Tuesday, April 04, 2006

elders: qualifications and tasks

In preparation for Sunday School last week, I was studying the book of Titus (specifically focusing on Titus 1:5-9) and trying to break down and understand the qualifications listed for being an elder. I am thankful that I had done some work with this text when I was looking at the qualifications for pastors in response to a position paper by a local church advocating that the Bible allows women to be pastors. However, since I have written a decent amount on this subject (you can read the articles1 that I have written), I want to explore the other biblical qualifications for an elder as well.

what is an "elder"?

An elder is a man who meets the requirements of scripture (primarily looking at 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1) and has a group of believers placed in his charge. Many were identified as elders: Peter (1 Peter 5:1),John (2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1), those whom Timothy (1 Tim 5:19) and Titus (Titus 1:3) would be overseeing and appointing, as well as Timothy and Titus themselves. Also, it seems that a primary task (if not the primary task) was to preach and teach the Word of God. We can see that the office of deacon (or servant) was established in the early church so that the teachers (specifically the Apostles in this text) wouldn't have to stop or to lessen the amount of preaching in order to wait on the tables of the church (Acts 6:2). Perhaps one of the best summaries of the task of an elder or overseer is seen in the book of Acts where Paul is saying farewell to the church at Ephesus, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28ff)

The words elder and overseer are synonymous and are words used in scripture describing the office of the local pastor.

Paul reminds Titus that he was left at Crete to appoint elders in that region, and this text gives qualifications for people in that position. Much can (and needs to) be said about each of these qualifications and what the implications are. However, I will only briefly outline these qualifications here.

Positive Qualifications - the elder must be:

  1. a man (v. 6) - For an extensive look at this qualification and the controversy currently surrounding it, please see my previous articles.2
  2. above reproach (v. 6,7) - “unquestioning integrity, no false doctrine/behavior can be proven against them”3 or in Paul's culture, "a person like this was not subject even to indictment, much less trial”4
  3. husband of one wife (v. 6) - This is not a requirement that all men who would be elders must be married, but it is a call to biblical sexual experience and expression, “an elder must have an unsullied, lifelong reputation for devotion to his spouse and to sexual purity.”5
  4. believing children (v. 6) - self explanatory, but if the children are too young (or has no children), see 1 Tim 3:4-5,12.6
  5. hospitable (v. 8) - In Luke 14:12-14, our Lord shows that we should not invite people over so that we can be invited over to their parties, we should do it for the needy and receive our reward from God in heaven and not from these people on earth.
  6. loving what is good (v. 8) - see Philippians 4:8 to see how the Bible describes what good things are.
  7. sensible (v. 8) - "being prudent...and thinking soberly of himself, and others, as he ought."7
  8. just (v. 8) - doing what is right, being righteous, or being fair. "The pastor who is just, or righteous, is a man who reflects the just and fair character of God Himself."8
  9. devout (v. 8) - similar in meaning to being holy
  10. self-control (v. 8) - The elder is not prone to over-indulgence in things so that they become sinful (eating, laziness, drinking, etc) as well as control over private sin. "A pastor who is not self-controlled, who does not continually monitor his own life, submitting his sin to the Lord's cleansing and keeping a clear conscience, is not fit to lead God's people, no matter how outwardly righteous his life may appear to be."9
Negative Qualifications - the elder must not be:
  1. children accused of dissipation or rebellion (v. 6) - children must not be known as being rebellious. This is directly following the qualification of having children who believe, and so it paints a bigger picture of what that "believing" looks like.
  2. self willed (v. 7) - arrogant or self centered. This is used as a noticeable characteristic or description of false teachers (see 2 Peter 2:9ff). We see this fault (placing self above or over the work that God has for me) displayed by a few disciples and then corrected by Christ in Matthew 20:20-28.
  3. quick tempered (v. 7) - not having a "short fuse" or easily angered
  4. addicted to wine (v. 7) - not one who drinks causing impaired judgment or control over his faculties, not a drunkard
  5. pugnacious (v. 7) - not a fist fighter. Not one who settles arguments in a hostile fashion, but gently (2 Tim 2:24,25).
  6. fond of sordid gain (v. 7) - not a lover of money or greedy. Notice in 2 Peter 2:15,16 how Balaam loved the wages of unrighteousness, because he was prophet for hire who worshipped false gods, as a picture of false teachers.
the task of the elder:

"holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching" (Titus 1:9a NASU)

This statement is reiterated in both of Paul's letters to Timothy (1 Tim 1:18,19; 2 Tim 1:12-14) as well as being similar to Jude's urge that all believers are to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). Peter says that we have been granted "everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us." (2 Peter 1:3) We're also familiar with the fact that false teachers will secretly come into the church and lead many astray (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29; 2 Peter 2:1-3; Jude) and that we need to be on guard against them. The point here is that the pastor must cling to the word of God and it must be his primary nourishment and source for preaching and direction in his ministry.

This may sound like a big "DUH", but it isn't. If you look at many modern churches, so much of what is preached on or the language used has its birth in culture. I noticed on a local church's web site that they had over 1 month of Sunday sermons based on the Chronicles of Narnia and the movie that recently came out. I don't have a problem with referring to a movie (I haven't personally seen it, so I cannot render an opinion on its worth) that has a gospel message or picture in it...but using it as the primary motivation for 4 or 5 weeks worth sermons? The question then becomes what is the main source of the message? Is it the movie, or is it the scriptures?10

Why is "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching" of such high importance? It is so important because then he will be able to, "exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." (Titus 1:9b NASU)

This seems to be the culmination of what the office of the elder publicly (if not just cororately) does. We see an exhortation by Peter to all believers to "be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you yet with gentleness and reverence." (1 Peter 3:15 NASU) If all believers are to know what we believe and why we believe it well enough to reason with those who would question us, how much more do pastors need to be able to stand firm and be unwavering in their knowledge of the word?

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2;15 NASU) This is from Paul's letter to Timothy who, like Titus, is the New Testament example of a non-apostolic elder and pastor. The implication is strong: if you don't handle the word accurately and are not diligent, you should be ashamed. There is, and should be, a high respect and esteem for those men who faithfully dig deep in the word of God and then bring the treasures of its riches to those under his care (1 Tim 5:17). The reciprocal is true as well; men who are careless or reckless with the word should be expelled from their office so that they might not lead people astray.


1 Articles on the role of women in ministry2 see list above
3 Believer's Bible Commentary - William MacDonald
4 Titus, MacArthur New Testament Commentary - John MacArthur p. 22
5 Ibid p. 40
6 It is not a requirement for men to be both married and have children, but these are the standards if a man is married and has children. Paul makes it clear that he desires for people to be as he is (single), but if people cannot control themselves, marriage is the only place for sex to be correctly expressed. See 1 Cor 7 (especially verses 1,8-9) for Paul's lengthy talk about marriage.
7 John Gill's Exposition of the Bible - John Gill
8 Titus, MacArthur New Testament Commentary - John MacArthur p.41
9 Ibid p.42
10 This is such a key and important thing to note for our day. It seems that much of modern preaching and teaching finds its primary source of what to preach on defined by the culture around us. I have seen many churches (whenever I hear of a church and its website, I go visit it and look around to find out a little about it) that have had month-long series on the Chronicles of Narnia and 40 Days of Purpose as well as gearing up for series on the DaVinci Code. Churches need to talk about the gospel and the sacrificial substitution of Christ - but don't use Aslan and Narnia as the primary picture...use Christ and our sinfulness as the example! If we need to find out what our purpose is in our lives, don't use a watered down "Christianity 101" book as the basis of the teaching...use the Bible! If we are afraid that people don't correctly understand who Christ is as laid out by the Bible, or why the Bible itself is what it is (made up of the 66 books, and not of others) we should be teaching Christology and the historical nature of our Bible. Then Christians (or people who claim to be Christians) might have a proper view of who Christ is and what the Bible is, and thus be able to communicate and defend it to those who would distort it historically or biblically.

1 comment:

nate J. said...

Eric, how old do you have to be to be an "elder"? - I don't think you addressed that question - just kidding. I wonder how many "elders" in our evangelical churches actually match up to these qualifications. Why are they so important? - I think it sets the tone and standard for the entire church. When you think about it, every man in the church should be striving to fit these characteristics. Not an easy ambition - that's why myself and Pastor Henry, our deacons, and any other man in a leadership position, need all of the prayer you can muster. Thanks for your thoughts.

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