What Should be the Position Today?
What Should be
the Position Today?
In a number of places throughout this book we have mentioned the
ability of sisters being denied when the restrictive verses are applied in
ecclesial life. This can be spiritually damaging to sisters, especially in
Both male and female receive the same education and when moving
into the sphere of work they have and face the same expectations in
professional life. Everyone is different but education today aims to bring the
person’s natural skills to their full potential. Many sisters are trained in
skills of study, organisation, leadership, speaking, teaching and caring. All
of these would be of benefit to the ecclesias if sisters were allowed to apply
The fact that many ecclesias do not adequately use sisters’
talents or skills can be both damaging to them as followers of Jesus and as
members of an ecclesia. Sisters may turn their interests instead to their jobs
and other areas where they can be of more use. Preventing sisters from doing
what they have the ability to do means they are not able to put into practice
the lesson taught in Jesus’ parable of the talents.
The Correct Use of Talents
Talent is an old word for a unit of money or weight and this is
what was originally meant in the parable Jesus told as recorded in Matthew
25:14-30. The interpretation of the parable goes beyond the unit of money to
the talents or skills of Jesus’ followers and how well they had used them in
Jesus’ service. In the parable the followers have different talents/skills but
are expected to use them wisely in the service of their master. The last
servant did not use his talents and was condemned for hiding them. The
application of this parable is wider than the work of sisters in the ecclesia.
Nevertheless the lesson is there. We are to use our talents in God’s service.
gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans
These gifts could also be called talents or skills: they are from
God to use in His service not to be hidden by us or to be forced to be hidden
Applying the Golden Rule to Sisters
Paul said, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in
humility count others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Jesus said:
“... whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the
law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Do these teachings not apply in our
attitudes towards sisters in Christ? How would you – any brother reading this –
feel if told: “You are capable of doing this talk, offering this work for God, saying
good public prayers, but we don’t allow males to do this?”
James criticises those who show favouritism:
really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, “You shall love your
neighbour as yourself,” you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit
sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
If it is wrong to show partiality on ground of clothing or wealth,
is it not also wrong to show it on grounds of gender?
Humility is from the heart and there is no reason that a sister
should not use a skill she has been given with an attitude of humility just as
a brother should do. But the fact that sisters have God-given abilities which
do not necessarily fit with the role supposedly given to them adds a greater
weight in the argument for using the talents they have “according to the grace
given to us”. It is very obvious from life’s experiences that
gifts/talents/skills are usually not
The Value of Participation
Research done on prejudice shows that stereotyping and
expectations or non-expectations influence the way people view themselves. This
affects their performance. It is true that many sisters do not want to give
talks, are nervous of reading to the congregation or entering into discussions
at Bible Classes and they should not be put under pressure to do so. However,
when they have started to do these things they often feel more valued. Giving a
talk gives a more focussed reason for studying. A woman entering a discussion
or giving a talk can look at things from a female perspective which gives the
balance intended in creation by God that men and women be complementary to each
other. The imbalance of the anti-woman approach has damaged society and has
damaged the ecclesias over the years.
Harm in Discrimination
In the first years of Christianity, there was pressure against
equality in Christ in several areas: nationality (Jew or Greek), class (slave
or free), gender (male or female). Despite the problems and errors of Western
civilisation, it is acknowledged in law and to a considerable extent in
practice, that discrimination against people in these areas is wrong. Society
in the first century was inclined to oppose the new position given to women. In
the 21st century, society is inclined to approve it, and to be considerably
offended by organisations which discriminate. The practical implication of this
is that we damage the spread and credibility of the Gospel if we follow our
restrictive traditions. And if we seek to maintain that this is Bible teaching,
by using anti-women arguments based on a few selective texts, we also damage
trust in the Bible.
Putting Principles into Practice
So what does this mean in practice? We believe that it means
different things in different places. Whatever happens, the aim should be that
everything should be done in Christian love. It is so important that those with
differing views respect those with whom they disagree. There should be no anger
and unkind words. There should be an attempt to understand those who disagree.
