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An Unbroken Chain of Women in Ministry

Have you heard that the church has always excluded women in ministry? Did they tell you there are only church fathers, no church mothers? Have you heard the stories of the faith of our church mothers? Have you noticed how their stories were silenced or hidden?

Throughout history, God called women to preach; some men supported them and some did not. Ever since Jesus told Mary Magdalene to teach the brothers about the resurrection, some men have denied God's call to women, yet nevertheless, women have preached. Why look at women preachers in history? To show it is not a modern, feminist idea to allow women equal freedom of speech. God authorized all people, regardless of gender, from the beginning of Genesis. The battle of the sexes has reappeared in each century, with men and women on both sides, supporting or opposing equal freedoms and responsibilities regardless of gender. Let's look at the advocacy for and against women teachers.

Battle of the Sexes: In the Gospels

Pro-equality: The egalitarian position is that leadership is based on the gifting of the Spirit, regardless of gender. Jesus sent many women to teach men: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, Joanna, and "many women' (Matthew 28:1, Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:10, Mark 16:12). Jesus told Mary Magdalene to teach the men (John 20:18).

Pro Male Hierarchy: The Complementarian position is that leadership is a role exclusive to men. Those holding this view do not see Mary Magdalene or the other women as apostles to the apostles. When women told the apostles about the resurrection, the men "did not believe them". The men saw the women's testimony as "an idle tale". Jesus upbraided the men for not believing the many women he sent to them (Mark 16:10-11, 13-14, Luke 24:11).

Battle of the Sexes: Early Church

Pro-equality: Paul commends female co-workers, deacons, patrons, apostles, and church leaders. I list the women of the New Testament here.

I write about the army of women of the Old Testament here.

Pro Male Hierarchy: Paul's letters can be read to conflict with his own writing, depending on the biblical interpreter. According to Brandon Sutton's article on Knowing Jesus Ministries, the examples of women teaching are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are telling us what happened, not what must happen. He says they have nothing to do with the office of the pastor. They simply portray women telling others about Jesus.

women and men
Jesus sent many women to tell men he had risen
Mary Magdalene teaching men
Mary Magdalene was an apostle to the apostles

Battle of the Sexes: Was Mary Magdalene a devoted disciple and honourable apostle?

Yes. The Eastern Orthodox has always honoured her as a wealthy patron, bold apostle and travelling evangelist.


In the 6th century, Pope Gregory called Mary Magdalene a sinful woman.


In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas described Mary Magdalene as an apostle to the apostles. The Catholic Church imprisoned him for heresy. After his death, the Catholic Church declared he was a saint.


In the 16th century, the Western church authorized only art that portrayed Mary Magdalene as a penitent prostitute.


In 2016, Pope Francis raised Mary Magdalene to the liturgical level equal to the apostles.

Mary Magdalene is now widely recognized as an apostle to the apostles by both Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Battle of the Sexes: 1st Century

In the first century, a well-known female apostle was Thecla, whose story is told in ancient documents. Early male leaders of the church discredited the ancient text as 'spurious' or false. Dr Ally Kateusz tells the stories of female apostles Mariamne, Irene of Macedonia, Nino of Iberia, and Apostle Thecla in her book Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership.

Men did not include The Acts of Paul and Thecla in the canon of the Bible
Thecla preached and baptized

2nd Century

The martyrs Perpetua and Felicity are slightly more well-known. Perpetua, a noblewoman, became a Christian and refused to call herself by any name other than Christian. Emperor Severus had ordered the persecution of Christians. At age 22, nursing a baby son, she was imprisoned together with her young, pregnant slave, Felicity. They were killed in AD 203.

Perpetua "made a thing which is male"
Perpetua, 2nd century martyr for preaching

Why all this talk about becoming a male? In the early 2nd to 4th century, philosophers thought that only the male gender had the capacity for logical thinking. These philosophers weren't sure if Perpetua actually became a physical male or if she was speaking metaphorically. In the early centuries, men thought that females were not physically able to understand spiritual concepts, but through Christ, they might mature to become like men. Theologian Jerome said that when a woman served Christ, she ceased to be a woman and would be called a man. St Ambrose explained that as a woman matures she may progress to perfect manhood,

3rd Century

African Bishop Cyprian tells of women who were called bishops and presbyters (elders, priests, ministers) and prophets (speakers). These women officiated at Holy Communion and performed baptisms. Roman governor Pliny also records that women were deacons.

