What do Early Women Preachers show us?
Updated: May 16
History shows that women preaching is not an influence of 1960s feminists. Women preaching started long before that, based on each denomination's understanding of Biblical Scriptures.
The Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) gave both women and men the prerogative to speak during a Quaker meeting from the beginning of their movement in the 1650s. They believed God was everywhere and anyone could preach; they rejected the established church and the need for ordained clergy. It was 1689 before the government permitted them to become a recognized denomination.
The Salvation Army was founded by a husband and wife team, William and Catherine Booth. It had women and men in roles as a lieutenant, captain, major, and the highest role, that of General, from the day it started in 1865. The Salvation Army came to Canada in 1882.
Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) began in the 1870s and accepted women in leadership roles from an early time. Women had a variety of roles in the church and became known as "ministering sisters". God had blessed the preaching of Janet Douglas and by 1886, when she was 22, she had many followers. She planted a new church in Dornoch, Ontario, and soon after in nearby Kilsyth. She was a lead pastor in both.
Hearing of these early women preachers shows us that churches and parishioners accepted women preachers in spite of the predominantly patriarchal culture of the day. The debate is less about the world affecting the church, and more about how Christians differ in their Biblical interpretations.
The Bible shows women leaders (like Deborah, Phoebe, Lydia), shows women teaching men ( like the Samaritan woman at the well and Mary Magdalene at the resurrection), and preaching as evangelists (Priscilla and Junia). Jesus himself calls all believers to be salt and light, and asks women and men to go out into all the world to spread the word.
Remembering these women preachers of history shows us the early Biblical interpretation that God values women and men equally and gifts them with a variety of roles.
Source re Janet Douglas: