Reading 5.3


A. B. Simpson's Understanding of the Role of Women in Ministry *

Leslie A. Andrews



Women in ministry is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, Dayton argues that modern revivalism gave birth to the women's rights movement and that, next to Quakerism, Evangelicalism "has given the greatest role to women in the life of the church."1  The argument is a critical one because much of the opposition to the ministry of women in the church today seems to be a revolt against contemporary feminism in its more radical manifestations.

Albert B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, exuded respect and admiration for godly women and their contributions to the worldwide work of evangelism and missions to which God had called him. He said, "there are certain truths which God emphasizes at certain times. He is ever speaking to the age and generation, and He never speaks at random but always to the point and to the times."2 Perhaps it is timely to recall the views of our founder as we rethink the roles women occupy in The Christian and Missionary Alliance today.

Knowing Simpson's eschatological framework is central to understanding his views about women in ministry. He was possessed by a consuming passion to evangelize a lost world before the return of the King, sparked at least in part by a vision he received during his pastoral ministry in Louisville, Kentucky. That vision eventually nudged him to move to New York City, the communication hub of the world of his day, where he could launch his missionary efforts. Simpson was convinced that his were the "last days," so there was an urgency about getting the gospel out to "bring back the King."

Simpson did not seek to placate those whose ecclesiastical agendas were, in his opinion, secondary to the task of world evangelization. If women furthered the primary mission of the Church to reach lost souls for Christ, then he enthusiastically endorsed their ministries to achieve that objective. In 1893, for instance, following a "great convention" in Atlanta, Georgia, in which women had spoken with blessing, one of the leading pastors of the city, supported by the ministerial association, tried to set "the community right on the subject of women speaking in public."

After chiding the pastor for forgetting "all the glorious results of that great convention, in the single fact that it had run across one of his ecclesiastical convictions," Simpson went on to describe the public ministry of women as

.... a little side issue of a purely speculative character, which God has already settled, not only in His word, but in His providence, by the seal which He is placing in this very day, in every part of the world, upon the public work of consecrated Christian women. Dear brother, let the Lord manage the women. He can do it better than you, and you turn your batteries against the common enemy [emphasis added].3

At another time, Simpson commended, at least indirectly, the public ministry of women when commenting on the value of hard places, by lifting up "Mrs. Booth" and said of her that she

was literally pushed into her public service for which she had no experience or training whatever, and from which she shrank back with extreme sensitiveness and dread. But finding herself alone and compelled to say something, she opened her lips in dependence upon God; and to her own amazement and the delight of her hearers, she found that God had given her an unction of which she had never dreamed, and which, but for that venture, would have been unused and lost.4

Women were of great value in the economy of God, not only for their gifts exercised with "unction," but also because of who they represented in the redemptive scheme of eternity. Simpson thought of woman as a "fitting type of the blessed Comforter, often represented, it would seem, under the image of a mother."5

The views of the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance on the formal and public ministry of women will be explored throughout this article. Particular attention will be focused on Simpson's interpretation of germane sections of Scripture. It should be remembered, however, that nowhere did Simpson elaborate a detailed, systematic, cohesive theological perspective on this issue. Consequently, he appeared to be engaged in a dialectical argument with himself at times. Almost always, however, he responded to queries about the ministry of women out of his burden to evangelize a lost world and his awareness of the strategic, substantial, and successful roles which women held in meeting that agenda.

Partnership in Ministry

Simpson recognized a male-female duality in the Godhead. He included a chapter entitled "The Motherhood of God" in When the Comforter Came in which he depicted Christ as the embodiment of those nurturing qualities typically associated with womanhood.

The heart of Christ is not only the heart of man, but has in it also all the tenderness and gentleness of women... He combined in Himself the nature both of man and woman even as the first man Adam had the woman within his own being before she was separately formed from his very body.6

In the Trinity, Simpson reasoned, we have a Father, a Brother, and a Husband, and "One who meets all the heart's longing for motherhood." "As our heavenly Mother, the Comforter assumes our nurture, training, teaching, and the whole direction of our life." He possesses in his teaching and guiding "considerate gentleness and patience," along with the motherly comfort, "discipline and faithful reproof which erring childhood so often needs."7

Clearly, spiritual ministry was not gender-limited in Simpson's thinking. The Godhead was both instrumental and nurturing in their relationships and work among humankind. In fact, of the 14 persons identified as early leaders of the C&MA, six of them were women.8 Elsewhere of the 38 people identified as co-workers, or members of the "Founder's Team," seven were women.9 Perhaps it was easier for Simpson to "make space" for women because of his expansive images of God which were more inclusive than our gender bound images of male and female. If Simpson were speaking today, it is likely that he would affirm that spiritual ministry within the Church, as modeled by the Trinity, requires the contributions of each of the sexes.

Consider his description of Priscilla whom he cited as an example of the ministry of women. "Priscilla," Simpson insisted, "must not be forgotten." Her ministry was "all womanly," and, although "never apart from her husband" Aquila, Priscilla was no mere cipher.