Theologian Ambrose
Theologian Jerome

4th Century


Let's look at Apostle Nino (also called Nina), who converted all of ancient Iberia (today's Georgia) to Christianity. Despite this positive contribution to the Church, the Church hid her story, not wanting to laud a woman who preached, taught, and baptized men and women. Her story was preserved by the people of Georgia in a text called The Conversion of Kart'li.

Marcella of Rome is another 4th-century woman who taught both men and women.

Pro-male hierarchy: While Apostle Nino was preaching and baptizing, the Church lauded Augustine, who thought the only reason God might have created woman as man's helper was to bear his children.

"Better a sexually active woman who yields the marriage debt to her husband... than a proud and overly bold [self-restrained] woman who drives her husband into eternal damnation." - Augustine
Lord give me chastity and [self-restraint], but not yet!" - Augustine

Augustine confessed he indulged in an unhealthy lust with many women before settling down. He did not want self-restraint or self-discipline. He admonished a woman who insisted on celibacy, blaming a wife if her self-restraint caused her husband to commit adultery. His view denies a woman the ability to say no, insists she yield to sex with her husband as that is her marriage debt. The church called Augustine a saint.

Did these ideas originate in the Bible? No.

Aristotle thinking women are inferior; Plato saying they are equal

They originate in the secular philosopher Aristotle who said that the relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior.

What might have happened if they had listened to the secular philosopher Plato who said that a man and woman have the same mind and must be taught the same things?

Why do you suppose that male religious leaders and authorities chose to listen to Aristotle instead of Plato?

Why did they choose to interpret the Bible in a way that supported male hierarchy?

Augustine thinking women cannot teach
Apostle Nino (Nina) teaching a nation about Christ

5th Century

Joan of Arc's story reminds me of Esther. She was born for the time, born to save her nation. She overcame opposition and became a spiritual and military leader.

6th Century

There is evidence of female presbyters (priests, elders, deacons) and bishops. In AD 597, Queen Bertha of Kent welcomed Augustine to England and appears to have converted her husband King Aethelberht. She was well educated and corresponded with Pope Gregory I who appears to exhort her to teach pagan Anglo-Saxons about Christianity.

Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc
queen bertha of Kent

7th - 8th Centuries

In the 7th Century, we see that Leoba was approved as a co-worker with Boniface, two believers who ministered as evangelists and pastors.

Another 7th Century female leader and teacher was Hilda of Whitby. She was an overseer of men and women in an important Abbey.

"Keep the peace of the gospel with one another and indeed with the entire world."

Ancient art shows these women as with a shepherd's crook (pastor is a Latin word meaning shepherd). Men and women both saw these women as shepherds leading people to follow Jesus.

Later, the Protestant Reformation decried the practice of nuns and monks dedicated to celibacy, poverty, and service. Unfortunately for women, without the option of being a student, teacher, and leader at an abbey, the main avenue remaining for a Christian woman was motherhood. While Jesus says that women are blessed for hearing God's word and following it, many Reformers uplifted motherhood as the highest blessing for a woman.

St Hilda
St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby
Leoba, co-worker with Boniface

10th -11th Centuries

Hrotsvit von Gandersheim, canoness of the Imperial Saxon Abbey of Gandersheim (Germany) is the first known dramatist of Christianity. She opposed well-known playrights who depicted pagan women enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Her dramas showed heroines of Christianity resisting the evil advances of pagan men. Hrotsvit von Gandersheim wrote to show that frail and beautiful Christian women could triumph with Christ's aid. She is pictured here with a shepherd's crook, pastoring and teaching a congregation. The word 'pastor' is the Latin word for 'shepherd'. Early art frequently portrayed women as shepherds and pastors.

woman teacher
Hildegard of Bingen teaching groups

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) founded and led an abbey of the Benedictine community in Germany. She wrote about Christian doctrine and ethics as well as liturgical songs and a morality play. She corresponded with emperors and kings and did a preaching tour calling for reform of the church. The Roman Catholic Church recently made her a doctor of the church, meaning her theology can be trusted for teaching.

13th-14th Centuries

In the 13th century, Clare of Assisi founded The Order of Poor Ladies and wrote the first Church rule by a woman for women.

