Bringing radical thoughts worth pondering (A blog of poriruachurch.com)
In recent issues, we have given attention to the biblical qualifications of elders. Another positive trait to be possessed is a good reputation. Paul writes, “Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without, lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (1 Tim. 3:7) The ASV uses the word “testimony” instead of “report”. An elder must have the confidence of people outside the church. He should be known in the community to be honest and fair in business, devoted to his family, and a faithful Christian. He should not be known to engage in questionable activities, nor be addicted to anything inconsistent with Christian principles. He has built an irreproachable reputation before his appointment, and he must maintain it while serving, “lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The ASV renders this, “lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” The devil seeks to undermine and destroy the local congregation, and every elder should guard against being used by him to do his evil work. A poor reputation would open the door for criticism from outsiders. Such reproach would hurt the church and could cause the elder to reign and even leave the church. One familiar with the scriptures will recognize this trait as one of several in this list which apply to every Christian, not just the elders. Every person in the body of Christ must be conscious of his example before those outside the church that no occasion of accusation and reproach be provided. People see your life before they hear your message.
Again, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy he wrote that “a bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…” (1 Tim. 3:2). The same is stated to Titus concerning elders to be appointed in Crete (Tit. 1:6). This scripture and passages following indicate that elders are to be family men. Each elder is to be married to one wife. This means he is to have at least one and no more than one wife. He cannot be a bachelor, or a bigamist. If his wife dies and he married again he still is “the husband of one wife.” The scripture does not say that he is to have been married only once, but that he is “the husband of one wife”. He still has but one wife. If he has divorced his wife for fornication (Matt. 19:9) and married again he still is “the husband of one wife,” and the previous scriptural divorce should not prevent his becoming an elder. However, if his divorce was for any other cause, and he married again, he could not serve as an elder, simply because he would still be bound to the first wife (Matt. 19:5, 6) and living in adultery with the second.
The question often arises concerning the elder whose wife dies. Should he resign immediately until he gets another wife? He may choose to do so and has a right to step down. However, it is this writer’s judgment that he is not compelled to do so. When initially appointed he had the one wife and was qualified in that respect. Though she has since died he can still serve the church with efficiency. He may remarry later, but if he does not choose to do so why should his effectiveness be lost as an elder for that one reason? He still has in his background the necessary experience within the family framework to continue to be efficient in every respect. But what about “given to hospitality”? Why should the death of his wife make it impossible for him to be hospitable? He may still entertain in his home, provide food and lodging for guests, etc. It may not be as easy as it would be with a wife, but he still can be hospitable. There is really no work of an elder which cannot be done without a wife. It may be done better, or easier, with one, but it still can be done.
The purpose of the family qualifications is that he has proven his ability by his personal experience of having a wife and brought up children to be believers. Should he lose the wife or the children in death he still has his experience and knows how to take care of the church of God. In fact, with such an experience of personal grief and tragedy in his background he may be in a better position to comfort and console those in the church who suffer similar tragedies. Much of an elder’s work is in the realm of dealing with those who have faced tragedies in life.
Elders in the Lord’s church were to be men of experience in overseeing, directing and ruling. Such experience would come from having proved their domestic abilities in these areas. To Timothy, Paul wrote that an elder must be “one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:4,5). To Titus, the apostle said that an elder was to have “faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly.” (Tit. 1:6) KJV; “…having children that believe…” ASV.
The elder should have his wife and his children under his subjection (Eph. 5:22, 23; 6:1). The conduct of a man’s household is evidence of his ability for directing the affairs of the church. A wife who “rules the roost” and the husband who allows her to do so do not meet the demands of these passages. If she rules the man in their domestic affairs she will likely try to do the same as he attempts to oversee the church. Such an arrangement in a marriage is unchristian and cannot be allowed in the eldership. Likewise, unruly children will prevent any man from serving successfully as an elder in the church. He must be a man who has proved his ability to govern his children correctly by maintaining good loving discipline. The scripture teaches that he is to “have children that believe”, or “faithful children”. This simply means that he is to have children old enough to be believers, or children of the faith. They could hardly be considered faithful if they are not of the faith. Believers in the scriptural sense involves more than a mere acknowledgement of God’s existence, but rather one who has surrendered his life to the Lord in gospel obedience (cf. Acts 2:44; 16:34). Of course, if he has younger children who are not old enough to become believers this would not disqualify him for the eldership, just so long as he has children old enough and they indeed have become believers and are remaining faithful while under his oversight.
The question often comes up as to whether a man with one child can qualify. Does a man with one child really have “children”? As we search the scriptures we learn that the plural and singular in matters pertaining to children are used interchangeably. The following passages are a few examples where the plural is used, but one child would apply: Gen. 21:7; Prov. 22:6; Matt. 19:29; Lk. 14:26; 1 Tim. 5:4,10; Eph. 6:1, 2, 4; Col. 3:21. Certainly all would admit that a man with one child who has been trained and nurtured in the Lord and is now a “believer, not accused of riot or unruly” has proven his ability. The church must have experienced men in the eldership and this man is experienced in rearing “children”. Of course, the man with two children has greater experience. So does the man with six or eight. Nevertheless, who can deny that the man with one had any? Where would one draw the line as to the minimum number of children he should have? Would it be at least two when he could not possibly have the experience of one who has had to rear three children? But look at the man with four. The point remains that a man who has reared a son or daughter to be a faithful Christian has ruled well his own house, having his children in “subjection with all gravity”. And has proven his ability to “take care of the church of God”. And if he is qualified in other respects it is this writer’s judgment that he should not be denied the eldership just because he has only one child.
Suppose one or more of an elder’s children become unfaithful after they leave home. Should he resign from the eldership? No. They no longer are under his rule. If a member of the church leaves his oversight and goes to another congregation the elder is not spiritually responsible for the person. Likewise, if while his children were living in his house and under his rule they were faithful he is not to be held responsible for them after they are grown and leave home. The same is true if his children happen to be killed in an accident leaving him without any children. If he has proven his ability to rear his children in the Lord and they were faithful Christians at the time then he qualifies to “take care of the church of God.” One can easily see the important role a man’s family has in his being considered for the eldership or remaining in such an important position. His wife and children should strive to conduct their lives in the home and away from the home in such a way that they would not in any way hinder his example or work as an elder.
Richard Harp, Enduring Words, Vol. 2, Issue 6, June 1983.