Summer 2004, Vol. 1, No. 1
“On Men and Women, I Will Pour Forth of my Spirit”:
Theological Reflections on Spiritual Gifts
M. Gill, Ph.D. (left)
National Director of Christian Education and
Commissioner of Discipleship for the Assemblies of God
Barbara L. Cavaness, Ph.D. (right)
Visiting Professor of Intercultural Studies at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
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What about women in the church? What were their roles then, in the first churches? And what should be their roles now, in
this day and age? The New Testament spotlights Jesus
as the model. He treated women with respect and dignity,
included them in spiritual matters, and involved them
in religious work. New Testament theology—giving God’s words about women and their roles—teaches that the Holy Spirit equips all people (male and female) for God’s work. The New Testament history depicts the first-century church at worship. It describes women as full participants in the services, equal recipients of spiritual gifts, and leaders at all levels—even
identifying female church workers by the same titles
as male ministers.
The New Testament lists three categories of spiritual
gifts in three passages of Scripture. Though each category
is distinct in its purposes, all gifts share the following
elements in common: (a) Each gift represents a unique
way God’s grace enables individuals to effectively
do His work in the world and in the Church. (b) God’s
gifts are no reason for boasting; they are not given
as a badge of honor to those who deserve them, but are unmerited gifts of grace. (c) Spiritual gifts are not for the benefit of the recipient, but are given for the common good, that is, to serve the needs of others, for the building up of the body of Christ, and for ministry in the marketplace. (d) Thus, all gifts are to be operated with love.1 (e) And, from the Day of Pentecost on, God has poured out His Spirit on sons and daughters alike, equipping both genders in every category of gifts.
Supernatural Gifts: 1 Corinthians 12-14
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters,
I do not want you to be uninformed. …
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit
distributes them. …
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines (1 Cor. 12:1, 4, 7-11).
First Corinthians 12-14 discusses the nine supernatural gifts
of the Spirit: a message of wisdom, a message of knowledge,
faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy,
distinguishing between spirits, speaking in different
kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
The Holy Spirit makes the choice of which gifts He gives
to which individuals (1 Cor. 12:11). And those spiritually-gifted
persons comprise God’s gifts to the Church. “God has placed the parts [in this context, (spiritually-gifted) people] in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1
Cor. 12:18). There is no evidence in Scripture that gender
has any bearing on the choices He makes.
The members of the body of Christ and their spiritual
gifts are diverse, yet together they form a unified whole.
God’s plan is that “there should be no division in the body” (1 Cor. 12:25). Every part (person, including their gifts) is needed; every part is to be valued; every part is to be honored and cared for—and every believer is a part of the Body (1 Cor. 12:27). Scripture warns against devaluing God’s gifts (1 Thess. 5:20; 1 Cor. 14:39). Disregarding the “people-gifts” (that
is, the persons God has supernaturally equipped for service)
would grieve the Holy Spirit.
The supernatural gifts are so beneficial to the Church
that Scripture encourages all of Christ’s followers to seek them, especially certain gifts. Paul writes, “Eagerly desire the greater gifts;” that is, “those [gifts] that build up the church;” “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1, 12 [compare 6-11]). “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:39). If the apostle Paul is suggesting any ranking of supernatural gifts, the “greater” kind
of gift seems to be prophecy. Does the Holy Spirit gift
women with prophecy?
Yes, prophecy is a spiritual gift with which the Holy Spirit gifted women in the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:5). First Corinthians 11:5 gives evidence that prophesying women were active in the worship service. Female prophets were among those the Holy Spirit gifted to the New Testament Church (Acts 21:9). Scripture explains that though not every person is a prophet (1 Cor. 12:29), any person
(male or female) can be gifted by the Holy Spirit to
prophesy (1 Cor. 14:31). Furthermore, prophets are the
ones authorized to judge the authenticity of utterance
gifts (1 Cor. 14:29). Thus those who prophesy have authority
in the supernatural gifts. And because prophecy, as an
intelligible utterance gift, has real potential to build
up the Body, it is a supernatural gift that is highly
esteemed. Since the Holy Spirit gifted women in the New
Testament with prophecy—perhaps the highest of supernatural gifts—it
follows that all the rest of the supernatural gifts are
available to women too.
