WASTI FELDT... **
Wasti Feldt-Johansson - Her Basic Beliefs
During the years between 1979-1980 Wasti Feldt played an extremely important role in order to create interest around the female leadership issue in the churches in the SPM. As already has been pointed out in this dissertation, she tried to bring up this matter at the Pastor's Conference in Stockholm in 1978, but failed. The same procedure was repeated in the Conferences in 1979-1980. After that, as far as this author understand, she gave up. But during the subsequent years she was still active through interviews, articles and teachings.
Beyond any doubt, 1980 will forever be one of the many historical dates of the SPM, since it was in that year Feltdt became the first female Swedish Pentecostal senior pastor ever. The fact that it was in the Gilead Church in Gothenburg that she started her career as senior pastor was not surprising to the Pentecostals in Sweden, as this church was considered a progressive Christian group and consequently was "prepared" for such a doctrinal innovation. From her new position as pastor in a church, located in the second biggest town of Sweden, her possibilities to reach out with her female view increased.
But the aggresive way of promoting her ideas through for example interviews in the biggest secular papers created a kind of tension between her and many leaders in the SPM and reduced her possibilty to convince the SPM that the moment had come to improve the situation for women preachers. It is possible that if she would have acted more smoothly she would have achieved her purpose more quickly. But she was not a tactician and as her language was straight and uncomplicated she herself suffered a lot. But it may be that the way she acted was due to the gifts she got and because she had been involved in an evangelist''s ministry. She was used to a "straight-to-the-point-language." But during this period of time she got a lot of support from women in the Movement and she, in return, rendered them help and advice.
Since she was the woman that meant so much to the whole female issue in the SPM it is logical that I dedicate some space to her basic beliefs in order to try to get behind her reasons for acting the way she did.
Wasti Feldt-Johansson's View on Redemption and the Ministries
It is easy to see that Wasti Feldt-J has recieved much of her inspiration for women's freedom from Jesus and his redemptive work. In her book "Kvinnan i frikyrkan," and in her various articles, she comes back time after time to the importance of Christ and his encounter with women. She says: "It is evident that the presence of Jesus brought such support for women that they dared to defy human traditions and follow their inner feelings and convictions ... When Jesus and Mary stand side by side in the center of the events on the day of Resurrection, they proclaim dramatically the breaking up from old traditions and ways of thinking." For that reason it seems natural that it is the redemption that is the basis for her continuing dialogue with leaders in the SPM on Christian ministries. For it is through the death of Christ that the curse of the Fall is abolished. Jesus is looking at man as a spiritual individual no matter whether she is male or female. Jesus died for all mankind. This means that even women have been freed to serve the Lord and his church. Therefore no man or woman can be shut out from his or her right to fulfill their call, since it is the gifts - the spiritual equipment - that must constitute the rationale of a Christians ministry. By stressing the redemption of Christ, which is described in the well-known Pauline text in Gal. 3:28, she builds a fairly stable ground for her coming discussions. Both man and woman have been created in God's image and only as a perfect God-image, can man function. Therefore both sexes together, are necessary in order to serve God and only redemption makes this possible.
Thus, it is not difficult for Wasti Feldt-J, in the light of the redemption, to admit that women must be accepted as senior pastors and elders. Hence all the prohibitions for a woman to serve fully in the church must be considered as time and culture-bound. Concerning the text in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, and the prohibition for women to speak publicly in church she makes the following comment: "Here there is no deep symbolism only a desire to adjust to the prevalent situation in the first century's Corinth. Regarding the prohibition to teach she says, "It is unreasonable to think that this prohibition of teaching was supposed to last for ever, in view of the fact that to women God has given both spiritual power and pedagogical abilities to carry out their teaching tasks."
According to Wasti Feldt-J it is on the basis of redemption that serving becomes diakonia, a "serving from below," the humble serving. In her attempt to prove the universality of the deaconate and that this ministry even applies to women, she points out that the term "diákonos" did not refer only to a church-office, but even Jesus called himself diákonos (Mark. 10:43-45). At the same time she makes an attempt to show that the deaconate was more widely used than we think. "All were deacons in the church. They were all spiritual servants." But when making reference to Christ as a deacon in the narrow and more technical sense (that is the way I understand her) it seems to be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. It is true that he came to serve and not to be served (Mark. 10:45), but the Suffering Servant, that goes back to the texts in Isaiah 40ff. must not be confused with the deacon as a neo-testamental and ecclesiastical term, appearing rather late in the Scriptures. Doing this she presses the significance of the word too hard. In one sense we are all servants to God, even Jesus - through the Incarnation - and the apostles were God's servants. But this servanthood (the other side of the coin) must not be used to back up a female deaconess in church, even if service is the mark per excelence in the Kingdom of God. There are other and more unsophisticated ways to point out the right women have to act as deaconesses. Cf. Rom. 16:1 and 1 Tim. 3:11f. Beyond any doubt deacons belonged to the leadership of the early church, but in the light of the few deacon-related texts it is difficult to determine fully in what consisted their ministry. She is probably right when pointing to the fact that the first church was more committed to serve than we are today and there existed no "office-holders" among the leaders.
