Sometimes I think that the Lord enjoys playing little tricks on us. No, He is never devious or petty. However, He sometimes lets us build up a good head of steam rolling down the tracks of our own devising and then removes the tracks to see what we are going to do (as if He doesn’t already know).
I somewhat felt that way when the Lord called my single daughter to go across the globe as a missionary. I had always avoided women missionaries like the plague. When one called, I always found an excuse not to have her in. It just did not seem right—a single lady going to a missionary field. Could she handle it emotionally? And, what could she do? She could not preach or start a church. Surely this was not of God.
I cannot say that I had a biblical conviction. It was more of a foreboding, a hesitancy. It did not seem right. Then…well, then there was that little girl of mine. My own daughter gave her life to go. Personally and selfishly, I wish I had a real conviction against it. I could keep her home. What about marriage? What about a family? What about grandchildren? This is the girl who spent much of her youth dreaming about having a large family. She studied homeschooling so she would be ready to homeschool her own children. Now she tells me that going to a country where missionaries are not allowed to tell unknown children and their mothers about Christ is more important to her than having the husband and children she had always dreamed about.
I fear for her safety. I miss her. No, when she was gone for five months last year, I grieved for her. This was my little girl. Everyone says she is like her daddy. We always understood each other. Our hearts have always been entwined. Now…she is leaving. Not to move across town where we can visit her often, but across the world where messages have to be filtered for words and news that might be offensive to the foreign government.
Well, I brought her up to put God first. I can only praise God that my children seem to be set on doing so. But what about women missionaries? I still had to settle that issue. So, I searched my heart and went to the Bible. Either God’s word will be our authority or something else will be. What saith the scriptures?
First, we all know that missionaries have to be men; preferably men with families. Only men can preach, found churches and train indigenous pastors. It follows that only men can be missionaries. Only men were missionaries in the New Testament, right?
Well, it is difficult to prove who was and who was not a missionary in the New Testament since the word is never found there. We still argue about who exactly a missionary is. That makes it very easy for each of us to define missionaries in our own understanding.
So, without arguing definitions, let me approach the question in a different way. Does God allow ladies a special place in ministry in the New Testament? And, do they travel to other lands in that ministry?
To answer the first question: yes, ladies do have a special place of ministry in the New Testament. Paul, in speaking to the Philippians, referred to those “women which laboured with me in the gospel” (Philippians 4:3). These women labored. They labored with Paul. And, they labored in the gospel. That is, they worked to get the gospel out to the lost.
But, you say, they are so limited in who they can reach. Are they? They probably reach certain groups better than men; namely, women and children. As last I recall, women make up about half of all people in the world—actually more, because they live longer. When you add male children to those who can be reached by ladies, they can directly minister to about 60% or 70% of any population. And in a more personal and intimate way than a man can. This means that they can teach them, win them to the Lord, disciple them and counsel them.
In addition to this, these ladies can reach out to all in helping ministries just as Martha did in Luke 10:40; as Lydia did when she offered her house as a place of worship (Acts 16:14-15). We all have limitations. They are not barriers to service given by a vindictive God. They are rather funnels to direct us to more profitable service for Him. No man can do everything that needs to be done. Our limitations only serve to guide us.
But what about the second question? Can ladies travel alone in ministry? Evidently, Phebe did. Phebe is mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of Romans. The subscript at the end of Romans says that she carried the letter from Paul to the Romans. Paul instructs the Romans to receive her and to “assist her in whatsoever business that she hath need of you” (Romans 16:2). Further, he calls her “a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1) and “a succourer of many, and of myself also” (Romans 16:2). Although prominent, Phebe is only one of many ladies mentioned in the New Testament as having a special part in taking the gospel to the world. Some of them were married, but several were not.
Yet, you say, single women are just not as fit. They are the “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7) and need a husband to look after them. I had a dear pastor friend tell me that he was struggling about what to do with my daughter. He had supported a single lady missionary who had done very well for a number of years and then started having problems, which might have been avoided if she had been married. Now, he is afraid to take on single lady missionaries. [I told him…and meant it…that what he did concerning my daughter was between him and the Lord.]
However, as I thought about it later, I realized that this was the same argument I had heard a couple of other times (only with different details). This is called anecdotal evidence. We have a tendency to take a particular instance or two and build a case on it. For instance, I can tell you of a once married man with a sweet family that we took on as a missionary. He never made it to the field so I stopped supporting once married men with sweet families. We once took on a white man and he quit after one term so now we only support non-Caucasian missionaries. You get the idea. We cannot use occasional failures to deny service to God.
Limitations & Advantages
Let me restate, single ladies are limited in what they can do in many ways. They may not be able to handle certain rigors—although there have been ladies that have put many men to shame. They need to work with and through other missionaries. Etc., etc., etc.
However, these may be offset by particular advantages. I know that you and I cannot see any advantages to ministering as a single lady. That is why God gave us inspired scripture—to tell us what we could not figure out on our own.
In our zeal to oppose the Roman Catholic heresy of celibacy, we have almost created our own. We have made marriage a necessity for personal completion and for Christian service. Yet, the Bible says that we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10) and teaches that the single person has definite advantages in serving God. The Catholics are wrong in their doctrine but I am afraid that we have hurried men and women into too many unwise unions by our doctrine. The Bible clearly says:
“There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” (1Corinthians 7:34).
I’m not sure we believe this passage. We hem and we haw when we teach it. We claim that these instructions are peculiar to the “present distress” referred to by Paul (v.26). Yet, this verse is not a set of directions for a particular situation. It is a statement of fact. A single lady (obviously one who knows and loves the Lord) is free to have her mind more on the things of God than a married lady. The wife must care for the things of the world and how she can please her husband. The single lady (or man – see verses 32-33) is free to concentrate on the things of God.
Where does our practice match the doctrine of this verse? Why are we so much in a hurry to find spouses for the single? God says that they lose something when they get married. I know, we gain much also. God uses both married and single people. But that’s not what we really believe and teach. We believe that the single are sort of second-class. We emphasize the limitations of the single and minimize the limitations of marriage. We are wrong. No one could do anything for the Lord apart from His grace. We all have too many limitations to serve God. Yet, God uses us anyway. Not because of who we are but to prove how great He is.
Missionary support is a very personal thing. You will not offend me by not having my daughter in or by not supporting her. You will not offend me if you think she should not go. [I give no promises if you attack my daughter to my face.] Yet, her surrender brings up something that we Independent Baptists need to discuss; and we need to discuss it biblically. We men who are married have the power. Are we afraid of losing it? Are we using it to beat down others? I hope not.
Whatever you do, make sure that you have considered this issue in the light of God’s word. That, after all, is our final authority for faith and practice. At least…I think it is.