege. Women also immigrated to under-developed areas in Britain and Canada and helped establish the foundation of religion in these areas. They also fostered faith and a sense of community among residents.
The 19th century also brought the formation of the Salvation Army. This establishment allowed women of faith to preach on equal grounds with men. A prominent event of this era was seeing St. Terese de Lisieux given the title Doctor of the Church. This allowed Christian women to advocate for themselves and their roles within the church.
Inside of the 20th century, men and women alike shared the importance of faith and having a strong belief in the Lord. This century also brought a gradual dissolution of a hierarchical church led by a priest to one where the people of God formed together as one to lead the church.
Prominent figures in this time frame included Evangeline Booth, who became commander in chief of the Salvation Army from 1934-39. Though not a prominent female figure, Martin Luther King was a Christian who promoted the equality of all peoples in general, including women whether they were a member of the church or not. His death was life changing for the Christian movement and revitalized the faith and unity of church goers worldwide.
Now, in the 21st century, more women than ever are holding prominent positions in the church! Spiritual Bridge recognizes that women of faith are an irreplaceable support to the Christian faith and should be treated with the utmost love and respect. Women in the 21st century are changing the world of Christianity now that they hold positions such as head pastors, preachers, and teachers of the faith.
About Spiritual Bridge
Spiritual Bridge knows the important role that women play in Christianity. We actively advocate for women to practice their faith. Our modern site contains a section for women of faith to explore topics, hobbies, and activities to help you feel closer to God. You can research self-advocacy, how to be more confident, how to grow your own creativity, how to start and maintain new relationships, and what it means to be beautiful inside and out (to name just a few).
Spiritual Bridge was created to support connecting believers of the Christian faith universally through hope and love. On our site, you will find a variety of topics for Christian women. Whether you want to read about a more sensitive subject or you enjoy reading about everyday life, we want to be a resource for you.
Women everywhere experience struggles at one time or another. We provide a safe, God-guided environment for women of all ages, races, or personal background to experience love and guidance from other Christians. We want you to know that you are never alone! Throughout our website you will find articles, inspirational quotes, encouraging Bible verses, and a thought-provoking exploration of Bible passages that will be new to some and familiar to others.
So feel free to explore our variety of articles! They are all intended to promote your deepening relationship with God through Christ our King. Improve your connection to the Lord, feel more at peace with yourself, and open yourself up to helping others. Spiritual Bridge wants you to feel energized and inspired by your faith – when you are a woman of God, you can do anything!
As a final note, remember that Spiritual Bridge fully recognizes the aspect of Christianity which states that all men and women are equal. It does not matter what your background is, your stage of life, your marital status, your professional status or education level – if you are a believer, then there is a place for you here. God bless you!