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Reviews | In the Image of God

In the Image of God

Michael Edgecombe

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

147 pages

In the Image of God

The Christadelphian review (from May 2013)

In the Image of God

THE title doesn’t state explicitly what this book is about. Its origin is a series of articles published in The Christadelphian, which ran under the same title from January 2008 to May 2009. These articles were written to provide informed, scripture-based comment on the roles and activities of sisters in an ecclesial context, and to examine the responsibilities of brothers to work with them. That original material has been further developed and expanded for this book, which contains 148 pages and 24 chapters. The result is a readable and digestible examination of the topic.

Of all the subjects attracting our attention today, none can be as relevant or sensitive than the matter of how the talents of sisters can best be used in a 21st century ecclesia. Today’s society presses for equality in all areas, and the achievements of women not only equal, but in some cases exceed, those of men. Against this background the ecclesial environment can appear restrictive, discriminatory even.

Using sound reasoning from Genesis onwards, the author carefully and sympathetically examines God’s teaching on this subject. He explores the relative positions of man and woman at creation and the impact of sin entering. Using Old Testament examples, firm foundations are laid for the New Testament position. Miriam, a leader among women and a respected prophetess, had many qualities, but when she sought equality with her brothers the answer from the Lord was emphatic. Deborah on the other hand, a judge and respected source of wise counsel, would not take the role reserved for men when Israel needed a leader. Instead she pledged her support for Barak and with him under God’s hand won a great victory.

The New Testament teaching of the Apostle Paul is clear, and the book’s explanations for today’s setting are useful. Brother Edgecombe does this with sound reasoning based on scripture principles. All the potentially awkward topics are covered sympathetically, including the wearing of head coverings and the topics of teaching and silence. The author wisely acknowledges that black and white answers are not always available and ecclesias need to work through some of these teachings carefully and prayerfully. ‘If the principles are honoured, even if in slightly different ways, then ecclesias may live in mutual respect and acceptance, as the Lord Jesus Christ would wish’ (page 125).

In writing this book Brother Edgecombe received help from others (brothers and sisters) and the result is therefore not to be considered only as one man’s view. In an age when it is difficult to respond positively to the challenges posed by man-made rules and godless philosophies, simple Bible teaching as expounded in this book will be of great help. It is recommended to all brothers, sisters and ecclesias, and not just those confronting these issues directly.

Andrew Bramhill

The Testimony review (from September 2011)

Men and women in Christ

ON ITS establishment, the Christadelphian community sought to free itself from the shackles of false Christianity and to recapture the purity of apostolic belief and practice. It was recognised as essential that all brothers and sisters of the Lord should turn their backs on the behaviour and attitudes of the world, and, at least as important, that they reject the errors of corrupted Christianity. This was a struggle in both the first and the nineteenth centuries, and it remains a struggle in the twenty-first century.

In the 1800s our brethren modelled ecclesial practice as closely as possible on principles drawn from the New Testament. Thus our community was established as an egalitarian lay community—a body of professionals and unskilled workers, middle and lower classes, men and women all working together to promote the gospel. From the earliest days, all members of the ecclesia regardless of gender could vote in ecclesial elections and at business meetings where the activities of the individual congregations were determined. The early volumes of the Christadelphian provide ample evidence that both brothers and sisters were actively engaged in activities that involved teaching, preaching, music, preparing candidates for baptism, writing and welfare. The only sphere of activity closed to sisters was the leadership and teaching at formal ecclesial meetings, this restriction being based on New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

Modern dangers

From time to time in our history, voices have arisen to challenge the generally accepted understanding of the differing roles of brothers and sisters in the ecclesia. Movements like the suffragettes led some brothers and sisters to question the Bible’s teaching in this area. At times, a few who were seduced by unsound ideas on the subject made shipwreck of their faith; but until a second wave of feminism swept the Western world in the 1960s and 1970s questions about gender and ecclesial service had only a marginally destabilising influence on ecclesial harmony.

Such is no longer the case. The ecclesial world in the closing decades of the twentieth and the early years of the twenty-first century has been troubled by increasing agitation on these issues. Inevitably this has led to extreme positions being adopted at both ends of the spectrum, considerable disharmony within and between ecclesias, and the disheartening of many of Christ’s little ones.

