Elders, families, and law keeping

gavelRecently I was discussing some topics about elders with some friends on the Internet. Specifically, they were questioning the need for an elder to be married and to have children.

In his Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell expressed:

That although the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the Church, and therefore in that respect can not be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline, and government of the Old Testament Church, and the particular duties of its members.

Many of us, myself included, have moved away from this way of seeing the Bible as some sort of constitution for the church. One can look at Exodus and Leviticus and see what religious law code looks like; such language is absent from the New Testament.

For some, that means that the New Testament is little more than a snapshot of how the church was then; at best we’re seeing one possible expression of Christianity.

I view the writings of the New Testament differently, specifically the letters. I see in them an expression of how things should be. We take things like culture and context into consideration, but we don’t use them to render the epistles meaningless.

Especially when looking at elders. Among the things we see in the New Testament are the lists of elders’ characteristics in 1 Timothy and Titus. These letters are written to churches in very different situations. Timothy was in Ephesus, where the church had functioned for decades. Titus was on Crete, where the church was apparently just gaining a foothold. Because of this, when we see things in the list that overlap, those teachings are especially powerful.

So it is with elders and their families. It’s especially telling in Timothy, where we’re talking about men who aren’t new converts. Even so, Paul tells Timothy

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? (1 Timothy 3:4–5)

You expect these instructions to be given to Titus (and they were: Titus 1:6), who wouldn’t have the luxury of seeing how candidates had behaved themselves in church for years and years. But even in Ephesus, Paul says that the home life of a man will show his aptness for the job of elder.

That’s why elders need to be married. And have children.

“Is that a law? Will we go to hell if we do things differently?”

It doesn’t seem to be stated as a law. For me, it’s like the need to change the oil in my car. The owner’s manual doesn’t state that as a law. I don’t know of any state or federal regulations that require me to change the oil in my car. But I trust the car manufacturer and other knowledgeable people who have told me of the need to perform this needed maintenance. Frankly, I’d be foolish to do otherwise.

I trust the New Testament writers to describe what is best for a church. I want to do what will edify the church. In my life, I want to do what will most please God. For me it’s not a matter of law. It’s a matter of trying to be the best Christian I can be.

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