Whirled Vision

My brief post on the reversal of the turnaround at World Vision generated some questions and comments, so let me chase them here. Start with the central thing -- and that would concern our duty of not being the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. If the subject is sin and repentance, it should go without saying that we should never sneer at a broken and a contrite heart. How many times do we forgive someone? Jesus dealt with this famously when He said the right number was 70 times 7. And that does not mean that once the sinner gets past 490, then pow, right in the kisser. Our forgiveness for others should imitate God's forgiveness of us, and it is obviously impossible to outshine Him. Jesus taught that someone could sin against us seven times in a day, and that upon a profession of repentance we should forgive him each time. Now, along about the fourth or fifth incident, I might begin to suspect that my friend is not dealing with the root issues -- but I am still to … [Read more...]

No Emotional Hostage Taking

In order for a minister's family to fit with the qualifications that Paul addresses in Timothy and Titus, there has to be a large measure of intentionality in it. Such families do not happen in fits of absentmindedness. The minister and his wife are obviously where it starts, but as the kids get older they become part of the process. By the end, everyone in the family knows how much they like each other, but everyone also knows that this is connected to the Pauline requirements. But there is a delicate balancing act required here. One the one hand, you don't want the kids to be oblivious to their position. A minister's family is an essential aspect of his ministry. To take an obvious example, a minister must be hospitable, and this is difficult if he has three sullen teenagers, glowering at the dinner table. Being a member of the minister's family is not a church office, but it is a key part of the church's ministry. One the other hand, you don't want the whole matter of elder … [Read more...]

Don’t Waste Your Shake Up

If we adopt the policy I am suggesting in the larger church -- that of asking elders and ministers to step down if their children are excommunicate (or the moral equivalent) -- this solves some problems, but not all of them. It actually creates a few interesting problems. One interesting problem it could create is that of establishing an institutional disincentive when it comes to excommunicating the children of elders and ministers. Say that the child in question richly deserves it, but everybody knows that if this happened his father would lose his position -- so welcome to the world of perverse incentives. We don't want to get into a place where we disobey one text for the sake of obeying another one. There is another issue. Drawing the line at excommunication does address the problem of overt disqualification in a minister's family, but it doesn't address the trickier problem of moral authority. Say that a pastor has three daughters, and say that every two years, three times … [Read more...]

Parents Playing God

Not surprisingly, there are objections to this position I have been urging about the minister's qualification in his family. One of the more potent arguments is that this position presupposes that the father somehow has salvific powers, which runs counter to what we know the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of grace. Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). This is why a minister who sees such questions being raised about his household might feel that his adversaries are just trying to pick a fight with him. When the king of Israel received a letter requesting that he heal Naaman's leprosy, his reasonable conclusion was that somebody was trying to pick a fight (2 Kings 5:7). When people start demanding that you do something that only God can do, it seems clear that they just want conflict. Now it is quite true that this truth -- and any other biblical truth -- can be used in this way. There are accusers -- devils -- in most congregations who can turn words of grace into spears … [Read more...]

A Minister’s Family As Pace Car

I have mentioned that we should begin any attempt to institute familial qualifications for the eldership with children who have been excommunicated. We could begin here for pragmatic reasons (we have to start somewhere), but I want to argue that there are exegetical grounds for having this be the place where we draw the basic line. Here are the key words from Titus again. The elder must have  "faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1:6). There are just eight words here in the English, but a lot rides on them. Let's begin with "not accused." The minister's children must not be open to the charge of certain things. We will get to what those things are shortly, but the word underneath accused here is kategoria. It is a legal term, and has to do with the bringing of formal charges. It is not a word you would use to describe a couple of gossips whispering about the minister's son's girlfriend. This is the same word that is used when Paul tells Timothy not to admit a … [Read more...]

Excuses and Evasions

Up to this point someone might be excused for thinking my purpose in tackling this issue of elder qualifications in a man's family has been to explain to us all what the standards do not mean, and all the circumstances where they don't apply. This has been a regrettable necessity because our modern approach to this subject is likely to fall into one of two extremes. Either we have our shoes laced up so tight that we find ourselves incapable of finding anyone who is qualified to be in church leadership at all, and so we struggle along with that form of unbiblical government, or we lapse into the common view that the ministry is just another profession, and how a man's children are doing has nothing whatever to do with his craft competence. But an ability to take tests at a graduate school level is not the same thing as leading and shepherding people. This is why I began where I did. Having shown (I trust) that when I do the exegesis of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, I do not make clunkity … [Read more...]

