WONDER WOMEN — ANNA
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 23, 2011
Pastor Rebekah Liu
- Can be pastors and prophets (Luke 2:36; Joel 2:28-29)
- Are never alone (Luke 2:37; 1 Timothy 5:5)
- Tell everyone about Jesus (Luke 2:38; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Pastor Rebekah Liu is a seminary student pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies specializing in the Book of Revelation at Andrews University. She was raised in a staunchly communist family and community. Converted at 17 and baptized at 18, Rebekah began to visit the countryside house churches with her mother in 1988 and after finishing high school, chose to work for the Adventist church. At 19, she began preaching and doing other pastoral work in the house churches. For 4 years she and her mother and brother worked as volunteers, often in difficult circumstances. In 1993 Rebekah went to the Philippines to earn a Bachelors degree returning to China in 1996 by which time the church had grown enough to give her a small salary.
Feeling the need of further education, and seeing doors open for her to come to Andrews University, Rebekah began her doctoral studies in 2000 occasionally receiving a small monthly stipend from her local church in the Sichuan province of China which she supplemented with earned scholarships. Her unswerving, ambitious goal is to create a portable seminary in China, taking advanced training to pastors who cannot leave their churches to attend seminary overseas. Since becoming Christians, she and her mother and brother have raised up 100 home churches that now has 10k members in 400 churches being led by four pastors three of whom are women.
Since 1957, the Seventh-day Adventist church in Mainland China has become congregationalized without formal church organization, institutions, or even a seminary. Today, with a membership of 340k, the entire country only has about 100 ordained pastors but Rebekah Liu is one of them. Because on May 22, 2010 when the local Adventist church in China decided to ordain Rebekah, they perceived that her ministry would not be limited to Sichuan but would belong to all of China. Therefore they invited four pastors, coming in from the four corners of China, to officiate. One, a patriarch of the Adventist Church in China, is one of the most respected pastors in the country. Another, by Rebekah’s request, is a woman, this being the first time in the Adventist Church in China that a woman pastor co-officiated in ordaining another woman minister. “Throughout the whole service,” she says, “Tears kept on running down from my eyes. A deep sense of unworthiness and gratitude overwhelmed me. I felt I was not worthy to be ordained into the gospel ministry and to be a coworker of the Lord in a special sense, yet He called me to do the work together with Him.” After the ordination, there was an afternoon service for praise in song. Seven lady pastors were present and were asked by the congregation to go onstage and sing a song entitled, “Lord, I Want To Ask You: Why Do You Love Me So Much!”
Her husband, a lay pastor in Shanghai when they met, was unable to enter the United States with her and is now studying at the Seventh-day Adventist seminary in the Philippines, where Liu received her undergraduate degree. She currently pastors the Chinese congregation at Andrews University and will be speaking in Dayton, Ohio on October 22 during Acts 2011 — a convocation of Ohio Adventists celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the book Acts of the Apostles. I’m looking forward to attending this gathering and I’m hoping with enough notice, some of you will join me and come hear her story with me. When she completes her PhD, she plans to return to the Sichuan Province in central China to help educate Christian pastors there —70-75% of whom are women.
Pastor Rekeah Liu is a modern wonder woman that God has obviously called and is currently using to introduce China to Jesus and lead the Adventist Church. She is living proof that women can become the best pastors and like Anna, the wonder woman we’re studying today, prophetic voices in our world today just like the prophet Joel predicted (for more on Rebekah Liu, see: http://www.andrews.edu/
Luke 2:36-38 says, “36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. 38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”
The name Anna comes from the Hebrew name Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2) and means grace. You may remember we studied her Old Testament namesake in September 2010. Both were perfectly at home in the temple. Both prophesied. Both women were singled out for their practice of prayer and fasting. Though unlike Esther, who fasted and prayed during a crisis, this woman fasted and prayed for over 60 years! There is no one, male or female in all of Scripture, who did that! 1 Samuel 2:1-10 records Hannah’s prophetic Psalm about the coming of the Messiah while these few short verses in Luke 2:36-39 describe Anna’s prophetic response to the arrival of the Messiah. So please don’t miss the obvious point number one, wonder women can be pastors and prophets too.
