A Call for Reform
Now the time has come to make a formal “Call for Reform”. Please remember I make this call in the context of the studies and passages examined beforehand in this series. So when I make an assertion please go back and reference the pertinent study. By reminding yourself of those studies it may help you decide if the assertions being made have the merit I’ve assigned to them or whether they do not...
Fundamental Reform in Concept is Needed
Female believers do not have a role in the Body of Christ. There are no gender roles assigned to any believer in scriptures in the ecclesial setting. Every female believer is simply a member of the body of Christ and according to her “measure of faith” she is directed by Christ to serve. A female believer will of course bring different experiences and a different perspective to the that service. However those differences are good because all the members of the body have a unique individual perspective that makes their service valuable to the body. The unique value of every individual “part” is what keeps the body functioning and healthy!
Review the bible studies for reference to teachings and concepts!
The body of Christ has many members each working for the good of the body. There is no verse designating gender within the concepts of the “one body”. Yet in the metaphor chosen to personify the body it is “a bride”. What I mean to say by pointing this out is that while most religious communities have made the body dominantly “male” in its public expression, it is just interesting perhaps even should be humbling to note that the metaphor used is scripture is a feminine one. That while the body made up of males and females, is metaphorically described as a “bride”.
Fundamental Reform in Practice is Needed
Female believers must be free within the ecclesia to behave as believers. We make an appeal that we should teach the message of the Gospel for those within and without to see. People from without should see within our “embassy walls” the practices of the Coming Kingdom of God. They must see “all” as one being , without observable deference to gender, economic standing, social standing or ethnic background. We are ambassadors of the Gospel. Our meetings, conducted in His Name (where ever they take place), must reflect the principles and practices of that coming government.
Beloved fellow believers, it is incumbent on us that all members of the body pray, preside, exhort, preach, teach as the “Spirit gives them utterance” in the body of Christ. Why? Because this is what we are exhorted to do by Paul through the commandment of Christ. If there is any doubt as to whether gender restrictions should have a part in the body of Christ, should we not shudder at the thought of restricting the spirit on the basis of gender? Wouldn’t we take pause even to think Jesus might say to us in that Day. In as much as you silenced the spirit of one of these the least of my disciples, you silenced me?
Review the bible studies for reference to teachings and concepts!
Many female believers are acknowledged as “working side by side with Paul and others in the Gospel” by Paul: These are preaching, teaching, leading , serving as deacons, standing up for sound doctrine and working in the missionary journeys of Paul. I have put forward that the Scripture notes and refutes any suggestions that female believers should not speak. Paul acknowledges women “prayed and prophesied”. Christ himself commands that female believers earnestly desire to “prophesy”. And female believers are urged to pray in public for “all people”.
I have suggested that Galatians 3 teaches outright that having “put on Christ” we are to see each other as all the same not male-female but all as one.
May I suggest that we consider again that when Paul said to the Galatians “having put on Christ” he was addressing believers and their behaviors while already in the body (not seeking access to salvation). The Greek word and its direct meaning suggests his true reference. “having put on” the Greek meaning is: “having slipped into clothing” so now having done that (slipped into Christ) we are all one! Now clothed in Christ there is no distinction any more! If you “looked’ into the meeting would see the same clothing on each believer. This would render each individual believer indistinguishable regarding gender, slavery, being Jewish, or being Greek. Every single one of these sects of human society could be identified at a distance by their clothing. But we as believers in the ecclesia have “put on Christ” and now we are clothed by him, and are “all one” and exhorted to be without sects (or divisions) having been clothed uniformly by Him. In Christ then no other distinction is observable, necessary or justified. We are one body with many members, but by scripture’s directions we are view each other (no longer) by a human point of view as we once was even Jesus viewed, for we are all NOW a new creation
Fundamental Reform in Paradigm is Needed
We recognize that we often “miss the mark” as imperfect but devoted believers. We know that if Christ exhorts us to forgive each other (70x7) he will forgive us as well. His forgiveness is even more abundant. As we know sometimes we “just don’t get it” and therefore even believers of sincere intentions can be off the mark. What if in a sincere attempt to include all believers as one in His body we were “off the mark”? Would he not then judge our heart’s intent. If we exercise the faith that he indeed will not “judge by what his eyes see or what his ears hear” but look into and know our hearts then we are free to shift our fundamental paradigm to inclusion of all members of that body “without distinction”. I suggest he will show grace as we seek inclusion and not judgment. In this I believe we (relying on his grace) can be at peace.
