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

Inviting women to join the ranks

I am so grateful for the men who have invited me to co-labor alongside them in groups that have Kingdom significance–not as Tony’s wife, nor as the “token woman,” but in my own right, based on my calling and giftings.

The roles of leadership (servanthood) in the church are mostly dominated my males. But God is changing things. The perception of the body of Christ at large is shifting as God is bringing fresh revelation on the Scriptures that used to relegate women to passive roles, waiting for a man to take the initiative.

Many men may talk about women being co-equals, but their leadership teams are comprised of males, they speak at conferences where there are only men on the platform, they hang out in the halls of strategic influence with their male friends. Any woman of spiritual caliber is not going to bludgeon or force her way into those ranks. But will she come when invited? You bet.

Where are the men who will welcome women to join their ranks, opening the door for their participation and leadership?

 Photo Credit: slalit via Compfight cc

Contested territory

Some time ago, I watched a fascinating video by Lance Wallnau called Piercing the Veil. Here’s what I understand to be his basic concept.

“Once you reach critical mass on a revelation, everyone gets access easily to what was once contested territory.”

Up until recently, the idea of women co-laboring alongside men equally has been contested territory. Strategic authority in the church, has, with notable exceptions, been the domain of men. I believe God is bringing fresh revelation to the Scriptures whereby they can, with integrity, be interpreted in such a way that women are not relegated to following men, but under the direction of the Holy Spirit, can initiate and lead Kingdom ventures. God”s gifts to his people are not based on gender. And, like the parable of the talents, whoever uses their gifts wisely will be given more responsibility.

When I was in medical school, only around 10 percent of the students in my year were women. Being a physician was thought to be a male profession. In one short generation, that has changed, and now in the UK, more than 50 percent of medical students are women. 

I always hesitate to use the word “leadership” in these posts, because it can be so easily misinterpreted. Leadership is about servanthood and going lower; it’s not about hierarchy. But God does entrust certain people with more influence. I believe that God is changing the perception that church “leadership” has to be male. He’s doing it by giving fresh revelation on the Scriptures (just as he has done throughout history–for example, with the understanding that salvation is by faith and cannot be earned.) We are fast approaching that critical mass, the tipping point where it’s generally accepted that women are valued and equal co-workers in the Kingdom. And we can all gain access to what was once contested territory.

What image does a Christian woman convey?

Since I’m working very hard on completing the book on women that I’m compiling, this morning I decided take the easy way out for the next few blog posts and find some quotes about women. So I googled “quotes, Christian, women” looking for inspiration. The majority of what came up was I’m sure really good, but everything struck me as sickly sweet, sugar coated, milky, vanilla. Maybe it’s just me, but I found the quotes incredibly unattractive. They were mostly about being a good wife and mother–don’t get me wrong, these concepts are all vital–but so stereotyped.

Then I came across these quotes by John and Stasi Eldredge, from their book,Captivating Revised & Updated: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. This was more what I was looking for.

“A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way.”

“You see, women have been essential to every great move of God. Yes, Moses led the Isaelites out of Egypt, but only after his mother risked her life to save him! Closer to our time, Clara Barton was instrumental in starting the Red Cross. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin put fire into people’s heart to end slavery in the United States. Rosa Parks kicked the Civil Rights movement into gear with her quiet act of courage. Eunice Kennedy Shriver created the Special Olympics. Mother Teresa inspired the world by bringing love to countless thought unlovable. And millions of other women quietly change the world every day by bringing the love of God to those around them.”

This last week I had an email conversation about the type of image a Christian woman conveys, especially in leadership. The man commenting wrote that he didn’t want a woman leader to have “a masculine message with a masculine demeanor… deep authoritative voice… in a women’s body. Not repulsive, just not attractive.”  He linked to a picture that he thought demonstrated what a Christian woman might be like that at first shocked me–it was of a fairly provocatively dressed but very beautiful woman who I doubt is a believer. But the image has not left me, because the message it conveyed was very feminine and yet very powerful. A woman can be strong, a warrior,  and yet retain all the beauty of her femininity. The warrior princess that Stasi talks about.

This picture is of a famous statue in London. A warrior queen named Boadicea

 Photo Credit: victoriapeckham via Compfight cc

What do you think?

Some feminine wisdom

In the church that meets in our home, we’re studying through the book of Proverbs. We came across some interesting verses last Friday on the topic of wisdom. There was some lively and spirited discussion. At the end, someone commented, “I predict a blog post coming on!” They were right, and here it is.

