Thursday, November 3, 2011

Elder Qualification, Part 2

Continuing the discussion from yesterday's post, I wanted to detail some thoughts regarding elder qualifications. Some thought I was rendering the qualifications ineffective or pointless by advocating for low standards. I do not believe that's what I was promoting, but in an effort to clarify my beliefs, I responded to one of the comments with most of the following text.

The word for blameless in 1 Tim 3 is anepilēmptos, and it only appears in 1 Tim 3:2, 1 Tim 5:7, and 1 Tim 6:14. In Titus 1, the word is anegklētos, and it appears in 1 Cor 1:8, Col 1:22, 1 Tim 3:10, Titus 1:6 and Titus 1:7.

I believe that Paul would use the term(s) consistently in 1 Tim and Titus, so the interesting passages to look at are 1 Cor 1:8 and Col 1:22. In both of those cases, Paul is saying the work of Christ will make us blameless when he returns. 1 Cor 1 is speaking of how he sustains us (sanctification) and Col 1 speaks of Christ's death (justification). So, outside the pastoral epistles, we're actually found blameless in Christ Jesus, not on the basis of our works.

If you borrow that meaning and apply it to 1 Tim and Titus, then there really is no other biblical requirement beyond having a living faith. Naturally, that would include fruit (John 15, James 1 & 2), so that would not be advocacy for elders who live as heathens.

But I think Paul is using blameless in a slightly different way when he writes to his young proteges. I think he's taking the soteriological idea and applying it to community judgment. I'm not saying he's becoming lax in his standard (salvation is certainly a requirement for eldership), but rather applying it to a human sense of justice and asking the prospective elder to demonstrate that he lives what he believes before his peers.

Even though we actually sin, because of the blood of Christ we are found "not guilty" when God judges us. That is how he finds us blameless: in his Son. If you take that idea and apply it to a man's character, I believe that you have a good gauge for measuring qualification.

Here is an example. "Not violent but gentle" is a qualification. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches that if you have anger toward your brother that you've murdered him. If the elder qualifications are really a standard of perfection according to the Law, every single man will be disqualified. Every man has some level of anger, so in his heart he is not only violent but a brutal mass-murderer. The qualification does not call for an anger-less life (which it would if you applied Matthew 5 to the qualifications). But if a person is justified in Christ, if they've been transformed into a new creation and the Holy Spirit lives within them, then God finds them "not guilty" in his final judgment. And that person will grow in sanctification, including the fruits of the Spirit (gentleness). The qualification for elder asks a man, and the body of believers appointing him, to evaluate his life for this fruit. If he's qualified he won't start fights. If he's qualified he'll turn the other cheek. According to observation within the church, he can be found "not guilty" of violence. Is he justified according to the judgment of the congregation? Of course the man won't be sinless, without anger or tempted to retailiate...but what does he actually do? How does he live his life? Is he growing in maturity in these areas and able to teach others the same?

I believe that is the standard by which you may judge the qualifications in a man. I'm not promoting that any church body be loosey-goosey with them, but I also do not believe that blameless means sinless, which is what some imply with a legalistic standard. I'm saying that a qualified elder is walking with Christ, but that's not saying anything more than is expected of all Christians.

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