At any rate, she is touching a tender point in the SPM. In our effort to be "biblical" we have forgotten a very well substantiated leadership function, through which women are permitted to minister. In the SPM the deaconate was forgotten after some time in spite of having been used and studied from the very beginning. Always the practical issues in the SPM such as the treasurer, the "church-sister (deaconess)," usher etc. have been understood as belonging to the deacon's ministry. On very rare occasions the deacon's ministry has been coupled to a teaching ministry or leadership ministries within the SPM. But as we have seen earlier in the dissertation some pastors have referred to a deacon's teaching ministry as something normal or at least possible. What Wasti Feldt-J does is an attempt to restore a ministry that by biblical right belongs to her, but that has been forgotten. It is interesting to notice that fifteen years later churches in the SPM try to use the female deaconate in order to solve an upcoming female leadersip problem.
But even though Wasti Feldt-J underlined the importance of the deaconate as both a possibility and a biblical right for women, her desire was to move still further. All this time she was convinced that women, through the redemption of Christ, should have access to all the different ministries mentioned in the New Testament. She was not to be deprived of any of them. Only the power of tradition could keep her away from them. Concerning Wasti Feldt-J's view on eldership she firmly believed that this ministry was not limited only to man; a woman also had the right to be accepted as elder. The fact that she had less problem to see a broadened eldership than many of her male colleagues may be due to the fact that she was raised spiritually in the Salvation Army, in which Movement she was working for some time as officer.
Another issue that she with force brought up in the debate was the relation between God's call and the right to carry it out. Wasti Feldt-J is coming back time after time to this matter in her articles and in her book. This argument is afflicted with certain weaknesses, since it is a subjective experience of God's dealing with a person. We can feel God''s call to many things, but in order to be verifiable and "measured" it needs support from the Word of God. The only one to evaluate appropriately a "divine call" is God himself or at some extent the person called. In this debate it has been usual for women to defend their aspirations through pointing to God's call. So if he has called me to become an elder, who can question that? As I already have said this kind of reasoning leads to false conclusions since the premises are false. Carlo Johansson, one of our renowned Bible teachers, holds the same opinion. But if the women can present biblical proofs that support them in their search for a broadened ministry, the panorama changes at once. And I think they can.
What I mean is that God's call, the subjective experience of the God-encounter must be subjected to a proper exegetical study of the Word. If it is found then, that the call contradicts Scripture, we should consider it erroneous.
The problem with the Pentecostal Movement all over the world - being a member of it I know it from within - is that it is not so much cognitive as affective and experience-oriented. Advanced theological studies have been considered a danger and this attitude has caused Pentecostals to take a adversative stand to theological training.
In these last times, when denominational identity has lost its significance and people are not supposed to give reason for their belief and church-belonging, the objective truth and church doctrines do not have the same importance. On the other hand the subjective experience, the feelings and the God-encounter have in some extent replaced the significance of Scripture. I mean that there is a movement from objectivity to subjectivity, something that has been emphasized in several essays published in a book entitled "Power Religion." This book is first of all an evaluation of the Vineyard Movement. In these essays we read over and over again how people move from the Word - the objective revelation - to the subjective experience. The Word is losing the significance it had several years back, since people, obviously, let themselves be guided by experiences. Consequently there is kind of move towards the mystical, the unexplicable, at the expense of the rational.
Therefore in the ongoing debate on women's ministry God's call must be subordinated to God's Word - a thorough, and exegetical study in order to reach a correct assessment of the text.
But it happens too often that people say, "God cannot commit mistakes when he calls people." I suggest that we use the following approach in order to deal with a woman's call:
(1) Who decides what is wrong and right in the female eldership issue? Is it possible that my opinion is wrong? Has I exhausted all the possibilities that are available in order to see if God's Word might include women in the leadership ministries? Am I interpreting texts in the light of redemptive and charismatic texts?
(2) How is it that in the "charismatic phase" (the initial phase) of a revivalist movement women are permitted to preach and teach, but later when a movement is institutionalized the ministry is taken away from them?
