He Must Have Faithful Children
A little over eleven years ago, my dad passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44. He was a wonderful father, and I miss him every day. Words are inadequate to express just how much influence he continues to wield in my life, though he is dead. If it is the goal of every father to inspire godliness in their children long after they are gone, my dad succeeded. I say that, not to garner sympathy or to place my dad on a pedestal, but to spark a conversation I believe is very much necessary in the church.
In Titus 1, as Paul was listing qualifications for elders, he mentioned that "his children are believers" (Titus 1:6). The Greek adjective used, pistos, indicates someone or something that is trustworthy, dependable, or faithful. Though there is often a distinction in our world between a believer and a faithful Christian, the New Testament knows no such distinction.
I think Paul means what he says. For a man to be qualified as an elder, he must have children who are trustworthy or faithful in terms of the gospel and doctrine of Christ. It's reasonable to ask whether this disqualifies a man with only one child, albeit a faithful one. I do not think that, but I respect those who are of that opinion.
The bigger point here is that an elder's child must be faithful Christians, whether he has one or one hundred. This seems to be Paul's true desire, a qualification authorized by Christ for his bride, the church (cf. Matt. 16:19). Yet, in my experience, this is the one elder qualification most often explained away by a lot of well-meaning people.
The reasoning goes like this: Bro. John Smith is a good man. He has lived and worked in the community for many years and has a good reputation. He has been a faithful member of the congregation for many years. He had two children, a son (Johnny) and a daughter (Jenny). Johnny fell in with the wrong crowd in high school and has struggled since. He is known to drink. He was arrested once. He comes occasionally (mainly special Sundays for his mother's sake), but that's about it. Johnny got a girl pregnant about two years ago, and it is apparent to all that this weighs heavily on his parents' hearts. Now in his early 30s, Johnny no longer lives with his parents, but still lives in the community.
Jenny has seemingly not struggled morally as much as her brother. She was homecoming queen, graduated second in her class, and received a lucrative academic scholarship to a great college in state. She met a guy there, married after graduation, and moved to the big city. After a few years, she and her husband had twin girls, and those two little girls became the pride and joy of Bro. Smith and his wife back home.
Jenny is very friendly, out-going, has lots of friends, and is very highly regarded by those who know her. There's one problem: Her husband did not "grow up going to church," and due in part to his influence, Jenny no longer attends worship regularly, nor do her daughters. When the twin girls do attend, it is often with their grandparents during weekend visits. Every time Jenny comes for a visit with her granddaughters, she also attends worship at the congregation where she grew up and where her dad serves as an elder. She loves her daddy. She loves that little church. But any connection to God that remains in her is only to help maintain her dad's standing in the community.
The scenario I just described is fictional, but is also played out in hundreds (if not thousands) of families across the nation. In half the situations, that little church knows John Smith and his family, and they also know (usually through the gossip grapevine) that Jenny is not faithful to the church where she lives, though she comes regularly when she is in town to see her parents. And Johnny's struggles are too painfully public.
But that little congregation consented to John Smith being an elder anyway, even though the apostle Paul demands that an elder's children "be faithful."
If Johnny and/or Jenny were under the age of 18 and still lived at home, yet had lived these same lives, it is more likely that the congregation would have objected to John serving as an elder. But once the children leave the home, regardless of whether they move three hours away or three minutes, John is thought to be off the hook for his children's faithfulness. "You can't control your children once they leave the house," is what I'm often told.
We have a word in Texas for that: Bull.
My father has been dead 11 years. He couldn't spank me if he wanted to. Were he still alive, he would be 56 in about 2 weeks, and I'm pretty sure I could take him in a fistfight. But you better believe, whether dead or alive, my father continues to hold moral sway over me to a remarkable degree. Whenever I do something I know he wouldn't approve of—even when that I believe that thing to be right (or at least morally neutral)—I become an emotional wreck.
I've spoken to others who had fathers like mine, and they concur. I know a man, one of my former elders, whose elderly father is in a wheelchair. This man could not discipline his son if he wanted to, but his son has so much respect for him that he thinks twice about doing anything that might upset his dad.
The objection that you can't control your children once they leave the home is a cop out, a lie from Satan. Godly fathers seek to instill in their children a fear of and love for God that will live on after the father's death. Godly fathers train their children to obey—not just in their presence, but also in their absence.
I know, because I had one.
Lest this argument fall on deaf ears, I want to offer up one other. Paul wrote his letter to Titus concerning a church that was not very old. In many cases, the elders Titus was expected to appoint in every town (the that Paul required to have believing children) would have had adult children who did not grow up in a Christian home. In other words, the potential elder and his wife would have become Christians likely after their children had grown to adulthood, or at least after their children had grown out of young childhood. Thus, for a man to be qualified in Paul's mind, he would have had to proven himself capable of converting his adult children.
If nothing else, when we relax the requirement that a man have faithful children, we loose where God has bound, which carries grave consequences indeed.
And when you think about it, don't you want shepherds who have proven themselves capable of leading their own children to sincere faith in Christ? Don't you want to serve under shepherds whose own children are faithful sheep also? Don't you want elders whose adult children obey him in his absence, not because of threat of punishment, but out of love and respect? And wouldn't we want elders who had proven themselves capable of leading an erring sheep back to the fold, not by threat of corporal punishment, but by the sheer force of their moral authority and good will?
I realize fully that there might come a day when these words come back to haunt me. My oldest is only two and a half. What if he one day goes astray from the Lord and never returns? I can assure you that it would be a source of unceasing grief for his mother and I. I would LIKE to think that his possible departure would not be a reflection of my parenting, just I do not judge a man's parenting whose children go astray. Many great father's have had children walk away from Jesus of their own free will.
But one thing I can absolutely say, should that terrible scenario become my living nightmare, is that I would not consider myself qualified to be an elder.
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