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.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • RFB

    Pastor Wilson,

    I am thankful that you are tackling this. One of the first issues that I have encountered regarding the problems of the pool is akin to What Pool?

    The concept of excommunicated would seem to require, a priori, of being a communicant. We are currently communicants at a baptist church. We are led by a pastor who is reformed baptist, preaching to a congregation that is in majority modern evangelical, with a few of us token Calvinists as chips in the cookie. And I agree with the premises of lines and I really really like guardrails. I personally do not want to resemble a
    disassembled 1956 Desoto scattered over the slope of a ravine.

    I think that at least from my perspective, that the problem is more easily fixed in churches with a higher liturgy and the understanding that these men actually do “rule over you [and] watch out for your souls, as those who must give account”, instead of being just nominal positions that must be filled.

    I am looking forward to this series.

  • RFB
  • Stephen Willcox

    I loved the line, “drawing the line in the wrong place is preferable to refusing to draw it at all.” I have in my life encountered in so many different topics a refusal to draw any sort of line on how to apply God’s principles and thus the principle is never applied. It merely stays up in the conceptual world where it can be tame and unobtrusive. Thanks for this clever phrase, that I will likely use in my future conversations.

    As to the issue of Pastors managing their households well, I agree that this indeed is a forgotten qualification. So much so that few churches consider on how to examine ones life to see whether they are managing their households well. It has become common for a potential pastor to speak once maybe twice in a church, interview with different groups a couple of times, and send in a resume. I am not quite sure how in that process a church could know whether this man could meet any or all of the qualifications in that process.

    I would be interested to see if these concerns of mine will also be address in these upcoming post. Thanks for your time and for posting on such a crucial issue. Blessings brother!

  • Whitney

    I would be curious to know how this passage is applied to elders/pastors with wives that are not walking well with the Lord. How would the broader principle be applied? Would you be willing to address that angle as well?

  • Whitney

    To clarify, I mean wives that are struggling with serious sin such as addictions, patterns of severe disrespect towards their husbands, adultery, or other sins of high rebellion….

  • Darrell Young

    When I saw the title I thought this would be about “able to teach.” That’s for later. As this goes forward, one big question is “what is a child?” Is this anyone still living in the home? A college kid? A teenager? Maybe another way to ask this is: under what circumstances would my offsprings’s behaviour NOT impact my role as a pastor/elder?

  • Zack Skrip

    Some good comments already. As a reformed Baptist, your suggestion would have interesting angles. Obviously, a child who has, while living in respect, never professed faith, would never be a member to be excommunicated. Also, once the child has left the minister’s home, don’t they at that time, rest on their own before God?

    I guess I would have to know some more historical information on what the typical household looked like when Paul was writing. Were kids moving out at some point? Where they adding on to their father’s house (if I remember correctly, that’s more OT, and probably not the context of Paul’s writing). Did household refer to all biological members wherever they were? (Ooo…. a hidden argument for multi-site!)

    If Paul is looking at a federal head over a household, one that has a single point on a map, then it would appear to be talking about any an all family that lives under the same roof as the minister. So now we are talking about kids. If we are to believe Paul is saying they must all be believers (sorry, Baptist again), then that’s a difficult saying. My son is just under 10mos old. Am I disqualified until he professes?

    Excommunication would be a good mark if the child was still living at home, under his father’s roof (if that is the historical setting of the letter, again, I don’t know), who is a professed believer who is now living in unrepentant sin. The baptist churches I know don’t usually take members before they are older (18ish) so by then or shortly thereafter they’ll be out of the pastor’s house.

    I was convinced this meant that they minister must have orderly, well-behaved children, who are growing in knowledge of God and obedience.

    I’m really looking forward to your posts. I agree, this qualification is the most “squishy” and usually lacks an objective standard. Thanks for writing these.

  • Brad Jones

    It would be helpful for us to look not only at what this requirements, but also why it is required in the first place. For example, a minister who is “quick-tempered” would inevitably end up going off on the sheep; ministry puts a man in difficult situations where it is important for him to be able to keep his cool. What about having unruly children would interfere with his ability to minister?

