Deborah is one of twelve judges recorded in the Bible that leads Israel in the time between Joshua and the eventual establishment of a king. What makes Deborah especially unique is that she is a woman and her introduction gives several keys about her role as a leader.
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. Judges 4:4-5 ESV
In this introduction we are given a glimpse into a powerful leader. She holds the office of Prophet and Judge demonstrating that God’s hand is on her both spiritually and administratively. Deborah is a successor and a peer to Moses in both spiritual and administrative leadership for the nation of Israel.
13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. Exodus 18:13 ESV
So it begs the question should women be spiritual or administrative leaders in the life of the Church? The contemporary culture would answer a resounding yes and it has become normal to see women successfully running large corporate organizations, holding leadership posts in government organizations, and possibly very soon the first woman may be made president of America. Inside the church however there are divisions around what spiritual leadership roles women should have and just how much influence that role should wield.
This question about roles of men and women is also directly linked to the current cultural shift of “genderless” bathrooms in the public square. The post gender society is just around the corner. The push in society to prove that women are equal to men has taken on other head scratching forms as well. The idea for example that women can do anything men can do even extends to the physical realms like war and sports. As a side note I once believed the Hollywood version of women’s ability to easily beat men who have height and weight advantages until I saw this boxing match between a wrestling body builder female and the average blue collar middle aged male. I was appalled at the real life way he abused his advantage and this boxing match quickly reminded me why it is in poor taste for men to fight women to begin with. The push to make men more feminine has also gained in popularity as abrasive “masculine” qualities are not as desired in business, school, or refined company. In the cultural quest to make men and women equal lost are wonderful things that make men and women unique and distinct. Women and men are equal in that both are created in God’s image, but contrary to culture norms women and men are not the same in design. They are distinctly different and as a society loosing that modesty and distinction may prove detrimental to the foundation of society.
Regardless what culture tells one about the roles of women and men the real answer in the organization of the church must come from God’s unchanging words and truth. The contentious words relevant to the question around women serving in spiritual leadership roles is found primarily here in Paul’s instructions to Timothy.
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 ESV
There are two words that represent the two most popular sides to this issue. First is Egalitarian and the second is Complementarian.
Egalitarian – believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities
Complementarian – men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.
The Egalitarian view is the view held most closely by current society and it is a wonderful view to champion. America itself is founded on such a view even from the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. The distinction however is that while all “men” are created equal before God in their rights they are not created equal in opportunity and that is where the Egalitarian view falls apart. I was born too short and without the athletic skills necessary to play basketball in the NBA. While I have an equal right to purse and try to play basketball in the NBA I do not have the same equal opportunity that Michael Jordan took advantage of. I am born as a man with male anatomy I do not have the same equal opportunity to be a mother and give birth to a child. The fact is everyone has unique unequal opportunities that set them apart and drive their passions in life. God has ordained an order and a plan for everyone.
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
God’s plan His opportunity for everyone is different and unequal.
Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? Romans 9:20-21 MSG
Egalitarian while noble cannot be used as an excuse to demand equal opportunity where God has limited design and purpose.
The other view is complementarian and it is here that we find more consistency with the God’s purpose and design for His creation. From the beginning God created Men and Women to be distinct and to care for each other in complementary but equal roles.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18 ESV
Both men and women are equal in rights before God just like the Egalitarian view however they are not equal in opportunity. Women have advantages that are not available to men and men have advantages that are not available to women. The real question is not if that is a true statement but where the lines of advantage are drawn. The culture wants to make that line disappear and the genderless bathroom is just a current example of that push. Complementarian worldview is especially noticeable in regard to family structure and it appears in Paul’s instruction to Timothy that this calling extends into the makeup of the church itself.
In family fathers and mothers have different roles and while those lines may look slightly different from family to family the general rules still apply. The larger point is that while family structures vary from a traditional father and mother, single parent, and even same parent (two mothers or two fathers) the ideal and original intent as designed by God is that of a father and mother. I was raised in a single parent home. It worked but only by God’s mercy and even then that family life would have been better served in a two parent home.
Fathers and Mothers have different roles in the home and in the same way God has established a similar order in the larger Church family. Women and Men are both capable of spiritual leadership and there are many examples of Godly women who are qualified to lead a church or teach even though Paul taught Timothy a role based structure for the Church. Exactly how that line should be drawn may vary between churches and denominations. And it appears that in some cases God has given women the opportunity to lead like Debora. However I believe like a single parent home this is a function of people working out their best plan in a fallen world outside of God’s perfect standards and leading the nation of Israel in Debora’s case is not leading a Church. I would vote for the right woman to be president of the nation, but I would be hesitant to make that same vote to run a church. In light of scripture the ideal that should be desired and worked at is a God directed role and function where we do not lose the role God assigned for each person to play. Pushing to make the church align to a post gender society does not honor God’s perfect plan for our lives and does not honor who God created men and women unique.