Archive for the ‘Elders’ Category

Pastoral questions about the Mahaney situation

As this blog begins to grow a few gray hairs I have tried to guide the ship away from internet icebergs. When it comes to church controversies being played out on the internet, I believe the majority of the issues come down to matters of the local church. The best advice I can give a younger pastor is to stay away from controversies that are not impacting your particular church. Keep your head down, preach the Word, love the people, stay out of politics. Generally speaking, this should serve you well.The opposite of this is currently being played out on the internet and in the circles of the restless-reformed crowd. Here are a few questions that come to mind:

Where are the Elders?

When the news first broke that C. J. Mahaney was taking a leave of absence, one of my church members read his letter and asked me, “where are his church’s elders in all of this?” I read the letter too and noticed that Mahaney made numerous references to ministry boards (Sovereign Grace), outside counselors (Sande, Powlison), and pastors of other churches (Dever) but not a single word about his church membership and requisite accountability to his local church’s leadership. The biblical model for church governance is local church elders. Not a CEO, not a board of trustees, not a hierarchical system, not a senior pastor and his staff, not a Seminary president, and certainly not a deacon-run church. There are two offices and they are elders and deacons. All elders are to be spiritually qualified (1 Tim 3; Titus 1) and the main focus of their ministry is the Word and shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5). Their authority is limited to their own congregations, which is to act as the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). My understanding is that no one gets an exemption from the biblical model (Heb 13:17).

Why is it public?

I believe the public way both the accusers and the accused are handling this is unbiblical. It is a sad tale that even the unbelieving world has picked-up on and are now finding yet another reason to mock the foolishness of Christians. This situation is not wholly unlike the issue of lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 6. “Is there not one wise man among you who can decide between his brothers, but brother goes against brother, and that before unbelievers?” Any pimple-faced kid with a keyboard can launch an assault from his parent’s basement but this doesn’t mean that every accusation must be answered in kind. Even when the accuser is a former pastor who should know better, it is not necessary to take a response public. This is almost never helpful and I’m trying to think of a single example where this has worked out well for anyone.

How is their theology serving them?

All this brings me to a key conclusion about this ordeal. The issue is not one of methodology but theology. It is always theology that informs methodology, whether good or bad. This situation reveals a subjective theology built on feelings, impressions, and some sort of weird contortion of the apostolic office. Jesse Johnson has written an insightful essay on these issues (see here). The letters and their responses reveal a paltry understanding of the doctrine of the Church, Spiritual Gifts, Sanctification, Forgiveness, and the basics of letter writing (that last one is a preference).

Some of the documents that have been “leaked” to the internet make Julian Assange look like a novice. The details are carefully dated and footnoted as if to say, “See we have footnotes, this makes it official!” I keep waiting any day now for an internet bombshell to detail the results of Mahaney’s latest physical exam. I guess we’ll have to wait for that one. However, what I have read has left me asking, “Really, is this it?” Is this worthy of the name of Christ? Is this what being “coalitioned” and “together” for the Gospel looks like? After decades of ministry, is this finishing well? I believe this can be turned around but it would take a reformation of ministry, theology, and practice of monumental proportions. One hopes that cooler and more biblicaly minded heads will prevail but as for now, it’s difficult to see if that will happen.

As a pastor this highlights for me, in a real way, the importance of training effective leaders, teaching biblical theology, and putting it all to practice amidst the flock. There is no need for me or anyone to aim more arrows at the situation, it’s already a mess without more sinners getting in the way. What we can do is pray, learn, and redouble our efforts in the places where the Lord of the Church has allotted us ministry.

Leading leaders

This week is our annual elders retreat where we get away for a few days to read, pray, and sing together. We take a look at everything we have done, are doing, and hope to do with the goal of being more faithful shepherds of the flock. We plan for the meeting with a congregational family meeting where we take questions, ideas, and thoughts. We form a loose agenda and then put it all on the table for a few days. Every year we come away refreshed, challenged, and focused on the ministry before us.

I would like to hear what some of you do with your leadership in this regard. Do you have retreats, planning sessions, and the like? Please give us the details. What do you do for downtime? Please share in the comments.

