Heroines of the faith: Maria Woodworth-Etter

I have been in great dangers; many times not knowing when I would be shot down, either in the pulpit, or going to and from meetings…But I said I would never run, nor compromise. The Lord would always put His mighty power on me, so that He took all fear away, and made me like a giant…If in any way they had tried to shoot, or kill me, He would have struck them dead, and I sometimes told them so. Maria Woodworth-Etter (1844-1924)

Maria was born again at the age of 13, and immediately dedicated her life to “going out in the highways and hedges and gathering in the lost sheep.” Her first plan was to marry a missionary but her father died suddenly and she was faced with the task of supporting her family. She had six children by her first husband, P.H. Woodworth who was a farmer. Five of her children died young, leaving her with a daughter.

As Maria studied the Bible diligently, she concluded that God had used women as ministers, prophets and leaders and that Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh specifically applied to women. Then she had a vision. Angels took her over a long field of waving grain. In the vision, she began to preach and the grain began to fall like sheaves.

Soon after this vision, she began ministering to small groups in her community. Everywhere she went, people would fall to the floor, weeping, under a deep conviction of sin. She began traveling and wherever she went there was a demonstration of the Holy Spirit with hundreds miraculously healed and hundreds finding Christ.

By the time she was in her early 40s, she was preaching to crowds of over 25,000 without a public address system in crusades around the country. Hundreds fell to the ground under the power of God and the secular world was amazed at the demonstrations of God’s power as people were healed and set free. Thousands found Christ during these meetings.

Eventually, Maria divorced her husband for infidelity. She later became Maria Woodworth-Etter when she married Samuel Etter, who became a partner in her work for the remaining 12 years of his life.

Maria Woodworth-Etter has been called the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement. She had a profound influence on people such as Smith Wigglesworth, Aimee Semple-McPherson, John Alexander Dowie, John G. Lake and Kathryn Kuhlman.

For the last years of her life, she ministered from one of the churches she had started in Indianapolis. As she became weaker, she would be carried to the pulpit and finally ministered from her bed. She died at the age of 80.

Photo credit: www.icwhp.org

Information for this post obtained from here and here

Women with an attitude…

As God releases women into their calling and destiny, it’s vital that we maintain a right attitude:

“We have seen how many men have led down through the centuries–through rivalry and competition, position grabbing and control, ego promoting and a quest for the limelight. Women can learn from this. As we have opportunity to take strategic positions, let’s deliberately opt for the path of humility and service.

As women, we are now faced with some choices. We can decide that the church owes us some status, that we deserve position and authoirity, and that we have the right to take what is legitimately ours. Or we can willingly choose to lay down our rights and to serve with humility in whatever God is doing. We have the advantage of centuries of learning how to serve and lay down our lives for others. The body of Christ will be richer as we willingly embrace that calling, moving ahead into whatever he would have us do.”


(Excerpted from our book, Small Is Big!: Unleashing the Big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches)

5 activities women can do

There are a number of activities that have traditionally been limited to men. However, I find no scriptural warrant for not including women in them:

  1. Baptism: this is traditionally done by the pastor. When baptism is delayed so that it can be performed by a special person, it slows the growth of any disciple making movement.  In some countries, like India, women are not allowed to be touched by a man unless they are a family member. Although there are no Scriptural examples that specifically describe a woman baptizing, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) indicates that the person who leads someone to the Lord should be the one to baptize them.
  2. Teaching: First Timothy 2:11-12 is often used to stop women teaching. (See my posts (beginning here) on a different interpretation of this passage.) But there are plenty of indications to the contrary. For example, Priscilla (mentioned first) and Aquila taught Apollos. First Corinthians 14:26 encourages everyone to take part in the meetings including teaching (no mention here of this being a “men only” activity). Other lists such as 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that list teaching include activities we know were open to women.  We are to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).
  3. Giving communion: Our traditional practice of communion with a wafer and sip of wine is probably unscriptural. Communion was more like a meal (otherwise why does 1 Corinthians 11:21 talk about some going hungry and others getting drunk). While there is nothing to say that women are allowed to “give communion” there’s nothing to say that men are either.
  4. Leadership: Leading is one of the gifts given to the body of Christ. In Romans 12: 6-8, it is included in a list of things that God gives to us. Included in that list are gifts that we know women can use–for example, prophecy (Acts 2:17-18) If women were to be prohibited from leading, that might have been a good time to mention it!
  5. “Government”: There are examples of women in government. For example, Deborah led and judged the nation of Israel. We see Junia as an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied, Phoebe was a deacon (Jesus used the same word in the context of leadership.) I find nothing that says that women cannot be elders. (There are no examples of women elders, but I can think of no named examples of Gentile ones either.)

