Women: mission critical

I am so grateful for the guys who have contributed to The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church. The fact that they are willing to stand with us means that book won’t be perceived as written by militant feminists. It’s a prophetic statement of God’s desire for women and men to partner together for the sake of the Kingdom.

Here’s a quote from Dave Ferguson.

My feelings about the issue of women in leadership began to change when my oldest daughter, Amy, started looking for colleges. Like many 18-year-olds, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to declare as a major, but student ministry was toward the top of her list of interests. So with ministry as a strong consideration, we began looking for a Christian college that would be a good fit.

I had two criteria in mind as we began our search: first, I wanted her to find a school with a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture, and second, I wanted her to attend a school that would encourage her as a female leader to fulfill her God-given potential.

With each college visit, there was a growing realization that finding a school where my daughter could get  solid theological education along with positive encouragement to use all of her gifts was going to be very hard. That’s when it got personal and something began to change in me. The issue of women in leadership went form being something that was theologically right, but not mission critical, to both theolotgically correct and  critical for accomplishing the mission of Jesus!

It was like my eyes were opened–for the first time, I realized that 50 percent of the leaders God had gifted for this mission were not mobilized or utilized. I don’t know how I missed it before. It was like the church was trying to show off by doing everything with one hand tied behind her back! The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. I began to look at the world through the eyes of my daughter (and other women) and saw very limited possibilities for her to use her gifts. It was suddenly personal and emotional.

If God insists on male leadership, why this?

For a very patriarchal society, God used a remarkable set of women in leadership roles in the stories of the Old Testament:

  • Eve was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).
  • Miriam is described as a prophet (Exodus 15:20). She may have been the sister who watched over Moses in his basket when he was discovered by Pharaoh. She led the women in singing and dancing after Moses led the Children of Israel across the Red Sea (Exodus 15). She was temporarily struck down with leprosy after complaining against Moses (Numbers 12)
  • Sarah played a significant role in the story of Abraham and the formation of the Israelite people (Genesis 17-25).  The same is true of Rebecca (Genesis 24-29), and Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29-35).
  • Rahab protected the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho (Joshua 2).
  • Deborah was a prophet and judge ruling over Israel. She led the Children of Israel to victory in a battle against the Canaanites (Judges 4). Barak, the commander of the army, refused to go into battle without her, and God granted them victory.
  • Jael killed Sisera, captain of the Canaanite army by driving a peg through his temple (Judges 4).
  • The five daughters of Zelophehad faced Moses and the entire community of Israel to demand land as their inheritance (Numbers 27).
  • Ruth and Naomi are a beautiful example of God’s dealings with women
  • Hannah was barren until God answered her prayers. She gave birth to the Samuel whom she dedicated to God (1 Samuel 1)
  • Abigail saved her household by providing for David (1 Samuel 25). She later became King David’s wife.
  • young servant girl directed Naaman to go to Elisha for healing (2 Kings 5)
  • When King Josiah didn’t know what to do, his advisors consulted with Huldah, a female prophet, who spoke God’s word to them (2 Kings 22).
  • The teachings of King Lemuel’s mother are part of Scripture (Proverbs 31)
  • Shallum’s daughters helped repair the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:12)
  • God used Queen Esther to save the Jewish people (Esther).

Not only does the history of Israel include these women, several women are described in the genealogy of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (Matthew 1). God has used women throughout human history.

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Inviting women to join the ranks

I am so grateful for the men who have invited me to co-labor alongside them in groups that have Kingdom significance–not as Tony’s wife, nor as the “token woman,” but in my own right, based on my calling and giftings.

The roles of leadership (servanthood) in the church are mostly dominated my males. But God is changing things. The perception of the body of Christ at large is shifting as God is bringing fresh revelation on the Scriptures that used to relegate women to passive roles, waiting for a man to take the initiative.

Many men may talk about women being co-equals, but their leadership teams are comprised of males, they speak at conferences where there are only men on the platform, they hang out in the halls of strategic influence with their male friends. Any woman of spiritual caliber is not going to bludgeon or force her way into those ranks. But will she come when invited? You bet.

Where are the men who will welcome women to join their ranks, opening the door for their participation and leadership?

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Women in leadership: God’s punishment?

Some people claim that Deborah, rather than being a blessing, was actually a judgement on Israel.

This opinion is derived from Isaiah 3:12 which in most translations says something like this:

As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. (NKJV)

Undoubtedly the context of this passage in Isaiah as rendered in most versions is that of judgement on Israel for their sins.

The story of Deborah comes in the book of Judges. The theme of this book, spelled out in chapter 3:11-19 is this: the people of Israel  did evil in the sight of the Lord, so he delivered them into the hands of their enemies. When they cried out to the Lord to help them, he raised up a deliverer for them who defeated their oppressors. This cycle is repeated over and over again. We see it in the stories of Othniel and Ehud (Judges 3), Gideon (chapters 6-8), Jephthah (chapter 11) and Samson (chapters 13-16).

Sandwiched in the middle of this saga is the story of Deborah, and it follows the same pattern. The people of Israel did evil in God’s sight (4:1) and so he delivered them into the hands of Jabin, king of Canaan (4:2). After 20 years of harsh oppression, the people cried out to the Lord (4:3). God then used Deborah and Jael, two women, along with Barak, commander of the armies to defeat Israel.

There is not a hint anywhere in this story that Deborah is a punishment on Israel. On the contrary, she is described as a prophetess (4:4), and a mother in Israel (5:7). The Israelites came to her for judgement under a palm tree (4:5). There’s no indication that her leadership of Barak is in any way inappropriate–in fact, the partnership between Deborah and Barak is a beautiful picture of what can happen when men and women co-labor together in the body of Christ. Nor is there any suggestion that God used Deborah to deliver Israel because there wasn’t a man available. Following their victory, the people of Israel had peace for 40 years.

The Isaiah passage also says “children are their oppressors.” Again, the impression given is that a child as king is a punishment on the people. Yet perhaps the most godly king apart from David was Josiah. His story comes in 2 Kings 21-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. Josiah was eight when he began his reign, and he set his heart to follow God. He, unlike any of the other kings, removed all the pagan worship from the land and reinstated the Passover celebration.  His story stands out in a long list of kings as perhaps the only one who pleased God in all that he did.

2 Kings 23:25 says this of him:

Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.

So is the problem one of translation?

Brenton’s Septuagint renders Isaiah 3: 12 as

O my people, your exactors strip you, and extortioners rule over you:

So at the very least, there is some question on the exact meaning of this verse.

However, there is no question that God used both a woman and a child in the two stories I’ve described, just as he is using women in leadership today.

Your opinion?

 

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