Indeed, we can almost infer from the way the apostle speaks of this beautiful pair that she became at last the stronger nature of the two. In the first references to them, it is Aquila and Priscilla, but toward the last, it is Priscilla and Aquila, and the devoted and faithful woman moves to the front.10

Priscilla and Aquila were instrumental in instructing Apollo, "a distinguished and eloquent teacher and preacher from Alexandria," a sincere but "defective" minister. From among "many of Paul's companions moving with him from place to place," Priscilla and Aquila were people "from the ordinary walk of life, who counted it their commission to share in the toils and tasks of the gospel."11 In speaking on the Great Commission, Paul used Aquila and Priscilla to argue that

The time has come when the heathen world needs more than stereotyped ministers to meet its awful needs, and Christ is calling a whole army of plain and practical men and women to cover its needy fields... God grant that the next few years may put such a go in the hearts of thousands of the consecrated children of God that they cannot any longer stay at home, and a great army of picked men and women, who fear no hardship and seek no rest short of the Master's coming, shall spread over all the neglected fields of the heathen world!12 [emphasis added].

Although "finely educated, mighty in the scriptures and full of zeal and fervor, Apollo had yet got not further than John's baptism and was eloquently preaching of a Messiah to come." Apollo needed to mature in the faith, so Priscilla and Aquila took him into their home "and lovingly led him into the deeper knowledge of the truth. Soon afterwards he went over to Corinth and successfully continued the work which Paul had there begun, becoming in many respects as popular and successful as the great apostle himself."13

In view of Priscilla's contribution to the nurturing of Apollos in faith and truth, Simpson then urged, "Give her and every noble woman of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates." He warned, "Let no man hinder the ministry of woman within its true limitations. God has ever honored it and will yet more and more. 'Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.'" While he argued on the one hand for a hierarchical marriage relationship (although also a "partnership") in which the wife is obedient to her husband Simpson, nevertheless, affirmed the spiritual ministry of a married woman even outside her family.

Perhaps most indicative of Simpson's strong, affirming view of active roles for women was his wife Margaret's involvement in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. While the early years of their marriage were stressful, "once she caught up with his vision and became convinced he was a man sent from God, Dr. Simpson had no finer, more loyal and hardworking associate than his wife."14

Simpson sporadically maintained a diary. The entries, covering the closing of his ministry in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1879, and the beginning of his ministry in the 13th Street Presbyterian Church, in New York City in 1880, reveal something of the tension in their relationship. Margaret was concerned about the proposed move to New York because of having to raise her four children (and one expected) in that urban center. Simpson reflected her mood at the time in his diary:

M. took out the pages I had written for the past two weeks here--God so permitted her foolish and sinful hand. Poor child. I have prayed and prayed for her until of late I cannot pray without intense distress. I leave her with Him, trusting that He will lead her to repentance and salvation. She has suffered much of late. She is possessed of an intense bitterness, and I am full of pain and fear. I was much exercised as to whether I should ask my brethren of the Session to speak to her and beseech her to be reconciled, but after conferring with one of them, I found it would be vain, and I wait in silence upon God. I trust my own heart may be kept righteous, and merciful in everything.15

Just twelve days later, however, Simpson's description of his wife was dramatically different: "Praise for much peculiar burden of prayer and spiritual blessing all day. Praise for my wife's kind and loving and altered spirit. God seems so to bless her as He leads me in the peculiar path He has of late so clearly shown."16 While Simpson's diary was fragmentary, nevertheless, it does accent his own swings in mood, which in turn were reflected in his descriptions of Maggie. Simpson experienced great spiritual heights, but also great spiritual depths. At times he could erupt into strong conflicts and feelings, even after he met the Lord in the deeper life.

In defense of Margaret, all five-foot-one-inch of her, Simpson's biographer Thompson said that it was Simpson who received the call to missions and to evangelism, and not Mrs. Simpson. But in time she became one of her husband' staunchest supporters and exercised considerable responsibility in his movement.

Mrs. Simpson was reported to have accomplished "much good for others, especially for working girls, whom God has taught her to love and teach. Through her instrumentality, hundreds of these girls have been converted and saved."17 She served on the Board of Managers and as financial secretary from shortly after the Alliance organized until her death at the age of 82 in 1924.18

Perhaps most significantly, Mrs. Simpson served as superintendent of assignment of missionaries (predecessor of the C&MA's contemporary vice president for Overseas Ministries) and as a member of the foreign committee. In that role "she was considered an astute judge as to their fitness for candidacy."19 She preserved eight trunks filled with letters written to her by missionaries or friends at home, all of which she personally answered. F. H. Sneft, Alliance President at the time of Margaret's death, reported that on his last visit to her "she commented that she prayed constantly that there should never be the slightest departure of the Society from its first principles of sacrifice, spirituality and simplicity."20

One other piece of evidence supports the argument that Simpson would embrace a theology of partnership. Near the end of his life when writing about "The Worship of the Church" and specifically "Women in Church Worship," he said that ". . .any assumption of the place or prerogative of the man in improper, even though the woman be exercising the gift bestowed upon her." He reasoned on the basis of headship.