Leadership Retreat

I’m getting out of town this afternoon (through Saturday) with my fellow elders for our annual leadership retreat. I would be interested to hear if some of you do similar things with your leadership and if so what do you do? For fun? For ministry?

The Freedom of Integrity – Part I

It is critical that spiritual leaders strive to maintain a life of integrity. Boiling it down, integrity is the consistent harmony of convictions and conduct. Leaders who unswervingly live according to the principles they claim as inviolable are full of integrity. The opposite, of course, is hypocrisy. For spiritual leaders, the word of God is our incontestable standard! Our convictions must come from scripture and our conduct brought into conformity with its directives. Where there is doctrinal compromise there has already been a contentedness “with unbiblical notions that raise [the] comfort level and either justify or overlook…sins.”[1] Integrity is having an untarnished moral character both publicly and when no one else is around.

Years ago, I heard a story about a traveling salesman who was delivering a compelling presentation to the executive manager of a large company. As he was about to unveil the “bottom line” cost of his offer, the executive excused himself for a brief moment. In his absence, the salesman’s eyes caught his rival company’s letterhead on the desk. Noticing that it was a proposal, he strained to see his opponent’s cost figures at the bottom of the page, which were unfortunately covered by the executive’s soda can. Unable to restrain his curiosity, and seeking to gain an advantage, he quickly lifted the can which suddenly unleashed hundreds of tiny steel pellets, sending them all over the desk and office floor. The shocked salesman hung his head, promptly packed up his proposal, and slipped away in shame. His integrity had been tested, and he failed. The anecdotal tale graphically illustrates the importance of cultivating a heart of honesty and sincerity—a reputation for saying and living the same thing. Leaders can become adept at disguising reproachable conduct, hiding behind moral slight-of-hand techniques, intimidation, or important titles. Eventually, dishonest men convince even themselves of their “invincibility” until their hypocrisy is exposed in some scandal. When a spiritual leader’s mask comes off and God’s people are forced to deal with the fallout, there often is the recognition that certain “signs” of diminishing integrity were overlooked. During the months following a character-crisis at the leadership level, it’s been a common tendency to imagine that an otherwise decent leader simply stumbled one day into moral weakness, caught of guard by an overpowering temptation. Such conclusions are naïve.

A close ministry mentor and friend, John MacArthur, has said to me on numerous occasions that “when a man falls, he doesn’t fall far.” In other words, a serious breach of leadership integrity does not occur in a vacuum. Men who have, by the grace of God, forged a pattern of moral veracity are not suddenly seduced by a life of lies and hypocrisy. Betrayal of this sort slowly percolates in the heart over time with a host of smaller, undetected compromises. When an integrity scandal breaks, the fall of that leader is more like a short hop! This is not to suggest that godliness makes us immune to Satan’s schemes or our own fleshly appetites. MacArthur is right, however, implying that where genuine biblical integrity has been refined there is the strong traction of spiritual discernment and fortitude which prevents sudden moral plunges. Before enticing interests gain a foothold, pure men have already unmasked the lie and fled the scene as fast as possible (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22; Heb 5:14). On topic, Spurgeon’s eloquence is unmatched: “When we hear of a man who has ruined his character by a surprising act of folly, we may surmise, as a rule, that this mischief was but one sulphurous jet from a soil charged with volcanic fire; or, to change the figure, one roaring lion from a den of wild beasts.”[2]

[1] John MacArthur, The Power of Integrity, 30.
[2] Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry, 137.

“Children who Believe” in Titus 1:6 (Part 3)

Fifth, according to Barrick, when the adjective pistos is used to modify a noun (as it does in Titus 1:6), it always carries the meaning “faithful” or “trustworthy/credible.” In contrast, when the adjective is independent and functions as a substantive, it means “believing one” or “believer” (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”). Therefore, the meaning “faithful” in Titus 1:6 would be more consistent with the use of the word elsewhere in the New Testament.