Given the active promotion of unsound teaching on the role of sisters in the ecclesias, much of it via electronic means which facilitate unscreened and unscrupulous propaganda, it is timely that a concise and highly readable book on the subject has been published. Brother Michael Edgecombe’s In the Image of God is based on a series of articles under this title that he wrote jointly with Brother Russell Taylor and Sister Rebecca Lines (now Archer), and which were published in the Christadelphian magazine from 2008 to 2010.

Commencing his argument with the Creation record, Brother Michael presents a compelling case using language which is profound yet accessible. He establishes very early the essential point that the Bible’s teaching on the roles of brothers and sisters is rooted in events surrounding Creation, rather than in the consequences of the Fall as some have suggested. This is a vital point when interpreting New Testament teaching on the subject, which itself is derived from the early chapters of Genesis.

When appropriate, Brother Edgecombe’s conclusions are presented starkly, their boldness standing out all the more because in several places he clearly acknowledges that what he offers is only a tentative or speculative conclusion. The author is unequivocal about the key issues, however, because he recognises that loose thinking and unsound teaching has a devastating impact on individuals and ecclesias. These principles are not ones on which we may agree to differ.

In certain sections the text is sparkling. Particularly enjoyable in this vein is Brother Michael’s demolition of the suggestion that Jesus appointed only male apostles merely because he was concerned to avoid challenging societal norms. The dramatic, staccato presentation of the vast number of instances when our Lord deliberately challenged such norms, sustained over several pages, is powerful.

Building up, not breaking down

Brother Michael’s tone is overwhelmingly positive. He approaches the subject from a Scriptural perspective to demonstrate that the Bible’s teaching on this issue is integrated with the broader redemptive plan under which God is calling out from the nations a people for His Name who will become the bride of His Son. The author does not close his eyes to the negative, however, and his approach to countering the key radical positions achieves a remarkable balance between being polemical and ignoring ‘the elephant in the room.’

Avoiding undue polemicism, therefore, and without citing specific Christadelphian works promoting the radical agenda, the author tackles head-on several of the key arguments used by those who have challenged the Bible’s teaching on the distinctive roles of brothers and sisters in the ecclesia. The book will, therefore, prove invaluable for all who have been troubled by those who sow discord in the ecclesial world in relation to this subject.

The question of head-coverings at ecclesial meetings is discussed in two chapters devoted to this issue. It is a sad indictment on our community that this should have become such a controversial issue in recent years. The case for sisters covering their head (presented alongside the concomitant case for brethren keeping their head uncovered) at the memorial meeting is underpinned by sound exposition. Brother Michael acknowledges, however, the need for discretion as to how the principle laid down by Paul is applied, and accepts that at the margins there is likely to be variation in practice.

There is a strong tone of respect throughout the book for the contributions that can and should be made to ecclesial life by sisters. In the penultimate chapter, the author provides practical advice about avenues of service that are open to sisters within the Biblical model he presents. It must be said that not all ecclesias have recognised and utilised the potential of their sisters to the fullest extent possible, and we would all do well to review this list and consider whether we have been too restrictive in our approach in the past.

Other benefits

As well as providing a positive and uplifting answer to false teaching on gender-related issues in the household of faith, which is the focus of the work, In the Image of God includes exposition and advice of more general interest. As with the main theme, this is well founded on sound exegesis. For example, the book deals very sensitively with the valuable contribution that is made in the ecclesial world of those who are unmarried. There is also useful advice based on Paul’s writings in Ephesians and Colossians, and on Peter’s words in 1 Peter, for enhancing the spiritual effectiveness of the marriage state.

The author’s remarks on elders and deacons in the first century and their respective counterparts in the twenty-first are well made and will reward thoughtful consideration; so too his observations about prophets and prophecy. His observations on Sarah, Miriam and Deborah, while offered in the context of building the basic premises of the book, provide useful insights into the characters of these faithful sisters. These and other expositional gems add to the value of the work.

In the Image of God is an enjoyable book to read. More importantly, it is a valuable contribution to the discussion of issues relating to gender and service in the ecclesia, and its publication at such a time in the life of our community is very welcome. There is no doubt that it will be closely scrutinised by those who support its conclusions as well as those whose views it challenges. It is hoped that all who read it will find much to challenge their preconceived notions, strengthen their faith and help them prepare for the day when the ecclesia is united with its Bridegroom in the glories of the age of come.

Geoff Henstock

(Originally published in the September 2011 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 289-290), and is reproduced by kind permission.

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