The order is, God, Christ, Man, Woman (1 Corinthians 11:2-3). The woman is the glory of the man as the man is the glory of God (11:7). The man is not of the woman but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman but the woman for the man. Yet neither is without the other, for as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman (:8-12). Consequently [Paul] says, "I suffer not the woman to usurp authority."21

From this Simpson concluded that woman's place in the worship of the Church was one of association with, rather than superiority to, the man. She may pray and even prophesy in the Church. When she speaks, however, she must do so "in modest and seemly manner." The point is that while women were not to snatch leadership from men, they are free to exercise the same functions, that is, praying and prophesying, in public forums.

Spirituality Transcends the Marriage Relationship

Simpson believed firmly that, according to God's order, marriage was a sacred institution, and that "the primeval law of marriage was the creation of one man for one woman and one woman for one man." In commenting on Matthew 19:5-6, he said that God created "an equal number of both sexes," and "the provision in nature itself and its instincts for the marriage relation and how it is the divine order that 'a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,' and, 'So they are no longer two, but one."22

The element of personal affection and mutual attraction is clearly involved here. Marriage is not a conventional arrangement of convenience, but a cleavage of hearts so strong that it supersedes the previous attachment of father and mother to the extent at least of allowing a still closer union, the union which makes them truly one. Surely, it is needless to say that marriage without such unity and love is not a sacrament, but a sacrilege.23

No matter how noble marriage is, however, "all human relationships are but stepping stones to our highest and divine relationship to Christ and heaven. The best of earthly marriages is but a little bit of broken glass full of the sunshine of heaven. God gives us these earthly ties as types of the heavenly that we may better understand the love of our divine Bridegroom, the tenderness of our heavenly Father and the meaning of our holy sonship."24  Simpson yielded "perfect freedom," however, to those who chose to remain single, teaching that God "leaves this a matter of conscience for each one to settle with himself or herself. If, from our high allegiance to Christ and a desire to be more free to serve Him, we choose it 'because of the kingdom of heaven'...the Lord accepts our sacrifice and consecration."

In 1891, on an occasion when Simpson used the marriage relationship to illustrate communion with Christ, he argued that marriage is a "partnership formed between two human beings" in which "they are expected to cooperate according to the agreement...."25 In this partnership the wife fulfilled her part of the agreement by maintaining an attitude of "fellowship and dependence." Nine years later, when asked by a reader how far a wife was to go in obeying her husband "in all things,"26 Simpson replied

A wife's obedience applies only to matters pertaining to this life. In all matter of conscience as between her and God and affecting her supreme duty and love to God, she is free, and the higher law applies, "We must obey God rather than man." In domestic affairs and her own personal relations to her husband, she is bound by the law of obedience, and if it requires her to stoop to a lower degree of intelligence, she should be very careful before contracting marriage to be sure that she is bringing herself not to a lower, but to an equal, or higher intelligence.

In responding to a similar question, Simpson stressed that "no wife is compelled to sin to obey her husband, and if she does, the sin is hers as well as his." He believed that it was "fallacious" to assume that the Lord may intervene, "or if He does not, it would still be all right as the sin would be on her husband," should a husband demand an obedience that would require his wife to commit sin. Thus, for Simpson, women maintain an independent status before God, despite their functioning as dependent partners in marriage.

In all likelihood, if pressed on the issue, Simpson would have distinguished between the husband\wife relationship in particular and male-female relationships in general. Never did he seek to impose the same independent-dependent categories on women in other spheres of life. In fact, Simpson legitimated the woman's suffrage movement in Great Britain on the basis of what "fair and reasonable men" would do, while commending American women for disavowing "any sympathy with such extreme and unlawful methods." He conceded "the right of the franchise to every woman for disavowing" and sympathy with such extreme and unlawful methods." He conceded "the right of the franchise to every woman who really wants it" on the basis of expedience, since to do so "probably would bring about better political conditions."27

Clearly Simpson did not transfer his understanding of the husband-wife relationship to relationships between men and women in society. How much woman's suffrage influenced his thinking about the utilization of the resources of women in the church is difficult to determine. Simpson's bifurcation of women's roles in family and in society, however, would be consistent with linguistic analyses of Pauline passages in which the Apostle uses husband-wife categories (1 Tim. 2) versus male-female categories (1 Cor. 11), suggesting a distinction between the way in which men and women may relate within marriage in contrast to within the body of Christ.