What similar activities can you think of?


 Photo Credit: Mars Hill Church via Compfight cc

Heroines of the faith: Catherine Booth

“… The “unjustifiable application” of Paul’s advice, “ ‘Let your women keep silence in the Churches,’ has resulted in more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonor to God, than any of [its] errors.” From a pamphlet written by Catherine Booth in 1859.

Catherine Booth was born Catherine Mumford in England in 1829 to Methodist parents. Her father was a coach builder and preacher. Despite (or perhaps because of) long illnesses she is said to have read the Bible through eight times by the age of 12. Because of a spinal curvature, she was unable to take part in many of the normal activities of adolescence and became a fierce proponent of temperance.

In 1851 she met William Booth, a preacher with similar interests. They were soon engaged and married three years later. They had eight children.

One of Catherine’s role models was Phoebe Palmer, who caused quite a stir by preaching at a time when women were not expected to take an active role. Catherine became convinced of women’s rights, and wrote a pamphlet (Female Ministry: Women’s rights to preach the Gospel) from which the above quote was taken. She was convinced that women have an equal right to preach in public meetings. Her arguments for women in ministry were:

  1. Women are neither spiritually nor morally inferior to men
  2. There is no Scriptural reason to deny them public ministry
  3. What the Bible urges, the Holy Spirit has ordained and blessed and so must be justified.

William and Catherine Booth worked as partners in a traveling evangelistic ministry, and Catherine was soon recognized as a powerful speaker in her own right. Initially speaking in homes and at cottage meetings, eventually she held her own campaigns. Many think she had more influence than any other men (including her husband) of her time. Her life demonstrated the validity of women in ministry.

In 1865, William and Catherine Booth began the work of The Christian Mission in London’s impoverished East End. (Note: this is the area where Tony and I practiced medicine and started a church. Even when we were there it was known as the “trash can” of London, where people who couldn’t go any lower lived. Traces of William and Catherine Booth’s work were evident even then. The area has now become gentrified.) William worked with the poor, and Catherine spoke with the wealthy urging them to help them financially. They provided social help as well as preaching the Gospel.

When the name  of the mission changed to The Salvation Army, William was known as the “General,” and Catherine became the “Mother of the Salvation Army.” She was an important contributor to the changes made, not just in their uniform but also in their beliefs. She died at age 61.

Photo Credit: www.salvationarmy.org.uk

Information for this article taken from here


Heroines of the faith: Elisabeth Elliot

“The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of christian,But the fact that I am a christian does make me a different kind of woman.” Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth’s parents were missionaries in Belgium, which is where she was born, but they returned to the States when she was just a few months old, and she was brought up near Philadelphia.

Elisabeth went to Wheaton College where she studied classical Greek in the knowledge that this would help her translate the Bible into the languages of unreached people groups. She met her first husband, Jim, while she was there. Following college she went to Ecuador to work with the  Quichua Indians. A year later, Jim also came to work with the  Quichua. Jim and Elisabeth were married in Quito in 1953.

