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Ought Women to Govern in the Church?

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An article by Brother W. Gould has a subhead “Women Never Chosen of God as Rulers.” He says, “There is not a single indisputable instance of a woman’s being called of the Lord to the work of government.”

This is a bold assertion. But perhaps escape is found in the word “indisputable.” Some men can dispute anything. The existence of Christ has been disputed. A great English scholar wrote a treatise to prove that Napoleon Bonaparte never existed. With as good ground, Gould disputes that Deborah was a judge by appointment of God. His language is: “Whatever authority Deborah exercised, it cannot be plead that it was derived from God.”

There is no need of pleading it. The Bible plainly declares it. The Israelites were left to go into bondage when they forsook God. “And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (Judges 2:18).

When the Lord raised them up judges, the Lord was with the judge and gave them victory over their enemies. Was the Lord with Deborah? Did the Lord, through her, give his people deliverance? Then did the Lord raise her up a judge. This is the divine record (Judges 4:1-4): “And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord when Ehud was dead. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan. … And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord; for he has 900 chariots of iron; and 20 years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel. And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.”

When she arose, there was decided change. The first act recorded of the exercise of her authority was her sending for Barak, and ordering him by command of God, to go and raise an army and fight Jabin’s army. Barak was a valiant man, but so strong was his confidence in the divine authority of Deborah, as the judge who God had raised up to deliver Israel at that time, that he refused to enter upon the campaign unless Deborah went with him. They went together to battle, and God gave them a decided victory. For 40 years, Deborah judged Israel, and Barak commanded their armies (Judges 5:31).

Gould endeavors to make out that she possessed no authority but “was a judge first as a good mother is in a family of children.” This he claims to base upon her saying, “I arose a mother in Israel.” But as the nation owed to her, under God, its liberty, is it not more reasonable to conclude that she was “a mother of Israel” in the same sense that “Washington was the father of his country”? Gould says, “The people came to her for counsel, advice, and knowledge of the divine will which was revealed to her,” but the Bible says, “The children of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5). To pronounce judgment was to govern. The judges were their rulers. “The judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1).

Coming to New Testament times, Gould says, “Nor is there any Scripture mention of any woman having ever participated in the deliberations of any council or governing assembly of the apostolic church … The word rendered ‘disciples’ literally means brethren.”

I most emphatically deny his assertion. The words “brethren” and “disciples” are used in the New Testament in their generic sense, as including the women who believed as well as the men (Matthew 10:24, 42; John 8:31, 20:19; Acts 9:1–2, 11:29, Romans 7:1, 8:12; 1 John 3:14).

How does Gould make such an assertion in the face of the following Scriptures? “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty)” (Acts 1:14–15). Mark the number of names together, not of the males only. This word “together” settles it that the “women” mentioned in verse 14 are included.

Acts 2:1 says, “They were all with one accord in one place.” It might at first seem as if there were no women, for the observers said, “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13). No mention here of women, only as included in the generic term “men.” But that the women were included is plain from the words of Peter: “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:16–17). This prophecy would not have been fulfilled, as Peter says it was, if the Spirt had not been poured out upon the daughters as upon the sons; upon the handmaidens as well upon the servants.

Gould speaks about a woman not being “designed by God to share with man in governmental authority on an equality.” If he means by this, that God did not design that civil and ecclesiastical offices should be equally divided between men and women, I agree with him. I have never contended for anything of the kind. I hold that in the local government of the church, women should be allowed the same vote as men in the admission of members, and in the election of officers, as is the custom in Protestant churches generally: that if God has given to some women such gifts and grace, and placed her providentially in such circumstances that the members generally and spontaneously feel that she is the most suitable person to fill some office in the church, then there should be no ironclad rule that would exclude her on account of her sex.

B.T. Roberts was the principal founder of the Free Methodist Church and the editor of this publication from 1886 to 1890. This article from the Sept. 1, 1886, issue is Roberts’ reply to W. Gould’s seventh article in a series in which Roberts and Gould debate the appropriate role of women in the church. All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.

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[Discipleship] · Culture · L + L November 2018