Freedom for Public Ministry

Simpson repeatedly emphasized women's role in public ministry. He insisted that the prophetic ministry had "undoubtedly" been given to women and that this meant nothing less than speaking "unto men to edification and exhortation, and comfort." For him,

Any word therefore, of edification and exhortation is proper for a woman to speak in the Christian assembly, and anything the apostle may have said subsequently to this statement can never rescind or abrogate these admissions and permissions.

Ever since Anna announced the incarnation, and Mary Magdalene heralded the resurrection, woman has been God's special instrument for publishing the glad tidings of salvation. We may regulate, but can never suppress her ministry. The best remedy for the abuse of anything is its wise and proper use.28

Simpson appealed to 1 Corinthians 11 and the principle of headship to sort out the "wise and proper use" of women's public ministry, which he insisted on preserving, and her "regulated" role by virtue of creation order. "The head of every woman is the man, the head of every man is Christ, the head of Christ is God. This is the scriptural order of the sexes...."

By appealing to headship, however, Simpson did not intend to prohibit woman's public ministry: "...this does not authorize the exclusion of woman from public work for the Lord." He believed that the limitation applied to the "formal and official ministry of the Christian church in the strictly ecclesiastical sense," which included the offices of pastor, elder, and bishop. Apart from "... the official ministry and government of the Christian church, there is an infinite room for proclaiming a glad message of salvation." How Simpson could be as insistent about this limitation is somewhat puzzling since women functioned as pastors, evangelists, and members of the Board of Managers during his lifetime (including his wife Margaret as noted earlier).

Once more, though, Simpson modified his affirmation of woman's public ministry by suggesting that "the less formal her testimony is, the better. The more it takes the form of a simple story of love, the less like a sermon and the more like a conversation, the more effective it will be." Evidently he wanted to distinguish between the manner in which the sexes proclaim publicly and predicated this distinction on "the spirit of feminine modesty" which would add "more power" to what she said.

To make his point, Simpson differentiated between the Greek words kerago, "to proclaim officially with a trumpet," and lateo, "to talk." He claimed that laleo describes the ministry of woman, and kerago the ministry of man. "Man," therefore, "is the official herald, woman is the echo of his voice, repeating it in a thou-gentler (sic) tones, until love bears it to every human heart." Simpson may have reflected his intuitive sense that women do not have to minister like men in the sense of sounding like men in order to have a viable public ministry. He concluded by reaffirming the significance of the ministry entrusted to women:

While we place these gentle restrictions around the ministry of woman, as the bible seems to teach, we do not say that they limit her work a single iota in any really practical and womanly way. We thank God for her precious ministry, and we pray God to raise up more and more of His daughters to proclaim abroad in their sweeter and gentler way the Father's love. The Lord Himself have the Word, great was the company of women that published it. May the Lord speedily fulfill this, the true version of the grand old Psalm.

Simpson understood prophecy to mean preaching, i.e., speaking "unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort:" (1 Cor. 14:3). Women may be endowed with the gift of prophecy (Acts 2:17), even as were the four daughters of the evangelist Philip (Acts 21:9). According to Simpson's understanding, however, prophesying or preaching by women was not done in the pastoral role within the biblical context:

It is, however, noteworthy that there is not an incident recorded in the New Testament of a woman exercising the ministry of the pastor, deacon, or teacher. Christ did not call any woman into the Apostolate though there were "certain women who ministered unto him."

Simpson acknowledge, however, that "Women did exercise many vocations of Christian ministry in the apostolic Church without question."29 He recognized prophesy as a legitimate ministry of women, and that, therefore, "... a woman's right to speak to men as well as to women for their instruction, quickening and comfort is clearly recognized." Restrictions included exercising her ministry "as not to transcend the limits of modesty and womanly propriety... she is to act with such reserve that she will never unsex herself or try to take the place of a man: [emphasis added].

While acknowledging that women are equal to men "in ability and honor," he went on to say that she is subordinate to his authority in the same way that two judges sitting on the same bench are equal in ability and dignity, "but one is the head of the court and the other a member of it."30

At the same time, Simpson distinguished between married and single women. "...this was more marked in the case of the wives than of other women. In the relationship of home [emphasis added] the woman voluntarily placed herself under the authority of her husband." Looking to Rotherham for help in making this distinction by saying the word for "woman" should be translated "wife." 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 would then be translated according to Simpson, in this way: "'Let the wives keep silence in the churches, and if they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for the wives to speak in Church'." Light on this passage was further increased by the word "disgraceful," "which seems to refer to the social customs of the day, especially the discredit that would attach to a woman by bursting through the etiquette of their time.

The subordination of wives to their husbands was occasioned by the entrance of sin into the world through Eve's disobedience. The effects of Eve's transgression were ameliorated, however, by another woman, Mary the mother of Jesus who deserves our veneration and love "which God intended that all ages should accord to that one woman whose consecration and faith rolled back the curse which the sin and folly of another woman had brought upon the human race."31

Simpson then suggests "one more consideration" with respect to the technical sense of the word Church. According to Simpson, Church "meant the ecclesiastical order, formal assembly of the congregation," in contrast to "church building." In this view, he went on, "the passage might mean that woman was not to take an official place in the ecclesiastical organization, was not to be one of its elders, its rulers, its ecclesiastical leaders." Otherwise, "a woman has no restriction placed upon her highest usefulness."