Jim had always had a heart for unreached people groups. The Aucus, a fierce tribe who killed everyone who came into contact with them, were  not too far away. Jim and four others determined to reach them and so made a trip into their territory in 1956. They made friendly contact with three of the tribe members but then all of them were speared to death. As Jim said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Left alone with a 10 month old daughter, Elisabeth Elliot continued work with the Quichua tribe. Then God led her to two Auca women who were living amongst the Quichua, whom she invited to live with her. They stayed for a whole year, and taught her and fellow missionary, Rachel Saint, the Huao language spoken by the Aucas. One of the two Auca ladies was the key to Elisabeth being able to live and work with the Aucas, the people who had killed her husband. She spent two years with them with her three-year-old daughter, Valerie, and Rachel. She then returned to her work with the Quichuas, finally going back to the States in 1963.

Since then she has led a very productive life, speaking and writing. She became an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and was one of the stylistic consultants for the New International Version of the Bible. She also remarried, and now works with her current husband. She is one of the most influential Christian women of our day.

Photo credit:www.elisabethelliot.org

Information for this post came from here and here.

Heroines of the faith: Madame Guyon

Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon, usually known as Madame Guyon, was a French mystic. Born in 1648, she spent a number of years imprisoned for her beliefs, which the Catholic Church deemed heretical.

Madame Guyon was a sickly child  in a religious family. When she was young she wanted to be a nun, seeking God within her Catholic faith through times of private prayer, devotional reading and visiting the poor. She married at sixteen years of age (her father arranged her marriage to a man, 22 years her senior, and she didn’t meet her husband until three days before the wedding), and was widowed twelve years later. She lost many of her family, too, including two of her five children to smallpox, before her husband died.

After her husband’s death, Jeanne found herself a wealthy widow. She put most of her money into trust for her children and planned a new life with the assistance of Abbe Francois La Combe, her spiritual mentor.  She moved to Geneva to be near him, and together they worked to relieve suffering through helping the poor and developing hospitals. At this point Jeanne began writing books. However, her views were so controversial that the Bishop of Geneva asked them to leave.

What were Madame Guyon’s views that were so controversial? She believed that prayer should be constant–that all the time one could live in the presence of God, and that was the way to become perfect . She also believed in salvation by faith rather than works–that it was a gift from God.

Quietism, (defined as a system of religious mysticism teaching that perfection and spiritual peace are attained by annihilation of the will and passive absorption in contemplation of God)  was soon declared a heresy. La Combe was imprisoned for 27 years until his death. Madame Guyon was also charged and imprisoned, but due to the intervention of friends, was released.

Soon, Madame Guyon met Fenelon, a prestigious priest, and together  with others they met secretly at the Court of Versailles for times of intimacy with God and to pray for the conversion of King Louis XIV and spiritual reformation in France. However, she was betrayed, and when it was discovered she was a Quietist, she was incarcerated once more–this time with false accusations of adultery with La Combe–in a solitary, bare cell in the Bastille, a notorious French prison. All the time protesting her innocence of immorality, Madame Guyon was finally released seven years later following a prophetic word to the King. She had to be carried out on a litter.

Jeanne’s message was the importance of dying to self, that Christ himself desires to live his life out through us, that suffering is a gift, that joy can be found in any circumstances.

Jeanne’s ministry increased from this point. People from many different nations visited her cottage seeking spiritual help. She influenced many both personally and through her writings–John Wesley, Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Jessie Penn-Lewis to name a few.

She died at the age of 68, faithful to the Catholic Church to the end.

Photo credit: Christianity.com

Information for this post taken from here and here

Heroines of the faith: Jessie Penn-Lewis

Jessie was born in South Wales, UK, in 1861. The daughter of a mining engineer/Methodist minister, she married William Penn-Lewis at the age of 18. Eighteen months later she realized that if Christ were to return, she wasn’t ready, and so began to seek the Lord. Soon she met Jesus and began a deep walk with him.

