The topic of women leading in church assemblies finds its way to the top of the list of arguable subjects quite often. Practices in every religion, not just Christianity, vary between ordaining women as ministers to covering them in veils and separating their worship from that of the men.
A recent Bible study of Judges Chapter four and five brought the subject into my mind. Rather than avoiding the controversial subject, I decided to peruse published sources and see if I could determine my position on the matter.
Deborah – Israel’s Judge
If you’ve studied this period of Old Testament history, you know that the last verse of the book summarizes it well. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Ju. 21:25).
God is merciful. Even though the people committed idolatry and other sins, when they cried out to God he “raised them up judges” (Ju. 2:18) who delivered them from oppression. Fickle human beings, they remained loyal to God only as long as the judge remained alive. Guess we would call them “men followers” rather than God followers.
Into this culture, God raised up Deborah to judge Israel. “And Deborah…judged Israel at that time (Ju. 4:4).The word translated as “judged” in Judges 4:4 is the same word used when Moses appointed elders to help him settle disputes in the wilderness.
It implies governance and passing of sentence. It is something similar to what a judge might do in an American court. They learn the specifics of the law and settle arguments between parties who feel the law is on their side.
Some writers claim this could not be the case because men would never submit to the sentence passed by a female. “The children of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Ju. 4:5) refutes this stance. The Bible doesn’t say that women came to her for judgment.
Furthermore, the word translated “judgment” in this verse is the exact same Hebrew word used throughout the Books of Moses. It implies both a spiritual and physical judgment.
Deborah – A Prophetess
The fact that Deborah was a woman may have hindered some men from listening to her. However, when it became evident that she heard the word of God, all that hesitation was swept away.
In describing Deborah, she is named as a prophetess first. After that, she is named the wife of Lapidoth and a judge of Israel.
Deborah isn’t the only woman in the Bible to receive revelations from God to relay to other people. Why is she the main one used to claim the Bible supports women leading in the church?
Truthfully, I believe it’s because of how this story plays out. People see Deborah and credit her with defeating an army. She is the hero of the overthrow of Canaan’s king, Jabin.
No verse or story can be used independently of all scripture to form a doctrine. Rather, it would become a dogma and a pet teaching. God’s Word works in harmony. If the story of Deborah is the only place a woman leads, it becomes an exception rather than a rule.
Deborah led the Israelites. No one can deny that. Read the whole story.
How she led:
- By conveying God’s message to its intended recipients
- By offering godly counsel
- By encouraging Barak to obey the command God gave him
- By being a “mother in Israel” (Ju. 5:7)
What she didn’t do
- Usurp authority from the man God called to lead his people
- Lead an army into battle
- Claim any credit
- Glorify herself or her part in the victory
Leaders in secular and church settings could learn plenty about successful leadership from Deborah. Learn from a woman? Oh, yes.
In studying this historical event, I found several major schools of thought for why Deborah, a woman, was chosen to judge Israel rather than Barak or some other man:
- God allowed Deborah to lead because a man failed to take the position.
- Deborah led as directed by God and made herself subject to the authority of Barak.
- Deborah and Barak were co-leaders and as long as a man is involved, it’s all good.
- Both Deborah and Barak had a part to play in God’s plan: Deborah to prophecy and encourage and Barak to lead in battle.
My conclusion after spending time in prayer, private study and community study leans toward this last sentiment. God used Deborah because she was willing to serve him, as a prophetess and judge. However, God limited the scope of Deborah’s activities. In his eyes, some things are a man’s business. In this case – leading an army into battle.
I believe the Bible is clear on qualification for a pastor and women can never meet these standards. Women have a place in every facet of ministry and should serve as they are gifted.
Next week: What it means for a Woman to “keep silence”