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Friday, March 23, 2007

The seal of apostleship

The early church began with an informal and itinerant ministry model, having a focus on proclaiming the good news. The young church had practises which many of us do not share today, that of living in community or holding a portion or whole of our assets in common, that of caring for the elderly and needy in practical ways, that of healing.

But quickly the church developed into a group of people seeking a formal organisation as difficult decisions had to be made to create one cohesive body out of many diverse factions. Whether this was a top down bishopric, or a bottom up chairmanship is moot, but a visible structure emerged.
To my mind the scriptures provide principles for how people are to interact, not an organizational model. The message of the gospel is not about any one specific visible structure but about a people joined together in the spirit.

Although there was in the Jewish religion a specific visible mark of membership - circumcision, for Christians the seal was the indwelling spirit; an invisible mark.

However, just as the church quickly set up new visible structures, in the same way, it established a new visible seal. So in Greek the word 'seal' σφραγίς came to mean the 'sign of the cross', since this was annointed on the forehead of Christians at their baptism.

    ὁ βασιλεύς ἐξέρχεται καί ἀνερχεται ἐν τῷ καθίσματι, καί στάς ἕμπροσθεν τοῦ σένζου, σφραγίζει τόν λαόν ..

    The emperor comes out and mounts his special seat. Standing in front of the throne he makes the sign of the cross over [seals] the people (C. Porphyrogenitus, 10th century.)
But the scriptures teach us that the seal is that which is given to us by God, not by humans.

There is another kind of invisible seal given by God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were the 'seal' of his apostleship.

    Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 1 Cor. 9:2
I am close to finishing my series on women leaders, which has been written explicitly for a particular young woman ready to graduate from high school and enter university. Here I am gathering together some of the final threads of this discussion.

Women leaders through the centuries have left a legacy of theological instruction, financial provision, physical care, evangelism in the most remote parts of the world, preaching indoors and out, concern for social welfare, prison reform, abolition, and temperance among other contributions. Those who have benefited from the leadership of women are themselves the seal of their apostleship, of their leadership.

I can only recommend that young women become familiar with the the history of Hilda of Whitby, Maragret Fell, Anne Hutchinson, Susanna Wesley, Elizabeth Fry, Phoebe Palmer, Catherine Booth, Florence Li Tim Oi and many others.

Read Hebrews 11 and 12:1, and consider that these women listed above are the witnesses for young women today,

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us
Some regular readers may find that I repeat myself. Yes, I do! I also hope that some of this will be considered a rebuttal to this book, which I have been challenged in the past to respond to in greater depth. I'm trying!

Resources:

A Woman's Place

Women Preachers

15 greatest black women preachers

Translation Note:

The Greek phrase used in this post is from De Cairimoniis by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, cited in The Development of the Greek Language by Wendy Moleas. Bristol Classical Press, 1991.

This quote is part of a longer passage used in the book to illustrate the use of simple syntax and parataxis - the kai coordinating conjunction - in 10th century Greek, as well as instances of Latin loan words. Oddly the translation into English omits one 'and', thus obscuring the very point that Moleas is trying to make.

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