In the 14th Century, Catherine of Siena wrote letters to Pope Gregory XI and secular leaders advising them on how to follow God. Her involvement in helping the sick and imprisoned, and her reputation for charity and holiness, led her to intervene in politics. She advocated reform of the clergy and the return of the Pope from Avignon to Rome. She also founded a women's monastery. When Urban VI became Pope, he summoned her and sought her advice. Her writings on theology, letters, and prayers survive today.

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) wrote the earliest known autobiography in English: The Book of Margery Kempe. In it, she tells her spiritual transformation from apathy to devotion, and her belief that externals such as fasting are less important than love.

One hundred years before the Reformation started by Martin Luther, women were active in the Bohemian Christian Reformation.

Clare of St Francis founded a group for women
Catherine of Siena wrote to the Pope to correct false practices in the church

15th -16th Centuries: Reformation

The Protestant Reformation addressed corruption prevalent in the power of the Roman Catholic Church of the era. Its main tenets were salvation by Christ alone and authority by Scripture alone. However, Reformers had diverse theological views.

While John Knox, John Calvin, and Martin Luther promoted the priesthood of believers, abolishing the hierarchal structure of the Catholic church, they did not seem to treat female or peasant believers as equal to male or noblemen believers.

John Knox thought it was repugnant to see a woman in charge
Luther insists he is not being proud when he limits women to childbearing

For example, Martin Luther strongly encouraged women to be mothers and to stay out of the public sphere. His interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-14 is strongly opposed to equality for women, and he does not allow for alternate interpretations given other Scripture (other views of 1 Timothy 2 are here). Luther's view was that women who did not have children were sickly and unhealthy because of not having children; he did not consider tending to their health to enable fertility. Luther's view was that women who died in childbirth could die content that they had fulfilled their main purpose in life: childbearing.

Martin Luther identifies childbearing as a woman's purpose
Luther interprets 1 Timothy 2 to limit women

Argula von Grumbach confirmed her agreement with the priesthood of believers and the reliance on Christ alone and Scripture alone. She understood these biblical concepts applied to her as a woman, and that the Bible required her to speak in public. In 1523, Argula Von Grumbach publicly admonished the university for threatening violence against a young man who taught Luther's ideas. They fired her husband and she suffered divorce and poverty. Luther did not support the young professor who was being penalized, did not support Von Grumbach's plea for the young Reformer, and did not endorse Von Grumbach's work or thank her for it.

Argula von Grumbach thought the Bible required her to speak
Argula Von Grumbach admonished men who opposed Luther's messages; Luther never acknowledged her support

Generally, Reformers opposed the Church based on their own biblical interpretations and also opposed lay people who had other biblical interpretations. They preached freedom of conscience only for princes or heads of state.

Martin Luther also strongly encouraged the princes to put down the peasants and kill them for any dissent, as they were opposing God's ordained class structures. Apparently, they were not who he meant when he said we were a priesthood of equal believers.

John Calvin partnered with the Geneva City Council to kill anyone that he considered a blasphemer or heretic. Friends who questioned his views on the Holy Trinity, for example, were killed.

Martin Luther supporting murder of peasants, treating them as animals
John Calvin supporting punishment or death for those expressing beliefs different from his

Female Reformers were active in the very same era, opposing the unity of church and state, and speaking against imposing religion by state or violence. We would do well today to think about the risks of the state and government powers being united with one particular religious belief or theology. While Argula von Grumbach was working in Germany, Katharina Schutz Zell was active in Strasbourg. Both relied on the Scripture as they tried to reform and reshape the Church.

Argula von Grumbach opposing persecution by followers of Christ
Katharina Zell opposing use of government power against beliefs

Katharina Schutz Zell felt she was called to be a 'fisher of people'. She was the most published female writer and theologian of the Reformation area. Like other Reformers, she believed the marriage of clerical servants was biblical. She became a defender of clerical marriage after being the first Strasbourg lady to marry a priest. She married Matthew Zell in 1523. He supported and encouraged her to continue preaching and writing. Katharina Schutz Zell updated songs and hymns to match Protestant theology and include female imagery. She welcomed refugees and nursed the sick. She spoke because God filled her with the Holy Spirit. She quotes Galatians 3 and Acts 2 in defending her right to speak. Calvin quotes 1 Corinthians 14 in opposing a woman's right to speak; Calvin does not address other passages within 1 Corinthians that endorse women speaking publicly. Other views of 1 Corinthians are here.