So again a make an appeal that if there is even a reasonable possibility we should not be restricting female believers then we must switch to the side of inclusion. Why would we lean toward the side of sisters who need to be included? Because some are in pain and are asking! Having put on Christ strongly suggest a uniform of practices among believers. I am sure we are presuming on His Grace now while restricting some members based on these biblical concepts. So my ‘call’ and question remains this: How can we can we continue to limit any member based on gender when Paul tells us we are all one and that no “sects” should be designated by ‘sex’ of the believer?
Born Again, Reinstructed
Jesus commands the most radical shift in paradigm. With Nicodemus he explained a shift is so drastic that one must be born again (re-instructed as if from birth) to be able to accept it. We will all give account for how we treated Jesus based on how we treated each other. If there are believers that think they are diminished, devalued or demoted by nature of their gender, we need to search every possible way to include them, to increase their value, to promote their gifts, to enhance their perceived position.
On that Final Day I would rather have to stand for having embraced and included the gifts of every servant of Christ in every aspect of service. I would rather give account for treating every member in the body as exactly the same, than to have to explain why I did not. By our Master’s word the poor were to be treated just as the rich. Through Paul He extends the concept and says: the Greek believer was to be treated just as the Jewish believer, the slave was to be treated just as the master, and the female was to treated just as the male.
Jesus left clear instruction on how he views leader and watches how they treat his “little ones”. Jesus has stated repeatedly that the Church is “his own body”. In this we can see how Jesus takes it personally when we do not treat or regard his little ones in the way he has ask. When in the ecclesia regarding gender we must be “born again”. “For as much as you did it not unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it not to me.”
“First the spiritual then the natural”
Now true unity must be our goal. But in order to discuss the practical possibility of implementing change in an ecclesia (regarding females believers) we must frankly address a few of the more practical human obstacles in implementing change.
One of the Primary Obstacle to Change
The first obstacle has been evident in many meetings on many issues. That being a threatening stance from believers who indicate they will leave the meeting if any changes are likely implemented. And the real question comes up then: How can we in the Name of Christ suggest that we reconsider traditional teachings without causing those brethren of the traditional thought to feel challenged?
When challenge is set forward by those holding a different point of view than the traditional one there is often the fear that introducing the subject is divisive. But let there be no mistake, to request or promote discussion and review of a doctrine or a practice is to obey the Lord. For it is Paul who writes “test the spirits (attitudes) to see if they are from God”. It is the person who fights against exploration or disrupts challenging dialog who is being divisive and fearful. No need for fear brethren truth of Scripture will always be revealed to those who seek it, it will “hold its own“ under scrutiny.
The scripture tells us to be of one mind. But clearly we are all different and have varying mind sets on any discussion. But debate and Godly dialog must be undertaken to achieve some unity of mind. Any one who says “it must be my way or I am leaving” has identified themselves as divisive and must be admonished to a better “spirit”. Remember what Paul says: “Note those who create divisions among you and have nothing to do with such.” I personally suggest this is applied in this way. Give no standing to those who threaten division. Do not allow that attitude to affect your behavior.
Don’t give up on those who forget that “love does not insist on its own way” but do not give into it. We would serve the true spirit of unity better if Scripturally speaking we guide them away from this thinking. Re-teach them about love of their brethren, exhort them to be patient, acknowledge their fears, but do not give the “floor” to those who have threatened division. It’s wrong, and there is a simple word we use for the action of a person who says “If this does not go my way I will make trouble, I will leave the meeting” – it is called “blackmail”, in this case, spiritual blackmail.