When she turned 19, she was found to have tuberculosis and given six months to live. God miraculously healed her and she had remarkable resilience and strength to accomplish all that God called her to through the rest of her life.

At the age of 31 she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She had great insight into the Word of God and taught before huge audiences at conventions around the world including the Keswick Convention, a famous annual conference on the deeper life.

Jessie Penn Lewis was involved in the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, a revival that was cut short by the illness (both physical and mental) of Evan Roberts, the main leader. Evan Roberts stayed with her and her husband for a couple of years following this.

Jessie’s ministry took her to other countries including Russia, India, Canada and the USA.  She had the privilege of speaking at the Moody Bible Institute Worker’s Conference where R.A. Torrey introduced her as “one of the most gifted speakers the world has ever known.” She had the privilege of being friends with some other spiritual giants of her day, including F.B .Meyer, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers and D.L. Moody. She was a prolific author, and her book,War on the Saints, written in collaboration with Evan Roberts, is a classic on spiritual warfare. She founded the magazine, “The Overcomer.”

Jessie Penn-Lewis had an influence on her generation, including such people as Frank Buchman (who founded the Oxford Group) and Norman Grubb (who, as president of WEC International took if from a small group of 35 missionaries to thousands of workers around the world.)

But gender was also an issue:

“I saw that God had given me a specific commission . . . but the one objection was the fact that I was a woman. There was no quarrel with the message . . . no denial of the divine seal . . . no getting away from the evidence of the results. But none of these . . . did away with the fact that I was a woman, therefore I could not but see that, whilst God opened doors . . . in some quarters, others were fast closed to the message I bore, purely, and only, because I was a woman.”

The great cry of this heart was, “Why did God not commit this vital message to one who could . . . deliver it without restriction?” Often, in the early years, as she labored to deliver the message, she also gazed out upon the audience, “watching with eager eyes to see whether there was not some hidden and chosen instrument to whom God could transmit this burden, who would rise up . . . and let me step aside. . .” The following expresses her deep concerns. . . “for years I cried to God that He would raise up a man . . .” to fill “the commission He had given to me . . . many tears did I shed over this, . . . . until at last, . . . I saw and could say with the Lord, ‘I beheld and there was no man,’ . . . . . . God had committed this message to me, and at whatever cost, I must go forward.”

On one occasion, “a gentlemen with strong prejudice against the ministry of woman” was in attendance at an Overcomer conference. . . . In conversation afterwards, he confessed: ‘I would not have believed it possible, had I not seen it, that God would use a woman like that!’”  Her response? “God never does use a woman like that . . . or a man either! God only uses the NEW CREATION.” (http://bit.ly/10Mcj4D)

“All that I have, all that I am, all that I may be is Thine, wholly, absolutely, and unreservedly” Jessie Penn-Lewis.

Photo credit: Taken from www.jessiepennlewis.com

Information for this post came from here and here

Heroines of the faith: Phoebe Palmer

Phoebe Palmer was “the mother of the Holiness Movement.”

Born Phoebe Worrall in 1807, she was brought up in a devout Methodist home. She married a Methodist homeopathic physician, Walter Palmer. Their first two children died within months of their birth.

In early Methodism, conversion was an emotional experience, and the fact that Phoebe hadn’t had such an encounter was a source of trial to her. Finally, she came to understand that belief in God was enough–that if she laid her life on the altar, God himself would make her holy.

Phoebe and Walter became very interested in John Wesley’s writings, especially his doctrine of Christian perfection which is the belief that a Christian can live free of voluntary sin, and that this can happen instantly through a “second work of grace.”  She and her family experienced “entire sanctification” some time during 1937, and felt they should teach others how to experience it for themselves.  Phoebe’s developed a process that divided John Wesley’s perfectionism into three parts:

  1. Consecrate yourself  totally to God
  2. Believe God will sanctify what is consecrated
  3. Tell others about it.

Phoebe and her sister began a series of women’s prayer meetings in her home, which became known as the “Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness.” Soon men were included too. They brought together people of many different backgrounds and inspired similar meetings around the country. Phoebe soon became the most influential woman in the most rapidly growing group in America–the Holiness Movement. She and her husband went on the road teaching the concept of Christian holiness. She started missions, camp meetings, and around 25,000 Americans became believers.