Writing to the Romans, Simpson spoke of women in the Apostolic Church who "receive the highest rank and recognition"32 And then he addressed the progressive unfolding of freedom for women:

Surely if, in that day, when the restrictions of social life and the public opinion of society made woman's public services so difficult, she had attained so high a place, how much more should she accomplish in this -day of freedom and equality, when the gospel has freed her from every fetter and given her the place of honor and preeminence she now enjoys.33

The only restraint Paul places on women, Simpson contends, is that "required by her nature and her distinct place in the social economy." The limitations imposed "had only to do with the exercise of authority in the churches." He did concede, however, that: "There was one special ecclesiastical office given to women in the early church, and it is beginning to be revived in our own time...the office of deaconess. This was the position of Phoebe, first mentioned in this passage (Romans 16:1). The word 'servant' here means, literally, deaconess...It was recognized then as distinctively as the office of deacon, elder, or bishop; and while it gave woman no ecclesiastical authority, yet it recognized her proper ministry in an official way, and opened the widest doors of usefulness."34

In his efforts to distinguish clearly between the sexes and to encourage while simultaneously "regulating" the public ministry of women, Simpson was not accurate, as he later indicated, in claiming that "there is not an incident recorded in the New Testament of a woman exercising the ministry of the pastor, deacon, or teacher." For instance, Phoebe was called "a servant (diakon) of the church in Cenchrea," the same word used of "deacons" (diakonous)in 1 Timothy 3:8. Priscilla had an important ministry of teaching along with her husband, Aquila. And "Junia" (Rom. 16:7) is now recognized by most scholars to have been the feminine form of a name often translated in its male form, strongly suggesting that she was indeed an apostle.35

Ministries of Leadership

While Simpson did suggest that "few women are called to leadership, and it is doubtful if they are adapted to it,"36 he also pointed to Deborah as "the first example of a woman called to public service by the Holy Ghost...called to exercise the public functions of a leader" [emphasis added]. For Simpson, Deborah represented "a glorious multitude of noble women" who "have followed in her train! The great ministry of the church today is being done by holy women... It is too late in the day to question the public ministry of woman. The facts of God's providence, and the fruits of God's Spirit, are stronger than all our theological fancies"37 [Emphasis added].

Perhaps more with respect to his interpretation of Deborah's place in the life of the people of God than anywhere else in his commentary on the role of women, Simpson equivocates in what he says. His reference to "the facts of God's providence, and the fruits of God's Spirit" may provide a key to his hermeneutical methodology, however. As with his formulation of the "Fourfold Gospel," his understanding of what Scripture says about women seems to be influenced and shaped by his experience. Simpson was a product of the Victorian era, reflected in part by his characterization of women as "quaint charm" and "modes sphere," and his understanding of and expectations with respect to women would have been influenced by that period of time. It is a vivid reminder that theology is not shaped in a vacuum and without reference to human experience.

Having acknowledged the extraordinary public role that Deborah exercised in the life of Israel, Simpson proceeded to moderate the effect of her example. While woman's place is not only "to love, to suffer and to intercede, but to prophesy, to teach, and to minister in every proper way to the bodies and the souls of men," he insisted, there yet "remains a restriction which every true woman will be willing to recognize."

Woman is called without restriction to teach, to witness, to work in every department of the Church of Christ, but she is not called to rule in the ecclesiastical government of the Church of Christ, or to exercise the official ministry which the Holy Ghost has committed to the elders or bishops of His Church: and whenever she steps out of her modest sphere into the place of public leadership and executive government, she weakens her true power and loses her peculiar charm.

By seeking to circumscribe women's role in the context of his commentary on Deborah, Simpson began to "eisegete" rather than "exegete." He sought to explain her unique role by claiming that she was to Barak as Moses was to Joshua.

Deborah herself, the first public woman of the ages, was wise enough to call Barak to stand in the front, while she stood behind him, modestly directing his work, and proving in the end to be the true leader. It is not disparagement of woman's ministry to place her there. Who will say that the ministry of Moses as he stood that day on the mountain, with his hands uplifted to God, while Joshua led the hosts in the plain below, was a lower ministry than that of Joshua? He was the true leader and the real power behind the hosts of Israel, although he was unseen by the eyes of men. This was Deborah's high honor, and not one was more ready than Barak himself to acknowledge her preeminence (italics added).

