Haven't Women Always Been Influential in the Church?

By Darrell Yoder on March 11, 2019

As we conclude our "Justice + Unity" series on April 16, and as we explore the biblical vision for women in God's kingdom, we will also take up the question of church history. How have women been influential in the history of the church?

Dr. Lynn Cohick will engage this question based on her book, co-written with Dr. Amy Brown Hughes, "Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority and Legacy in the Second Through Fifth Centuries."

Dr. Cohick is a New Testament scholar with commentaries on Philippians and Ephesians, and she has written extensively about the cultural context of the ancient world, especially as it relates to women. She provides insight into what life was like for ancient women and the roles they played and didn't play. Her latest book with Dr. Hughes specifically explores Christian women and their influence and legacy in early church history.

Although we might view ancient women as subservient to men in theological matters and church practice, Cohick and Hughes show historically just how influential they were. They argue that we can glean insight from this history about how men and women can partner together for the good of the church.

Here are a few quotes from the introduction to their book:

"We demonstrate how women were right in the thick of everything, how their participation and contributions were vital to the construction and maturation of the early church, and how men and women depended on one another for the sake of their love for Christ" (p. xxxv).

"Women were key in the central discussions of trinitarian theology and Christology, for example" (p. xxviii).

"It is tempting to relegate a woman's voice to the margins, for she did not speak in the councils, nor do we have her letters debating a doctrine with her male peers. Yet the continuing work of the church in developing its identity and its presence in the community happened outside the channels of ecclesial pronouncements. We recognize these women's contributions to the development of Christianity, its doctrines, and its ethics" (p. xxxi).

What I find interesting about this background is this: Although men held cultural and ecclesial authority in the patristic world, these ancient Christian women still contributed to the theology and practice of the early church. They didn't have authority, but they did have a voice. It wasn't all or nothing, authority or silence. What might that say for practices in the church today? I wonder if this history could spark ideas to help churches to imagine new ways women can contribute their gifts to the whole church alongside their brothers in Christ.

In addition to her scholarship, Dr. Cohick is also a leader in theological education. She currently serves as the academic dean at Denver Seminary, and she will share some of her own journey as a female leader. She is an example of someone who is flourishing in her calling, who has generous things to say to men who have encouraged her as well as challenging things for us all about the treatment of women.

Join us on April 16 to explore this and much more as it relates to women, justice, unity and healing in the church.

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Categories: Culture, Ministry, Theology, Vocation