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The recent, very ugly, and very public situation with Beth Moore’s withdrawal from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has brought the issue of women in church leadership to the forefront. The issue is more inflammatory today than it has likely ever been. At first glance, it would seem there are only two positions, or camps as it were: egalitarian - the view that men and women are completely interchangeable; or complementarian - the view that men and women have completely distinct roles and leadership within the church is reserved for men.

The issue is inflammatory because we live in a culture where corporate media’s propaganda has over sensitized us to everything for the purpose of creating a buzz. Think about it, virtually every story in the news is about polar opposition: Vaccinated vs. Not. Black vs. White. Democrats vs. Republicans. Prolife vs. Prochoice.

Now, even Evangelical Christianity has been sucked into the mix with the issue of women in church leadership: Egalitarian vs. Complementarian. The synthetic media buzz is intentional because the buzz is what attracts advertisers, sells papers and products, gets people to turn on and tune in, and buzz keeps fat cats living posh lifestyles in their penthouse suites while humanity rips itself apart.

We’re led to believe there’s a spectrum with the two camps on either end. There are the uber conservative John MacArthurs of the world, on the hard and fixed complementarian end, who reject any idea of women in church leadership - period - case closed. Then, there are the uber liberals, such as the United Methodist Church, on the hard and fixed egalitarian end, who aggressively affirm women in any role of leadership without limit (elders, preachers, pastors, bishops, etc.). The problem is that very few actually stop to examine the issue as a biblical one rather than a purely contemporary one.

Those at the far egalitarian end of the spectrum often use individuals such as Deborah (Judges 4-5), Esther (book of Esther), Mary (Jesus’ mother), and Phoebe (Romans 16) as irrefutable proof the Bible affirms and endorses women in leadership roles. But in doing so they abandon sound hermeneutics, i.e. Bible study methodology, which requires interpretation through proper cultural, linguistic, literary, historical, and other essential contexts.

The book of Judges does not depict a time when Israel is flourishing and obedient as a nation. Instead, the context is that of gross spiritual apostasy and perpetually worsening rebellion against God Almighty. The book opens with Israel failing to obey God in not driving out all the foreign nations from Canaan. After Joshua’s death we read in Judges 2:10-11, “...another generation rose up who did not know the LORD or the works that He had done for Israel. And the Israelites did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.” The book ends with the summary assessment, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”

Judges 3 paints a very dark and grim picture of Israel’s spiritual health, revealing, “...whenever a judge died, the Israelites became even more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods to serve them and bow down to them. They would not give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.”

Deborah is the fourth judge of Israel. She followed three male judges/leaders (Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar). At the end of each of their reigns, Scripture states, “Once again the Israelites did evil in the sight of the LORD.” Just before Deborah we read, “After Ehud died, the Israelites again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.” Shamgar (the third judge of Israel) is almost completely void from the biblical record. His entire story and reign is only given a single verse.

The backdrop of Deborah’s rise to power is within the context of utter spiritual apostasy, corruption, and chaos. Men have so forsaken their divinely ordained roles as leaders within their families, community, and nation, that God appoints a woman (Deborah) to step up and compel Barak to lead, saying, “Surely the LORD, the God of Israel, is commanding you: ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, taking with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, his chariots, and his troops to the River Kishon, and I will deliver him into your hand.’ ” Barak’s response to Deborah, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

The context of Deborah’s leadership is not to affirm women in leadership, but to point out that when women are in leadership, it invariably indicates spiritual apostasy, decay, and pending judgment by God.

Similarly, one must take into account the biblical context when citing Esther as evidence, or proof, of God’s design and desire for women in leadership. The setting of the book of Esther is generally considered Persia around 479 B.C. during the rule of Xerxes.

The nation of Israel was experiencing a time of divine discipline, i.e. exile, for their unrelenting disobedience to God and unwillingness to fulfill their function revealed in Exodus 19:6, “ shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The LORD had allowed foreign invaders to overthrow the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom in 586 B.C. The nation had no temple, no priests, no king, no land, no prophets, and no new revelation.

At the time of Esther, King Ahasuerus ruled 127 provinces from India to East Africa. His queen, Vashti, angered him because, after throwing a banquet feast celebrating all the women of the King’s palace, she publicly refused the King’s summons. Therefore, King Ahasuerus issued a decree “throughout his vast kingdom, so all women will honor their husbands… that every man should be master of his own house…” This pagan king had a clear understanding of God’s divinely ordained and distinct roles for men and women.

When Esther was selected as the new queen, and eventually gained the audience of King Ahasuerus, there was absolutely no question about her tenuous and subservient role. When the king said to Esther, “Queen Esther, whatever you ask will be given you…” Esther responded, “If I have found favor in your eyes, Your Majesty, and if the king is pleased, spare my life; this is my request. And spare my people; this is my desire for my people and I have been sold to destruction, death, and extermination.”

Esther is not revealed as a role model advocating feminism or an egalitarian view. Instead, the purpose of Esther is to reveal the role of King's (Christ's) new Queen (Bride) interceding in fear and trembling (as Esther did) on behalf of our brothers and sisters who have been sold to destruction, death, and extermination by the greater Haman (Satan).

Mary and the immaculate conception of Christ was the prophetic fulfillment of God’s divine discipline upon Israel and its perpetually wicked kings. In 2 Kings 16:3 we read about King Ahaz, “...he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations that the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.”