    Also, at what point is the minister no longer responsible for his children’s actions? Generally, the ordinary means of grace are made efficacious in the lives of the children of believers. But do we have Scriptural grounds to say that this will always be the case (if the parents are both believers)?

  • Vishwanath

    First of all here is an idea: why not deal with each individual case as it comes after several days of fasting and praying for the guidance of the Spirit? Since He is given to us, might as well ask Him what He thinks.

    And going back to the Bible is not enough. You can’t read the Bible without Him.

    Drawing the line, hence dividing people, is a prerogative of God Himself. Usurping this is a major consequence of the Fall. There is no way of developing a formula for all cases. Had there been, King David would not have been a Biblical author, as you did point out.

    Where is the question of faithfulness without personal relationship? We are called to love Jesus because He is alive. Why speak of Him as though He is absent and has only left behind a manual?

  • JDA

    Brad raises an interesting question.Which of the “qualifications” are required and which are optional?And who makes that determination?

  • JDA

    Regarding decision making and the will of God. Are we to seek some kind of “burning in the bosom” as (1) confirmation of whether or not we’ve fasted and prayed long enough, and (2) doesn’t that confirmation, itself, in turn, need to be interpreted? In other words, when you say that “going back to the Bible is not enough,” aren’t you relying on some form of subjective feeling to make up the lack that you imply is there? When Jesus sparred with the Doctors and PhD’s of His day, or even when responding to Satan’s temptations, did He not always turn to Scripture? Did He ever ask them, as Aragorn in ROTK does of Gandalf, “What does your heart tell you?”

  • Emma

    Thank you so much I have often wondered about this verse especially having known a pastor who would regularly tell his kids that his job depended on their behaviour – I was never sure how helpful that was, but admired the attempt to address this verse. I agree with the commentator above at what age does the child cease to reflect on their parents? Does that link in with the age at which it would be inappropriate for a woman to teach a man (I’m thinking childrens/youth work)? Also I’m intrigued by your comment about these verses talking about the appointment of elders not the continuation of eldership – is there a difference in application/should there be? And lastly how far down the leadership chain of command should these qualifications apply? Minister, elder, youth leader, bible study leader, volunteer childrens workers etc etc? Thank you

  • Roger Keane

    I think the issue here is one primarily of capability. It is not necessarily so much the case that the elder proves his worthiness of the office by having believing children, although if one were to notice a pattern in these areas, it might. Rather, the issue is that if a wise and godly man is having trouble keeping order in his home, that is where his attention needs to be, bodily, spiritually, and mentally, not in the session room. This will ultimately produce the better thing for his family, himself, and the church.

    And it seems as though we are already digging into the hypotheticals–fine, I suppose, except one of the key points of the first article is that there will always be situations that don’t exactly fit the standard, whatever that is, which is why we take care to elect wise and spiritually discerning men to the session to deal with it.

  • Vishwanath

    The key is to trust God rather than increasingly complex formulae, unless one prefers to submit to another Talmud. Jesus is alive and He has not left us without a Guide, the Spirit of Truth. Ask Him and He will guide and protect from the Devil’s wiles. He is able to do this and more. But rely on your own wisdom and see where that takes you.

  • katecho

    Did Vishwanath just place Scripture on the same level as the Talmud? And what’s that sound I hear?

  • Jon Swerens

    One yes-or-no question for Vishwanath:

    Does the Spirit speak through the Bible?

  • Vishwanath

    The Spirit speaks, though He does not contradict the Bible. It is through the Spirit alone that the Bible can be rightly interpreted. The Spirit can speak without the Bible. The Bible is not the Talmud, though the temptation is to build hedges around it to keep from “violating God’s Law” which leads to compositions of latter-day Talmuds. The way to avoid it is to trust God to provide guidance in one’s life – even running the risk of being misled by the Devil. The Lord will not let His sheep stray.

  • Joel


    I could be mistaken, but I think Spirit is telling me you’re wrong. God’s elect may not ultimately go astray, but that doesn’t necessarily protect them from misinterpreting the Scriptures, damaging the work of the Kingdom, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.


