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 today’s world.

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 them.

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.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.                                                                                                 (Romans 12:6)

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 by others.


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:

If you 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.  

(James 2:8-9)

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 gender based.


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 point.

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.”


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