Early Pentecostal Hermeneutics and Female Empowerment

Early North American Pentecostals allowed women to engage in a wide spectrum of spiritual leadership activities, including the public preaching and teaching of Scripture when men were present in the audience. My research for my M.A. Dissertation at the University of Birmingham (U.K.), which included a thorough review of all of their extant newspapers (1906-1908), led me to conclude that the right of women to minister in these ways was so widely considered to be a desirable and godly form of praxis that the authors and editors of these journals did not feel any particular need to defend or explain their position.

This was the result of several factors:

First, experiential evidence of the Holy Spirit’s sovereign gifting carried tremendous weight as Pentecostals evaluated all manner of manifestations and issues, including questions pertaining to biblically appropriate female empowerment.

Second, understanding the mechanics of embodied Spirit fulness and gifting as something more akin to actual Spirit possession than to mere Spirit influence confirmed and strengthened Early North American Pentecostal belief that God had clearly chosen to empower women for ministry functions.

Third, the initial perception of gender-inclusive xenolalia as a God-given means for missionaries to overcome linguistic barriers to the communication of the Gospel was taken as added proof that women could be called to preach.

Fourth, the widespread conviction that the Pentecostal movement was the fulfillment of Joel’s end-time prophecy pre- disposed early North American Pentecostals towards gender-inclusive ministry and provided them with an identity framework that linked all of the above factors together in a synergistic relationship.

These realities were undergirded by a pneumatologically-centered hermeneutical method that accorded great value to legitimate spiritual experience, both externally in the acts of God in human history and internally through supernatural illumination of the human mind and spirit during the consideration of the biblical text. The pattern within the early North American Pentecostal newspapers and the interpretive models advanced by both Archer and Thomas parallel the approach taken by the Early Church in its evangelistic efforts and are supremely biblical.

Simply put, the faith of the first Christian disciples and the Gospel they preached were grounded in historical events rather than in concepts or ideas. At its heart were the narratives of human experience connected to the birth, life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. These experiential testimonies carried such weight in early Christian thinking that it caused them to reevaluate and, in some instances, totally change the way they viewed the Hebrew Scriptures. They wrote the New Testament in order to document, understand, defend, and ultimately communicate these experiential truths. Since their faith flowed out of and rested upon a foundation of experience, it is not surprising that experience also weighed heavily in their hermeneutical thought processes, including during the Council at Jerusalem. Similarly, when the earliest North American Pentecostals became convinced that the risen Christ was deliberately and actively pouring out the Holy Spirit upon them, distributing gifts as a function of His divine prerogative, this profoundly informed the way they viewed and interpreted the Scriptures relative to the question of women in ministry and leadership.

If you would like to find out more about my research in this area, you can obtain a free copy of my entire dissertation by clicking here. It is entitled, “Theological and Hermeneutical Considerations Regarding Female Empowerment Within Early North American Pentecostalism (1906-1908).”

God’s Plan for Women in the Last Days

I have been asked by a Christian university abroad to record five hours of teaching explaining what the Bible says about women preachers and leaders. In the attached series of YouTube videos entitled, “God’s Plan for Women in the Last Days,” I set forth my understanding the biblical basis for this by means of an overview of what the Scriptures say about this subject. Please note that these videos were recorded “live-to-tape.” Although they are unpolished and contain thoughts that I want to develop further, they represent the essence of my thinking this issue.

I received the invitation to undertake this project against the backdrop of my having written my Master’s degree dissertation in a related area. You can click here to read a copy of that online. I feel a sense of calling from the Lord to write a book on this subject that presents a balanced biblical foundation but that also gives practical counsels as a “father in the Lord” to young women who sense God calling them to preaching, teaching, and/or leadership ministry and who do not know how to respond. While other people are very capably tackling these issues within the academic realm, I want to write a popular, but theologically and exegetically sound book that includes sources and documentation, along with suggestions for further reading. Once I am finished, I want to get this translated into as many languages as I can and disseminate it without concern for profitability to as many nations as possible, including inside Iran. That nation now has the fastest growing church in the world and features a very large proportion of women pastors and church planters.

I just finished uploading the first four videos in the series. I also plan to do a fifth video that deals specifically with 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 14, and Ephesians 5 in the biblical text. I have uploaded these videos without any post-production and/or edits, so if you watch them, you may notice a few times where I mispronounce a biblical name or mistake a Scripture reference, etc., but since this is the kind of thing that can happen in a live classroom presentation, I offer them to you “as is.” I also intend to share these recordings in audio-only format via my podcast. I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions, but please understand that I am unable to invest any time in extended debates about these issues if you happen to hold a position in contrast to my own.