Women in Pentecostalism

Published: 2021-10-07 05:35:10
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Women were certainly not without opposition in the early Pentecostal movement. In spite of the opposition they faced, women conducted a significant portion of the evangelistic work in the movement. However, on a denominational level, women were not placed in positions of executive leadership (Tucker & Liefeld, 1987, pg. 362). The Pentecostal answer to the question ‘What constitutes legitimate spiritual authority? ’ has brought about restrictions on the ministry of women in Pentecostal circles. According to the doctrine of Spirit baptism, authority for ministry resides in the manifestation of the Spirit rather than in the human vessel.
This means that women were allowed a significant place within the Pentecostal movement but were not granted authority of a ministerial office. This brought about tension concerning the nature of women’s authority and their rights to ministerial office. Although it was normal for men and women to minister as equals, there existed a cultural understanding that women had a separate and limited sphere of activity. Women had the right to preach because such authority resided in the Holy Spirit but they were still distinct from men and under their authority.
The statement that man is the head of the woman, found in 1 Corinthians 11:3-12, has been used to justify male superiority and to exclude women from spiritual leadership (Powers, 1999, pg. 321). CASE STUDIES Maria Woodworth-Etter (1884-1924) Maria Woodworth-Etter was born in Ohio in 1884. It was through the Disciples of Christ that she was converted as a teenager. She is considered to be one of the leading Spirits of the Pentecostal revival in the early twentieth century. Her revival movement began in the 1890’s in central Indiana. Many of her followers claimed miraculous healings and the gift of tongues.
So significant was her career that Janet Wilson James suggests “her ministry may have been the origin of the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Although Maria felt called to the ministry, the many obstacles she faced seemed to make it impossible for her. She had little formal education and she had a husband who did not share her call to the ministry. Despite all the hurdles she faced, Maria did not doubt her call and eventually her ministry was a huge success. Maria joined the United Brethren Church, which gave its blessing to her preaching and church planting.
One year after joining the United Brethren Church, her husband agreed to accompany her on an evangelistic tour and virtually nothing was mentioned of him after that. In 1891, Maria divorced her husband, P. H. Woodworth, charging him with adultery. In 1902, she married S. P Etter with whom she found the support she needed to continue with her ministry (Tucker & Liefeld, 1987, pg. 362). In her sermon “Women’s Rights in the Gospel,” Maria uses scripture to urge her sisters in Christ to use their talents for the glory of God.
She uses Joel’s prophecy, Acts 2:18-19 and John 4 to show that Jesus clearly commanded women to spread the gospel. She also uses the examples of women who prophesied in the Old Testament, and the women who worked with Paul as examples for Pentecostal women to imitate. She dismissed the passages on the silence of women as having less authority than the passages like Galatians 3:28 where women are seen as equal to men and 1 Corinthians 11:5 in which it is clear that women pray and prophesy in the churches Paul founded. This gift of prophecy is the greatest gift, and God has promised it to women.
Her focus is on the importance of preaching the gospel, and she urges women not to let pleas of weakness hold them back from obeying God’s command and allowing Him to speak through them. Maria appeals primarily to the Pentecostal argument from scripture and makes very little reference to the Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism (Powers, 1999, pg. 318-319). Maria was a regular speaker in the early Pentecostal movements and witnessed many converts during her evangelistic revival meetings. Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944)
Aimee Semple McPherson is known as one of the most remarkable, strange, and influential women of the early twentieth century. She is considered the most famous of the healing evangelists of the 1920’s. At the age of 28 and after an unhappy early personal life, she became a touring healing revivalist. After obtaining a Methodist exhorters’ licence, she began publishing a monthly magazine Bridal Call in 1917. In 1919 she became an Assemblies of God ordained minister but had to give that up in 1922. 1923, and at the peak of her success, Aimee built her own sect, the Foursquare Gospel Church.
In 1924, she started the field of religious radio and opened station KFSG in Los Angeles. In 1927 she started the Angeles Temple Commissary which was famous for its food and other charity programs during the Great Depression. Although her personal, financial, and family life were quite a mess, this did not stop her from inspiring millions to have confidence in themselves and in God. Aimee died in 1944 of a reportedly accidental overdose of pills (Harrel, 1975). The strong influences that helped shape Aimee’s ministry included her first husband, her first Pentecostal pastor, and the Methodist church.
Her ministry in China and Chicago created a lifelong zeal for missionary work and a love for those that were less fortunate. The greatest influencing factor in her life was the anointing of the Holy Spirit and her call to ministry of soul winning. It is it is encouraging to know that these extremely gifted women ministered with great success at a time in history that did not make life easy for them. Their call ministry seemed to supersede everything else in their lives, motivating them to pay a difficult price to fulfil God’s will.
Their faithfulness is of great encouragement to every Pentecostal woman in ministry today. Not only did Aimee Semple McPherson break the barrier for woman evangelists during a time when women were not accepted in the pulpit, but she also built the largest church auditorium of her day, launched the first Christian radio station, established a Bible college, and birthed an entire denomination that is still growing today. She did all of this in the midst of the Great Depression during which one and a half million people received aid from her ministry. Maria has been called the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement.
None other has done more than Maria to shed light on the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the role of women in ministry, and the power of miracle crusades to revive a nation. In addition, Maria brought insight on how to effectively administrate massive miracle crusades, build sustainable ministry centres and manage opposition in the public arena. Her legacy is evidenced by the ongoing ministry work of healing evangelists around the world. Though, for the last six years of her life, she confined herself to ministering from the Tabernacle she had erected in Indianapolis, her healing anointing remained as powerful as ever.

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