For all he knew, King Ahaz could very well have been the biological father of Messiah. The son he was sacrificing, as far as he knew, could have been Immanuel. Ahaz's total disregard for God and his blatant disregard for his ministry is on display in literally sacrificing his son to pagan gods.

Therefore, in Isaiah 7:14, God reveals He is going to eliminate men from the whole process and equation, saying, “Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.” There is virtually nothing in the biblical record about Mary after Jesus' birth, yet an entire religious system has been erected, which effectively worships her divinity and celebrates her leadership.

Even Phoebe, the deaconess from Romans 16:1, has been used to support the argument for women in leadership roles and an egalitarian view. The Greek word used for deaconess is διάκονος, which effectively means “waiter” or “servant.”

In Acts 6, a complaint arose regarding “the daily distribution.” In response, The Twelve (Apostles recognized as elders and leaders) summoned all the believers and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.” They then instructed the Hellenistic Jews to “thoroughly vet” (not merely choose) “seven men abiding in godly character and testimony, full of the Spirit, and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty,” the duty of deacon, i.e. waiting tables.

Several decades later, the Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the church in Rome (around 58 A.D.). It was not written to a healthy and spiritually mature church. Culturally Jewish Christians had only recently returned to Rome after years in exile following Christ’s resurrection. Upon their return, they attempted to seize control of the local church by imposing cultural traditions (Jewish food laws and circumcision) upon non-Jewish followers of Christ.

To take Paul’s commending Phoebe, a faithful servant of the church in Cenchreae, as some universal endorsement of an egalitarian view of women is nonsensical within both the immediate context and overarching context of Scripture.

The question shouldn’t be how one “feels” about the issue, or whether one subscribes to an egalitarian or complementarian view of women in leadership. The root issue is: “Can one support their theological position via solid exegesis and hermeneutical principles?” Maybe even more direct is whether or not we actually believe the Bible is our supreme authority regarding all matters of life and faith - or - like Judas and the Pharisees, do we betray and crucify Jesus when He actually rebukes our false idols and ideologies?

Dating back to Eden, the default issue for men has been apathetic negligence of divine responsibility (Gen 3:6b), while the default issue for women has been craving power and authority to rule and govern (Gen 3:6a).

The egalitarian view creates a platform whereby both men and women are encouraged to embrace these inherent sin-patterns where men neglect divine responsibility as they are preoccupied with the idols of extended adolescence, corporatism, etc. In doing so, men are cursed and doomed to provide for their families “by the sweat of their brow.”

Meanwhile, as men surrender both the divine gift of leadership and the work of ministry, women are afforded the opportunity to embrace their lust and desire for power and authority, “Your desire will be for your husband…” (Gen 3:16).

The complementarian view, therefore, seems to best uphold the equal and immeasurable value God places upon -both- men and women, while simultaneously affirming distinct genders and roles.

The question isn’t really about theological camp-identification as Egalitarian or Complementarian. Scripture is explicit and clear that men are the ones God has ordained from the beginning to lead in marriages, families, the community, and in the church. The responsible questions should be along these lines:

Why are women in leadership to begin with?

What does having women in leadership roles indicate about the spiritual health of Christ's spotless Bride?

To what extent and under what circumstances should women lead within the church based on the evidence and testimony of Scripture - rightly interpreted?

Should a young and unmarried woman lead in the church if she comes from a broken home, suffered sexual abuse from her father, and has never had a strong or trustworthy godly man as a role-model?

Should a woman lead in the church who is the clear and dominant leader of her household? Whose husband is timid and virtually invisible, overtly passive, and doesn’t serve or lead in any capacity within the church?

Should a woman lead in the church if she is married to a strong godly man, but openly refuses to submit to his authority within the context of their marriage, and only tolerates any male leadership to the extent it provides her with a platform of power and authority?

Should a women be in leadership within the context of a church where men refuse to step up to serve or lead in any capacity (as teachers, deacons, elders, etc.)?

Should women only be permitted to temporarily serve as interim stewards of leadership roles, as Deborah did, while God works on the hearts of men who are neglecting their divinely ordained roles?

The low hanging fruit is to simply choose a camp, Egalitarian or Complementarian, based on the currently popular cultural climate, our personal feelings, or via a cursory reading of Scripture. But if we are faithful in our exegetical study and interpretation of Scripture - the inflammatory issue of Egalitarian vs. Complementarian quickly erodes and evaporates completely.

Local churches, whole denominations, conferences, and conventions are then faced with the Apostle Paul’s challenge from 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you actually found counterfeit?”

Women are undoubtedly of no less value to God than are men. But, when men embrace that default sin-pattern of apathy and neglect for leadership and ministry, the Sovereign LORD is certainly within His divine purview to invite and allow women (like Deborah, Esther, Mary, and Phoebe) to lead, intervene, serve, and even carry forth His will and mission. As the old saying goes, “Just because you can… doesn’t mean you should.”

Rather than passively submitting, rebelliously neglecting, and apathetically surrendering divinely ordained roles as leaders in marriages, families, communities, and local churches, men should strive to honor Christ as modern day men of Issachar (1 Chron 12:32), i.e. those understanding the times, knowing what we should do, and doing it.

Ultimately, the issue isn't really about women at all. Ultimately it boils down to literal simple obedience. So men, let's get to it and LEAD ON!

Grace and Peace,

-Kevin M. Kelley

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