41. Sisters in the Ecclesia
“I want you to understand that the head
of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of
Christ is God.... A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and
glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from
woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for
man” (1 Cor. 11:3,7-9).
Here Paul is declaring that there are in the
divine order degrees of authority: first God, then Christ, then the man, and
finally the woman. He has no need to establish the first two degrees; no one is
going to dispute the ultimate supremacy of the Father and then the Son. He
establishes the last two degrees, not simply by decree, but by an appeal to
Scripture: the man was first created, and the woman was made “an help
meet” for him.
To the Corinthians, whose ecclesial peace was
being shattered by many disparate voices, some of them feminine, Paul
“As in all the churches of the saints,
the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to
speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything
they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.... It is a shocking
thing that a woman should address the congregation” (1 Cor.
So much does this run counter to the outlook and
inclinations of this century that it is vital to remind ourselves that the
apostles were appointed leaders, inspired by the Holy Spirit to give guidance to
the early ecclesias, and that their words have divine authority. Paul next
“If any one thinks that he is a prophet
or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command
of the Lord” (v. 37).
For us then in this important subject there can
be no modernist views about a “Pauline theology”, allegedly
differing from the teaching of Christ and putting forth no longer acceptable
views on the place of women. Rather, what we are reading is the holy and sober
counsel of men of God. To reject that counsel is to set up another, a human
authority in place of theirs, one more in tune with “modern
thinking”. It needs little thought to realize what a disaster that would
Our sisters, then, are called upon not to seek
prominence in the organized meeting of our ecclesias, but to accept a
subordinate role. Many ecclesias have adopted a rule that sisters should wear a
head covering at the memorial meeting, as a sign of this subordination (1 Cor.
11:5,6,10). The true sister of the Lord will wear her head covering not in a
spirit of resentment because she feels unfashionable, or rebellion because she
has her own ideas of women’s rights, but rather as a sign that she
acknowledges the authority of the ecclesial elders.
Members of the ecclesia will meet for purposes
other than the memorial service, as for example to study the Bible informally,
where the wearing of hats by sisters is most likely a matter of personal choice
and not ecclesial rule.
Similarly, in the matter of public speaking, the
sisters are to play a subordinate role, not seeking to be teachers in the
ecclesia, but to be “quiet”. The conclusion to be drawn, that the
man is by nature better fitted to assume this role, is one which few sisters
will dispute. Again, there may be informal occasions when it is agreed that
sisters may comment upon the study subject; but the reverent sister in Christ
will not abuse this opportunity, and will never be found “laying down the
law”. (For that matter, neither will the reverent brother!) The matter
certainly becomes a problem to the highly intelligent and well-educated sister,
who may find a lack of the right sort of leadership among the brothers in her
ecclesia. There will be a real need for her to exercise discretion and wise
judgment, so that the community is upbuilt in unity and faith, and not divided
because of her attitude.