If those suggesting change were to say, “Do this or we are pulling out of the meeting”, we would call them to account and implore them to consider otherwise and rightly so. So if any on the side of traditional thought start making threats to withdraw, then we must privately address that divisive ideology. We know that this attitude is destructive no matter what the issue. So whatever we do we toward the contemplation of change. We need not allow a threatening attitude to effect the effort toward considering the merits of change.
In the days of Jesus’ introduction of the Gospel there were among the people those who faithfully practiced “the traditions of men”. Jesus challenged these practices based on human tradition and said they had nothing to do with God’s Word. Those whose beliefs were based deeply on those ‘traditions’ were enraged, so much so that they conspired to kill Jesus.
Others were also amazed perhaps even stunned by Christ’s teachings. They on the other hand went to Jesus and ask why he would say such things! Those who went off in a rage separated themselves from the Grace of God. Those who didn’t understand these new teachings, went to Jesus for understanding and for instruction. And they received it. These were then the initial recipients of God’s grace and salvation through Jesus
We must follow Christ
We also can go to Jesus in prayer and look within his words for guidance. As a group we seek to understand the will of Christ for his own body, his bride. We must not (on either side of an issue) let those who would threaten to leave dictate or direct our contemplation of the counsel of Christ. If change is deemed scriptural and advisable, change can not be made nor denied based on being blackmailed with withdrawal by any believers.
Now may I note here that sometimes some believers fall back or fall away because of an issue and its implications for them and their life in an ecclesia. This public issue has caused many believers to express and acknowledge how disenfranchised and deeply discouraged they are (men and women). So, I would like to note a difference between the person suffering from discouragement and perhaps absent (in body or spirit) and the one threatening to leave the meeting over an issue.
It becomes the responsibility of balanced, mature and spiritually mined people to teach and exhort each other to good works. Those threatening to withdraw should be ask to consider the principles of love that Christ asks his disciples to apply in the body. Any mature bible student can easily identify those very principles and exhort others to them.
Another Obstacle is Politics
According to our Ecclesia Guide each ecclesia is autonomous. However we do desire close association with other ecclesiae and we do not wish to live in a vacuum. We need each other and we are gladly part of a larger community. Part of what we do as an ecclesia is influenced by what we think, know, or fear will be the reactions of other meetings to our practices. Jesus gave little or no allowance to the religious or secular politics of his day. I make my appeal that we should by mutual agreement be unconcerned with politics as well.
We have common statements of faith which bind us as a larger community. However those issues which result in different local practices from one meeting to another and are not included in that statement should need no unsolicited explanation. These secondary practice issues should not have any effect on our interaction with each other and certainly not in our fellowship.
Across the ecclesiae there is a wide range of habits and practices. As a general rule we do not seek out or comment on them. If we are visiting another meeting we accommodate their practices where our beliefs allow us to. Otherwise we basically mind our own business as we should. We have noted that we must not allow the people who threaten departure to keep us from re-considering our practices. Likewise I suggest we can not let the fear of political fallout affect our considerations and decisions either. The range of female believer’s service in an ecclesia should be an autonomous issue.
I have attended meetings where once in the doors female believers can not speak a word. I have attended meetings where females believers lead S.S. and Bible classes. I have been in meetings where sisters are asked to pray. However whatever an ecclesial position is let us learn our lesson from Peter. Who though devoted to the Lord was still once momentarily swept away with insincerity. Peter knew from revelation that God shows no partiality yet he withdrew from doing what was right for fear of the disapproval of those visiting from another ecclesia.
A believing female’s service in any given meeting is not a matter of written first principle. The issue then is not a matter for inter ecclesial politics. We should seek unity within our meetings so whatever an ecclesia’s practices are we should willing and able to effectively defend them scripturally. Some ecclesiae are seeking models for how to address, discuss, and resolve this issue in the Spirit of Christ perhaps some of these ideas may help in that endeavor
The primary and basic obstacle of course!
