Besides the duty of avoiding those who ought to be avoided, there is another lesson in the 16th chapt of Romans, which comes as a counteraction to the ideas that some have drawn from Paul’s remarks elsewhere on the position of women in the ecclesia. Paul has said “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” There is a tendency with some to drive this doctrine to an extreme. I have heard some speak contemptuously of the sisters as “mere women, only fit to nurse babies, and look after the pudding.” Against such a doctrine every true brother will earnestly protest. It is not only degrading to her whom God has given us for “an helpmeet”, but it is inconsistent with the Gospel which teaches that there is neither male or female in Christ: that we are all one in Christ Jesus. It is probably the natural extreme of the theory which flourishes on the other side of the water, and is equally to be reprobated in Christ. The one puts woman too high, and the other most certainly too low – so low as only tyrannical and selfish men would put them.

Paul’s allusions in the chapter referred to, help us to put the right boundary to Paul’s doctrine of feminine subjection in the other case. He commends to the attention of the Roman ecclesia one Phoebe, a sister whom he distinguishes as “a servant of the church at Cenchrea”. This implies a prominent, active, if not official position on the part of the sister in question. He further distinguishes her by making her the bearer of the epistle to the Romans, of which, for a time, she was the sole custodian. He entreats the whole Roman ecclesia on her behalf, saying of her that “she hath been a succourer of many, and of me also.” In the next verse he mentions another sister – Priscilla, as one who had, with her husband, for Paul’s life laid down her own neck. In verse 6 he sends his love to “Mary who bestowed much labour on him.” Further down, he salutes, among others, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Julia and the sister of Nereus, and the mother of Rufus. This is a standing apostolic recognition of the high place which sisters may fill in the Lord, if, in the grace of God, they have wisdom sufficient. True, there are not many such, but that is a misfortune of our times, and not a necessity of the thing itself. It may account for the cynical views of some, but ought not to be allowed to justify an unnatural, mischievious, and unscriptural theory.

Sisters are never likely to develop into noble servants of Christ if the door is shut in their face, by a theory which would consign them to cradles, pots and pans (our emphasis – CAM). I do not mean to suggest that cradles and pans are incompatible with the higher duties any more than the hammers, whoe lasts, or baking troughs of their rougher brethren, but a doctrine which would tie them all the time to these, is an offence and a mischief. It is the part of true nobility to shine in the performance of the humblest duties, we will not say “stoop”, or “condescend”, because there is no stooping in the case. These humble duties, which are most important in the economy of life, become exalted in the hands of intelligence and worth. But to insist on confining sisters to these, would be to ignore that fact that they have brains as well as bodies; and that men have other needs of help-meetship besides those of knife and fork. Such a boorish doctrine would destroy companionship, where brethren need it most, and unfit their wives the highest function of motherhood, which is to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In fact, it is a doctrine to be opposed and detested as much as any hurtful doctrine may be. The man who holds it, and much more the man who preaches it, deserves to be deprived of every social advantage, and to be shut up in a cave. This, in fact, is his destiny at last. (again, our emphasis CAM).

Robert Roberts