(From Diary of a Voyage to Australia, pp. 141 and 142)




SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 1896 - It had been arranged that before leaving Dunedin, I should have a meeting with several fragments into which the Dunedin ecclesia had been broken from various causes. The object was, if possible, to unite them. In one case there were doctrinal divergencies that rendered union impossible (there must be one faith before there can be one body); these were not invited. In the other cases, it was what may be called old man-ism that was at the root of the trouble. The question, who should be chief, is the most destructive of all discords: "When pride cometh, then cometh contention." It is the Lord's express command to all who aspire to be his disciples: "Be servants: take the lowest place." "If any among you desire to be chief, the same shall be last of all." When the reasonable spirit of modest self-assessment prevails, dis-union is impossible; for each holds the other up instead of pulling him down. In this case, the affair was mixed up with the question: "Should women rule?" "Does not Paul forbid her to 'usurp authority over the man'?" If this question is treated in the spirit the Lord prescribes for all his brethren, there will be no danger or even question of the woman usurping authority over the man. If the last thing is for man to usurp authority over his brother - if, as Peter commands, "all are clothed with humility and all are subject one to another" - there will be no room for the usurpation of either man or woman to come in. But in point of fact, there was no question of usurpation, though Paul's interdict was quoted. It was in reality a question of whether woman's voice was to be heard in consultation or suggestion. There was no question of public speaking. All were agreed that the law of the Lord prohibited woman's voice from being heard in public assembly. The question really was whether in the non-public working or management of things, woman's voice might be allowed a place. The question seems an extraordinary one. The Lord's law is never directed to the prescription of impossibilities. You can no more suppress a wise woman's influence and a wise woman's voice, than you can suppress the law of gravitation. You may prevent her delivering a public address: but you cannot prevent her giving good counsel, and, you ought not. Though woman, by Divine law is in subjection, she is not to be extinguished. If man is her head, it is not to domineer over her, but to protect and cherish and serve her in honour "as the weaker vessel," content with the casting vote in matters of difference, which is the extent of his superior privilege. If the Scriptures appoint man as her head, they do not exclude her from partnership in all that concerns their mutual well-being. They show us woman "labouring with Paul in the gospel" (Phillip iv.3): as official servants of an ecclesia with business in hand, which the ecclesia was called upon to promote (Rom. xvi.1-3): exercising the prophetic gift (Acts xxi.9); prominently ministering to Christ himself (Luke viii.2-3): sometimes leaders in Israel, like Deborah (Judg. iv.4). The denial of public speech to women is as far as we are justified in repressing them. I have seen tyrannical and unsympathetic men wrongly using Paul's authority to put down and quench godly women more qualified than they themselves to exercise judgment and give counsel. Let women certainly be modest, but let her not be reduced to a cypher, which God never intended. She is intended as a comrade and a help which she greatly is, when enlightened and treated rightly. We ought to be thankful when women turn up who are able to help with wise suggestion. To object to such on the score of "ruling the ecclesia," is to evince either a shameful misconception of duty or an itch for headship which disqualifies for the true service of the ecclesia. No man who wants to be head is fit to be head. The headship that comes from service is the only headship that is either useful or tolerable, or, in the long run, possible. Where the spirit of exalting each other, instead of exalting ourselves prevails (as Christ commands), there is little danger of difficulty arising, and an easy settlement of them when they do arise. There were some other and more doubtful points, but these were the chief. I pressed them upon attention, and in the end, it was agreed that a new attempt should be made to meet as one body.