This should mean a tolerance of their point of view and an attempt at
compromise so that all sides can have some satisfaction that their position is
being accepted some of the time. Where sisters are not doing things any of the time, we don’t see Christ-like
forbearance but domination of one point of view over another. Forbearing should
apply to all issues where brothers and sisters disagree (Ephesians 4:1-3).
If sisters prayed and prophesied in the early ecclesias (1
Corinthians 11), should we not enable them to do the equivalent today? What
about presiding? It is interesting that no such position is noticeable in the
New Testament, and in the 1860s the majority of ecclesias in Britain held the
Breaking of Bread without any president. This means that the idea of a
president was probably introduced as a useful measure, but it cannot be claimed
as a Biblical “office”. Presiding is a matter of service to the ecclesia, not
leadership or ruling; indeed, it is in many ways another aspect of prophesying
in the apostle’s sense of edifying the church (1 Corinthians 14:3): the
president chooses appropriate readings and hymns and puts these together with
spiritual thoughts and encouragement. As with other ecclesial activities, it
should be done in the spirit of service, the same spirit as described by Robert
Roberts in his Voyage to Australia
(see quotation on page 187). Is there any reason (other than tradition) why a
sister should not do this? In everyday life we are accustomed to women
performing roles such as organising discussions on radio and television and
reading the news. Many of us have attended committee meetings at work where
women chair meetings and discussion groups, just as we have been taught at
school by women teachers or lectured in university by female lecturers.
Further, many of our sisters do teach in schools and lecture in universities.
In New Testament times, such activities by women would have seemed scandalous.
Today (in the West) it is regarded as normal.
For the first century world the early church set an example of
excellent practice towards women. It exalted their status and as far as was
possible it enabled sisters to contribute in service to the church in a manner
similar to the brothers. If we are to carry forward that Christ-like spirit, we
need to make the fullest possible use of sisters in our ecclesias today. To
restrict sisters on the basis of church practice of the middle ages, or
traditional anti-women interpretations of the Bible, is to fall below the
standards set for us in Christ.
Is the Breaking of Bread Different?
Although at Bible Classes and Conferences sisters are often
accepted as speakers, discussion group leaders or workshop organisers, fuller
involvement, especially at the Sunday Breaking of Bread, seems to be a sticking
Part of the reason may be an anxiety not to disturb those who are
uncertain about the Biblical validity of sisters’ involvement. This is
understandable because we rightly seek to put others before ourselves. But
according to 1 Corinthians 11:28, being challenged to live up to Christ’s
standards, rather than sitting comfortably, is an important element in the
Breaking of Bread.
Let a man
examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
But there is another reason, perhaps, why people are more cautious
about the Breaking of Bread. Although not supposedly part of our beliefs as
Christadelphians, some people do seem to regard the Breaking of Bread in a
similar manner to Roman Catholic or English High Church, that at the Breaking
of Bread we are especially close to God, unlike in everyday life. It is a
particularly holy occasion, and therefore women should not take part – or
should only take part in silence (apart from singing). But is either view
Biblical? We may feel closer to God
because we are concentrating on Him in worship, but that is a feeling and a
consciousness on our part. It is not the reality: God is always with us, as is
Jesus (Matthew 28:20); we are always in the presence of God.
And the suggestion that women shouldn’t take part in what is holy,
goes back to unbiblical attitudes to women. At the back of Durham Cathedral is
a line across the building. Before the Reformation, women were kept behind
this, far away from the supposedly holy end where the bones of Cuthbert lie!
Can we ask ourselves whether the eagerness by some in the brotherhood to keep
sisters out of active participation unwittingly owes something to this sort of
tradition and attitude?
Ideally we suggest that sisters, like brothers, should have the
opportunity to be involved in all areas of ecclesial service. Each should be
using their “different gifts according to the grace given to us.”