Originally published October 20, 2017
October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and because I’m all theme-y and whatnot, I’m in the midst of a fantastic book called Reformation Women by Rebecca VanDoodewaard who I dearly wish were on social media so I could shamelessly fangirl her and make a general nuisance of myself by asking too many questions. Normally, I would actually finish a book before slobberingly commending it to you, but in case you like being all theme-y and whatnot too, and because time is of the essence, I’m throwing caution to the wind and telling you:
Get this book. Now. You’re welcome.
Normally, when we read about the Reformation, we’re reading about great preachers and leaders like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Hus, but preaching was not the only work of the Reformation. And that’s one of the things that has captivated me about Rebecca’s book. All of the women included therein were strikingly courageous, tireless laborers, who contributed greatly to the success of the Reformation, and they did it all while coloring inside the lines of biblical womanhood – doing vital work godly women are uniquely equipped by Christ to do. They opened their homes as a refuge to scores of Protestants (often including those aforementioned notable preachers and other integral leaders) fleeing for their lives from Catholic marauders. They set up prison ministries and fed and clothed the poor. They nursed their communities through the Plague. Those who were queens and princesses used their power to protect Reformers and change persecutory laws. Those who were married to pastors and leaders helped in their ministries and edited their books and papers. And they wrote. Poetry. Position papers. Booklets. Letters. What a happy discovery (for me, anyway) to find sisters of the quill from so long ago.
But these great ladies were not our only foremothers in the faith. For as long as God’s people have been God’s people, God’s people have rebelled and needed to be reformed. In fact, that’s the entire, overarching theme of the Old Testament- the need for Israel to reform from its idolatry. And all along the way we see faithful women like Deborah, Jael, Esther, Jehosheba, Jedidah, Huldah, Samson’s mother, and others willing to buck the trend of sin and rebellion and point the way back to God and holy living by their deeds and the example of their lives.
The New Testament gives us extraordinary examples such as the women who ministered to Jesus during His earthly ministry, stood by Him at the cross, and were the first ones at His tomb. Priscilla, Lydia, Dorcas, Eunice, Lois, Phoebe and other believing women soon followed, all lending their aid in their own unique ways to reforming dead, legalistic Judaism into biblical Christianity.
All of these great women of God, serving Him through thousands of years as only godly women can, laying the foundation with their blood, sweat, and tears, for the church we know today.
But have we “arrived”? Is the need for women to work for reform in the church a fast fading dot in the rear-view mirror of modern day evangelicalism? Judging from the articles I read and the e-mails I receive about the problems in the church, the answer to that question would be a big, fat “no.”
Perhaps armies of the Catholic “church” no longer hunt down fleeing Protestants. And, maybe Nero isn’t using Christians as torches for his garden parties any more (although there are certainly areas of the world where our brothers and sisters in Christ face similar threats every day). But the stealth, guerrilla warfare Satan has been waging against the Western church in recent decades might be even more damaging. Certainly, it’s more diffuse and wider spread. Instead of raping the bride of Christ, Satan has chosen instead to seduce her. Why forge an enemy when you can woo a lover?
False teachers. Word of Faith heresy. The New Apostolic Reformation. Abuse in the church. Biblical illiteracy. “Lone Ranger” Christians. Idolatry. Irreverence in the sanctuary.
For doctrinally sound Christians, it’s like being in that giant trash-masher with Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie – surrounded by slime and garbage on all sides with the walls closing in, and, seemingly, no way out.
It is easy to see why the heart of the Protestant Reformation was Semper Reformanda– “always reforming.” The work of fighting for sound doctrine, biblical worship, and pure hearts and hands never, never, never ends.
So what does it look like to be a woman of the modern day Reformation? What can we church ladies do to help turn the tide of apostasy in Christendom? Permit me to nail eight theses to the door of your church.
Realize You Can’t Change the World
None of the women named earlier in this article changed the world or the entire church. Not a single one of them. In fact some of them brought about great changes in their locales that were overturned in the years after their deaths.