  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    Parenting is discipling and discipling (including pastoring) is a sort of parenting. If a man can’t show himself faithful with the disciples closest to him, the ones in whom he invests the most time and care, how is he to be trusted with the shepherding of those more distant from himself — people for whom he has much less time, much less natural affection, much less control of their environment, etc.?

    Emma — I would say that it is unhelpful for a pastor to tell his kids that his job depends on their behavior. Rather, his job depends on his parenting. He shouldn’t place the burden on their shoulders, but it is probably good for them to know that such a burden is on his shoulders.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    Vishwanath — Yes, the key is to trust God, and trusting God can be summed up by believing and obeying Him. Trusting some vague sense of the Spirit’s leading is fraught with danger: how do I know that what I think the Spirit is saying isn’t just my own feelings or thoughts? But God, in His great kindness, gave us an objective standard by which to know and understand Him. Believing and obeying the Bible is believing and obeying God, because it is His Word. Believing and obeying the Bible is following the Spirit’s leading, because He is the Breath God breathed into it (2 Tim. 3:16). The written Word is a tremendous gift from God, and we are properly grateful for it when we rely on it as the means by which the Spirit leads us, not as something wholly other than Him.

  • Vishwanath

    I do not see how the Bible is “objectively interpreted”. That is an oxymoron right there. It is far safer to rely on the Holy Spirit to provide guidance. The gentleman who flippantly claimed that the “Spirit told me” without actually praying and consulting the Spirit should beware of speaking presumptously lest he be disciplined.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    Who used that phrase, Vishwanath? Of course it is safe to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance, but to say one is doing that and simultaneously refuse to submit to the revealed Word of God is the real oxymoron.

    It reminds me of the guy who started praying for God’s deliverance when a flood was coming. His next-door neighbor offered him a ride out of town. “No thanks,” he replied, “I’m waiting on the Lord to deliver me.” The waters came and rose and he retreated to the second floor. A fellow came by in a row boat and invited him to hop in. “No thanks,” he replied, “I’m waiting on the Lord to deliver me.” A while later, he was perched on the very top of his roof, hanging on to the weather vane as the water lapped at his ankles. A helicopter appeared and dropped a ladder, but he waved it away with the one hand he could spare for the task. “No thanks!” he shouted, “I’m waiting on the Lord to deliver me!” A few minutes later, he drowned. When he arrived at the pearly gates and met the Lord, he was truly puzzled. “I waited on you to deliver me, Lord. Why didn’t you?”

    Of course we can all see how silly he was to dismiss such clear means of deliverance. So it is with people who dismiss Scripture and expect the Spirit’s guidance. “I’m waiting on the Lord to guide me,” the say, and the Lord replies, “Here is a Book full of guidance to understand My character, My work, and My will.” It is foolish, ungrateful, and arrogant to expect Him to cater to your demand for revelation when you’ve brushed aside the revelation He’s already given you.

  • Wesley

    Well, Vishwanath, respectfully, how did you find out that you should be led by the Spirit? Scripture?

  • Vishwanath

    Interesting that I am having this conversation on what I thought was a straightforward issue. But now that I think of it, I have met people like you before. It struck me as odd then as it does now; that any Christian could actually hold the belief that the Bible is what Jesus left behind to comfort and guide us. The Bible is an important part of the solace but the Comforter is a Person, God the Spirit who works to cleanse our hearts. It is by Him that our eyes are opened to read Scripture rightly. These attempts to read the Bible without trusting in His continual Presence and Providence is futility. Even vanity. But the good news is that even the illiterate have His comfort to sustain them. And that the literate do not enjoy special access to Him.

  • Reuben K.

    My question is: what about the education of children?

    To be blunt and a little callous, is putting your children through public school a red flag for disqualification? In churches near and dear to my heart, most of the grief and chaos caused by elders’ children is a direct and observable result of the influence of public school culture and education, especially in cooperation with the parents’ abdication of their role in providing a culture and education for their children.

