Jessica Cole on the Vital Role Women Play in the Church (EFCA Eastern District Conference)

A response to Jessica Cole’s talk as given at the Eastern District Conference at Faith Church in October of 2017. The wife of the Eastern District Superintendent spoke about the vital role women can play in the church.  This professional talk is going to run into problems especially as the EFCA is struggling with Neo-Calvinism. This post is a response to that talk in line with the other post I penned about the Eastern District Conference.

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations can never effect a reform.”

Susan B Anthony

“Knowing what must be done does away with fear.

Rosa Parks

On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Acts 16: 13-15 NLT 

 

Jessica Cole after her husband was elected Eastern District Superintendent at the Eastern District Conference back in 2015

Jessica Cole teaching at the Eastern District Conference in October of 2017

Jessica Cole gave an interesting talk that I listened to which I thought would be different and worthwhile to analyze. Jessica addressed an important issue about the role women play in the church. But before we get into the subject of what she said and my response there are two things that I would like to do first. One is a quick biography of Jessica Cole and the second is an overview of some of the most important women in the Bible.

 

Who is Jessica Cole? 

Its my understanding that Jessica Cole is from Virginia. She attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia for a couple of years and met her future husband at the school. Jessica became the Director of Worship Arts at Salem Church which is in Staten Island, New York. She was in that capacity for nearly 13 years. As a part of her responsibilities she also led worship at Salem. She recorded a worship CD that was given to visitors as Salem as part of welcome gifts. Jessica is a graduate of Gateway Theological Institute and she is pursuing further online education with Liberty University. Since Eddie Cole is the Eastern District Superintendent she travels frequently with him and she leads worship when she does. She went on staff as the Women’s Ministry Director in September 2016 at West Shore Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. In her personal time she enjoys traveling, trying to new restaurants and playing tennis. If you would like to read more about Eddie you can do so in the following posts. 

  1. Analysis of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America.
  2. An Open Letter to Eddie Cole (Eastern District Superintendent of the EFCA)
  3. Some Thoughts on Eddie Cole’s Article in Christianity Today on Sharing the Gospel with those Who Do Not Think of Death or Eternity.” 

 

An Overview of Key Women in the Bible

From spending an evening doing some studying and research I would say that the following women are probably the ones that stand out more in the Bible. Just as a personal note I am going to list some of the key women who influenced faith in a positive way. In this list you will not find me mention people such as Jezebel who is mentioned in 1 Kings. 

  1. Esther, from the book of Esther. Esther went before King to plead for the life of the Jews and in the process risked her life. Esther for me indicates how people can be created for “such a time as this…”
  2. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary I would state is downplayed more in Protestantism than in Catholicism, just an observation from someone who grew up in Catholicism. Mary gave birth to Jesus. Mary from my perspective is a person who shows incredible faith. To carry a child and be impregnated in a different manner took faith. The reality from my understanding is that she could have been killed. 
  3. Elizabeth who was the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth was rewarded for her faith. 
  4. Deborah in the Old Testament. Deborah was one of the Judges who led the Israelites into battle. 
  5. Lydia in the story of Acts opened up her home to Paul, which became the first home church in Europe. 

 

Why Women Should be Able to do More in Ministry 

Women should be able to do much more then just women’s ministry or roles that have been defined for them. The evangelical church has hurt itself immensely by being so selective. I liked what Jessica stated about changing the paradigm as I felt that it is deeply needed today. The fact of the matter is that God uses women quite a bit. And often incredible opportunities are lost when predefined roles take center stage instead of one’s talents. Jessica talked about Lydia, actually I am deeply familiar with the story of Lydia from another person that I know. His wife happens to be named Lydia and is the daughter of  missionaries in India and has been one in Kenya. I have written several open letters to his husband who is a close friend of mine. But I have heard from him about the role Lydia played in Europe and how it challenges his wife to do more in life. Today Lydia is in Kansas helping to run a mental health counseling clinic and is a licensed social worker helping people in difficult situations. I am deeply amazed as to what I hear when I catch up with “James” and hear about the newest developments. Now if she only stayed in predefined roles helping to develop this mental health clinic would never have taken off. And the tragedy in the end is that all that is being done now would not be done if usual gender roles applied and established church roles would have been followed. But there are also lessons from society that should be learned from the church when it comes to women. Let’s look at that next. 

