Ecclesial Life

So far in this Study we have spoken of our personal spiritual responsibilities. However, we have a duty to meet together with others who share our hope. Again, this should be something we naturally desire to do. We have shown that after baptism we enter a wilderness journey towards the Kingdom. It is only natural that we should desire to make contact with fellow-travellers. We are living in the last days before Christ's coming; to overcome the many complex trials which assail us in these times, we need to fellowship with those who are in the same position: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together...but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day (of the second coming) approaching" (Heb. 10:25 cp. Mal. 3:16). Believers should therefore make every effort to make contact with each other through letters and travelling to meet with each other to share Bible study, the communion service, and preaching activities.

We have each individually been 'called out' of the world unto the great hope of the Kingdom. The word 'saint' means 'a called out person', and can refer to all true believers rather than just to a few notable believers of the past. The Greek word which is translated 'church' in the English Bible is 'ecclesia', meaning 'an assembly of called out ones', i.e. believers. The 'church' therefore refers to the group of believers, rather than the physical building in which they meet. To avoid misunderstanding in the use of this term, Christadelphians tend to refer to their 'churches' as 'ecclesias'.

Wherever there are a number of believers in a certain town or area, it is logical that they find a meeting place in which to meet regularly. This could be in a believer's house or in a hired hall. Christadelphian ecclesias meet world-wide in places like community centres, hotel conference rooms, self-built halls or private homes. The purpose of an ecclesia is to build up its members through collective Bible study, and also to collectively witness to the world by letting their light shine through preaching. A typical schedule for a Christadelphian ecclesia could be something like this:-

SUNDAY 11 a.m. Breaking of Bread service.

6 p.m. Public preaching activity.

WEDNESDAY 8 p.m. Bible study.

The ecclesia is part of the family of God. In any close-knit community, each member needs to be sensitive and submissive to the others; Christ himself was the supreme example in this. Despite his evident spiritual supremacy, he acted as the "servant of all", washing the disciples' feet whilst they argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest among them. Jesus bids us follow his example in this (John 13:14,15; Matt. 20:25-28).

Now that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have been withdrawn, there is no place for 'elders' as there was in the early church; "for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matt. 23:8). Christadelphians therefore refer to each other as 'brother' or 'sister', being on first-name terms regardless of their differing positions in secular life. This said, it is evident that there should be respect for believers who have known the true God for many years, or who have rapidly matured in spiritual matters through their commitment to God's Word. The advice of believers like this will be greatly valued by those who are seeking to follow God's Word. However, they will only take the advice of other believers insofar as it is an accurate reflection of God's Word.

The teaching which is given in the ecclesia should obviously be based upon God's Word. Those who do the public speaking within the ecclesia are therefore reflecting God, speaking on His behalf. Because God is male, it follows that only the brethren should do the work of public instruction from God's Word. 1 Cor. 14:34 could not be plainer: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak". 1 Tim. 2:11-15 traces the reason for this back to the events in the garden of Eden; because Eve taught Adam to commit sin, woman should not now teach man. The fact that God formed Adam before Eve is a sign that "the head of the woman is the man" (1 Cor. 11:3), and therefore the man should spiritually lead the woman rather than vice versa.

Because of all these things, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in (Greek 'through') childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (1 Tim. 2:11-15).

From this it is clear that the Bible does define certain separate roles for men and women believers. The women being commanded in certain cases to "marry, bear children, guide the house" (1 Tim. 5:14), indicates that their sphere of spiritual endeavour is that of the home. The public work in the ecclesia is therefore left to the man. This is in sharp contrast to the humanistic theories of sexual equality, whereby the committed career woman can claim equality with her husband in every way, from the management of the family budget to the wearing of unisex clothing. The production of children seems to have been relegated to an inconvenience, which is seen as necessary to preserve some level of emotional sanity in a totally materialistic and selfish world. True believers will shun this spirit of the age, although, as always, a balance is necessary.

The husband must not lord it over the wife, but love her as Christ loved us (Eph. 5:25).

"Husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge (i.e. treat the wife sensitively, according to your knowledge of God's Word), giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7).

In spiritual terms, baptism into Christ makes man and woman equal (Gal. 3:27,28 cp. 1 Cor. 11:11). However, this does not affect the clear principle that 'the man is the head of the woman' (1 Cor. 11:3) in practical and spiritual matters, both within the family and the ecclesia.

In order to demonstrate recognition of this principle, the female believer should wear a head covering whenever a brother is teaching from God's Word. This means in practice that a hat or headscarf should be worn to all ecclesial meetings. The difference in roles between man and woman should be emphasized by the way men and women wear their hair (1 Cor. 11:14,15). "Every woman that prayeth...with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head (i.e. her husband v. 3): for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered...for this cause ought the woman to have a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband" (1 Cor. 11:5,6,10 A.V. mg.).

Having an "uncovered" head is "as if she is shaven", showing that an uncovered head is not a head without hair. Therefore a "covered" head is not one with hair on, but one that has a consciously provided head covering on it. Without a head-covering a woman cannot rely on her natural covering of hair; to do this is as though she has no hair in God's sight. It is wrong for a man to have a head covering (1 Cor. 11:7); this does not refer to having hair, but having a specific head covering.

In the surrounding culture of New Testament times, the only times a woman shaved her head were if she were revealed as a whore or an adulteress, or if she were mourning the the loss of her husband. For a woman to be shaven would show she had lost or denied her husband - i.e. Christ, in the type.

The woman represents the ecclesia, whilst the man represents Christ. As we have to make the conscious decision to have our sins covered by Christ, so the woman must make the conscious decision to cover her head. Trusting in her natural covering of hair is equivalent to trusting our own righteousness to save us as opposed to that of Christ.

Seeing that a woman's longer hair "is a (God-given) glory to her: for her hair is given her for a veil ('a natural clothing' the Greek implies [1 Cor. 11:15 A.V. mg.]), a woman should grow her hair in a manner which emphasizes her difference from the man. The difference between male and female hair styles should be used by the woman as an opportunity to highlight her separate role.

In these matters of a woman having long hair and wearing a head covering, we must be careful not to make the doing of these things merely tokenistic. If a sister has a truly spiritual and submissive demeanour (cp. 1 Peter 3:5), she will be subject to the brethren as the believers are to Christ, and will delight to show that submission in every way, including the wearing of a head covering. If the reason for these commands is understood, as with all God's commands, then there will be no reluctance to comply with them.

There is always work for sisters within the ecclesia - Sunday School teaching, and the host of other duties which do not involve public teaching or speaking, e.g. keeping accounts. Spiritually mature women can be encouraged to run teaching sessions for younger sisters (Tit. 2:3,4 cp. Miriam leading the women of Israel, Ex. 15:20).

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