This is the first of two book discussion on Feminine Threads–the Book Club’s February reading assignment. The second discussion will take place on the 27th of the month.
I will admit that upon opening this month’s book I was taken aback by the small font size which was obviously meant to keep the book within an already large 312 page allowance. I applaud every one of you who has jumped into this book, which is not for the faint of heart! As a mom with three little ones (one being a newborn) I know that it is difficult to find time to read, much less commit yourself to such a dense work on church history.
Having said that, I am somewhat pleased with how far along I am in Feminine Threads. Though it contains an incredible amount of information, Severance (the author), does a wonderful job of pulling you into the women’s stories and explaining different theological stances, errors, and evolutions that bring these lessons from history to life. As one who has not spent much time studying church history in the past, I have found myself longing to know more and looking forward to filling in some gaps (which are inevitable when one is trying to focus solely on the feminine threads of history) through other resources in the future.
I am a little under halfway finished with the book and about to start on Chapter 5: Christian Women in the Late Middle Ages (where are you at?). So far I have been struck by the amount of records there are of such early Christian women. Though I wish that more could be known about the “everyday” women who were not a part of the nobility or communes, it is truly incredible to hear these women’s stories. Their influence on the spread of Christianity as well as theological thought is inspiring.
I loved reading about the early church and piecing together the stories of women who are mentioned in the New Testament with historical record. One of my favorite discoveries so far was the story of Rufus’ mother whom Paul mentions in Roman’s 16. “Rufus was the son of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced by the Roman soldiers to help carry Jesus’ cross. Rufus’ mother would have been Simon’s wife.” (Pg. 27) It is incredible to me to picture this woman’s story. Were her husband and her believers in Christ before Simon was forced to carry the Savior’s cross or did they become believers after that wondrous encounter? Either way, they were first-hand witnesses to the most important moment in history. Their lives were forever changed, and it seems they became an integral part in the early church. Together they raised at least one committed Christ-follower (Rufus) and she herself was a “mother” to Paul. What a beautiful story!
Here are several other things that have impacted me through my reading so far: I found it inspiring to see the role that women generally played in the early church providing hospitality to the apostles and gathering places for the people of God. It was also encouraging to see the role that Christianity played in empowering women to serve the Lord alongside men. It was interesting to see how women were liberated from their second-class standing by the Word of God. Though the created order as revealed through Scripture gave clear instruction on the roles of men and women in the home and in the church, it also made clear the equality of value and worth among the sexes. I found Tertullian’s words about marriage very beautiful:
What a marriage is that between to believers! They have one hope, one desire, one way of life, the same religion. They are brother and sister, both fellow servants not divided in flesh or in spirit–truly ‘two in one flesh,’ for where is one flesh there is also one spirit. They pray together; they prostrate themselves together; they carry out fasts together. They instruct one another and exhort one another. Side by side they are present in the church of God and at the banquet of God; they are side by side in difficulties and in consolations. Neither ever hides things from the other; neither avoids the other; neither is a grief to the other. Freely the sick are visited and the poor are sustained. Without anxiety, misgiving, or hindrance from the other, they give alms, attend the sacrifices [of the church], perform their daily duties [of piety]. They are not secretive about making the sign of the cross; they are not fearful in greetings; they are not silent in giving benedictions. They sing psalms and hymns one to the other; they challenge each other as to who better sings to God. When Christ sees and hears such things, he rejoices. He gives them his peace. Where two are together in his name, there is he, and where he is, there the evil one cannot come.”
What an incredible relationship between husband and wife was offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ! Surely the surrounding culture knew nothing of such unity (as I am sure our culture today is without as well!).
As I have thought about the radical differences between the Scriptural practices of the early church and the pagan practices of their surrounding culture (i.e. orgies, abortion, drunkenness, etc), I have found much encouragement for our present situation within modern society. While the spread of cultural Christianity seems to have had a positive impact on society as a whole (as is seen in this book), the increasing secularization of our times seems to be reverting us back to a situation very similar to what the early church faced. Because of this I think we need to be ready to be persecuted more and more and at the same time to have a pure witness so that others can see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven! What an incredible opportunity we have to be a light in the darkness!
I would love to hear what you have been learning through this book! As you are able, please share your thoughts in the comment section of this post. Are there particular people whose stories you have been encouraged by? Is their a subject you would like to discuss with the other members of the club? What new things have you learned so far? Please take the time to join in the conversation and be sure to check back over the next few days to see what other have said as well!
Not able to join us this month? Next month we will be reading Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel by R.W. Glenn and Tim Challies! Be sure to “like” The Book Club’s Facebook page by clicking here to get the latest updates.