Sunday, 21 May 2006 00:00

The Truth About Mary and the Holy Grail

Galatians 3:27-28 (KJV)

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

In The Da Vinci Code, there are two bold propositions regarding women and the church.

  1. When grail legend speaks of "the chalice that held the blood of Christ"... it speaks, in fact, of Mary Magdalene, the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline (p.249).
  2. Powerful men in the early Christian Church "conned" the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine" (p.124).

The first proposition is best answered by scholars, both liberal and conservative, who call Jesus' alleged "marriage" to Mary Magdalene "absurd." Our focus is the second proposition.

  1. Women in the world without Christian influence are often devalued.
    World Vision reports the following facts in their 1997 April issue:
    1. 450 million women are physically impaired due to childhood malnutrition.
    2. Women make up half of the world's population, but only one percent of the wealth.
    3. A girl is twice as likely not to be educated as a boy is and according to Time, there are 100 million girls who are "missing"—killed by their families because of gender.

    Among the religious Jews, to be a woman was considered a curse, for they prayed—"Blessed be the Lord our God that he hath made me an Israelite and not a Gentile. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not made me a servant. Blessed be the Lord who hath not made me a woman." And the women prayed, "Blessed be the Lord who hath made me as He hath pleased." This is the world into which Jesus Christ entered.

  2. Christ's coming and the New Covenant emphasized the equality of women.
    "There is neither male nor female... for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
    "Under the Gospel dispensation there is no distinction made between male and female as to divine things; as they are alike called by the grace of God, they have the same right to the gospel ordinances... and to every spiritual privilege." (Dr. John Gill)
    1. Christ's life emphasizes the value of women...
      1. His birth... the Greeks believed that semen contained "little humans" that were formed in the man's head and were planted in the woman's "soil." Christ was born of a virgin. Mary was the only source of Jesus' DNA.
      2. His death... the anointing with oil prepared Jewish men for great tasks.
        Jesus was anointed by two women for his ministry of death (Matthew 26:6-13).
      3. His resurrection... Jesus first appeared to, and then commissioned, women.
    2. Christian revivals emphasize the value of women...
      The following is from Women in Revival Movements by Loren Cunningham.

      When God begins a dramatic work of His Spirit, women are often in the forefront. Historians say that in most spiritual awakenings, women are accepted as ministers in the early stages. Later, as revival excitement cools into organizational structure, the women are squeezed out.

      One of the greatest spiritual awakenings of history was experienced by the Moravians in the eighteenth century in eastern Germany. It was a move of God that spread to the whole world as men and women went out as missionaries. Moravians were the first Protestant missionaries. The Moravians held a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil for the unreached of the world that lasted more than one hundred years. In Herrnhut, where it all began, there is a simple museum with portraits on all the walls. These were the heroes of the Moravian missionary movement; so many were women.

      The spiritual awakening that transformed England and America was led by George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Wesley brothers had a remarkable, godly mother names Susanna. Besides spending time every day in earnest prayer, Susanna found time to teach each of her nine surviving children. Mrs. Wesley preached to more than two hundred people every week in prayer meetings, which she led in husband's parish. No wonder her son John used women leaders for the small groups called "classes," which spread their revival so effectively. Wesley said, "Since God uses women in the conversion of sinners, who am I that I should withstand God?"

      In the early part of the nineteenth century, God again moved in revival in America through Charles Finney, who invited women to pray and speak in public worship. When Finney started Oberlin College, it was the first college in America to allow women to study alongside men. (It was also the first college to become racially integrated.) Finney was the first Protestant leader to train women in theology. In 1853, one of his former students, Antoinette Brown, became the first woman ordained in America.

      Another evangelical leader of the nineteenth century, Dwight L. Moody, was eager to allow women to preach. Moody Bible Institute offered its pastor's course to women up until 1929. A.J. Gordon the founder of Gordon College, wrote in defense of women in public ministry. A.B. Simpson, who started the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA), included women in all levels of his leadership. Besides women pastors, evangelists, and teachers, four of the DMA's first eight vice presidents were women.

      General William Booth used women in preaching and leadership roles throughout the Salvation Army. The Church of the Nazarene and other Holiness churches starting up in the late nineteenth century also ordained women. After the Pentecostal revival began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles in the early twentieth century, several women preachers became well known. Just one of many was Maria Woodworth-Etter, who held some of the largest evangelistic crusades in America until her death in 1924.

      Not many know that famous women's colleges such as Bryn Mawr, Radcliff, Wellesley, and Smith were founded to train women as missionaries. By the beginning of the twentieth century, there were forty evangelical missionary organizations led by women. Armies of women missionaries went out, not only evangelizing but also starting hospitals and schools, including an eight-thousand-student university in Korea and one of the best mission-run medical schools in the world in Vellore, India. Women missionaries were the first to translate the Bible for hundreds of language groups. And they did it in the most rugged, remote places. As one writer said, "The more difficult and dangerous the work, the higher the ratio of women to men."

      Twice as many women as men marched into China as missionaries. Because women were hindered from teaching men in the Bible schools, they taught women in their homes and by the rivers as they washed their clothes. They produced so many Chinese "Bible women" that to this day, women are more prominent than men in the unregistered churches of China. Forty thousand of the fifty thousand house churches now in China are led by women.

      Hudson Taylor's wife, Maria, led groups of women missionaries deep into China on long preaching journeys where no Westerner had ever gone. Southern Baptist missionary Lottie Moon was so successful at evangelism, church planting, and the training of indigenous pastors in north China in the late 1800s that her leader said, "I estimate a single woman in China is worth two married men."

    3. Christian Scripture emphasizes the value of women...
      Paul deliberately chose this trifecta (Gentile/Jew, slave/free, male/female) to declare that these distinctions no longer existed. There is no "hierarchy" in the church of Jesus Christ based upon gender, economic status, or race.
  3. Whenever women are devalued in a Christian setting the gospel is compromised.
    I pray that we as Southern Baptists will never denigrate or compromise the gospel.

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