The Neglected Qualification

For various reasons, I need to begin an extended series of posts on “the neglected qualification.” The spiritual state of the preacher’s kids has long been proverbial, and not in a good way, and yet we continue to have the following in our Bibles.

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife . . . 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. 3:2,4-5).

“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless . . .” (Tit. 1:5-7).

The majority of the Christian world has workarounds and explanations for these verses, while the minority that wants them to mean what they appear to mean, sometimes applies them in a wooden or legalistic fashion. While wanting to avoid both extremes, we still need to affirm that these words mean something, and that they apply sometime. I want to explore what that something might mean, and when that sometime might be.

Let us throw all the difficult cases on the table right away. This is talking about making someone an elder, not talking about someone who has been an elder for thirty years already. We are not told what to do if the child of an elder sins significantly, but repents just as thoroughly, and is now walking with the Lord in the state penitentiary. We are not told if the passage applies to an elder whose five natural children are all faithful, but the crack cocaine baby they adopted when she was just a toddler has completely fallen away. Suppose the wayward child is the oldest, a stepson to the minister, and all his children are faithful. One of the reasons we need judicious and godly men to be our elders is that they must make decisions like this. And I grant that the right process for dealing with all such tangles is not easy, simplistic, or formulaic.

I also grant that there are textual and broader theological issues. What about Jacob’s children? They were kind of a mess, especially Levi — destined for ministry. And then King David had a bunch of kids that we wouldn’t exactly put on the cover of a homeschooling magazine. What about them? These guys can have kids that are a disaster zone, and they can write a bunch of the Bible, but if a man has a kid who is only one tenth that bad, he can’t preach from that same Bible? Okay, I get it.

But if we want reformation in our time — and we should — we need to return to the Bible, whether or not we are flattered by what we discover there. Our task should be to seek out what faithful obedience in this area might mean, what it might look like, and then to obey. This obedience is not just to be found at the individual or familial level. This is an area where the entire church needs to be involved in learning together, and coming together. Until we come to a consensus on how to draw this particular line, we will continue to be frustrated by a pandemonium of voices from every direction.

Suppose we tentatively set a very straightforward standard. Suppose we said that if the child of an elder or minister is ever excommunicated, then the elder or minister in question will submit his resignation. And if there are extenuating circumstances — as there will sometimes be, no doubt — then the decision about any exceptions will be referred to presbytery, outside the context of the local church. We would be applying the wisdom of the Westminster theologians showed on the subject of divorce — saying that in such tangles those most closely involved should not be judges in their own cases. Suppose we started with something like that?

I want to argue for this kind of approach in the posts that follow, and I do want to cover the subject as thoroughly as I can. Because the subject is such an important one, I want to encourage debate and discussion in the comments, as well as suggestions for questions that need to be addressed in greater detail at some point. I will try to get to them all.

As has been said, obedience is the great opener of eyes. Drawing the line in the wrong place is preferable to refusing to draw it at all. Once we start doing something together when a child is excommunicated, we might be a position to deal with, say, high scandal repented of. As we begin to obey, the Lord may continue to give us more obedience. But in order to wade in from the shallow end of the pool, we do have to get into the pool in the first place.

The Right Kind of Bright in Their Eyes

Many conservative Christians know that the culture war we are fighting is a desperate battle for our children. Now fighting for your children and grandchildren is a noble enterprise. It is what we are called to do. When such fighting is necessary, as in a fallen world it constantly is, it is something we are called to do for the sake of others, and this includes our children.

“And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (Neh. 4:14).

But as good as this is, we need to move past it. Once we realize that we are in a long war, a war in which the first blood shed was that of Abel, and the last blood shed will be that of the final martyr, an honored someone who will no doubt not be born for many centuries yet, we will finally recognize the importance of the time we are called to invest in our children.

Because it is a long war, it crosses generations. In a very short space of time, your children will join you in the line, and a short time after that, their children will join them. This means that we begin by fighting for our children, but we must end by fighting by means of them. We must do two things simultaneously — we must fight today’s battles, and we must recruit and train tomorrow’s warriors.

If I am allotted more than the proverbial three score and ten, I hope that as my children and grandchildren are hitting their stride, and my contribution is that of making penetrating geezer comments from the corner of the living room after sabbath dinner, I will see myself as still fighting through them.

I see this in my own father — still fruitful in his own ministry — whenever he hears of any skirmish or battle that his descendants have gotten into. He is an old war horse, restless in his stall, wanting to get into it himself. But he actually is “into” it. None of us would be where we are now without him, and I hope that I have the same privilege that he has been given — that of seeing a lot of downstream damage done to the work of the adversary.

Decades from now, when my descendants are giving fits to whatever progressives are calling themselves in the 22nd century, I hope that my name is a hissing and a byword to them. That’s a pious wish. So a short-sighted man who throws himself into ministry, neglecting his family in order to do so, is not just demonstrating for us that he doesn’t understand his wife and kids. He is demonstrating for us the fact that he doesn’t understand the nature of true ministry.

“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)

“If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Tit. 1:6).

This is not just thrown in there as a mindless rule, so that ecclesiastical fussbudgets might have something to agitate about during elder elections. If a man’s children don’t care what he believes about the Bible, then why should we? This is a line of argument that Paul endorses. If his children have walked away from what he says is important about the Bible, but we are still hanging on to his every word, the chances are good that we have adopted a false and unbiblical set of weights and measures, and are hanging on to the wrong words, or to good words for the wrong reasons.

Jesus said that we were to evaluate teachers by the kind of fruit they produced. And what better place to check than their garden at home? A man who is wrong about children will find it difficult to be right about anything else.

So what we need are more children with the right kind of bright in their eyes, like Jonathan after he ate the honey. But in that case, it was in spite of his father’s foolish prohibition. May God spare us from the indignity of having children who do well despite us. We want children who have that kind of bright in their eyes because they have fathers who gave them the honey.