 

Zero Dark Thirty trailer

There are a Number of Areas Where Women can be Unique

In United States culture and history there are many roles that women have actually done that have helped better society and improve it. Most often the usual gender roles restrain people. But what happens when those roles are let go? What can be done? There are a couple of examples that I would like to use but let me start out first with law enforcement. Women have played a key role in law enforcement and are deeply cherished and recruited. Women in law enforcement can do many missions that men cannot do in the same manner. Women can frisk same sex prisoners and people being arrested in a way that could neutralize many tense situations. Women also can do strong work in solving sex crimes, and in some cases having a woman in the police department could help solve some of those cases. Women can build better relationships in the community that can serve and help so many. To read more about why women should be in law enforcement you can look at these links here, here and here

Another situation that bears mention and discussion is how women have played a key role in another area of security, that of national security with the United States intelligence community. Shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 the United States Army and Navy started to recruit females to do cyrptanalyst work. In the Washington, D.C. area and elsewhere women were hired on to study and work at breaking German codes in World War II. The hard work that many of these females did, in time helped lay the foundation for the National Security Agency and is a part of their history. You can read more in a Politico article that recently came out that is called, “The Secret History of the Female Code Breakers Who Helped Defeat the Nazis.” But while that is the 1940’s it also applies to recent history as well. Women have played a key role in the Central Intelligence Agency with one woman who tracked down Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The story was turned into a major motion picture a couple of years ago and is called Zero Dark Thirty. In the story people learn of an extremely dedicated and workaholic individual who figures out where Bin Laden held up. Her theory and analysis pay off in the end. She regularly and routinely clashed with superiors but in the end thrived and rose to the occasion. I have the trailer for the move above and a few clips from the movie below. To read more about this person you can do so here, here, here and here.  Both of these examples show what is possible when women are allowed to do try new thongs and apply themselves outside the paradigm. There are other examples that I can use, but I am going to leave this here and return to the theological issues that need to be addressed. 

 

The Challenges Jessica Cole’s Talk is Going to Face

Jessica’s talk is good and I liked it quite a bit. That said it has some challenges in today’s EFCA culture. While Jessica’s talk is good its going to run afoul of the Neo-Calvinist movement which is currently hijacking the EFCA, as the Neo-Calvinists are exploiting the autonomy nature. With that comes the theology of how they view women. For example as I research and write I see some of the influence of Tim Challies. Tim, has taught that women can’t read scripture openly as it would be considered teaching. It goes back to a fundamentalist take on 1 Timothy 2:11-12. You can read his post about the topic here.  Another problem is with John Piper and his fan boys. A couple of days ago I wrote about Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania and Joe Henseler. You can read that post in “A Response to Joe Henseler of Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania about how Leaders Need Leaders.” Joe at his blog credits John Piper for his theology. This is what Joe Henseler has said. “We stole our family mission statement from Pastor John Piper: The Henselers exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ!” Now John Piper has actually taught that a woman in a domestic abuse situation should submit to her abuser “for a season.” You can watch that bastardized teaching in this Desiring God video. Why people are infatuated with John Piper is one thing that I can not comprehend. Yet another issue is that with Wayne Grudem. Wayne Grudem has come out with a list of what women can and cannot do. You can read the challenges and problems with this issue in this post right here. So when you have such strong complementarians who are fundamentalist what do you do? I find Wayne Grudem to be a strange charachter. After all he is in the process of redefining the trinity which is core doctrine and yet this is the guy known for publishing systematic theology? I can’t figure that out, I actually put Wayne Grudem in the same camp as Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. I wrote about these challenges in the following post.  “ Wayne Grudem’s Un-Orthodox View of the Trinity and the Question that Must Be Asked: Can the ESV Bible be Trusted?” So what do you do when you have people like Tim Challies, John Piper and Wayne Grudem influencing the EFCA? They would categorically reject what Jessica Cole taught. This issue goes on to the bigger issue that highlight the issue of Neo-Calvinism and how it is tearing apart the EFCA. I probably will not have time to write about it but there is another issue that comes into play. At the Eastern District blog Eddie Cole wrote a post about doing traditional alter calls. I agree with what Eddie is saying and I understand, but what do you do when people are influenced by David Platt who challenges the sinner prayer from being done?  These issues point to the bigger issue of Neo-Calvinism which is the 800 ton guerrilla in the room. So while I agree with what Jessica said her message I fear will be shipwrecked because of the growing fundamentalism inside the EFCA. 

