Man was made for stories. We remember stories. We laugh at stories. We cry over stories. We are motivated by stories. Why? Because God made us to love stories. The legacy of a culture is told by narratives, not by encyclopedias. Even in a culture as bent on moving away from God as our current one is, there are still biblical stories etched into the minds of people in our culture. These biblical narratives transcend ideological barriers. The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, the Christmas Story, and others speak of a God who may not be as easily dismissed as cultural elitists believe. While these narratives are often marred and confused in the culture, they still remain, and they still bring conviction to people. Themes of lostness, hope, and redemption resonate with the human spirit. For those who do not know Christ, these great themes may serve only to disturb rather than comfort–but still, people are drawn to stories. Examine the lists of the all-time most popular movies. The one thing these movies all have in common is that they tell memorable stories.
Because the biblical narratives are so memorable it is important that we interpret them correctly. Biblical narratives are designed by the Holy Spirit to communicate a particular theme or truth. This does not mean that every point in the narrative provides an example to be followed or implemented. Sometimes the narratives communicate actions that should most definitely not be copied. For example, the story of Simeon and Levi taking revenge for the way their sister Dinah was treated by the Shechemites is not a model for us to follow. It is a true story, but it is not meant to be an example of godly behavior. The brothers should have sought their father’s direction before taking action. These narratives must be read with discernment. Even when the narratives do contain examples of godly behavior, not everything in the story should be followed. Gideon showed courage in following God by attacking the vastly superior numbers of the Midianite army with only 300 men. However, he is often remembered more for laying out of a fleece to see if God’s word was really true. The story of Gideon is not meant to be an example of how to get divine guidance. Rather, the story demonstrates that God is faithful even when we are not.
This principle is also true of the narrative about Deborah. Margaret left this comment about the recent posts regarding Deborah:
What is your view about woman pastors in China? Most of the pastors in China are women. Is this an exception? How would you apply Biblical standard that is laid out for leadership in the church?
This is a good question. It is one that you could easily encounter with your children as you are reading through the Bible. As was indicated in the posts, prophets and judges were selected directly by God. However, for the position of pastor today, God has given specific qualifications for those holding authority in the church (referred to in the New Testament as elders, pastors, overseers). Those qualifications exclude women from the role of authority. This is not a negative statement against women, but it does indicate the order that God commands to be followed. The book of Acts of speaks of the prominent role that women played in the early church. It is safe to assume that male leadership was in short supply compared to the number of women who participated in the building of the church. This is possibly similar to the situation in China and other places around the world today. In the present case, it is not appropriate to look for women to assume the role of authority that God has given to men. In the case of Deborah, no such prohibition existed, and the selection of prophets and judges was strictly God’s choice. People were not involved in the selection process at any point. Today, there are clear directives for those who carry the responsibility of authority in the church. These leaders are to be selected by appointment or election, which does require human involvement. This is not at all to say that the women mentioned in China are not 00be brave and do not want to follow God. But if the situation is that women are fulfilling the role of leadership given to men in the New Testament, then we must conclude that this is not a biblical practice.
So, I believe there would not be a parallel between Deborah holding the office of judge and females serving as pastors, even if there are not many men available for leadership. It was clear that Deborah’s appointment was directly from God. It is not possible to make the same assessment about women serving as pastors today, even if it appears to be warranted by the circumstances. Again, this does not mean that women cannot encourage others or have an active role in the life of the church, but it does mean that God knew what the situation in China would be today when the Holy Spirit gave the qualifications for authoritative office in the church.
We must pray for the Christians in China, pray diligently that God would raise up men there to lead. There is a danger for the Chinese Christians. While they may show extraordinary courage in the face of severe government opposition, there is a danger that they would think that God’s Word is not sufficient, and that it must be adjusted according to the needs of the situation. It is vital to distinguish between principles and application of principles. Principles, such as male authority, must be followed. Application of principles can allow for great flexibility. In 1 Timothy 2 and in the qualifications for authoritative leadership in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul makes it clear that women are not to assume the role of authority in the church.
Narratives are powerful, but they must be read carefully, and it is important not to draw more from narratives than the Holy Spirit intends. In the case of Deborah, we can learn from and follow her courage and integrity in serving God, but we must not use her story to justify disregarding God’s directives for the church today with regard to authority and leadership.
Thanks to Margaret for her comment.