The prophet Joel anticipated such a day. Joel 2:28-29 says, “28 Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. 29 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.” Of all Christians, we as Seventh-day Adventists, should be most supportive of women in ordained pastoral and prophetic ministry because our church was co-founded by a woman—Ellen White. And yet some of her most ardent supporters say women like Pastor Rebekah Liu should not be ordained because they say being female breaks one of the requirements for ordination Paul gives in 1 Timothy 3:2 about being the “husband of one wife.” They say you cannot be an ordained pastor and a woman because a woman cannot be a husband.
But what if the point of that passage has nothing to do with plumbing? What if the point of that passage is talking about character? About love and leadership that is faithful? Think about it. Is it more likely that God would call men and women to ministry like Anna and Ellen White and Rebekah Liu and promise to pour out his spirit on them in the last days but not allow them to be ordained? If elders and pastors must be the husbands of one wife, wouldn’t that disqualify Paul because He was single when he wrote to Timothy? If God calls women to ministry, and obviously blesses them just as he calls and blesses men in the ministry, who do we think we are by rejecting their ministries and effectively saying no to God?
Numerous commentators inside and outside the Adventist church agree that Isaiah 14:12-13 refers to Satan getting kicked out of heaven for trying to be above God. Yet, this is what some Adventists are doing when rejecting the pastoral call and leadership of women pastors. And this is what Pastor Doug Batchelor and Pastor John MacArthur continue to do from the pulpit (in Batchelor’s February 6, 2010 sermon) and in print (in MacArthur’s book Twelve Extraordinary Women pp. 132-134). Even though five women in the Old Testament are identified as prophetess, they say there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that women ever held a prophetic office. Do you see some of the mental gymnastics it takes to come to that conclusion?
So let’s be honest. Here’s the women God called to be prophets in the Old Testament. The first was Miriam, Moses’ sister, in Exodus 15:20. She led the Israelites including Moses in exuberant praise and worship following the Exodus. If you were here last week, you received a copy of a handout about that worship. In Judges 4:4, we are introduced to Deborah who as a prophetess didn’t for Barak, she led him and the Jewish people before a monarchy was established. Isaiah’s wife is identified as a prophetess in Isaiah 8:3 as is Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14 and there was even a lesser known false prophetess in Nehemiah 6:14 named Noadiah.
In the New Testament, in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, Acts 21:9 says Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters all of whom had the gift of prophecy. Additionally, Romans 16:1-2, Paul calls Phoebe a deacon of the church and deacons were ministers who met the exact same qualifications of pastor / elders in 1 Timothy 3. In Romans 16:7, Paul calls Andronicus and Junia apostles and Junia is a female name! Therefore, the office of apostle was open to women in the Bible contrary to what Doug Batchelor and John MacArthur say. Respectfully but specifically, we must agree to disagree sometimes. To edify the church and grow in the truth as it is in Jesus.
I’m proud of the fact that the Ohio Conference is proactive in supporting and arguing for the ordination of women in ministry. Every year or so, our executive committee which I’m a member of, sends to the Columbia Union the name of a qualified and called woman pastor to be ordained. So far, those same names get sent back to us approved for commissioning not ordination which at least gives my colleagues the same salary and compensation as men—though that wasn’t always the case. We have made progress. But we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in China who have simply followed the Holy Spirt’s lead in ordaining Rebekah Liu to the ministry. I’m also proud of the fact that Toledo First church has mentored two female pastors the last few years in Rachel Davies and Anna Romuald—both of whom have already demonstrated in their devoted lives of faithfulness a calling and blessing by God in ministry. Rachel was in Mexico again this summer with a team of young people on a mission trip and Anna was looking forward to baptizing a bunch of her summer campers just this past week.