 

Why The Wondering Eagle Believes Women Should Play a Greater Role in the EFCA 

As I close out this post there are many reasons why I believe the EFCA should allow women to play a greater role in the denomination. Here are some of the reasons why. 

  1. The main and largest reason is that I believe that if more women were involved in positions of leadership that could help keep the issue of child sex abuse in check. I am deeply concerned that child sex abuse is a major issue inside the EFCA. I have already been contacted about a couple of situations in the past. And while child sex abuse can occur in an EFCA church in Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado or California that is not the only place it can take place. The EFCA is deeply involved in missions abroad through Reach Global. I am fearful that there has been sexual abuse in the mission field. All of these problems are consistent with what the Roman Catholic faith, Southern Baptist Convention or the Association for Baptist and World Evangelism (ABWE). You can read about the issue with ABWE in “Recommended Read: New Republic’s The Silence of the Lambs.” But by having women in key places and ministries from the corporate headquarters in Minneapolis to district offices and churches I believe it would help protect children and the overall health of the EFCA. 
  2. Having women more involved in the EFCA would help roll back the Neo-Calvinist movement and send some strong messages to those who advocate or push for it. It would make the denomination more balanced.
  3. It would help the EFCA do ministry better and reach the culture around them. In Jessica’s talk she referenced the motto for Salem Church in Staten Island. The motto when Eddie Cole was the Senior Pastor is “Meet them where they are and encouraging them toward a lifelong relationship with Jesus.” By having more women involved in the EFCA doing church ministry it would help the EFCA reach out to its culture better. That would be a plus in so many ways.
  4. Another point to consider if more women in the EFCA are allowed to engage in women’ ministry outside the usual scope then it would reaffirm EFCA history. Down below I have on of the panels from the Eastern District conference and you can listen to the history lesson Greg Strand gives. Its fascinating, as a man who has studied a lot of history I would propose to you that history is everything. Its a shame when either a country or an organization forgets its roots. Starting with the story of Ellen Modine being a missionary to the Mormons in Utah to Trinity taking in a woman several years before Harvard Divinity School is good to have in your background. Why not build upon that rich past and build a trail? If women did brave things in the past, why hold them up and prevent them from blazing a way froward in the EFCA? 

One possibility is to be creative in working within the issues of complementianism. For example scripture says that women can’t be elders, but it doesn’t say that women could be consulted or give advice before decisions are made. Can it be possible that women can have a separate board that can be consulted for insight or more? I hate the term “thinking outside the box” as that is so overused. But in this case why can’t many evangelical churches find alternatives that would allow for work around on the male elder situation. Its my sincere hope that Jessica Cole’s words will fall on the ears of many people in the EFCA. Her taking on women an ministry is important and I hope that women can find a way forward for the denomination in many ways. Even in a conservative denomination it can be done in a way that benefits the organizations’ overall health. That is it for the day, have a good Veterans Day! 

 

2 thoughts on “Jessica Cole on the Vital Role Women Play in the Church (EFCA Eastern District Conference)

  1. Jessica’s talk is good and I liked it quite a bit. That said it has some challenges in today’s EFCA culture. While Jessica’s talk is good its going to run afoul of the Neo-Calvinist movement which is currently hijacking the EFCA…

    Because Jessica is Only A WOMAN.

    Like

  2. “We stole our family mission statement from Pastor John Piper: The Henselers exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”

    Including Pastor John Piper(TM)’s Twitter Eloquence?

    “Tidies and fugleman–I sheel foor that we all–er–most steeply rebut the defensible, though, I trust, lavatory, Aspasia which gleams to have selected our redeemed inspector this deceiving. It would–ah–be shark, very shark, from anyone’s debenture…”

    Liked by 1 person

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