Katharina Schutz Zell preached in the 1500s, at the same time as Calvin, Luther, and other Reformers. She defended women in ministry by quoting the Bible:

Peter says God's spirit gives sons and daughters visions and prophecies (Acts 2:17)

Paul says that in Christ our human differences are abolished (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

John Calvin did not try to reconcile the passages that appear to restrict women in leadership with the biblical passages that praise and commend women in leadership:

  • "every woman who prays or prophesies..." 1 Cor 11:5)

  • "the Spirit decides which gifts to give each of us" (1 Cor 12:11)

  • "when you meet, one person has a song, another has a teaching..." 1 Cor 14:26

  • "teach and admonish one another..." Colossians 3:16

  • "if your gift is prophesying, then prophesy; if it is serving, serve; if it is teaching, teach" Romand 12:6-7

  • Paul commended women leading churches (Romans 16)

  • the Bible gives examples of women speaking and teaching (Deborah, Miriam, Anna, and more)

Calvin's interpretations reconcile with secular patriarchy. John Calvin of the 1500s may be like Rick Warren of 2023, who said in his fifty years of preaching that women must remain in subordinate roles, he had never done his exegesis (his words, not mine). When he did, the Bible convinced him of gender equality. Early female preachers show us how the Bible endorses women in religious leadership. Find out more about them here.

John Calvin
John Calvin, opposing female preachers in 1500s
Katharina Schutz Zell, preacher in 1500s

17th Century

Meanwhile, in England, George Fox took the priesthood of believers literally, believing in the equality of all, regardless of class, social status, or gender. Women and men were both leaders, speakers, and evangelists from the inception of the movement he co-founded with his wife, Margaret Fell. The Religious Society of Friends (also called Quakers) believed in equality regardless of sex or race. They defended abolition and a woman's right to speak.

  • Margaret Fell co-founded the Quakers with her future husband George Fox. She wrote to various kings of England the King in 1600s. Her famous 1666 pamphlet "Women's Speaking Justified" advocated for women's religious leadership using scripture.

  • Elizabeth Hooton was the first woman Quaker evangelist.

  • Lucretia Mott was an American Quaker, feminist and abolitionist in the 1800s.

Quakers believed in seeking God in each person. This meant equality for men and women, having women and men leaders, and supporting suffrigists. They opposed slavery and the class system and titles such as "my Lady" and "Your Lordship" and 'Master'. They rejected official clergy and religious rites and ceremonies such as taking communion. They refused to take up arms, believing the Bible promoted pacifism. They refused to take oaths, including an oath of allegiance to a king or church. The Quaker church is an example of men using their privilege to advocate for equality of all. I honour seven situations where men opened the doors for women in ministry in this article.

Quakers were marginalized as an 'unrecognized denomination.' They were persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured for not agreeing with the established religions.

George Fox believed in the equality of all
Elizabeth Hooton, 1600s preacher

18th Century

The Moravians came from what is today called the Czech Republic, and they believed that the Holy Spirit appointed preachers, teachers, missionaries and elders without reference to age, class, education, or sex.

"... there might occur circumstances in which even in this setting a woman could and had to serve the congregation with her gifts" Count Zinzendorf, Bishop of the Moravian Church, 1740

Moravian founder
Count Zinzendorf approved of Anna's ordination
Anna Nitschmann became an elder and evangelist

The founder of the Moravian church concluded that 1 Corinthians 14 cannot be interpreted to say that women cannot speak publicly in the congregation because 1 Corinthians 11:5 tells women how to speak publicly in the congregation. He believed 1 Corinthians 14:34 should be applied to a certain group of uneducated women in Corinth.

A Moravian church cast lots in the tradition of Acts 1:23-26 to determine who should be an elder and the Lord chose Anna Nitschmann in 1729. Annat Nitschmann travelled, preached, evangelized, wrote hymns, and helped found Bethlehem and Nazareth in Pennsylvania. Countess Benigna Zinzendorf established the Bethlehem Female Seminary in 1742. Count Zinzendorf, Bishop of the Moravian church, said that in the church setting a woman could and must serve the congregation with her gifts. He said that since the difference between the sexes regarding spiritual matters was completely abolished, the women could teach in the congregation. Zinzendorf recognized that women quite likely taught in the earliest churches (ie. Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, Mary) and the earliest centuries. The risen Jesus called women to tell men about his resurrection (Matthew 28:8-10) and issued women and men the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

When the Moravian church was founded in 1457, it was illegal for anyone to separate from the established church. However, they separated because the established churches were using sacred things to harm people rather than save them.