    (Yep, I was homeschooled.)

  • Vishwanath

    What kind of person submits to a book or a letter. You submit to the One who wrote the letter. And He is here! His letter points to Him. Let Him show us how to read rather than trusting in the interpretation of sinful men. Trust Him to keep us safe from misinterpretations arising from our sin or from the Devil.

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    There is no difference between submitting to a person and submitting to his word. If a father writes his son a note telling him to mow the lawn, the boy can’t claim that his decision to instead play video games was in any way, shape, or form submission to his father. And why are you throwing in that bit about the interpretation of sinful men? Do you think we’re saying we should submit to interpretations of Scripture? Or are you saying that you believe Scripture to be an interpretation of God’s Word by sinful men? And yes, the Bible can and does provide solace, but I’d recommend you be concerned about what else it does: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

  • JDA

    So, perhaps the question becomes whether or not we are ready to obey what God has spoken to us in His Word, OR do we (as Valerie as already aptly implied) first require FURTHER revelation from Him DIRECTLY? In other words, what if we could talk FACE TO FACE with God, say, like how Adam did, before the Fall? Regarding the above question, what might that look like? [ The following speculative narrative, excerpted from Garry Friesen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God,” may be helpfully illustrative ]

    “THE FIRST SUPPER” (with apologies to Moses ben Amram[1])

    Adam was hungry. He had had a long, challenging day naming animals. His afternoon nap had been refreshing, and his post-siesta introduction to Eve was exhilarating, to say the least. But as the sun began to set on their first day, Adam discovered that he had worked up an appetite.

    “I think we should eat,” he said to Eve. “Let’s call the evening meal ‘supper.'”

    “Oh, you’re so decisive, Adam,” Eve said. “I like that in a man. I guess all the excitement of being created has made me hungry, too.”

    As they discussed how they should proceed, they decided that Adam would gather fruit from the garden, and Eve would prepare it for their meal. Adam set about his task and soon returned with a basket full of ripe fruit. He gave it to Eve and went to soak his feet in the soothing current of the Pishon River until supper was ready. He had been reviewing the animals’ names for about five minutes when he heard his wife’s troubled voice.

    “Adam, could you help me for a moment?”

    “What seems to be the problem, dear?”

    “I’m not sure which of these lovely fruits I should prepare for supper. I’ve prayed for guidance from the Lord, but I’m not really sure what He wants me to do. I certainly don’t want to miss His will on my very first decision. Would you go to the Lord and ask Him what I should do about supper?”

    Adam’s hunger was intensifying, but he understood Eve’s dilemma. So he left her to go speak with the Lord. Shortly, he returned. He appeared perplexed.

    “Well?” Eve said.

    “He didn’t really answer your question.”

    “What do you mean? Didn’t He say anything?”

    “Not much. He just repeated what He said earlier today during the garden tour: ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.’ I assure you, Eve, I steered clear of the forbidden tree.”

    “I appreciate that, but that doesn’t solve my problem,” Eve said. “What fruit should I prepare for tonight?”

    From the rumbling in his stomach, Adam discovered that lions and tigers were not the only things that growl. So he said, “I’ve never seen such crisp, juicy apples. I feel a sense of peace about them. Why don’t you prepare them for supper?”

    “All right, Adam. I guess you’ve had more experience at making decisions than I have. I appreciate your leadership. I’ll call you when supper’s ready.”

    Adam was only halfway back to the river when he heard Eve’s call. He jogged back to the clearing where she was working, but his anticipation evaporated when he saw her face. “More problems?” he asked.

    “Adam, I just can’t decide how I should fix these apples. I could slice them, dice them, mash them, bake them in a pie, a cobbler, fritters, or dumplings. I really want to be your helper, but I also want to be certain of the Lord’s will on this decision. Would you be a dear and go just one more time to the Lord with my problem?”

    Adam was not keen on bothering the Lord again, but after Eve said some very nice things about him, he agreed to go. When he returned, he said, “I got the same answer as before: ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.'”