The problems facing the church today are overwhelming. You’re one person. You can’t fix everything (and God doesn’t expect you to). Maybe you can’t even fix everything in your own church. But what you can do is determine to be faithful to Christ and His Word in your sphere of influence. Bloom where you’re planted. “Brighten the corner where you are“, as the old gospel song says. You can’t do everything, but what’s something you can do?
Color Inside the Lines
One of the major problems plaguing the church today is Christian women who rebel against God’s word by stepping outside the boundaries God has drawn for women in the family and the church. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by following suit in your zeal to reform. There’s plenty of work to be done by godly women – work that we’re better equipped for than men – without violating Scripture.
Mind Your Demeanor
No, we shouldn’t be wishy washy milksops or mealy-mouthed shrinking violets. But we also shouldn’t be loud-mouthed harpies, brashly marching into hell with a water pistol (just trust my own failures on this one). We need to be velvet-covered bricks: soft on the outside, firm on the inside. We should attain to all the Christlike virtues of demeanor: patience, kindness, compassion, mercy, and grace mingled with an unyielding stand on Scripture and an uncompromising commitment to Christ. For some of us, the former comes easier. For some of us, the latter. But we must seek that godly balance as we go about the work of the Kingdom.
Serve the Local Church
If you have rejected the mere idea of local church membership and think you’re going to bring about change from the outside as an unchurched (or functionally unchurched) writer, speaker, or Christian celebrity, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. The church is God’s plan for Christianity, not evangelical gurus. Do whatever you have to do to find a doctrinally sound one, join it, and get to work serving.
When it comes to the church, fixing what’s broken doesn’t rest on your shoulders. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions, and only God can bring those about. You can defend Scripture til you’re blue in the face or explain all day long why someone is a false teacher, but only God can lift the veil and enlighten the eyes of the heart. Be faithful in your efforts, but be more faithful in prayer. Like the persistent widow, grab hold of the Lord on behalf of the church and don’t let go.
Teach Other Women
In my experience, the number one way false doctrine enters the church is through women’s ministry and women’s “Bible” study. You want to work for reform in the church? Work on reforming your church’s women’s ministry. Explain to your sisters why that divangelista is a false teacher. Request Bible study classes that study the actual Bible. Volunteer to organize the next women’s conference or retreat and schedule doctrinally sound speakers. Teach a women’s or girls’ Sunday School class. Transform the church by transforming the hearts and minds of women.
The book of Exodus tells the story of Israel’s battle with Amalek. When Moses held up his arms, Israel prevailed. When he let down his arms, Amalek prevailed. Eventually, Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and held up his arms for him so that Israel could win the battle. Who was more important to Israel’s victory in this story- Moses or Aaron and Hur? If you answered “both,” you’re correct. Israel couldn’t have won without Moses holding up his hands, but Moses couldn’t have held up his hands without Aaron and Hur. Most of the women of the Old Testament, New Testament, and Protestant Reformation who effected godly change among God’s people were not Moseses. They were Aarons and Hurs. What can you do to hold up the arms of your pastor, your elders, your husband, your church?
Make sure you know your Bible backwards, forwards, and upside down in context. Know right from wrong, the biblical from the unbiblical. Learn what God’s word says, and stand. Don’t back down. Do it with a godly demeanor, but do it. Refusing to budge from the truth of Scripture might cost you your “church”. It might cost you your family and friends. It might cost you your job, your reputation, and your finances (as we’ve seen in recent years with Christians in the business world who have refused to cave to the homosexual agenda). But as our brothers and sisters who went to the fiery stake, the dank prison cell, and the gallows would tell you, fidelity to God’s Word is worth it. Loyalty to Christ is worth anything it might cost you. Stand.
Whether your women’s ministry is using a book by a false teacher, there’s a faction of backbiters in the church that needs to be quelled, or your pastor is overwhelmed and needs some help, there’s something in your church that you can pray about, help with, or work on to help it move toward spiritual health. The church needs discerning, biblically knowledgeable, mature Christian women to step up and fight ungodliness whenever and wherever we’re able. Will you be a courageous laborer in the modern day Reformation?