I remember when I was ordained at Camp Meeting in 2002. At the time, Pastor Clarissa Worley was one of the speakers there. I remember thinking, it’s really odd that I’m up here getting ordained while she is so much more qualified and gifted and experienced than I am. Since then, I promised God to use whatever influence I have to advocate for women in ministry because all the ones I know are too dignified to do so. So men, we must stand up to speak on their behalf. Being a pastor is not a political office. It is a calling from God. How dare we pretend to do His job. Anna was a prophetess. God called her. And Joel says God will continue calling wonder women like her. Hopefully, our church will officially recognize that sooner than later. This is point number one.
Moving on, Luke 2:36 says Anna was “The daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher.” Asher was the 8th son of Jacob. Genesis 30:12-13 says Asher was the offspring of Zilpah - Leah’s maid and Jacob’s concubine. But after this, she is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Aside from Joseph and Mary and the shepherds and Simeon, she was the only other Israelite to recognize Jesus at his birth. Which is odd since everyone was familiar with the famous 70 Weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. Long before Adventists came around, Jews figured out that a day equals a year in prophetic time and that with the command to restore and build Jerusalem given by Artaxerses in Nehemiah 2:1-8, the prophetic time clock was ticking.
By 27AD, 483 of the provided 490 years of time had elapsed. And Messiah fever was in full throttle. Luke 3:15 says, “Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John (the Baptist) might be the Messiah.” But because they were looking for a mighty politician and military leader to become a conquering king, they missed him. When Jesus was dedicated, he didn’t come rich and powerful. Luke 2:24 says his parents were so poor they could not afford a Lamb. They bought two small doves for a sacrifice instead.
Verse 37 says Anna never left the temple but stayed there night and day in the temple at Jerusalem, which was located in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Which means her family either immigrated south before Asher and the other apostate northern tribes of Israel were conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC and hauled into captivity or she was among the handful of exiles who returned from captivity. But after she did, she was engaged young, probably around 13 and married by 15 as was the custom back then. Which means she might have been 106 when Jesus was born! Either way, whether the 84 years refers to her age or the amount of time she spent as a widow, she was really old.
The vast majority of her life she lived alone. But was she really alone? Not if you believe God called her to be a prophetess. And provided a place for her to stay in the temple like the priests serving there. I suppose the phrase “she never left the temple” could be understood in the same sense that the disciples, after the ascension of Jesus, were “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” according to Luke 24:53 and Acts 2:46. But that statement could also literally be true since Nehemiah 13:7-9 says there were modest chambers used as temporary dwelling places for priests who lived on the temple grounds while doing their two weeks’ annual service. It is possible that Anna was given one of these places to stay due to her faithfulness and spiritual gifts.
Verse 38 says she told everyone about Jesus. Probably mostly women and children. 1 Timothy 5:5 says this of widows. “Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help.” And while Anna was a widow, she was not alone. For she had placed her hope in God. And this is point number two.
Why else would she fast and pray for over 60 years? Hearing Simeon’s inspired testimony and baby dedication of Jesus, Anna’s own heart was touched and verse 38 says God turned her pleas into praise. And praise is always the most effective evangelistic tool. Prophecy is like the icing on the cake. It seals the deal. When we look at history, it confirms what we see in the past so we know He will take care of the future. But praise is still what moves people’s hearts. Stories of how God have changed lives and been faithful and provided and comforted and sustained us even when we don’t get everything we want or think we deserve in this life is what converts the soul. And I imagine that many many people Anna met in the temple heard her story and saw her faithfulness and heard her story and received her instructions about the 70 Weeks applying to Jesus.
What became of Anna after this is not recorded. But what we can be sure of is she kept telling everyone she could about Jesus because literally in the present continuous Greek verse 38 says she “continually spoke of Him to all who were looking for the Redeemer.” This was the one string on her violin so to speak the rest of her life. And this is what we His followers should lead with and stick with the rest of our lives as well.
Of whom do you love to talk? Anna loved to talk about Jesus. Her name and her life reminds us of God’s grace that calls wonder women to be pastors and prophets who are never alone because God is with them as they tell everyone about Jesus and sing his praises. Is that your plea? As we celebrate communion, is that your praise? If it is, would you read out loud with me our closing Scripture found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)? God’s word says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”