    Adam and Eve were both silent for a moment. Then with light in his eye, Adam said, “You know, Eve, the Lord made that statement as though it fully answered my question. I’m sure He could have told us what to eat and how to eat it; but I think He’s given us freedom to make those decisions. It was the same way with the animals today. He told me to name the animals, but He didn’t whisper any names in my ear. Assigning those names was my responsibility.”

    Eve was incredulous. “Do you mean that we could have any of these fruits for supper?” Eve said. “Are you telling me that I can’t miss God’s will in this decision?”

    “The only way you could do that is to pick some fruit from the forbidden tree. But none of these fruits are from that tree. Why, I suppose we are free to eat a little from each one of them.” Adam snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Say, that’s a great idea! Let’s have fruit salad for supper!”

    And so they did.

    [1] Assuming the Mosaic authorship of Genesis, he would have been the writer of the original narrative.

    [ Used by permission, Garry Friesen. ]

  • Joel

    V – how dare you accuse me of glibness. You don’t know me from Adam, and here you are bloviating on my prayer life and sincerity. But I think this is a nice illustration of the difficulty with your “hermeneutic” (I use the word charitably) – somehow, it’s never enough for the Spirit to tell *me* what to, is it? Seems like he always has a couple of instructions for everybody else, too…

  • Vishwanath

    But of course revelation must preceed Scripture. How is a soul to know which is the way to God without Him declaring Himself. Only then can we go for short periods of time on the Bible. But we still need Him before long else we starve. It is by His Spirit alone that we can endure what would have crushed us utterly without Him. The Bible describes Him explicitly and for that we are grateful. But He makes Himself known in other ways also.

  • Vishwanath

    Dear Mr Joel,you were glib and you know it :)

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    I was going to comment more on this thread, but I think I’ll go read my Bible, instead. I think I will find it more edifying than Vishwanath’s make-it-up-as-we-go-along approach to understanding how to think and live and know God.

  • Andrew Lohr

    I have read the Bible many times, and it never told me God has stopped talking to people. It has told me some prophecies are not part of the canon of Scripture; so the “cessationist” claim that any actual prophecy, or word from God, must be added to Scripture, is unBiblical.

    Take an analogy from a marriage. If the marriage does not bind husband and wife, there’s a problem (and this does happen). But if, having said “I do,” they never talk to each other again, there’s also a problem (and this also happens). So the Bible rules, as Vishwanath has acknowledged. But God can tell Martyn Lloyd-Jones to pause Ephesians and preach on “spiritual depression,” or tell Jackie Pullinger which Hong Kong high rise a person she needs to meet lives in, without adding to Scripture or overruling Scripture.

    Living by sighted faith for people who have experienced miracles and words from God has its dangers. Living by sighted faith for people who needed miracles or words and didn’t get them may be one motive for cessationism, but it doesn’t have to be. Vineyard founder John Wimber believed in, and preached, and tried to practice, miraculous healing for six months, and no one was healed. That was living by faith in God’s Word, eh?

  • Valerie (Kyriosity)

    “So the Bible rules, as Vishwanath has acknowledged.”

    Has he? Please point me to where, because I missed it.

    And if I have not heretofore acknowledged that the Spirit leads in ways additional to the Bible, then let me clear that up right now. I by no means deny that “the wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8). What I deny is that the Word takes a back seat to any other means by which He communicates or that He ever delivers some message that contradicts Scripture. And I deny that He continues to deliver special revelation that is on a par with Scripture, i.e., that could be written down and printed in the next edition right after Revelation. But I’m all for Susie being open to that nudge from the Spirit to pray urgently for her cousin. I’m all for Pastor Smith seeking guidance about what to preach next week. I’m all for those sorts of personal leadings by our Guide and Comforter. What I’m not for is setting aside the plain teaching of Scripture to seek out direct guidance from the Spirit when He’s already given it. Seeking wisdom for how to apply, for instance, 1 Tim. 3:2,4-5 and Titus 1:5-7, is great. Trying to weasel our way out of obeying them under the guise of pious-sounding assertions about seeking the Spirit’s guidance is rebellious.