Deborah was no titular head of Israel, however, anymore than Moses was. At the time she appears on the horizons of Scripture, she was a wife, prophetess, a judge, "a mother in Israel." Deborah did not "call Barak to stand in the front" because he was a man and she was woman. She did so because she was in fact "commander-in-chief" of the nation. As prophetess she was God's mouthpiece. As judge she was the established leader. Everybody knew that, for "the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment" (Jud. 4:5)

Simpson had not existential framework for helping make sense out of such a prominent role for a woman in Scripture. Women were not in his time heads of state, or CEO's of multinational corporations, or judges, or doctors, or engineers. And so he resorted to familiar categories for understanding the role of women in his time to interpret Deborah's leadership function, and in doing so found himself standing on miry ground. While few women may be called to be "Deborah's," that is not more strange than that few men are called to be "Moses's" and in no way mitigates Deborah's ruling function.

Teaching and Preaching Ministries

On two different occasions, separated by six years, Simpson was questioned about the preaching/teaching ministries of women on the basis of perceived limitations imposed by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34,35, and 1 Timothy 2:9, 10: "...what authority have the women of the C.A. [the Christian Alliance] for preaching or teaching in the churches?"38 and "...Satan has kept me [sic] tongue tied by those two verses many times. Through Christ I have overcome; but I would really like to have you explain them."39

On the one hand Simpson asserted that "The passages referred to mean what they say .....," but then he skirted the issue and said, "...but they do not say that the women of the C.A. must not preach or teach in the churches." Other passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:5, clearly recognize the right of woman to prophesy in public, "...provided she does it modestly . . ."

The great question is, whether the sister has anything worth saying. If she has a message from God, God forbid that anybody should stop her delivering it, and there are plenty of Scriptural and womanly ways in which a true woman can represent her Master and speak for the edification of His people.

A guiding criterion for Simpson seems to have been the manifestation of the Spirit's presence in the ministry of the woman, whether it be preaching or teaching, and "womanly ways" of delivering the message. He did not answer the "prohibition" issue directly, but rather refuted it by appealing to other Scripture and human experience.

Diaconal Ministries

While preaching on the nature of service, Simpson referred to Phoebe and Persis as examples of Cenchrea, along with "the beloved Persis." Both these women "labored much in the Lord." Their work was always, of course, carried out "in a true womanly way and sphere." They had "equal liberty in all except the pastoral office and the official ministry of the Christian church." Simpson thanked God "for the enlargement and restoration of woman's blessed ministry," and then called upon "our beloved sisters" to "awake and fulfill in these days the vision of three thousand years ago, 'The Lord Himself gave the Word, great was the company of women that published it. Kings of armies fled apace and she that tarried at home divided the spoil.'"40

Much later, when writing about "New Testament Types of Missionary Characters," Simpson referred again to Persis: "The only person that gets a double mark of commendation in Paul's catalogue of his friends at Rome is 'the beloved Persis who labored much in the Lord.' The others labored, but she labored much. It is usually a woman who reaches the superlative degree." Persis, for Simpson, represented the epitome of devotion to the work of missions:

Thank God, the race is not extinguished, but the missionary work of women is wider, deeper and more glorious today than ever before. No one can do more in promoting the idea of missions at home, no one can be such a recruiting agent for volunteers, especially in her own family, and not one can give and sacrifice as women do. God help you, "beloved Persis," still to "labor much in the Lord."41

Simpson maintained a balanced perspective, however, in his understanding of the relationship between work and worship and expressed this in this commentary on Mary's anointing of Jesus in the house of Simon, the leper. Her sacrificial act "was more than a sentimental expression of May's love to her Teacher and Lord." She had a spiritual perception expressed through her act of faith, "a faith which had already detected the great purpose of His life and understood as none other had that He had come to die."42 By her consecrated act, Mary demonstrated "that there are ministries our Lord asks for Himself alone which are higher far than all our works of charity and gifts for the poor and the church. Our highest service should be for him." Mary's act of worship also demonstrated that "there are gifts which may be kept too late."

Ministry by Exception

The Christian and Missionary Alliance, from its inception, has stressed healing as part of the Fourfold Gospel. Prayer for the sick accompanied by anointing with oil by elders of the church has been customary. On one occasion, a reader wrote to ask whether women have the right to anoint the sick for healing. Apparently, an evangelist had claimed that "no women have a right to anoint the sick for healing, but elders only." Simpson replied:

We believe the teaching of the Scripture recognizes the elder as the proper one to anoint, but we do not consider that this should be carried to such an extreme that in the absence of a proper elder, a suffering child of God should be compelled to refuse the ministry of a believing woman simply on a technical ground. God's methods in matters of outward form are flexible enough to allow for exceptions and adjustments, and while every true woman will ever seek to take the more quiet place, yet we believe that where the regular officer is not available or even prepared for this ministry, that God will accept hers.43

The above commentary on James 5:13-16 is punctuated with frequent exceptions: "carried to such an extreme"; "in the absence of a proper elder"; "simply on a technical ground"; "Dog's method in matters of outward form"; "flexible enough to allow of exceptions and adjustments"; "where the regular officer is not available or even prepared for this ministry." Simpson was concerned with expediency, in this instance that of divine healing for the sick, and he regarded the form of anointing with oil by the elders as servant to the function which the form served.