Moravians believe God creates, redeems and blesses. The church responds by building people up in faith, love, and hope (1 Cor.13:13). Like other Christian groups who honoured women and men teachers and speakers, Moravians were marginalized as an 'unrecognized deonomination'. Things like clergy, sacraments, creeds, baptism, and communion were considered unessential to salvation; useful only to lead people to what is truly essential: building up others in faith, love, and hope. They thought the Bible became less sacred when used to lead to cruelty, abuse, and oppression instead of faith, love, and hope. They translated the Scriptures into the common language instead of using the Latin Vulgate in the 16th century. Moravians focus on new birth in Christ, good works, evangelism, pacifism, ecumenism, and music.

The religious establishment partnered with the state to arrest and persecute them. The refugees took shelter on the estate of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in England in 1722 until he was forced out of England. Their beliefs in equality and peace meant they were not accepted as a 'recognized denomination.'

19th Century

Jarena Lee is known as the first African American female preacher in America, and she could also hold the title of the first American female preacher. She felt the call to preach in 1807, but Richard Allen informed her there was no provision for women preachers in the Methodist Church. In 1816, Richard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the first independent Black denomination in the US. In 1819, Richard Allen, Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, approved her ministry. Despite his blessing, she continued to face hostility as a black female preacher and no congregation called her as their pastor. Nevertheless, she followed God's call and became a travelling minister, preaching over a hundred sermons in a year. Jarena Lee was also the first Black woman to publish an autobiography. In spite of all this, Jarena Lee is not called the first female preacher in America because she was not licensed to preach in a "recognized denomination'. Why? The AME church could only operate in the 'free states' so it was not a national church. That's right, it was unrecognized because it was Black.

The first woman to be ordained a minister of a "recognized denomination" in America was Antoinette Brown Blackwell, who completed her theology courses in 1850 and was an itinerant preacher until the Congregational church ordained her in 1853. Read about when churches began to ordain women preachers here.

Jarena Lee
Jarena Lee preached in the 1800s
Richard Allen
Richard Allen agreed to ordain Jarena Lee

Sarah and Angelina Grimke were sisters at the forefront of the fight against slavery. As they became vocal, their gender was given as the reason to stop them from speaking and prohibit them from speaking in church buildings or in mixed settings where they were seen to be teaching and having authority over men. The faith of the Grimke sisters forced them to move north and to change to the Quaker faith. They did public speaking tours and wrote letters to effect change. The Massachusetts Clergy wrote a Pastoral Letter in 1837 to condemn women as public reformers, saying that it was unnatural, and promiscuous, breaking the bonds of modesty and opening the door to degeneracy and ruin.

Sarah's 1837 letter teaching the male pastors
Sarah Grimke

Sarah Grimke
Sarah Grimke
Angelina Grimke

However, some men used their influence to uphold equality. Like the Quakers and the Moravians, The Salvation Army promoted women and men according to their gifts and talents. The Salvation Army was founded by a husband and wife team: William and Catherine Booth.

Catherine Booth
Catherine Booth
CAtherine Booth
Co-founders of the Salvation Army

While women were not yet being ordained in Canada, women ordained in the US worked as pastors in Canada in the 1880s.

✔️Fidelia Woolley Gillette (1827-1905) was raised in the United States, where she obtained a license to preach in 1873 and where she was ordained in 1877. She was the first ordained woman to work in Canada, serving a Universalist congregation in Bloomfield, Ontario, in 1888. In the 1800s, the Unitarian and Universalist churches were two Christian protestant denominations. In 1961 the Universalist Church of America merged with the Unitarian Association and it later evolved to the present pluralist view which embraces diverse religions not holding Christianity above other religions.

✔️Janet Douglas was born in Ontario, Canada, raised in Michigan, and in 1884, the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ gave Janet Douglas a permit to labour as an evangelist. She was the first female Mennonite evangelist and pastor in North America. That fall, she founded a city mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the first city mission of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination. In 1885, Janet Douglas went to Ontario and preached at travelling tent meetings. In the 1880s, she established two new Mennonite Brethren in Christ congregations in Dornoch and Kilsyth, Ontario and was the lead pastor. Later she married James Hall and they lived in California, Alberta, and Ontario. Over time, her public ministry decreased as her denomination shifted away from its holiness roots and towards a fundamental theology that opposed women pastors. The grave marker for Janet Douglas Hall does not recognize her ministerial status, since her denomination (now known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) changed its theology in a direction that did not favour women in church leadership.

