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 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.

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19 comments on “A Minister’s Family As Pace Car

  1. I find it interesting that a potential Elder’s family is such a point of interest. It seems like it becomes a gossip fest about the leader’s family or that an Elder must give up familial privacy to be an elder. Is it not possible to have family challenges (even serious ones) and be a good worker? Should not a leader have room to handle serious issues without fear of losing his job? Vice versa, can an elder not fail at his job, simply because he has good kids? I realize that an Elder must be held to higher standards, but in my experience this pattern leads some families to put on a mask. The elder must maintain a good image at all cost. I don’t have the answer, but I do see the problem.

  2. If an elder’s child is unbelieving, it’s because that child is not of the elect. How is it the elder’s fault that one or more of his children have not been predestined for salvation?

  3. “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”

    What a beautiful passage! I’m wondering, however … should the fat children of preachers be buried in sand when stoned to death, or should they just be tied to a fence post so God’s Elect can lob heavy rocks at their heads? Their obesity will make it unlikely they’ll wiggle around much, either way … but still … the Bible is unfortunately unclear on this important matter!

    Further, should the stoning be done in a quick and speedy manner, or can the saints take their time and get in some good shots to the groin for entertainment?

    God Bless!

  4. Eric, I believe Doug has said before (including recently) that it’s not the elder’s fault — but it’s still the biblical requirement. You could regard it as God’s way of limiting the choice of candidates for reasons that might be beyond our understanding in a given instance.

  5. Eric writes: “If an elder’s child is unbelieving, it’s because that child is not of the elect”

    Very true. All children of the Elect are believers from birth. My wife and I have had five children (Isaiah, Joel, Abraham, Methuselah and Rahab). Instead of giving them bizarre and twisted children’s stories (like “Where The Wild Things Are” or that ungodly “Harry Potter”), they were presented with Bible stories (excluding the filthy ones in the Songs which should never have been included). They know and understand what Jesus does to disobedient children and have been excellent soldiers for Him ever since!

    A little fear goes a long way!

    Our eldest didn’t open his mouth for week after we turned up the temperature in his tub and started slicing vegetables into it.

  6. Pastor Wilson, there has been a question popping on and off the comments trail behind this series of articles for a while now, and I would like to ask my own version of that question:

    When you talk about excommunicated children, are you including covenant children who, having never made a profession of faith, have strayed from the faith of their fathers?

    I see the wisdom in deposing an elder who has raised up a brood of liars and religious hypocrites who pay lip service to God for social benefit. Such an elder will probably teach his flock to do the same thing, in the same way.

    I don’t see the wisdom in deposing an elder who has raised up a fool who rejects his mother’s instruction and comes out at age 14 as an Agnostic Daoist because his parents just don’t understand his life and anyone with a sophisticated view of reality should understand that you can’t know for sure that there is only one true religion, and that using porn doesn’t actually hurt anybody and is totally natural and should be allowed.

  7. I used to be able see myself sometimes as a pastor. But I should be disqualified on these grounds. And it points to one of the strongest aspects of how I need to change in life. Deep down, I agree that there is a solid comfort and reliance I feel when the pastor has attended his family well. At least it bodes well about how he could attend the flock. Though sadly most pastors are not trained to really tend the sheep other than preparing an hour lecture for Sunday morning. Sad when you see a good family guy not taught by example or seminary to “father” the church family.

  8. James, quit being holier than God. If he chose to gift us with the book of Song of Soloman, that was his choice. You are either second guessing him, or you are questioning the inerrancy of Scripture.

  9. Robert (not K.) — he’s doing both. On purpose.

  10. Does this still apply to a (potential) elder’s grown children? I know many grown adults who professed faith and appeared by all accounts to be living that faith, but once out of college and on their own, have gone the other direction. Is this a disqualifier for their fathers’ leadership in the church?

  11. I suppose the reason for my asking is that it would seem that the Scripture passages apply to fathers who are still responsible for their children’s daily life, but I was wondering if this responsibility is still there when the child is an adult with a family of his/her own.

  12. You missed one of the major reasons why children of clergy leave the Church after they grow up and are on their own. That reason is the abuse that clergy so often suffer from laymen who claim to be Christians, but treat their clergy in anything but a Christian manner. If there are 100 babies in the congregation and one cries, everyone thinks that it is the priest’s kid. When children see their father beaten up by some arrogant rich layman who thinks that he owns the parish, how are they to have anything but a negative view of the church? When their father is driven out of a parish because he offended someone for preaching the teachings of the Bible, what are his children to think of the church? More often than not when the children of clergy turn against the church, it is because they have seen the unfair abuse that has become a part of the life of an American pastor.

  13. James,

    You’re being an idiot. In the technical sense, not in the insult sense.

    Sincerely,

    Geoff

  14. I spent fifteen years with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who practice an extreme and congregation enforced, form of shunning. The Watchtower magazine once made it clear that it’s unfortunate that secular laws don’t allow them to stone sinning members (Nov 15, 1952 pp 703-704)

    I now believe that Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, that God forgives us, and it is our obligation to extend that forgiveness to others. Why not reach out to our children with love instead of throwing them under the bus when they act like…well children. Either that or don’t appoint elders that have (or will have) teenagers. They tend to get out of hand. I’d rather have a pastor who has been through the trials and tribulations of parenthood and demonstrated love and compassion, than a legalistic moralizer who thinks shooting the wounded is the way to keep the church clean.

  15. Fr. John, you are right on target. I hope and pray that those pastors’ kids who have seen their parent ill-treated by a church and gone off into a far country will one day realize that the actions of one congregation is not an indictment of the whole Church, much less of God, and return to the faith into which they have been baptized.

  16. The call to be an Elder in the Church is a hard but good calling. The extra scrutiny occurs naturally from living in commmunity, being hospitable, and raising children. Yes, a hard calling, but what better proving ground that parenting?

    God’s covenent blessing extends a calling for believers to their children’s children. This calling is a great promise, the normative response which is faithful generations. This occurs only by God’s grace. That is the point of a “better covenent” as taught in Hebrews 8.

  17. You people sound crazy?!?! Just go to Jesus and the story of the Prodigal son and quit your intellectual guessing games!!!

  18. And what about Alma and Alma the Younger? Are you saying that Alma should not have been acting as high priest or whatever role he had for the Nephites? I can’t say I agree with your Biblical line of reasoning, because it doesn’t match up with what Jesus taught time and time again to love and forgive and to extend growth opportunities to those who follow Him.

    Don’t forget that we believe in agency of individuals. And in forgiveness. And repentance.

  19. E B, you realize that Doug isn’t Mormon, right? The Nephites have nothing to do with Scripture as orthodox, Biblical Christianity considers it.

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