To Titus Paul wrote about appointing elders in Crete. He included this in his list of qualifications:
... if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Titus 1:6).Okay, bit by bit. "Above reproach." Clear enough. Well, we need to be careful here, of course. "Above reproach" would be a relative term, since all of us have earned some reproach. Let's just say that this person must be a person of good repute. He doesn't have any noxious character traits, any unknown skeletons in the closet, that sort of thing. (The older versions use the term "blameless". Note that "blameless" doesn't mean "error-free", but simply that all things for which blame could be laid have been dealt with. Debts have been paid in full. (I'm not talking about financial debts here.) Sins atoned for. Errors acknowledged and dealt with. That sort of thing. I think that's a good way to look at this.) Okay, good, nailed that one down. Next!
"The husband of one wife." Oh, now, see? That's easy, too. Well, perhaps. Because while it seems abundantly clear that "husband" here demands that these elders (church leadership) must be male, that's in question today. However, since it's not a question from me, we can continue. And clearly the Roman Catholic requirement of unmarried and celibate fails miserably to meet this one in any sense. Still, what is "the husband of one wife"? I go to a Baptist church. They are quite sure that it means that no man who has been divorced and remarried qualifies. Indeed, reputable commentators like Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Matthew Henry, and Vincent Word Studies all agree that this is a reference that says that neither polygamists nor divorced and remarried people can serve as elder. They even say that remarriage after a wife dies makes a man ineligible. Interesting. John Gill, on the other hand, says that a man need not be married, he may have married after becoming a widower, or he may have remarried after a biblical divorce. Modern commentators point out that the phrase is literally "one-woman man" and they suggest that the man in question should simply have a "one-woman" mindset.
Whatever course you take on this question, you run into problems. Taking the Matthew Henry et.al approach, for instance, would eliminate all sorts of people. Obviously remarried divorcees would be excluded, but so would remarried widowers. Indeed, all widowers (since they are now the husband of no wife) would be out. An elder whose wife dies would be required to resign. Indeed, neither Paul nor Jesus would qualify for that role. On the other hand, Gill's approach leads to difficult questions about "biblical divorce". Gill says "for adultery", but is that biblical? What about Paul's abandonment clause (1 Cor 7:15)? I don't know. Kind of sticky. What does "husband of one wife" mean?
But this third one really gets you bogged down. "His children are believers." So, just like the question of unmarried elders being ineligible, can elders without children serve? But, moving on, note, first, that this is the English Standard Version. The New American Standard agrees. Older versions like the King James and others refer to them as "faithful children". Adam Clarke says it refers to one "whose family is converted to God." Barnes disagrees. He says, "it is descriptive of those who had been well-trained, and were in due subordination." Gill rightly points out that "by faithful children cannot be meant converted ones, or true believers in Christ; for it is not in the power of men to make their children such." So, what does it mean? Well, in the parallel passage to Timothy, Paul told him, "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 Tim 3:4-5). (Note that he did not refer to "faithful children" or "children who are believers" in his letter to Timothy.) This principle -- someone who is able to manage his own household well -- coupled with the simple fact that no father, regardless of how perfect he might be, can actually make his children believers, would suggest that the idea of "faithful children" would refer to children who have been trained in the truth and who are well behaved. But ... does it?
Here's the next question I'm wondering about. Just using these three principles -- 1) Blameless, 2) husband of one wife, and 3) faithful children -- regardless of how you understand them, what happens if it changes? If your pastor, for instance (because in the Baptist church and many others the "elders" are the pastors), should come under suspicion (blame), must he resign? If his wife dies, must he quit the pastorship? If she divorces him, is his ministry as elder finished? If he is raising a group of "faithful children" and one runs amok, must he step down? These are things that may not remain the case. If they change, is he done?
Well, as you can see, this isn't one of my "Thus saith the Lord" posts. This is one of my signature "I really don't know" entries. Please educate me.