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 charge (kategoria) against an elder without two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). This is a place where the accusations are serious, and they are on the record.
The King James says that the charge that should not be able to be brought is the charge of riotous and unruly living. The words are asotia and anypotaktos, and we can get a sense of their meaning by looking at a range of translations. We find “dissipation or insubordination” (NKJV), “debauchery or insubordination” (ESV), or “dissipation or rebellion” (NASB). In other words, we are not talking about a child who has sinned by snitching his sister’s quarter and is repentant, but rather someone who is given over to high-handed sin, and who rebelliously refuses to repent.
Now let’s look at a striking parallel to this in Deuteronomy 21.
“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deut. 21:18-21).
Notice the parallels. You have a child of the covenant in both cases. You have remarkable similarity in the description of the sin involved. You have a judicial proceeding. You have a proceeding before the elders. And you have a terminal judgment. The one place that is not in parallel is the fact that this is something that happens with a family in Israel, and in Titus it is being applied to the family of a church officer. But before addressing that issue, let’s consider all of these in order.
The fact that it is a covenant child in both instances can simply be noted. The sin involved is the same kind of thing. Take the Titus description of “debauchery and rebellion.” The debauchery answers to “glutton and drunkard” and the rebellion answers to “stubborn and rebellious.” The parents here bring their (clearly older) child before the elders, and they issue a judgment. In Titus, it is not stated who would bring the charge, but it would be a formal charge (kategoria). The elders of the town would address the situation in Deuteronomy, and the elders of the church would address the situation described in Titus. In Deuteronomy, the end of that sad affair would be execution. In 1 Cor. 5, the apostle Paul makes an interesting application of the Old Testament use of the death penalty. In Christian churches, excommunication is the fulfillment, the antitype, of the type of old covenant executions (1 Cor. 5:1-13). So instead of a carousing son of a minister being executed by the church at Crete, they would excommunicate him.
Titus is being required to appoint the kind of elders where this kind of scenario is extremely unlikely. Don’t appoint elders who have children who could be charged in this way, with the subsequent proceedings bringing reproach upon the church. In order for the church to be above reproach, the new elders must be above reproach. And in order for the church to be above reproach, the existing elders would also need to be above reproach in this way also, because it would be a pretty bad spectacle for a sitting board of elders to exclude a new guy for having a dissolute son when half of them had dissolute sons.
In order to tidy this up a bit, a few other observations might be helpful. The Titus passage also requires that the elder have faithful or believing children. This understanding of “not excommunicated” helps us apply this standard without trying to peek into hearts. Virtually everywhere this adjective (pistos) appears as a descriptor of persons, it can be translated as “believing.” But we don’t need to rush off to set up a church tribunal that will determine if the elders’ children believe in Jesus down to the very bottom of their hearts. We can simply accept a credible profession of faith, knowing that the works of the flesh are manifest (Gal. 5:19ff), and that if their profession is false, that will come out.
Now I have seen instances where this understanding is objected to strongly, and it is maintained that pistos can simply mean “reliable.” On this view, it doesn’t have to mean that the child has a credible profession of faith at all. But if Paul was not requiring a credible profession, but simply a kid who made his bed when told, who took out the trash when asked, and who did not sell cocaine in the high school parking lot after school, then I have a simple question. How many advocates of this reading have called for ministers to step down because their children were not reliable, in whatever sense they take that to mean? Why is it that virtually no ministers are ever asked to step down, even when the terms of Titus 1:6 — on their reading — are fulfilled? I would suggest that something is deeply wrong, and reformation and revival would cause the fathers’ hearts to turn to their children, and the children’s hearts to the fathers.
But what about the one disparity, acknowledged earlier, between Deuteronomy and Titus? This actually makes the case for requiring this standard for church officers even stronger.
The Deuteronomy case concerned a family in Israel. What were all Israelite families required to do?
“Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged” (Dt. 6:1-2).
You, your son, and your grandson. Fearing the Lord, and keeping His statutes and commandments, was to be a family affair. This was the required norm. All of God’s people were called to it.
Christian families in the new Israel are given the same standard. Children are to be submissive to their parents in all things — as a way of pleasing God (Col. 3:20). Christian fathers are required to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Christian children are to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1).
This is for all of us. But since we are supposed to learn the harvest of all Christian living from those who are given spiritual responsibility for us (Heb. 13:7, 17), it makes sense that Paul would begin by requiring this of church officers. He requires it of church officers, not because it some super-spiritual weird thing, but rather because we should all be striving (in the grace of God) to have this be the norm. Leaders in the church are not called to super-spiritual living so that rank-and-file Christians don’t have to worry about it. Rather, they are to set the pattern, so that other Christians might imitate them, as they imitate Christ. When it comes to life in our families, Christian leaders are the pace car.