Janet Hall
Janet Hall, denied recognition in death
Janet Hall
Janet Hall, evangelist, preacher, church planter

20th Century

Battle of the Sexes: 1936

Lydia Gruchy became the first woman ordained in Canada: THIRTEEN years after graduating from Presbyterian Theological College (U of Saskatchewan). Nellie McClung, the suffragist, took up the cause of Gruchy's ordination. But all of the members of the national council were men. Gruchy's male colleagues proposed her ordination at every national council for 13 years. Finally, her colleagues in the Saskatchewan Council decided to ordain Gruchy unless there was a strong objection by the national council. She was also the first woman to be granted an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in Canada (1953).

Lydia Gruchy
Lydia Gruchy was like the persistent widow
Lydia Gruchy
Lydia Gruchy: graduated 1923; ordained 1936

Battle of the Sexes: 1951

More than 100 years after the first black American woman was ordained, Addie Aylestock became the first black Canadian woman ordained: SEVEN years after graduating from Toronto Bible College. She served as a Deacon, the highest role open to women in the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) church. Finally, the male superintendent of the Conference proposed a resolution to ordain women. She served in Africville, Nova Scotia, and North Buxton, Ontario, communities established by and for former African-American slaves. She also pastored churches in Montreal, Toronto, Owen Sound, Fort Erie and Niagara Falls. Aylestock served as general secretary of the BME conference from 1958-1982.

Addie Aylestock
Addie Aylestock, first black woman odained in Canada
black fefmale pastor
Addie Aylestock

Battle of the Sexes: 1948

C. S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled "Priestesses in the church?" in 1948. He reasoned that only males represent God to humanity. He knew it was not credible for him, as a man, to promote the idea that only men might be priests or pastors. He asked his friend and contemporary, Dorothy L. Sayers, to endorse his idea.

She refused. She reasoned that was not consistent with the Bible, since Christ represented all humanity.

Dorothy Sayers
Dorothy Sayers stated humans are equal
CS Lewis
C.S. Lewis stated males represent God

Battle of the Sexes: 1942

In 1942, Ethel Ruff became the first woman to earn an M.Div from Bethel Seminary, a Christian evangelical school. She preached at churches throughout the Baptist General Conference. She was supported by men Martin Erikson, who asked her to write a monthly column for the denomination's magazine. Moody Bible Radio, an evangelical Christian network, invited her to preach regularly on their network. Bethel's current Statement on Women and Men is to cultivate a climate affirming women to ministry and ordination, and helping their graduates navigate the challenge when their gifts and calling do not coincide with their home denomination or church community.

Battle of the Sexes: 2023

In 2023, after two years of study, the Southern Baptist Convention expelled any congregations that had ordained female pastors. That included Saddleback, their second-largest congregation, led by the well-known evangelical Christian author Rick Warren. After decades of thinking women were restricted to non-pastoral roles, Warren took another look at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18) and realized women should be able to be ordained. In addition, the resurrected Jesus told the women to preach to the male apostles that he had risen (John 20:17, Matthew 28:8-10). In addition, the prophet Anna teaches men and women about Jesus (Luke 2:36-38). The Bible changed Warren's mind on women in leadership.

Ethel Ruff
Ethel Ruff, Baptist Pastor, 1942
Saddleback Church
Saddleback Church forced to disaffiliate with Southern Baptist Convention after ordaining women

The battle of the sexes continues. Some Christians believe in the biblical view of the equality of all people and the priesthood of believers. Some believe in separate roles based on gender. We seem to revisit the same issues and restate the same arguments with each generation. What should we do? Take advice from Gamaliel: if this movement is from the world, it will die. If it is from God, it is impossible to stop.

Hearing about these early women preachers shows us that churches and parishioners accepted women preachers despite the predominantly patriarchal secular culture. Women and men throughout history have been explaining the biblical rationale for female clergy. With some men supporting the ordination of female clergy, we see the battle is not between women and men; it's a battle to understand the equality presented in the Bible.

I hope this look through history shows that Christian women have preached in every generation and that some Christian men have endorsed and encouraged this sharing of God's word by all believers, regardless of gender. These women are part of an unbroken chain of women preachers from the 1st century to today. Women in ministry is not a new phenomenon. God has called women to serve in ministry since the beginning. The church thrives when women and men work together.


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor

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