As servants of God and followers
of Jesus we aim to live up to the standards set for us in the Bible. We do not
always achieve this and frequently ask for forgiveness for our failings. It is
up to us to regularly assess our lives and ask for guidance to improve. As part
of this process we need to study the teachings of Jesus and compare his
standards with the way we are doing things, in our personal lives, in our
relationships with others and in our ecclesial lives.
The Old and The New
There is a clear contrast between the Old Testament and the New.
The Old distinguishes between Jew and Gentile; the New between believer and
unbeliever. The Old distinguishes between clean and unclean foods; the New
between clean and unclean behaviour in the sense of moral conduct, not food.
The Old has circumcision only for males; the New has baptism for male and
female. The Old excludes the handicapped, the ill, and the women from full
participation in worship in the Tabernacle or Temple; the New includes them,
for perfection is not a matter of the outward appearance but of the heart. In
the Old, participation by women is on a minor scale, in the New the women are
much more involved.
The Old sets the background for the New, and in retrospect we can
see how. It is after all in the Old Testament that we are first taught that
“... the LORD sees not as man
sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Paul demonstrates that the change we see from Old to New is what
God had in mind all through history.
read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not
made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are
fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in
Christ’s grace which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:4-7)
Historically there has been much conflict between nations, within
societies, and between men and women. Jesus came to bring reconciliation:
have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature,
which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there
cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian,
slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen
ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and
patience, forbearing one another.... (Colossians
Here we have spelled out for us in practice the principles by
which we are to behave towards each other – with compassion, kindness,
lowliness, meekness, and tolerance. The teaching of Jesus regards the Golden
Rule as the universal guide to our actions: “... in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for
this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). In Christ we do not
have a set of laws, which we analyse and dissect and apply like the scribes and
the Pharisees. We have principles of how we treat people. If we apply these
principles in relationships between brothers and sisters, there is no place for
“putting others down”, for asserting that women are inferior to men, that
sisters in Christ have to bear in themselves a particular responsibility for
the sins of the world. It is Jesus who bore these sins, and he took them away –
for all of us, male and female.
Different but Complementary
Men and women are different, but complementary. Their differences
should be valued and appreciated. All our abilities should be regarded as God’s
gifts to be used for the benefit of our families, our society and our
There is no place within the community of believers for
discrimination on grounds of gender, race, or status. The New Testament
describes gifts of service within the ecclesia, and these are described without
male/female distinction. It was difficult to implement this egalitarian
teaching in societies where social and class and gender distinction were
expected and strongly emphasised. Worldly attitudes influenced relationships,
and the misogyny in ancient societies – so noticeably absent from the Bible –
was reintroduced into the Christian communities as they moved further and further
from original Bible teaching. An anti-woman approach was imposed on
interpretations of Genesis in a manner which distorted the teaching of the
text. Because of the male-orientated nature of Old Testament society, it is
easy to use the Old Testament to argue a case that this is how it should be.
But it is not appropriate for believers in Christ to do this, any more than we
should argue for slavery or polygamy.
When the Bible is read in its context, it produces a positive
description of men and women working together in service. That is what we
should aim at today. To refuse this is harmful to individuals, impoverishing to
the ecclesia, and damaging to the cause of Christ.
Two Paths: Which will You Choose?
So, how are we to regard sisters in Christ? Do we select from the
Old Testament and from pagan teachings, and treat them as underage children,
property of fathers and husbands, disallowed from making decisions of their
own, worth only half of what men are? Are their minds to be ignored, their
abilities disregarded? Always to be told what to do by men? Always to learn but
never to teach? Is this what God created women for? Is this the teaching of the
Old Testament – or only of a selected series of quotations? This is how
Aristotle rated women. But did Jesus take this view? Did Paul? Is this a
wholesome or Christ-like view? Surely we should have a better approach and a
mature, spiritual understanding.
We all, brothers and sisters, are a new creation in Christ Jesus.
We are being transformed by the renewal of our minds. In Jesus we have a new
and living way.
Jesus treated women as valued individuals, as disciples who should
learn from him. He told women at the tomb to tell his brothers the good news of
the Resurrection. He encouraged them to prophesy on the Day of Pentecost, to
speak in exhortation and to pray with those who were gathered together in his
name. He encouraged them to be submissive, as he had been submissive: to serve,
rather than to be served; and he encouraged their husbands to do the same. He encouraged
them, renewed in their minds, to teach and admonish one another with all
wisdom, to be faithful people who were thereby qualified to teach others.
Which is a Christian position? Which is a sub-Christian position?
Which will you choose?
A Special Obligation
There is a special obligation on us Christadelphians. We claim to
go by the Bible and only by the
Bible: “Back to the Bible” is one of our main stated aims. We claim to believe
in “A Religion that Makes Sense”, as one of our pamphlets put it. We should not
therefore shelter behind traditional interpretations or preconceived concepts,
but choose and defend teaching and practice based on a comprehensive analysis
of Scripture. We are often critical of other churches for going by tradition
rather than by the Bible. It is a human characteristic, which we all share, to
prefer to continue in traditions to which we have become accustomed. New
interpretations are seen as challenging, and are automatically suspect. Our
call in this book is for us all to go back to the Bible, to re-examine
traditional interpretations (whether produced by our community or by other
ecclesiastical traditions), and to be prepared to ask of ourselves what we also
ask from others: “What does the Bible really
Pressure for change thus arises directly from the Bible itself,
not from changes in society around us. Our aim is not to be revolutionary,
although Jesus and the early church were in many ways, but to be true to the
teaching of God and Jesus and in working out how to put it into practice in the
21st century. We hope and pray that our book will stimulate discussion on what
the Bible actually teaches – to the benefit of us all.
therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the
calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with
patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians
speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the
head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every
joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes
bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. (Ephesians
As each has received a gift, employ it for one
another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who
utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the
strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter
Averil & Ian McHaffie
176 Granton Road
Edinburgh EH5 1AH
19th March 2009
Bible Teaching on the Work
of Brothers and Sisters
in the Ecclesia
By the same authors
Principles and Practice
An Examination of New Testament practices like Fasting, Feet
Washing, Breaking of Bread, Baptism, Laying on of Hands, and Kosher Food, with
suggestions why we think it correct to continue to observe literally only
Baptism and Breaking of Bread today, while keeping to the principles behind the
others. Questions for Thought and Discussion are included at the end of each
– or free by email
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
An Examination of the section on headcovering, a review of the
historical and cultural background, a critical analysis of various
interpretations, and some suggestions as to how this section should be understood
and applied today.