Friday, March 05, 2010

Church Elders and Their Children, Part 1

I'm writing this series of posts in order to respond to a specific question. From experience, I know that in the Churches of Christ, my religious family, this is an important issue. I suspect it also has meaning in other fellowships as well.

But before I raise the question, a short introduction for those who might be reading this from an "outsider's" point of view. Although we don't usually talk about it in these terms, people in the Churches of Christ believe that the New Testament envisions a congregational form of church government. This is distinct from a church government that is either presbyterian or episcopal. In other words, we don't believe that the Bible speaks of a presbytery that rules over all the congregations in a region (the presbyterian form of church government). Nor do we think that the Scriptures anticipate the Roman Catholic Papacy, or the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury (these being examples of the episcopal form of government). Instead, starting from the premise that the Christian Bible, given by God, has a unique and exclusive authority, we believe the Scriptures teach that a single congregation of believers should be "self-governing under Christ" (an expression used by Wallace Alexander in Introducing the Church of Christ, pages 71-75).

When it comes to the leadership of each independent congregation, the Bible exhibits, if I may I say it, a pattern. (There is a huge difference between identifying a pattern and, on the other hand, insisting on a narrow patternism). According to the biblical precedent, a plurality of men referred to as elders (or shepherds, or overseers), under Christ, serves, nurtures, teaches, provides an example for, and manages an independent, single congregation, the one that they're a part of.

Not only that, the Bible provides ideal descriptions of elders and their various roles in the life of the congregation. Some descriptions refer to an elder's qualities or characteristics (in paragraphs like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9). In other passages, we read about what elders actually do (see, for example, Acts 20:28-31 and 1 Peter 5:1-4). By giving prayerful attention to passages like these, congregations can be led by the Lord to develop, identify, and appoint their elders. The New Testament depicts this as something that happens under the leadership of evangelists, Christ's Apostles and their delegates (see, for example, Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5).

Now I know, there's so much more that begs to be said about my subject. But I want to get to the point of this series. Here's my question: Does Titus 1:6 teach that a prospective elder's children must be Christians?

According to the King James Version, the Bible of English-speaking Christianity for centuries, the verse says, If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

In the New International Version, today's most-popular English translation, it says, An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

To the minds of many people the phrase having faithful children (KJV) or whose children believe (NIV) means that, in order to be qualified to become an elder, a man must have Christian children. In countless instances, a congregation has settled for at least one son or daughter who has grown beyond early childhood and has since become a believer.

In the posts that follow, I plan to critique this interpretation and practice, and explain what I think is the truly-biblical alternative. About any of this, I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, experiences, etc.


James said...

I find this topic interesting, since I'm part of a young church family now that is growing and slowly appointing elders (2 at present, a 3rd in process). Also, seeing I just led a study on 'The Myth of the Perfect Parent' (article from Christianity Today), it seems impractical to judge a potential elder by how their grown children "turned out". I have a feeling a happy medium exists, whereby their faith-filled parenting skills can be attributed to them. After all, the faith of a child is nurtured through prayer and parenting, but not guaranteed.

Frank Bellizzi said...


Thanks so much for your thougts here. I especially like your point about "a happy medium." I suspect that if a prospective elder had four children, all of whom were living rotten lives, I would have my reservations about him. But, in that case, I suspect that I would see other red flags as well, and not just the lives of the children.