An “Ephesian Moment” for Gender?!? Who Needs One!

meWTyN2Brace yourselves for an incoming stream of quotes from Christian missiologists.

I know, you’re stoked. But I’m reading a lot of missiology, and it’s only the beginning of my four year program!

The other day, reading this book by Scottish Missiologist Andrew Walls, I came across the idea of an “Ephesian moment.” For Walls, this moment was a pivotal turning point in Christian history where the young church was confronted by the idea that the Gospel is meant to cross racial, ethnic and cultural barriers. Here’s Walls:

“When Ephesians was written, there were only two major cultures represented in the Christian church, the Jewish (reflecting a spectrum of attitudes and accommodation to Greek thought) and the Hellenistic. They could easily have formed separate churches, but that thought does not occur to the author. Two races and two cultures historically separated by the meal table now met at table to share the knowledge of Christ. The Ephesian moment–the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ–was quite brief.”

Pondering the idea of an “Ephesian moment” for race and ethnicity, I formulated this question:

Where’s the “Ephesian moment” for gender in Scripture?

In other words, where was the moment when the first church was confronted by the reality that the Gospel crosses gender barriers, that in the advent of Jesus’ Kingdom equality, mutuality and interdependent partnership are the orders of the day?

My first thought was that it had to Pentecost.

After all, when in Acts 2 the Spirit falls on the community, both men and women receive the gift of the Spirit’s power. In fact, in interpreting the moment, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 to emphasize the intra-gender nature of the community of faith. (More about Pentecost and gender here)

It seems to me that Pentecost is a good option for an “Ephesian moment” with regard to gender, but it’s not perfect. After all, in reality Pentecost is more about the Spirit than a statement about gender partnerships in mission. In the end, Pentecost is the “Spirit’s Moment” more than anything else.

And then it dawned on me:

Perhaps the first church didn’t need an “Ephesian Moment” with regard to gender.

As in, maybe, just maybe, part of the culture of the first church was for women and men to share leadership. Perhaps crossing gender barriers in pursuit of Kingdom mission was…normal, a part of the community’s foundational DNA.

Seems like the Apostle Paul would attest to that. At a glance, Romans 16 seems like just another chapter of Paul publicly thanking those he has partnered with in his mission. But a closer look reveals the intra-gender nature of that mission. According to one scholar, out of the 27 names in the chapter, up to 10 are women.

And, further, in the tribe of Romans 16 women, we have some luminaries, every bit the equal of the men of Romans 16 and elsewhere. There’s Phoebe, the deaconess of Cenchrea, someone “worthy of honor.” There’s Priscilla, Paul’s co-worker, named before her husband Aquila, thus signifying a greater influence. And there’s Junia, “highly respected among the apostles.”

There is evidence that Paul’s practice may well have been representative. That despite being born in a culture gripped by extreme patriarchy, the first Christian church lived out a counter-cultural, intra-gender model of ministry.

Writing in her book When Women Were Priests, Claremont Graduate School Professor Karen Jo Torjesen notes:

“The last thirty years of American scholarship have produced an amazing range of evidence for women’s roles as deacons, priests, presbyters, and even bishops in Christian churches from the first through the thirteenth century.”

All of this leads to an interesting question:

What if the church didn’t need an “Ephesian Moment” for gender because every day was such a moment?!?

One response to “An “Ephesian Moment” for Gender?!? Who Needs One!”

  1. missioeric says :

    Fascinating thoughts.

    I would argue that the “Ephesian Moment” was not the crucial turning point for the church when it came to ethnicity. Antioch was. For it was in Antioch that bicultural Cyprians and Cyrenes naturally took the gospel across cultural barriers.

    So maybe for the early church it was natural for everyone to cross gender barriers, just like it was natural for the biculturals in Antioch to cross cultural barriers.

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