Here are the points that we noted:

  • Wisdom is personified. The Greek word is Sophia.  I, Wisdom live together with good judgment (Proverbs 8:12). Listen as Wisdom calls out!… She takes her stand at the crossroads (Proverbs 8:1-2)
  • Wisdom is female. She offers you long life in her right hand…Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire compares with her (Proverbs 3: 14-15)
  • We are to seek Wisdom, and in doing so find life.  Those who search will surely find me (Proverbs 8:17) Whoever finds me finds life (Proverbs 8:35)
  • Wisdom helped create the earth. The Lord formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past at the very first before the earth began (Proverbs 8:22-23)  I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight,
        rejoicing always in his presence. And how happy I was with the world he created; how I rejoiced with the human family! (Proverbs 8: 30-31)
  • Wisdom sounds remarkably like Jesus. In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him,  and nothing was created except through him. (John 1:1-3)  …Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30) I am the way, the truth and the life (John 10:10)
  • Wisdom sounds like the Holy Spirit too. She will guide you down delightful paths (Proverbs 3:17) When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)  I know where to discover knowledge and discernment (Proverbs 8:12) Think of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

One can come up with some interesting ideas about the interplay of the feminine with the godhead from this. What do you think?

Why I submit to my husband

I’m so thankful for my husband, Tony. The blessings of being married to him are beyond words.

 Photo Credit: 96dpi via Compfight cc

It’s my delight to serve Tony and submit to him. And it’s his joy to serve me and lay down his life for me. Really, it’s a race to go lower. A mutual submission.

It wasn’t always that way.

Early in our marriage, I might have been sitting down on the outside, but inside I was standing up. I might have appeared to be quiet and submissive. Inside, I was screaming, “But it isn’t fair!”

What’s the difference?

Early in our marriage I was taught a legalistic hierarchical view. God is over man. Man is over woman and specifically husband is over wife. Jesus said, “It shall not be this way among you” (referring to hierarchy).

When hierarchy is removed, it’s easy to obey Ephesians 5–Submit yourselves to one another, wives to husbands, and husbands laying down their lives for their wives. And it makes for a wonderful marriage relationship.

 

What we can learn from Priscilla

Priscilla worked with Paul. She and her Jewish husband, Aquila, who was born in Pontus, were living in Rome, but had to leave Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all the Jews from Rome  They arrived in Corinth, Greece, where they set up a tent-making business. Paul arrived in Corinth on one of this missionary journeys, and met them both. He lived and worked with them because he was a tentmaker too.

When Paul left Corinth for Cenchrea (where Phoebe was a deacon), they accompanied him. From there he set sale for Syria, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him.  They arrived in Ephesus, where Paul left the couple to oversee the work there while he traveled on to Jerusalem and Antioch.

Apollos, a Jewish speaker arrived in Ephesus from Egypt. He knew the Scriptures well and was eloquent and enthusiastic, speaking out boldly in the synagogue. But he had some areas of weakness in his theology. Priscilla and Aquila explained (the verb here is plural) the way of God to him more accurately.

Paul specifically mentions Priscilla and Aquila in three of his letters. In Romans 16:3 and 2 Timothy 4:19 he greets them.  In 1 Corinthians 16 he sends greetings to the Corinthians from them and the church that meets in their home.

In every context where active ministry is concerned, contrary to Greek and Hebrew custom, Priscilla is mentioned first. This means she had a significant, probably even the dominant role in what went on. Luke speaks of her teaching Apollos with approval. Paul describes her as one of his co-workers in ministry.

Priscilla and Aquila are a great example of a married couple working together in ministry. It appears that Aquila encourages Priscilla to take an active, if not the most prominent role, in ministry. We need more examples of this.

I am very blessed that my husband, Tony, has done everything he can to make sure I play as active a role as the Lord leads me in ministry. Tony is a gifted speaker and communicator. A number of years ago, he realized that if he did everything, I would always remain in the background. So he started sharing his platform with me. In the beginning, I didn’t communicate nearly as well as he would have done, but over the years I’ve gained in confidence. Now we are both active in the Kingdom, each in our own right and in our own spheres.

(This story comes from Acts 18)

Map of Paul’s missionary journeys from bccfbroadcasts.com

Phoebe–a leader in the church

Phoebe is mentioned only once in the New Testament, but a large amount of information can be garnered from that one passage.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me. (Romans 16:1-2)

Phoebe obviously played a key role in the early church in Cenchrae.

The word “deacon” here is translated in other versions as “servant” (for example, the NKJ version), but it is more likely that she is being described as a recognized leader in the church, similar to the 1 Timothy 3:11 use of the word about women as deacons. (NB: It takes being a servant to lead.)

Another word used to describe Phoebe  is prostatis, translated here as helpful. It is a feminine word, which according to Strong’s concordance means “a woman set over others, or a female guardian, protectress, patroness.” It is a feminine version of the word proistemi which means “to be over, to superintend, to preside over” amongst other things. It’s from the same word used in Romans12:8–”he who leads, with diligence.” The word certainly  holds connotations of leadership. Paul includes himself as one who has been “helped” (led) by her. Interestingly, it’s not the same word used for help earlier in the sentence. That is a word meaning “one who stands by.” Paul could have used that word again, but instead chose prostatis.

Since Paul commends Phoebe, and asks people to receive her, as opposed to sending her greetings as he does to the other people listed in Romans 16, most people think that Phoebe is the one who had been entrusted to carry the letter to the Romans.

(I obtained much of the source ideas for this from Philip B. Payne’s book  Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.)