On Finding A Place for Priscilla

In her January 20, 2020 post on the White Horse Inn blog, entitled Is There a Place for Priscilla in our Churches? Rachel Green Miller addressed her closing appeal to the modern Reformed Christian community: “It’s time to consider, ‘Where is the place for Priscilla in our churches?’” To lead up to that question, Miller reviews the portrayal of Priscilla in the NT and in commentaries of church fathers and Reformers. Her presentation culminates with references to women of the Reformation era, linking them with Priscilla as women who used their gifts to benefit the church. It is a compelling picture, one that Miller supports by citing Kirsi I. Stjerna, Women and the Reformation (Wiley Blackwell, 2008; p. 214) as follows: “The movement(s) flourished and endured from roots that were both male and female: the product not just of the male theologians but of women, who as daughters, sisters, spouses, mothers, widows and as believers espoused the new faith and ‘taught’ it and ‘preached’ it in their own domains, so participating concretely in the Protestant mission.” To appreciate the full import of Stjerna’s remark, I went to her book itself to see it in its context. There, I found out more about the “domains” in which women participated in the Protestant mission. Let me explain.

Miller’s citation comes from Stjerna’s final chapter on “Conclusions and Observations on Gender and the Reformation” (pp. 213-22). A lengthy quotation from that chapter is necessary to understand the work of women during the Reformation. Stjerna writes (pp. 214-15):

A general conclusion can be made that the reformers’ teachings did not induce a deep cry for emancipation, liberation, or a class movement towards gender equality. The Reformation does not appear to have instigated any drastic changes in gender roles and expectations. Instead, Reformation teachings managed to give new meanings to the traditional roles of women while at the same time reinforcing a hierarchically ordered view of human relations with a theology that taught created equality with natural differences between the sexes, as well as spiritual equality within hierarchically ordered gender roles. The reformers’ convincing positive interpretation of the importance of the family and their promotion of the religious value of motherhood (the role that was consider the most ‘normal’ – and creation-based – but which, until then, had not been theologically valorized) may be one of the reasons that there was not initially a greater outcry for more options. … The hierarchical ordering of family and societal relationships was not seen as contradicting the gospel of liberation, but rather as being instrumental in its successful realization.

… The Reformation needed the continuity provided by hierarchical gender relations. Marriage was of central importance; “the institutionalized Reformation was most successful when it most insisted on a vision of women’s incorporation within the household under the leadership of their husbands” ([Stjerna citing Lyndal Roper, The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg (Clarendon, 1989), p. 2]). …

It is possible to draw the conclusion that, on the one hand, the Reformation incorporated a vision about spiritual equality and the liberation of consciences from religious oppression, and on the other hand, it harnessed itself to a patriarchally arranged societal system and opted for continuity in social structures rather than abruptions. …

Within the context rehearsed above, we can sharpen our understanding of Stjerna’s remark that Miller quoted. Case in point, we should not miss how Stjerna sums up the Reformers’ ideas about women: “what women heard from the reformers was the reiteration of dogmatic statements excluding them from the ministry of the Word and sacraments and from places of public voice and authority, and affirming the traditional virtues of women and good wives” (p. 219).

Qualify Stjerna’s summary as we might, I, for one, am eager to join Miller to consider the place for Priscilla in our churches. I will come to that consideration remembering that the Reformers ‘theologically valorized’ the roles of wife and mother in the service of the Protestant mission. As heirs of the Reformers, we should be careful to do no less. This is not to foreclose on consideration of other places for Priscilla. It is to commend to her what women of the Reformation era did: they espoused the faith, ‘teaching’ it and ‘preaching’ it in their places as wives and mothers, indeed as daughters, sisters, and even widows.

 

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 Comments

  1. Graham Dugas said,

    February 11, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Set aside Miller and Byrd for a moment. The Reformed Church needs to address “men” such as Michael Horton and Carl Trueman who are giving these girls a platform, or are putting wind in their sails propelling them forward in their “teaching careers”. Both of these men are celeb preachers in Reformed circles. Both of these men are complicit in transgressing God’s creation order and teaching others to do so. Both of these men need to be addressed publicly for their sinful public stance regarding this matter. Added to that is the simple fact that we need to repent of the celeb mentality entirely. Just let us hear the arguments. It matters not who said it. If Hitler said: “The sun rises in the east” and the most highly regarded Reformed pastor/author said: “Rocks float”, then I would have to say Hitler was right and the Reformed pastor was wrong. Let’s hear the words and arguments for what they are no matter which man said it.

    Horton is wrong and sinning.
    Trueman is wrong and sinning.
    The Reformed world needs to rebuke them accordingly.

    There, I said it.

  2. Steve Drake said,

    February 12, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Can anyone say ‘negative birth rates?’ Does any discussion of 1 Tim. 2:15 have anything to do with “Is there a place for Priscilla in our churches?”

  3. February 21, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    […] Rachel Green Miller’s question, “Is There a Place for Priscilla in our [Reformed] churches?” I urged that we should be able to agree to valorize the functions of wife and mother for today’s […]


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