Into the Breach

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Titus 1:5-9

Paul opens his letter to Titus in a customary manner for his time, identifying himself as the author and Titus as the recipient, and giving Titus his greeting. After that, he comes right to the point: Get started appointing elders for each of the local churches they have established on Crete.

These verses are referred to as “qualifications of elders” (see also 1 Tim. 3:1-6) in many local churches that practice local autonomy, as opposed to denominational governance. Interesting conversations sometimes develop when church leaders discuss these verses: Are these exact “qualifications” that must be met by every single church elder, or are they guidelines to apply as appropriate?

Many who read this might be asking themselves why they should even care about that question, and I wouldn’t blame you; it’s a silly argument… except for this:

30 years ago or so, I was in a leadership meeting where this little detail came up in a discussion about appointing a very worthy young man to be an elder in a local congregation: Does a candidate have to be a father? Our candidate was a married man (must a candidate be married?) but he and his wife were unable to have children, and you saw it above, a man whose children believe (v. 6). The question is just how literal did Paul intend to be taken?

You still might be thinking this is a silly and pointless question; I’m not sure how many churches would still be asking it, but here’s one that churches still ask, one that has split several congregations that I could name here: Do they really have to be a man or can they be a woman who is above reproach? How about a trans-person? A gay person?

Far from being silly, this is one of the great challenges of our time.

I’ll tell you this much: 30 years ago, after vigorous discussion and consideration, our group unanimously decided that these verses were guidelines, rather than absolute requirements. The key argument was that Paul, himself a single man with neither a wife nor with children, had been selected by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to be an Apostle, and that is much higher than a local church leader. I’m sure you have thoughts on these things; feel free to share them (respectfully, please) with us in the comments. Next time, I’ll write a (simple to understand) Bonus Post on interpretational method so you can have some ideas on how to approach these kinds of things in your own study of God’s Word: See you then!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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4 Responses to Into the Breach

  1. So many grown children these days are dropping out of the church and disqualifying their fathers to be elders.

  2. I do look a them a guidelines, what I feel more important is that a person be removed if they are found not to be “upright” (not to be taken in a prim-and-proper fashion). I have seen ministers who were loose with the church’s finances, those who have taken advantage of youth put in their charge, adulterous with members of the congregation, yet they remain in their positions. Then I have seen these same congregations deny positions to people who have minor issues (dating a divorcee, being a single parent, etc.), but were otherwise devout in their worship and beliefs.

  3. There are so many areas where a LITERAL meaning doesn’t make sense and especially in the light of today, even though the Word itself doesn’t change. Yet we HAVE to rely on the Holy Spirit and discernment to recognize guidelines from what is meant literally, without that guidance, division in the “ranks” will continue! Great post and love the way you explained it! 😉 ❤

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