Against this view, it has been argued that every time pistos is translated “faithful” in the New Testament, it refers to believers who are faithful, and never unbelievers. Therefore, it is said, pistos must refer to children who believe regardless of the precise way it is translated. In response, the fact that pistos is not used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to unbelievers does not mean that the adjective cannot be used in reference to unbelievers (which is what this argument needs to show in order to be compelling). To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing inherent in the word itself that precludes it from being used to describe an unbeliever. Used in this way, it would describe an unbeliever who, though unregenerate, is faithful and obedient to the one in authority over him (e.g., the soldiers described in Matthew 8:9).

The view that pistos means “believing” raises some practical difficulties as well. For example, if a man has a two-year-old daughter who has not repented of her sins and believed in Christ, is that man unqualified to serve as an elder? Most interpreters who say that pistos means “believing” in Titus 1:6 would answer No, but on what basis? If pistos means “believing,” wouldn’t a child who has not exercised saving faith disqualify the father (since “believing” does mean “believing”)?

Some would respond by saying that only an unbelieving child who has reached the age of accountability would disqualify the father. Aside from the fact that Titus 1:6 says nothing about such an age, what exactly is that age? Many believers give testimony to having believed at a very young age—even as young as five—so is five the age of accountability? If not, why wouldn’t it be, since children seem capable of believing at such an early age? In addition, it seems possible that identifying an age as the cutoff might establish something of a high-pressured countdown for an elder whose unbelieving child is approaching that age (i.e., “If my child doesn’t profess Christ by this March, I’ll need to step down from serving as an elder!”).

These difficulties are only compounded by the fact that so many children profess faith but do not truly possess it. It is often difficult to know for certain whether or not a child—especially one raised in a Christian home—is truly regenerate. In many cases, elders would be deemed qualified because their children seem to be saved even though they are not regenerate. On the other hand, it is much easier to observe whether or not a child is obedient to his or her father. These kinds of practical considerations, of course, are secondary to the exegetical ones discussed above, but they are worthy of our consideration.

Overall, then, it seems to me that Paul’s intention in Titus 1:6 is to communicate not that an elder’s children must be saved for him to serve as an elder, but rather that his children must be faithful and obedient to their father, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. Indeed, as Barrick notes, a believing child is far better dispositioned to be obedient and submissive to the authority of his parents than an unbelieving child—and in this way the two views may end up overlapping to a great extent—but saving faith per se is no more in view in Titus 1:6 than it is in 1 Timothy 3:4 (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”).

“Children who Believe” in Titus 1:6 (Part 2)

Third, if pistos means “believing” in Titus 1:6, it is difficult to explain the absence of this qualification (“having children who believe”) from Paul’s list in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Was this a requirement in Crete but not in Ephesus? As Andreas Kostenberger writes, “In the larger context of the teaching of the Pastoral Epistles, it would be unusual if the author had two separate standards, a more lenient one in 1 Tim. 3:4 (obedient) and a more stringent one in Titus 1:6 (believing)” (Kostenberger, “Children of Elders: What are the Requirements?”). At least one commentator has responded to this by stating that Christianity was established more firmly in Ephesus at the time than in Crete, and therefore Paul did not think it necessary to include this requirement in 1 Timothy 3 (White, “The Epistle to Titus,” 187).

Fourth, the translation “faithful” seems to be more consistent with the context, for every other qualification in Titus 1:5-9 involves an issue of the elder’s personal responsibility before God. According to this passage, an elder has a responsibility to be a one-woman man, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, and self controlled. But is he responsible before God to make sure his children are regenerate? Put another way, it makes good sense that an elder is to be “above reproach” in these other areas of life, but how exactly is he to be above reproach in the area of making sure his children possess saving faith? As Justin Taylor writes, “Requiring that his children have genuine saving faith is to require personal responsibility for the salvation of another, something I don’t see taught in Scripture” (Taylor, “Unbelief in an Elder’s Children”).

