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).”

Let it be, Lord…!

I came across this while writing my latest research paper for UofB. My heart says, “Let it be, Lord…!”
“Dr. Edith Blumhofer, one of the most outstanding historians of women in Pentecostalism, does not believe there ever was a golden age in the early days of the movement when women were treated equally. After all, the first Pentecostals all came into Pentecostalism from other denominations, bringing along their own established biases. […] yet either because of or despite their Pentecostal faith, women continued to lead. Barred from the pulpit, the preached in the streets. Refused ordination, they became missionaries and went to places were men were afraid to go. They became healers, writers and editors. Without them, Pentecostalism would probably have died out long ago. Blumhofer likes to recall that in the early days when no women were ordained, and the railways gave half-fare privileges to clergy, an announcement appeared in a Pentecostal newspaper about a forthcoming Pentecostal camp meeting. It urged everyone to come and reminded the ministers they were eligible for half-fare tickets. Then it added: ‘Sisters, trust the Lord for the full fare!’ For nearly a century the sisters have been trusting the Lord for full fare, but there is a strong conviction in the movement today that the era of male dominance is fading.”
Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven : The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century / Harvey Cox (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995), 137-38.
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