This almost goes without saying but clearly one very basic obstacle to resolving this matter is that sincere believers have different opinions on the scriptural understanding of this issue. However this is the most easily resolved because one can (and we had begun) to address this issue biblically and spiritually . However very often it is these before-mentioned obstacles that get in the way of decisions based on study and discussions. It has been these other issues that impede prayerful and unifying considerations.
In many areas of our community there are some parts of the body in pain over this issue, I am sure no ecclesia desire that to be so. Each ecclesia suffering in this way (not all are) can reach an agreement if the are devote to healing and acheiving true unity among its members. The squelching or absence of a willingness to address such issues severely impedes the health of a meeting. That unwillingness to be open minded to scripture challenges may suggest to some a weakness in argument on the issue.
The formula for a basic solution.
Let us consider as a template the conference in Jerusalem recorded in Acts. Some had gone off on their own account and began to teach faithful Gentiles they must follow the law to be saved. So new disciples were being instructed to follow both the traditions Christ rebuked and the regulations of the law.
Because of this conflicting teaching the ecclesiae sent people for some guidance from the Apostles. How important was the issue?
Ÿ It was a serious issue because it was detrimental to the growth and health of the members of Christ’s body.
Ÿ It was a false teaching and harmful in placing an unnecessary burden on believers. (The weight of uncalled for regulations distracted them from a better understanding of faith and exploration of the “weightier matters of the law”. )
How did they resolve the issue
Peter, James, the Elders and Apostles, Paul and others had something to add to the discussion. Together they worked it out. What did they do?
Ÿ They had “much debate”
Ÿ They listened intently
Ÿ They called on Scriptures
Ÿ They appealed to reason
Ÿ They took notice of observable evidence
Ÿ They acknowledged the action of Holy Spirit
Ÿ They didn’t leave until a conclusion and action was set.
The resulting conclusion and the letter sent to the ecclesiae was so direct, so succinct so wonderfully to the point. Such brevity should send shudders down the spine of any believer who has ever written a 5 page explanation to a single question. This entire event had much debate and called to the floor those living closest to the Lord Himself and yet it was summed up in two phrases, two directives. These believers solicited the Holy Spirit for help and accepted the testimony of the Spirit, and so can we. Then perhaps our decision will place no greater burden on female believers than is necessary.
Christ introduced in the Gospel the Good News that faith pleases God more than ritual and that Love alone can produce a “perfect work”. This burden of obedience to “law” and ritual was the very one Christ had come to relieve us of. When the believers got the message that no burden of obedience to law and ritual was to be placed on them they rejoiced. Then they went forward with building up of the body of Christ without unnecessary weight place on them, officially at least.
Overcoming the Obstacles with study and prayer
The first century ecclesiae’s Apostles sent forth their counsel to resolve a conflicting teaching and its practice among them! Honest debate and resolution is scriptural. More than we think we can also go to Christ the Spirit and the “Apostles and Elders”. We can consider and resolve this issue and make determination for our practices. We have the benefit of their teachings and examples and we can still call on the Spirit to guide us.
Next overcoming the obstacles with a plan.
We can see from the example in Acts that there are issues important enough to come together. For such issues we must face the various aspects debate and disagreement and work toward a resolution . The first obstacle is often the behaviors anticipated among those involved in the process. So an ecclesia should first determine that there must be some “rules of engagement”. here are a few suggestions but each meeting clearly knows its own issues and may make other guidelines that would best facilitate their discussions in the spirit of Christ.
“Let everything be done decently and in order”
1. One genuine fear on the part of those requesting dialog and hoping for change is the anticipation of being accused of causing division. Asking for exploration and needing to work through a conflict of understanding is not causing division. But any side of an issue threatening to withdraw or disrupting honest debate is however!
Suggested Rule A.
No one threatens to walk out during the ‘process’. One may attempt to demonstrate the weaknesses of an “argument” but not the weaknesses or personality of the author of the argument. If one ‘attacks’ another personally their right at the “podium” and is discontinued.
2. There is legitimate scholarship on either side of the issue to suggest that people of sincere faith and love for Christ could come to different conclusions. Consider the possibility that a person speaking may be motivated by the Spirit in what they say.
