Acts 2:43-47, 1 Cor. 14:26-40 “Uprising of Worship”
About fifteen years ago I was having a conversation with an elder woman of the church I served previous to this one. She had been a Christian all her life. She had been to Sunday school and raised her own children in the church. Then, one day in Bible study we came to this passage in the Bible about the subordination of women. Wow, she was angry. She was angry at Saint Paul. She was angry at the bible. She was angry at the church. She was angry with me. She quipped: “Jesus never said to subordinate women!” Truly, He did not. Where does this idea come from then? Well, we will look at that in a minute or two. First, let us go back and look at the context of what was happening in terms of the worship life of the church right after the first Easter and then the ascension of Jesus himself.
Last week, we left the disciples eating fish on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still happily with them. They were having their discipleship training session, if you will. This week, we see that they are no longer called disciples. Now they are the “apostles.” This name change denotes that their role has changed. Now, they are to be the teachers and preachers. In Acts 1, Jesus ascends up to heaven, leaving the Apostles to carry on his ministry to the world.
The first time that the Apostles lead worship in a public place is in the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of the Pentecost. We have a great description of what the first worship was like. We read that there were signs and miracles being performed. We read that the real needs of the people were being met. We read that the worship was constant, not just once a week, but on a daily basis. We read that this worship was not just taking place in the temple but also in people’s homes. Lastly, the worship was being enjoyed by all!
This is such a difference from what the people were used to in the Jewish Faith out of which they came. I call this “the great uprising of worship” that took place after the Resurrection of Jesus. Worship was never going to be the same after Jesus!
The early churches were a bit befuddled however. All this wonderful worship was going on, but the places where they were meeting were the old synagogues for the most part. These old traditional Jewish centers of worship were not amenable to the early Christian style of worship at all. The believers in Jesus were in fact asked to leave the synagogues—creating in essence what we have today in terms of two separate faiths.
We can read about this happening in the town of Corinth in the Book of Acts, chapter 18: “After this he left Athens and went to Corinth. . . .he argued in the synagogue every Sabbath. . . .he was reviled. . . .he said that from now on I will go to the Greeks.. . .he left there and went to the home of Titius Justus, his house was next door to the synagogue. . . .”
It is not clear exactly why Saint Paul writes the letter to the church in Corinth after his 18 month stay there and talks about worship. We have to assume that word got to him either through a messenger or a letter that has long since been lost that the worship in Corinth was getting a bit out of hand. Paul therefore writes that there should be some order to worship.
Apparently everybody at the church worship at their new house church next to the synagogue was speaking at once and in different tongues. Nobody seemed to be able to understand what the gospel message was because of this. Some scholars have suggested that the location of the house church to the synagogue encouraged the early Christians to be especially loud in order to drown out the worship going on next door. There might have been some competitive worshiping going on! Paul suggests, however, that maybe it is okay instead to sit down and be a little more quiet in worship—that just being louder than the other guy is not what God wants!
Paul asks for orderliness in the new church. Part of this new call for orderliness is that the women should maybe not embarrass their husbands in church. Paul says this because it was happening. Paul would not mention the women if they were not speaking out in the church.
A huge part of Paul’s theology is on this idea that there should be no differences among believers of Jesus. He writes specifically this in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Jesus.” So, naturally in the early church, women had found a new voice in this new religion that they had not enjoyed before. Indeed, the early church was incredibly dependent on their female members.
Last year in April, 2016, Christianity Today reported that of Christians being persecuted today, a vast majority of them are women, especially in Muslim countries. This was also the case in the early church that the majority of Christians being fed to the lions in the coliseum were women. If we couple the early church with an early feminist movement, then we can rightly say that the persecutions suffered by the church were not just against Christianity but against feminism.
Saint Paul is addressing a very precarious situation for the early church. He wants to allow the women to fully participate in the new faith, as Jesus did, but he also wants to protect those women from being carried off by the Roman guard to suffer unspeakable cruelty by the Empire. He suggests in his letter: “Ladies, maybe it is best if you do not stand out too much.” If you have something to say, maybe it is safer for you if you allow your husbands to bring up your thoughts in the church for you. He qualifies this by stating Jewish Law.
Two things then about this should be noted: First, women in this country today are not subject to being fed to the lions for having strong views. Secondly, we are no longer under the Jewish Law but rather the Law of Christ.
So, on this Mother’s Day when we celebrate the role of women in the church, we should rightfully note that the uprising of worship after Easter was indeed a woman’s uprising as well. Women were for the first time ever to be viewed as equal to men—unfortunately the culture of the time was not yet ready to accept that, creating great dangers for the women of the early church.
In the early church, women were allowed to preach. They were deacons and disciples. They were missionaries. They had incredible ministries. About 1,850 years later in this country, the first woman was ordained as preacher by the Congregational Church. Yes, our forbears that established this church here were the first to truly accept women into ministry as equals. Her name was Antoinette Brown. She served a church in New York starting in 1852.
To be sure, Mary, the Mother of Jesus herself, was considered a leader of the church in Ephesus alongside Timothy. What an incredible example of motherhood, no? She just did not only bear the Son of God into the world, but she took on the leadership of his church after his Resurrection as well!
Saint Monica is one of the most famous mother’s of the early church. We used to live right next to the city of Santa Monica, California, while serving a church in Westwood. She wept for her adulterous husband and prayed for him every night until the Spirit finally spoke to his heart and made him confess his own faith in Jesus. Saint Monica then turned her attention to her son who had never taken the faith. She literally followed her son from North Africa to Italy, crying and praying over him. Finally, Saint Augustine also accepted Jesus and set his life to righteousness for his mother’s sake. Yes, this is the same Saint Augustine that wrote the famous works “Confessions” and “The City of God,” and whose personal theology has shaped the faith right up to today.
Saint Augustine and his mother Saint Monica became a missionary team back to North Africa. I love this idea. It reminds me of John and Mother Mary. It reminds me of Timothy and Mary. It brings to mind how much my mother supported me in my own ministry. It brings to mind also seeing all of the mothers here at the end of the YWAM trip last year to Nepal.
Two of those mothers stayed with us at the parsonage. I was impressed at how they followed their daughters’ missions through social media and of course through constant prayer. Every mother goes with their child first to church, then into mission if the Lord claims their lives to that.
I just want to praise all of the mothers throughout history who have been prodding the next generation of Christians to worship and mission. This is perhaps the true uprising of worship led by the Spirit!