(3) What is the reason that so many women have pioneered churches but later have had to "step back" in order to care for children and other supportive ministries?
(4) How is it that the biggest church of the world, Yonggi Cho's church in Seul with more than 700,000 members, has more than 50,000 women conducting the "cell-groups" and several hundreds of women are pastors. The person, in charge of the Mountain of Prayer in that church is a woman.
(5) What can the contextual method contribute in order to solve this problem that sometimes creates bad feelings, resentment and even hatred among evangelical and biblicistic brethren, who all are convinced that the Word of God is both inspired and infallible?
Only when we have done a thorough study and considered these points and several others, are we allowed to say yes or no to the women''s eldership issue.
Since contextualization is important in determining the female issue (that is the thesis of this dissertation), we proceed to see that it was exactly that which caused so much alarm among the Pentecostal leaders when Wasti Feldt-J presented her book in 1979.
The Contextual Method
In order to convince the pastors and leaders within the SPM that even the senior pastor ministry was available for women, Wasti Feldt-J had to tackle the texts from a more historical perspective. The solution to the Pauline problem -texts was found in a new "understanding" of the texts: The underlying historical causes determined in greater extent than before the outcome of the interpretation of difficult texts, that could not be solved by just the immediate text. Wasti Feldt-J was even ready to assume that Paul used a rabbinical way of thinking in order to give the texts an anti-female "touch."
The fact that she let the underlying circumstances in both Corinth and Ephesus in part decide the outcome of the interpretation of the texts, was too much for many pastors in the SPM. We have already noticed how a great number of Pentecostal leaders launched a fierce attack against her. The reason is simple: for almost everyone of the pioneers or the old Pentecostals, the most important and almost the only way to understand a text, was by literal interpretation. That does not mean that they sometimes have not recurred to some kind of contextual interpretation. That happens many times, especially in the narrative passages in both the Old and the New Testaments, where knowing the underlying history and the history itself many times are decisive for the right understanding and application of the texts for modern people in a secularized society. So even if the concept of contextualization was not new in practice it was new when deciding the result of the exegesis of a major doctrine.
Did Wasti Feldt-J succeed in convincing the pastors and the leaders in the SPM that she was right about the female leadership aspirations? She surely was able to persuade many of the women who were still doubting about their role as women, but she hardly impressed the leaders of the SPM. That could be seen in the coming articles in Dagen. Quite many of the complementarians saw her as a threat to the sound and biblicistic way of interpretation. But the interesting thing with her book is that her points of view were used later in the 1990s by several of the "egalitarian" pastors and leaders in the SPM; they focused especially upon redemption, her view on contextualization, the God-call perspective and the rabbinical arguments.
Wasti Feldt-J was accused several times of having misused the Word of God. Indubitably many leaders in the SPM believed that she did not only depart from the method of interpretation that prevailed in the Movement, she also made some severe attacks on the sound doctrines. I believe that people completely misunderstood her use of the contextual method, especially when being used on the Pauline problem-texts.
The importance of the immediate or the logical context was never questioned among the Pentecostals. We have inherited this hermeneutical principle from the Reformers and no one would doubt the appropriateness of that principle.
But it is not enough knowing the meaning of the immediate context (even if it is extremely important when determining its significance). We must also consider that even the historical, cultural, political and many times the sociological insights are important in order to know a text's meaning and to achieve the right application of the same text. Wasti Feldt-J's intention was to bring the pastors in the SPM to the conviction that this was not an unbiblical method and a departure from the sound and fundamentalistic field. But since they refused to accept her "innovative" ideas they attacked her in the various Pentecostal papers. The Senior Pastor in Stockholm, Karl-Erik Heinerborg - we have already studied his reaction - contended that we ran the risk of falling into the historic-critical trap. In Evangelii Häärold 16/88 he writes an editorial article focusing on the whole issue. But according to my opinion he misjudged the place of the contextual method. Contextualization and historic-critical method are both using history as an instrument for determining the right intention of the author, but they are completely different. The former is a hermeneutical method, that if used appropriately, helps the interpreter in his inquiry of the text's meaning and application while the latter method, when referring to higher criticism is a fruit of the Enlightment's focus on reason as a self-sufficient means for determining a text's occasion, authorship and authenticity.
Of course Wasti Feldt-J denies that she is departing from the Word of God. Instead she aims her shaft at all those leaders who, "are passing over in remarkable silence the overwhelming amount of proofs that are found in the New Testament and confirms that equality and mutual services are God's great purpose concerning all mankind and especially God's people." Nevertheless her way of interpreting the Pauline texts was marking a new departure
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