Conclusion

Several things may be noted in conclusion about the public role that women held in The Christian and Missionary Alliance during its founder's lifetime.

First, Simpson was thoroughly committed to the task of world evangelization and welcomed enthusiastically as coworkers those women who shared his vision and supported this task. Women served as missionaries, evangelists, educators, teachers, preachers, supervisors of healing homes, and officers in the movement.

By 1912, when the C&MA underwent reorganization and adopted a new constitution, the Alliance at home reported 239 branches and affiliated churches located in thirty-five states and Canadian provinces. The 1912 annual report listed 182 names of workers who directed this work, 107 of whom were ordained men and 39 women.44 More than one-fifth of the official workers in the alliance were women! Today women comprise 56 percent of the C&MA missionary force.45

While preaching at Old Orchard, Maine, Simpson stressed the importance of women's involvement in the missionary enterprise:

It has caught the heart of woman, and our Women's Societies are leading in this noble crusade all around the world. Someone well expressed the attitude of women to missions in a religious assembly when referring to the fact that men helped the missionary cause by their wills after they were dead, and women helped the missionary cause with a will while they were living, and added, "We are greatly indebted to dead men and live women."46

Second, Simpson profoundly respected the spirituality, intelligence, and giftedness of women. He did not hesitate to praise them publicly, wholeheartedly, and widely for their ministries. Women played strategic roles on the "Founder's Team."

Third, Simpson struggled to maintain a delicate balance between the sexes in public ministry. He wrestled authentically to come to terms with the ways in which human sexuality impacted Christian ministry. He sometimes resolved these differences in an apparently arbitrary manner, owing largely no doubt to his very pragmatic approach to ministry and his commitment to do whatever promoted world evangelization.

Fourth, Simpson taught that women were restricted from the offices of pastor, elder, and bishop (although women evangelists were authorized to establish and organize "branches"). Would he do so today? The answer is not as obvious as it might seem at first blush. His writing is punctuated with equivocation, such as "Let the Lord manage the women."

He believed that wives are partners with their husbands, and women work in association with men in the church. "Fair and reasonable men" approved of the suffrage movement. The principle of headship "does not authorize the exclusion of woman from public work for the Lord," although it was important to preserve "the spirit of feminine modesty." Women were not to unsex themselves. He spoke of "gentle restrictions" as "the Bible seems to teach" [emphasis added]. While he claimed Christ called no woman into the Apostolate, recent biblical scholarship supports the fact that Junia (feminine) rather than Junias (masculine) was indeed an apostle.

Simpson distinguished between married and single women, suggesting that submission to male authority occurred primarily "in the relationship of home." When discussing the nature of the church, Simpson said it might mean women were not to occupy official offices. He recognized the "restrictions of social life and the public opinion of society" in biblical times as contributing to limitations imposed on women. God's providence and the fruits of His Spirit "are stronger than all our theological fancies." In preaching and teaching, the important thing was whether she "has anything worth saying." "God's methods in matters of outward form are flexible enough to allow for exceptions and adjustments."

Fifth, like so much of Simpson's doctrinal formulation in the "Fourfold Gospel," his way of relating to women and the shaping of his understanding of their roles as coworkers in ministry was born out of the crucible of experience. Theology was not an abstraction for Simpson. It was a living, dynamic process of engagement between the Scripture and the practice of ministry. Christ was the centripetal force drawing men and women from many different walks of life together in a common commitment, for "our missionary work...puts in our hands the key to the bridal chamber and the lever that will hasten His return."47

Sixth, in a draft of the first constitution for "The Evangelical Missionary Alliance," Simpson cited five special features proposed in the movement.48 One of the features was "the ministry of woman." The movement's founder believed that Christ, "the great Head of the Church," desired "to emphasize and utilize it [ministry of woman] still more." The foreign mission, he stressed, needed 100,000 women right then and had "a place for everyone."

Seventh, Simpson's strategy to evangelize a lost and dying world revolved around "the irregulars of the Lord's army, the people that went beyond their formal line of ministry, and like Joseph, allowed their fruit to 'climb over a wall'.....There was a glorious irregularity as well as a divine order, for order was never intended to cramp, but only to direct the forces of the spiritual world."49 Was Simpson merely pragmatic? Or was he expressing an important principle about the way in which God in His sovereignty often works in our world, overruling our most cherished presuppositions and biases, in order to accomplish His eternal purposes?

A critical question facing The Christian and Missionary Alliance revolves around the drawing of boundaries which define who we are. The process of institutionalization tends to narrow one's self-definition. General Council 1981 rejected one of the nine principles proposed by the committee studying the role of women in ministry:

We recognize also that God, in His sovereignty has at times placed women in positions of authority... We need to be open when God chooses to work in this way.50

By rejecting this principle, the boundary circumscribing one class of people and delimiting how they might be involved in Alliance ministry was drawn even more definitively. While the denomination has every right to do so, it should recognize that by taking this action it has with respect to women made a significant departure from the original spirit and genius of its founder. Simpson argued that the "best remedy for the abuse of anything is its wise and proper use." Has The Christian and Missionary Alliance met this criterion? The question still remains "Does the C&MA have a place for everyone?" as its founder originally stressed.

