Here is an example of one possible approach toward the issue of women and teaching in a Brethren Assembly. This is a true story - not a generalization, but it happened this way - think what you will.
Several years ago, shortly after my mother died I took my two young children and went to stay with my father for a few weeks in the summer. One Sunday I attended the morning service, which had about 3oo people in attendance, with my father, leaving the children in the nursery. The preacher was a friend of my father's, also a parent of daughters, and had chosen to speak on Acts 21, which includes the mention of Philip's four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
When he got to the relevant passage about Philip's daughters, he drew a deep breath and shook his head, and commented that we did not know why the Lord had prohibited women from teaching. He then leaned forward in the pulpit and scanned the congregation. His eye found my father and he addressed him by name. "This must be a hard thing for you to accept, Mr._ , knowing your daughters. "
My first thought was, "Oops, and I forgot to wear a hat!" and then I realized that women had been mentioned in the service without any reference to the hat issue. You might think from this that my father has only daughters, and no sons, to carry on the teaching tradition. In fact, my father has six daughters, (I am one of the younger ones, and not well-known to the preacher), but my father also has two sons, one of whom was a recognized Bible teacher by this time.
I honestly believe that this Brethren preacher was saying that he recognized that the daughters were the equals of the sons and inherited the same abilities; that they were true siblings, not complementary in their gifts but similar in their gifts. However, God, in his sovereignty had forbidden women from teaching and so it must be.
Here is another example of this kind of thinking, written in 1888,
- I also believe [women] have a right in a quiet way to teach the men the way of life and salvation, but not publicly in the church for when the women get up publicly in the church of God to teach, then they disobey the apostolic injunction "Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak." 1 Cor. xiv: 34.
So while I believe that Philip's four daughters did prophesy and to prophesy is to speak unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort," still I also believe that Philip's daughters could and did exercise their gifts of prophecy without doing it publicly in the churches of Christ. A. A. Bunner
I do not advocate this position - I support the ordination of women. However, at least it is an honest position, a recognition of who women are and the simple acceptance that we will know in heaven why God wants them to be quiet in the assembly. Complementarian thinking not only restricts women's activities, but it distorts the very essence of who women are.
F. F. Bruce provides further insight into the Brethren position in his article on Women in the Church.