Eldership Study – Part 3

Qualifications of Elders

This study and the teaching therein, is written to work in conjunction with Alexander Strauch’s pamphlet, “Biblical Eldership: Restoring the Eldership to Its Rightful Place In the Church”.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

(1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)

The Problem With the Discussion

Before we get into tonight’s discussion on the qualifications of elders, we must begin by laying out some ground rules.  No doubt, as is always the case, as we look at these qualifications, there are going to be some emotions that come with them.  While I do not expect this to be a problem in this group assembled here, the reality is that what we are about to discuss carries a lot of emotion and baggage most every time it is ever discussed.

The biggest reason that there is so much emotion about this subject is that the church walks a difficult line at times between the law and grace.  The church is a hospital for the sinners, we come from many different walks of life, and have all been saved by God’s marvelous grace.  However, the Bible lays out some pretty clear cut qualifications for a person who would pursue the ministry of eldership.

And as we begin to discuss these qualifications, the natural sentiment is to believe that I am saying:

  1. If you don’t meet these qualifications, you cannot preach or teach.
  2. Or that somehow I am legalistic about people’s ability to serve.
  3. Or that we are setting up a caste system of lower groups of people.
  4. Or that by laying out qualifications we are saying some are more worthy than others.
  5. And the list typically goes on from there.

The reality, however, is far different.  I want you to understand that we are all, elder and sheep alike, saved by the same grace of God.  However, there are certain qualifications laid out in scripture that one must meet, in order to hold this particular office.  What we are not saying:

  1. Is that if you don’t meet these qualifications, you can’t preach or teach – the reality is that one could most certainly teach or preach but not be qualified to serve as an elder. We are talking about a very specific office in the church.
  2. We are not saying that we want to be legalistic about people’s ability to serve – the reality is that, again, we are speaking about one office of service. One might not be qualified to serve as an elder that does not eliminate however, his ability to serve in a vast variety of other avenues of service.
  3. We are not setting up a caste system, with lower groups of people – once again, none of us is worthy on our own merit. We are all saved by the same grace of God. We are speaking about a specific office within the church.
  4. We are not saying that somehow if you meet these qualifications that you are more worthy than others – we are saying that you meet the Biblical qualifications.

While I hope that this is enough, for I feel I have sufficiently “beat the dead horse”, the reality is that this will come back again in someone’s mind, I am quite sure.  So what are those qualifications, outlined in 1 Timothy 3?

Qualifications

First, Paul opens by saying, “That if anyone aspires to the office of an overseer, he desires a noble task.”  In this opening line are two basic implications.

  1. First, that serving as an elder is a noble or respectable position – you don’t always have to respect the man, but one must always respect the office.
  2. Second, that serving as an elder is the result of a God-inspired desire of the heart.
    1. Think of the long days.
    2. Think of the burdens.
    3. Think of the criticism.
    4. Who would desire such a position, unless God had put it in his heart to do so.

As such, the God-inspired desire to serve (to be separated from a misconstrued man-made desire) is the first qualification.

Second, Paul says that this overseer/elder must be “above reproach.”  This statement is the summary of the rest.  You can sum up the eldership qualifications with this first line, all of the rest is a description of what it means to be above reproach.