First Timothy 3:4-5 indicates that the father’s faithfulness in the home is a testing ground for how faithful he will be in managing the flock at large. Two fathers could be equally faithful in their parenting, and yet one might have a son who is elect and the other a son who is not. In this case, the second father would be disqualified even though he was no less faithful and capable than the first father. According to Bill Barrick,

parents do not have the ability to save their children or to guarantee their salvation. There is, it is true, a certain amount of accountability in how a child is raised (cf. Prov 22:6). However, nowhere does Scripture indicate that a father can determine the faith of his child. Each person is individually and personally responsible for his or her acceptance or rejection of the Gospel. Parents are not the Holy Spirit. Godly, obedient, consistently faithful pastors leading their homes with the highest spiritual wisdom, character, and deeds can experience a child who does no believe in the Gospel. Sometimes a child will not believe until much later in life. Is that man to be excluded from pastoring because of that? (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”)

At the same time, it has been argued in response that God will be sure to save the children of those men He desires to serve as elders in the church. If so, it seems that this would be the lone requirement in the lists of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 which reflects God’s sovereign choice of a given man rather than that man’s character and ministry qualifications. This only serves to strengthen the argument that the meaning “faithful” is more consistent with the context.

Look for part 3 on Thursday.

“Children who Believe” in Titus 1:6 (Part 1)

Pastors who have a high view of God’s Word take seriously the elder qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Unfortunately, not all of these qualifications are easy to understand. For example, in Titus 1:6b, the apostle Paul writes that elders must have tekna pista, which means either “children who believe” (NASB) or “faithful children” (NKJV), depending on how it is translated.

The disagreement concerns the adjective pistos and whether it should be rendered “believing” or “faithful.” In the end, the bottom line is this: Is the requirement of Titus 1:6b that the children possess saving faith (“believing”) or that they are obedient to their father (“faithful”)?

  • View 1— Meaning: believing, trusting; Translation: “children who believe [in Christ]”
  • View 2— Meaning: faithful, trustworthy; Translation: “children who are faithful [to their father]”

When the adjective pistos is used in the New Testament to describe people rather than God, it means “believing” 12 times and “faithful” 36 times, so both possibilities are well attested. In addition, we find that Paul uses pistos in both ways in the Pastoral Epistles: it clearly means “believing” in 1 Timothy 6:2 and “faithful” in 2 Timothy 2:2. Therefore, either nuance of meaning is a distinct possibility in Titus 1:6. For this reason, we must look to the context to determine which nuance is more likely Paul’s intended meaning. In doing so, I would like to suggest five reasons why pistos should be translated “faithful” or “obedient” in Titus 1:6 rather than “believing” or “who believe.”

First, the qualifying phrase “not accused of dissipation or rebellion” in Titus 1:6 emphasizes behavior and seems to explain or expand on what it means for children to be pistos (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 289). In fact, there seems to be something of a pattern in Titus in which Paul states a generic, positive attribute, which is then followed by two or more specific, negative attributes which further explain the positive attribute by stating what it is not (Banker, A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Titus, 36). This pattern can be seen in Titus 1:13-14 and Titus 2:3.

In Titus 1:13-14, Paul refers to being “sound in faith” (the one generic, positive attribute), which he further explains as “not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men” (the two specific, negative attributes). In Titus 2:3, he refers to being “reverent in their behavior” (the one, generic positive attribute), which he further explains with the words “not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine” (the two specific, negative attributes). If Titus 1:6 follows this same pattern, the idea would be that an elder must have “children who are pistos” (the one, generic positive attribute) in that they are “not accused of dissipation or rebellion” (the two specific, negative attributes). Because the terms “dissipation” (wild living) and “rebellion” (disobedience) are more logically opposite of what it means to be “faithful” than what it means to be “believing,” it would seem that “faithful” is the better translation (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”).

Second, the parallel requirement in 1 Timothy 3:4 refers to an elder “keeping his children under control with all dignity.” As George Knight states, “In both cases the overseer is evaluated on the basis of his control of his children and their conduct” (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 290):

  • Titus 1:6b: “having children who are faithful, not accused of dissipation or rebellion”
  • 1 Timothy 3:4: “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity”

In other words, the emphasis in both passages is on the behavior of the children, not on whether or not they possess saving faith.

Look for part 2 on Wednesday.

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