Phoebe inspired other women to follow her example, notably Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army and Frances Willard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Her theology gave rise to denominations such as The Church of the Nazarene, The Salvation Army, The Church of God and The Pentecostal-Holiness Church.

Photo from http://www.cyberhymnal.org/img/k/n/knapp_pp.jpg

Information for this post comes from here and here.


A personal story for Memorial Day: in memory of my father

My father, Peter English, was one of the kindest, gentlest men I’ve ever known.

Peter English: 1919 – 2003

In World War 2, my father volunteered to serve in the British Army. His regiment was sent to Singapore, where he was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore and  taken to Burma. He labored on the infamous Railroad of Death, helping to build the bridge over the River Kwai. He watched from a few hundred yards away as the bridge was bombed by the Allies. (If any of you have read the book,  Miracle on the River Kwai
on which the movie, To End All Wars was based, my father was with the author through most of that time.)

The torture and atrocities of life in the POW camps were unspeakable–and my father was silent on the topic for most of my growing up years. Yet the war was always present with us–in the nightmares he suffered, in the fact that we never had a Japanese product in the house. His closest friends were always those who had been with him through the war.

I therefore had mixed feelings when Tony and I took our first trip to Japan. What would I think about the race of people who had been responsible for my father’s pain? In one sense it was nothing to do with me–it had all happened to a previous generation. Yet I found myself surprisingly troubled by being there, especially when I saw someone elderly or in uniform.

At the end of our first conference, we had a time for feedback. I mentioned how healing it was for me to have Japanese friends because my father had been in a Japanese POW camp. To my surprise, the Japanese we were with broke down in tears.

“Please give your father a message from us,” they sobbed. “Tell him we are so very, very sorry for the way we treated him.”  These people were far too young to have been in the war.

Also present in the group were two others who had been personally impacted by the war. There was a Korean girl whose parents had been captured by the Japanese and deported to Japan. And then there was a Japanese girl from Hiroshima whose family had been deeply affected by the nuclear bomb that ended the war. If I remember rightly, her grandmother had survived the bombing even though she was quite close to the center of the blast, but never spoke of it until towards the end of her life. The people of Hiroshima live with the constant reminder of “The Bomb.”  They are taught about it from a very young age in their schools; they live with the sickness that has resulted from the radiation.

The group of people we were with then prayed through the situation. With tears, we repented on behalf of our nations for what had happened during the war. We prayed for healing. It was a powerful, Spirit-breathed time of restoration.

I look back on that time of prayer as one of the most healing times in my life.

(A repost from Memorial Day 2012)

Healing through foot washing

Twenty or so of us were gathered in a circle. I don’t even remember how the topic came up. But one of the men at the conference, tears running down his face, repented deeply on behalf of the men in the church for all the wrongs that have been perpetrated against women down through the centuries, and specifically prayed for healing for any of the women in the group who had been hurt. He offered to wash the feet of the women. Other men prayed too, saying sorry for how their own attitudes had caused pain and suffering to women and committing to change. It was a Holy Spirit moment. Tears flowed freely–both men and women.

Then the men washed the women’s feet. They prayed over us, releasing us into whatever destinies God might have for us.

Was the foot washing the important part? No, but it spoke volumes. What mattered was the men understood at a deep level how the marginalization of women has damaged the body of Christ and were prepared to both repent and commit to change.

I was one who had been hurt by the attitude of the church towards women. For me, it was a profoundly healing time–and the same for the other women present. I view it as one of the events that released me into any ministry I now have.

Photo Credit: djking via Compfight cc