  1. Let’s first understand what above reproach is not.
    1. Above reproach is not perfect.
    2. Above reproach is not without character flaws.
    3. Above reproach is not a perfect history.
    4. Above reproach is not without sin.
    5. Above reproach does not mean others will not defame them or that nothing bad can be said about the individual.
  2. Above reproach means that the individual is one built of character. That despite what might be said, nothing sticks to them, because they walk close with Christ in holiness.
  3. And so, in order that we might understand what he is looking for, Paul lays out the qualification of being “above reproach” one by one.
    1. “The husband of one wife” – I wish I did not have to deal with this one first, for it is the one everyone always gets hung up on. What does it mean?
      1. It literally means that they are committed to one woman for a lifetime.
      2. But the argument generally is surrounded by divorce and remarriage.
        1. There are some who believe that one could be divorced and remarried and still be a husband of one wife, and their arguments normally follow this train of thought:
          1. First, we must examine the reasons for the divorce.
          2. Second, we must examine the timing of the divorce – was the person a believer before the divorce.
          3. Third, Paul did not have the same concept of divorce and remarriage in his day, therefore, he is speaking about polygamy.
        2. On the other side of the aisle are those who either believe:
          1. Divorce is the central issue.
          2. Remarriage is the central issue.
      3. The truth is that some of these are unanswerable questions, but a church must make a decision for themselves where they stand. But for our purposes, let’s look at them individually.
        1. First, that the reasons for divorce matter – some would argue that if there were biblical reasons for divorce (abandonment and infidelity) then they have been released from the bounds of marriage.
        2. Second, others would say “If we have been saved since, then we are not held accountable any longer by the law, and therefore they are qualified in the sight of God.”
        3. Third, for those who would say polygamy is the issue, I would point out that in Paul’s day there were marriage certificates. And while ultimately one cannot rule out that polygamy is in mind, is it exclusive to polygamy? Or does divorce and remarriage an inclusive with this statement as well?
        4. For those who say that divorce is the issue, I would point out men who do not remarry, hoping that one day they will be reunited with their spouse – are they not committed to one woman?
      4. These all must be brought under the phrase “above reproach”. As I stated when I came to this church, my view is pretty simple.
        1. First, the calling of an elder, pastor, overseer is a high calling and should be only given to those whom we believe are above reproach.
        2. Second, in our society, no institution is more bloodied than the institution of marriage. In a society that has a divorce rate now over 60%, divorce and remarriage is not above reproach.
        3. Third, because it is a high calling to serve in this position and is given only to those who are above reproach, the church should try to stay as far away from the line as possible.
          1. Trying to judge the merit of every situation and determining whether an individual was right or wrong is an impossible task for the church.
          2. So my position is one of drawing a firm line in the sand, staying as far away from what may give the appearance of not being above reproach as possible.
          3. While I cannot prove that Paul did not exclusively meant polygamy, neither can another prove that he was not speaking of divorce and remarriage.
          4. So, let’s draw a clear line, even if it is on the more conservative side and make our stand there, for if we go the other way, we will be held more accountable.
      5. But this phrase also shows us that it must be a man – for a woman cannot be a husband.
    2. “Soberminded” – clear headed.
    3. “Self-controlled” – have his emotions and passions brought under the control of Christ.
    4. “Respectable” – be someone that others aspire to model.
    5. “Hospitable” – he must be to one degree or another, a people person (not people pleasing).
    6. “Able to teach” – clearly articulate the Word.
    7. “Not a Drunkard” – while there is debate over alcohol, the clarity is that he is not one under the control of alcohol.
    8. “Not violent but gentle” – he knows how to turn away wrath.
    9. “Not quarrelsome” – I have really struggled with this one, because inherent in the position is confrontation, just ask Paul. But I think the spirit of it is that the elder is not one who seeks out war.
    10. “Not a lover of money” – he does not ask people to sow a seed for a $68 million plane.
    11. “He must manage his own household well.”
      1. Does not mean his kids are perfect or that his wife is perfect.
      2. Speaks to him being obedient to Christ’s Word in His home.
      3. But also again, this excludes women, for the man was given the spiritual role of leading the home.
      4. And it is preluded with “he”.
    12. “He must not be a recent convert…”
      1. Again notice the word “he”.
      2. It is not that somehow an older convert is greater than a recent…it is that a recent convert has just begun the process of learning how to live by faith, set the mind on the right things, kill the flesh, discern, etc.
      3. And a warning is given that he may be given to being puffed up.
      4. It gives me a little pause when a church appoints a new convert to a position of authority to quickly.
    13. “He must be well thought of by outsiders…”
      1. Again, this is preluded with the word “he”.
      2. This does not mean that others do not talk bad about him.
      3. It means that those he has dealings with, recognize in him great character.

Back to the Problem

Now we have laid out the qualifications, but I am sure we are back to the problem…”You are saying if I am divorced, I can’t preach!”…”You are saying that if I am a woman, I can’t preach!”…”You are saying that if I don’t fit these, I am a lesser Christian!”  Again, I did not say any of those.  We are speaking very specifically of an office – the office of pastor, elder, shepherd, overseer…

  1. Can a woman preach? – Sure. I would say two things:
    1. First, she should have the blessing of her husband – as he is the spiritual leader of the home.
    2. Second, that she can preach, but not hold the office of the elder.
  2. Can a divorced and remarried man preach? – Sure. There are multiple opportunities to preach and teach that do not require the office of an elder.
    1. Sunday School or small group.
    2. Evangelist.
    3. Missionary.
    4. Again, we are speaking very specifically of a particular office – the eldership office.

The Big Picture

I hope in all of this we will see the big picture.  This is about God’s high calling of an elder/pastor in the church.  God has high standards, because the moment we diminish those standards, we diminish the effectiveness of the gospel.

I would point out one last time, it is up to the local church to abide by these qualifications.  It is not my responsibility to tell another church their elder does not align with the Biblical qualifications.  It is their responsibility to know and decide whom they will call.