Motivational Gifts: Romans 12:3-8
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:3-8 discusses the six motivational gifts. Like spiritual temperaments, the motivational gifts are the reason a certain Christian has zeal for one ministry rather than another. These gifts are the inner inclinations that influence why individuals think and act the way they do. They are the very core of what motivates a person.
These motivations are spiritual gifts, graciously given by God to each member of the Body in order to serve Him with great joy. For example, the motivational gift of prophesying involves a drive to perceive the will of God and speak it out to others. Serving involves the joy of helping meet the needs of others. Teaching involves a love for research and communicating truth in an effort to see lives changed. Encouraging involves enjoying being a positive influence to help people live victoriously. Giving involves finding joy in investing resources to benefit others and advance the gospel. Leading involves thriving on organizing, facilitating, and directing. Showing mercy involves compassion that desires to heal hurting hearts.
As with all spiritual gifts, it is God who distributes
them as He pleases. The Church is most strengthened when
each of its members makes use of these gifts fully: prophesying
with faith, giving with generosity, leading diligently,
showing mercy cheerfully, etc. To paraphrase the apostle
Paul, “Whatever your motivation, exercise it for all you’re worth!” (Rom. 12:6-8). All Christ’s
followers, male and female, have been graciously gifted
with unique motivations.2 It
would grieve the Holy Spirit to reject the passionate
involvement in the Lord’s work of a person He had
Equipping Gifts: Ephesians 4:4-16
But to each one of us grace has been give as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high, he led captives
in his train and gave gifts to his people.”
… It was he who gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.… From
him the whole body, joined and held together by every
supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in
love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:7, 11-13,
Ephesians 4:4-16 discusses the equipping gifts.
Scripture specifies in this gift passage, just like the
others (describing supernatural and motivational gifts),
that it is the grace that Christ gives to a believer
(Eph. 4:7) that qualifies him or her to be Christ’s
gift to the Church. In this list the five3 gifts
(sometimes called “offices”) are identified as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The way God gives grace to meet the Church’s needs with these gifts is through the people God sends as their leaders. These leaders’ work
is to equip the members of the Body for ministry, so
that the Church might grow in unity, orthodoxy,4 and
maturity—growing into complete Christ-likeness. Apostles establish works for God. Prophets speak as mouthpieces for God. (A person who prophesies with regularity and is judged to be accurate and anointed may come to be recognized as a prophet.) Evangelists proclaim the “good news,” helping
people come to Jesus in salvation. Pastors care for the
flock of God. Teachers train the flock of God.
In the New Testament, the highest spiritual leadership gift is an apostle. If a woman could serve as an apostle, it would follow that she could serve in any other office. Were there any women apostles in the New Testament? Yes, Junia in Romans 16:7.
What is the New Testament theology of spiritual gifts
and women? As Robert Clinton, noted author on leadership,
explains, God gifts both men and women with natural abilities;
God helps both men and women to acquire leadership skills;
and God gifts both men and women with spiritual gifts.
Clinton concludes concerning gender and leadership, “Definitions
of leader, leadership, and power bases for influencing
including giftedness are not gender biased. And I have
strongly emphasized that both males and females can lead
and exercise leadership with gifted power.”5 The
New Testament also teaches that those gifted by God are
responsible to employ their gifts for one another as
good stewards of God’s great grace (1 Pet. 4:10).