Pursuing the One

The calling of a pastor can be a demanding, rigorous, and often thankless calling. For every televangelist with white shoes raking it in, there are a hundred men laboring in obscure corners of the Lord's vineyard. For those who are aware of this reality -- the fact that congregations are sometimes critical, fussy, envious, and spiteful -- to adopt strict views of the minister's qualifications in how he governs his household seems to be just asking for it. The family already lives in a fishbowl, people are already wondering why his wife doesn't play the piano, and more than one comment has been made about how infrequently their teen-aged son has to mow the lawn. Why would anyone volunteer to make "the treatment" worse than it already is? The answer is that the requirement is in the Bible, and so there must be a way of doing it right. But doing it right does not just mean having a conscientious pastor, or a conscientious session, but also a faithful and wise congregation. If they … [Read more...]

Not the Same Door

As we continue to consider the implications of Paul's requirements for the minister's family, a few other considerations need to be introduced at the front end. These considerations are not in the interest of governing through exceptions -- just the reverse, actually. We are coming (soon enough) to a statement of what this high standard means in application, and when we get there, the discomfort levels will be as high as the standard is. There are many ministers and elders who are not qualified to hold the office that they do, and they are not qualified because of the spiritual condition of their children. When we get to that point, I want it to be as plain as it could possibly be that the expectation of a godly family is not wooden legalism. This means granting the complications and exceptions first. That said, the apostle is teaching us about the selection of elders. This is what the requirement is at the front end, which cannot be applied straight across once a man has been … [Read more...]

Not Counting Rocks

I have said in other contexts that the Pauline requirements for ministry are character qualifications, and as such they are not analogous to the operation of counting rocks. Though we are discussing the requirement of godly family management, let me illustrate the point with one of the other qualifications, also having to do with family. Paul says that an elder must be a one-woman-man. This sounds great, but what do we mean. Ever? It is obvious that we must draw a line at some point, and the first thing to do is admit this fact to ourselves. If we do not admit it, we will still draw that line, but the fact that we have done so will be invisible to us, and it will be entirely arbitrary. For example, say that a man has been presented as a candidate for elder, and he has been married to the same woman, happily, for the last thirty years. But, when he was a young man, before he was a Christian, he was married to someone else who left him and divorced him after six months. This fact … [Read more...]

A Reasonable Expectation

One of things we need to do in our discussion of family qualifications for ministry is examine some of our background assumptions. As with many other issues, our understanding of Paul's requirement here (1 Tim. 3:2-5; Tit. 1:5-6) is affected not only by what the text clearly says, but by the eyes we bring to the text. What we see is sometimes a function of what is there to be seen, and other times a function of how good our eyesight is. There are times when certain assumptions about what the text "could not possibly be saying" will shape what we allow it to say to us. One of those background assumptions (for moderns) is individualism. Now of course God did create us as distinct individuals, and we go to Heaven or Hell by ones. Moral responsibility is fundamentally located in the individual. But there is more to moral responsibility than that. Our lives are intertwined, and this is particularly the case when we are talking about parents and their children -- Girard calls us … [Read more...]

With Laces Untied

So let's begin our work on this tough topic by getting two obvious things on the table. The first obvious thing is that the apostle Paul teaches us that how a man behaves in his home is a predictor or indicator of how he will behave in the church. If you want a godly and competent leader in the church, then you need to look for a godly and competent leader in his home. The apostle couldn't make his point plainer. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3:5) The word rendered rule here is proistemi, which means preside, rule, maintain. And the word used with regard to pastoral work is epimeleomai, which means to take care of, or provide for. This is a simple if, then statement. If a man does not know how to do x, then he will not be able to do y. We will examine what that connection is later, but it should suffice for the present to show that there is such a connection. We should refuse to call a pastor based on … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]