* Leslie A. Andrews, 1996. Please do not photocopy without permission.

  1. Donald W. Dayton, "The Evangelical Roots of Feminism," in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (NY: Harper and Row, 1976), 86.
  2. A. B. Simpson, The Supernatural: Making Room for the Power of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1994), 1.
  3. The Christian Alliance (December 29, 1893), 402.
  4. A. B. Simpson, "Luke," in The Christ in the Bible Commentary, 4 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 301.
  5. Simpson, "Luke," 314
  6. A.B. Simpson, When the Comforter Came (New York: Christian Publications, 1911), n.p.
  7. Simpson, When the Comforter Came, n.p.
  8. John Sawin, "The Fourfold Gospel," in The Birth of a Vision: Essays on the Ministry and Thought of Albert B. Simpson, eds. David F. Hartzfeld and Charles Nienkirchen (Regina, SK: HIS DOMINION Supplement No. 1, 1986), 27.
  9. Robert L. Niklaus, John S. Sawin, and Samuel J. Stoesz, All for Jesus: God at Work in The Christian and Missionary Alliance Over One Hundred Years (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1986), 257-276
  10. The Alliance Weekly (January 8, 1916), 230.
  11. Simpson, "Matthew," 166.
  12. Simpson, "Matthew," 166.
  13. Simpson, "Acts," 570.
  14. Niklaus, Sawin, and Stoesz, 157.
  15. A. B. Simpson, Personal Diary (Louisville, KY: 10 November 1879), Monday night.
  16. A. B. Simpson, Personal Diary (Louisville, KY: December 1879), Tuesday night.
  17. H. J. Morgan, Types of Canadian Women (Toronto: Wm. Briggs, 1903), "Introduction."
  18. Margaret Simpson was the last of a number of women who served on the Board of Managers until 1984 when Mrs. Elizabeth C. Jackson was elected. Since then, four other women have been elected to serve the Alliance in this way: Dr. Barbara A. Wilkerson, Mrs. Marjorie D. Cline, Dr. Leslie A. Andrews, and Dr. Rayma C. Page.
  19. Niklaus, Sawin, and Stoesz, 157.
  20. David J. Fant, "Early Associates of A. A. Simpson: Mrs. A. B. Simpson," Southeastern District Report (April-May, 1977), n.p.
  21. The Alliance Weekly (February 5, 1916), 294
  22. A. B. Simpson, "Matthew," in Christ in the Bible Series, 4 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 89
  23. Simpson, "Matthew," 89.
  24. Simpson, "Matthew," 91.
  25. The Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly (December 4, 1891), 339.
  26. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (June 9, 1900), 385.
  27. The Alliance Weekly (March 1, 1913), 338.
  28. The Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly (March 27, 1891), 195.
  29. A.B. Simpson, "1 Corinthians," The Christ in the Bible Commentary, 5(Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1994), 237.
  30. Simpson, "1 Corinthians," 237.
  31. Simpson, "Matthew," 252.
  32. A. B. Simpson, "Romans," The Christ in the Bible Commentary, 5(Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1994), 141.
  33. Simpson, "Romans," 141.
  34. Simpson, "Romans," 142. It should be noted that the word Simpson here translates "deaconess" is the same word also translated "deacon." Why Simpson chose to distinguish between men and women in this way when the same word is used of each is unclear. it is possible, however, that he was still striving to preserve a distinction in the office on the basis of "authority" which her perceived men have and women do not have.
  35. James Sigountos, Class Lecture, Alliance Theological Seminary (Nyack, NY), n.d.
  36. Simpson, "Romans," 286.
  37. The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly (December 7, 1894), 533.
  38. The Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly (April 20, 1894), 43.
  39. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (March 24, 1900), 187.
  40. The Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly (February 3, 1893), 69.
  41. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (September 8, 1906), 154.
  42. Simpson, "Matthew," 138.
  43. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (June 9, 1900), 385.
  44. Niklaus, Sawin, and Stoesz, 125.
  45. Samuel J. Stoesz, "Women in Ministry," Unpublished paper (1995), 14.
  46. A. B. Simpson, The Alliance Weekly, 37:3 (1911), 36.
  47. A. B. Simpson, "The Lord's Coming and Missions," The Challenge of Missions (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Co., 1926), 55.
  48. The Word, The Work, and The World (June 1887), 367.
  49. A. B. Simpson, "Acts," in The Christ in the Bible Commentary, 4 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 545.
  50. Minutes of General Council 1981, The Christian and Missionary Alliance (Anaheim, CA: 1981), 325.