Suggested Rule B.
Each should pray for a balanced heart and strive to listen to the debate with as open a mind as one can achieve. Therefore set aside thoughts that accuse anyone else of self interest as we are not qualified to judge such things.
3. Jesus included women during His ministry in places that were they were not allowed to participate by “traditional thought”. Therefore:
Suggested Rule C.
During study and presentation, during discussion and debate the ecclesia agrees to be gender blind. Every baptized believer who will live with the outcome of said discussions gets to participates in them. Each one so participating is given the exact same formats for expression and are afforded the exact same level of attention.
4. The body of Christ is a unit of members functioning at the direction of the head for the health of the body as a whole. The goal of any dialog and decision must be to be as inclusive as is scripturally possible!
Suggested Rule D
It must be agreed at the outset that inclusion of every member is the goal. We must agree that no members can identify any other member’s specific part to play in the body, this is determined by the Spirit
If as a result of this dialog the practice of treating all disciples alike regardless of gender is implemented, the easiest phase lies ahead. There are simply to be no gender roles in Christ’s ecclesia. This concept to be scripturally applied should be without caveat. Regarding female believers: no special rules, no special restrictions, no special obligations just inclusion in the operations of the meeting. To put it simply both female believers and male believers begin to operate as though they were without gender in regard to service. All believers according to “their measure of faith” offer service when and where its needed. Whatever has been done regarding males is now done regarding females. It’s that simple! Let us emulate the spirit of the brief formal directive from the Counsel in Jerusalem. The fewer directives, the less to be continually debated and interpreted.
It is very interestingly to note the two “laws” (out of literally thousand of laws and traditions of the elders) that the Gentile believers might be asked to follow. Do not eat what has its blood in it and refrain from immorality. If honored these two alone saved the Gentile believer from the terrible illnesses and death that resulted from these unsanitary practices. And these were known as common among the Gentiles. So, let us take a lesson from that. And when we make changes to included female believers in various functions in the ecclesia, we must add no additional restrictions when implementation begins. Perhaps this way will can also keep the ecclesia from illness or death (metaphorically speaking).
Some Ramifications of a genderless ecclesia.
The immediate ramification for eliminating gender as guide for ecclesial service will be:
Ÿ Joy in the increase of human resource available for meeting, preaching, teaching.
Ÿ Exhilaration of the spirit for those feeling diminished.
Ÿ Enthusiasm in preaching empowering some who preach. Having eliminated the need to explain the complicated rationale of why potential believing females must take on a ambiguously defined “role” once baptized.
Ÿ Encouragement as some have come to the despairing conclusion we can not examine our own traditions. That while we ask others to, we can not adapt to change.
Ÿ Triumph in proving that a people who claim to know God’s Truth can themselves reflect and reconsider their own traditions!
Conclusion of this Series
Beloved brothers and sisters, I do not suggest that we include women in Christ’s ecclesial services because the world has evolving views of women. However, because the world has evolving views of women we are compelled to see if our long standing practices of excluding them really stands up to scriptural scrutiny. If our practices are sound the truth of the matter will prevail. If our practices are not sound, why do we hesitate to change them? I implore all that we must not be afraid of the exploration.
Many Bible Students have come to believe that the Scriptures do not teach that females have any unique gender role in the ecclesia. They are convinced scriptures indicate that faithful females are to be regarded just in that right alone. So in closing I let me say that perhaps the real “Call for Reform” is not intended to be an assumption of what the reform must be but that at very least a we should seek a reformation of our hearts - that reformation being demonstrated in a willingness to address the issue openly and scripturally (where ever it is being requested). Now let that be a reformation in its own right.
Let us then like that those
in Berea take the “noble” position and search the scriptures to whether or not
these things are so… And finally, in the words of Dr. Thomas: "O
that men could be induced now to devote themselves to the study of the scriptures
without regard to articles, creeds, confessions, and traditions! These things
are mere rubbish..." (John Thomas, Elpis Israel, 1849, page 177)