Destined to become one of the greatest female evangelists
ever, Maria Underwood [Woodworth-Etter] felt God’s
call at age thirteen (1858). She said,
I heard the voice of Jesus calling me to go out in
the highways and hedges and gather in the lost sheep. … I had never heard of women working in public except as missionaries, so I could see no opening—except
as I thought, if I ever married, my choice would
be an earnest Christian and then we would enter upon
the mission field.6
Her marriage to an ex-soldier/farmer did not result
in ministry, so she struggled with her call. They lost
five of their six children to illnesses before Maria’s rededication to the Lord in 1879. She was “baptized
with the Holy Ghost, and fire.”7 Still
she hesitated and tried to study further, even as she
prayed for her husband’s permission to go out in ministry. In her struggle, she thought, “If I were a man it would be a pleasure for me, but for me, a woman, to preach, if I could, would subject me to ridicule and contempt … and
bring reproach upon our glorious cause.”8 After
seeing a vision of Jesus, finding examples in the Bible
of how God used women to lead, and studying Acts 2, Maria
was convinced that “women are required to work for the advancement of Christ’s
She began holding revival meetings in Ohio and planting
churches (about age thirty-six). During the first year
and a half, she “held four revivals, organized two churches—one of them with about seventy members—and a Sabbath-school of about one hundred scholars … had
preached in twenty-two meeting houses and four school-houses,
for eight different denominations, and had delivered
two hundred sermons.”10
In 1885 Maria Woodworth began conducting healing services as well, eventually traveling widely with an 8,000-seat tent, attracting publicity and winning converts around the country. She preached powerfully to a crowd of 25,000 in Indiana and then to thousands in California in 1889. From the time of her five-month crusade in Dallas in 1912 (at age sixty-eight), she remained a highly respected evangelist in the Pentecostal movement the rest of her life.
Her books went out as missionaries; as many as 25,000 copies sold between 1912 and 1921. Abridged versions were translated into French, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Egyptian, Hindustani, and other dialects of India and South Africa. In the preface to the fifth edition of Signs and Wonders in
French, a national minister said, “The Pentecostal revival in France can be attributed in certain measure to the ministry of Woodworth’s
The complete title of her autobiography is Signs and Wonders God Wrought in the Ministry for Forty Years. In
it Woodworth-Etter explains the reason for her bold obedience
to God. Here’s a paraphrase of her reasoning: When
a woman is called by God, how can she be obedient without
answering the call? How can you doubt the call when God
himself confirms it with miraculous power?12 The
logic she used to conclude that women may minister and
lead in the Church is the same logic the first-century “apostles and elders” used to conclude that Gentiles may become Christ’s followers—the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work of grace and power (Acts 15:6, 7-9, 12). How did the Jerusalem Council perceive that God makes no distinctions between people? They witnessed God’s grace in salvation and God’s power in signs and wonders. They saw God’s intent confirmed in Scripture (Acts 15:15-18). So they concluded, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts
Woodworth-Etter experienced God’s grace and was
convinced from examples in Scripture that God used women
to lead. She resolved that she must obey. And God himself
confirmed His calling with forty years of signs and wonders.
As the first church concluded, may today’s church
also say, “We
should not make it difficult for the women who are obeying
Excerpted from Chapter 7 of God’s Women—Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace and Truth, 2004).
that in close proximity to all three gifts passages
is an emphasis on love (1 Cor. 13:1-13, Rom. 12:9-12,
and Eph. 4:15).
and Katie Fortune, Discovering Your God-given Gifts (Grand
Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 1987), 16.
may be more accurate to count the equipping gifts as
four since the Greek text seems to identify “pastor-teachers” as
one spiritual gift to the Church.
accurate or right teaching, conforming to established
Robert Clinton, Gender and Leadership: My Pilgrimage (Altadena,
CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1995), 12, 20.
Woodworth, Life and Experience of Maria B. Woodworth (Dayton,
OH: United Brethren, 1885), 18.
Woodworth-Etter, Signs and Wonders God Wrought in
the Ministry for Forty Years, rep. ed. (Bartlesville,
OK: Oak Tree, 1916), 28.
Warner, “Maria Woodworth-Etter and the Early
Pentecostal Movement,” Heritage 6 (Winter
1986-1987): 13. See also Warner’s The Woman
Evangelist: The Life and Times of Charismatic Evangelist
Maria B. Woodworth-Etter (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow
Monday, February 6, 2006 12:29 PM