Thursday Theology


I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag. When Paul states in 1 Timothy 3:2 that overseers are to be “the husband of one wife,” he is not referring to divorce. Yes, I said that and I am a Baptist…go figure. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul uses the word divorce (aphiemi in Greek) three times. However, this is not the same word he employs in 1 Timothy 3. In Greek, the words for husband and wife are the same as the words for man and woman. In other words the literal rendering of the phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2 is “a one woman man.” You could say that Paul is saying that an elder is to be a one woman kind of man. Hear this very carefully, there are men in pulpits all over this country that have never been divorced but are not one woman men. Likewise, their are men who perhaps were divorced pre-conversion, and then got saved and remarried and have been wholeheartly committed to one woman both in deed and thought since they came to Christ. Paul is not forbidding divorced men from being elders, rather he is speaking of the purity of the man’s heart toward his wife. Maybe a man claiming to be a Christian cheated on his wife and then got divorced. This would be a case when a divorced man would be disqualified, but not on the basis of the divorce alone. When examing men to be elders in our churches, we must not put on the narrow glasses of “has he been divorced?” If we do, we miss Paul’s point entirely and may install men who indeed are NOT one woman men.

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1 Timothy 3:1-2 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach

As we begin to look at what a biblical elder or pastor looks like, it is important to remember these words from John Calvin, “In this the ancient church followed Paul’s prescription and the examples of the apostles. Their custom was, with highest reverence and with earnest calling upon God’s name, to meet to choose pastors. Moreover, they had a form of examination in which they tested by the standard of Paul the life and teaching of those to be chosen. But they sinned somewhat in their excessive severity, because they wished to require more in a bishop than Paul would require (1 Tim. 3:2-7).” [Calvin, Institutes, 4.4.10] 

If the ancient church sinned by practicing excessive severity (testing by the biblical standards and adding a bunch more), the error of the church of the 21st century is excessive leniancy. That is, the only standard that most churches examine today is found in verse 1 of 1 Tim. 3, “If anyone desires.” The only test for the candidate anymore seems to be that he is willing, so we’ll ordain him. Charles Spurgeon famously refused to be ordain because he was afraid it would be empty hands on empty heads. Spurgeon was a wise man. The first qualification for any may who desires the office of elder/overseer is that he be above reproach. The man who is going to serve as an elder in the church of God must be above criticism, beyond being able to be accused of anything by another. This does not mean he is to be perfect, nor does it disallow for those to be elders who are falsely accused. The apostle Paul is falsely accused throughout the book of Acts and was certainly not disqualified from his ministry because of it. (see Acts 25:8)

Any man who is going to serve as a pastor or elder needs to have the reputation of being a man who lives under the grace of God for the glory of God. That’s what it means to be above reproach. It doesn’t mean that you find men who “have it all together”, rather you find men who know that they don’t have it together and they throw themselves upon the mercy of Jesus Christ. That’s who you want leading your church. Up next, elders are to be the husband of one wife. And here’s a clue, this doesn’t refer to divorce. See you next week!

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”   Titus 1:5 The reason that Paul saw the need for young Pastor Titus to appoint elders in every city is that churches were being planted in every city and these new fellowships needed leaders. At this point, we will not look at the qualifications for these men (and yes they are to be men), but give a quick biblical survey of elders as leaders of God’s people:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”   Exodus 3:16 [notice that even in bondage God’s people were being led by elders]

Joshua 7:6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads.

1 Chronicles 21:16 And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.

1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

1 Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed 

This represents just a small sampling of elders in the bible. The plural “elders” occurs 188 times in the Scriptures. Granted, many of these uses are of the elders in Israel who rejected Jesus the Messiah. But that was just the irony. It was the very men who were in the office of leading God’s people that turned the people away from God’s chosen one. This demonstrates what the role of elders primarily is supposed to be. They are to call people to turn to Jesus the Messiah, the Savior. Next week we will examine the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3. From there, we will then differintiate between elder and deacon.

Over the next several Thursdays, I will be dealing with the issue of eldership and church leadership. At Enjoying God Fellowship, we do believe in the autonomy of the local church, as long as the church isn’t autonomous from God. Elder leadership is all over the New Testament while “church voting” is absent. This is one of the things I will be dealing with in the passages under examination in this discussion. I will also be giving you some resources that will help fine tune your understanding of biblically called elders. Who can be an elder? What are the qualifications of elders? How does a church go about selecting elders? What are the jobs of the elders? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered when addressing this subject.

Another issue that will be dealt with is the biblical distinction between elder and deacon. We will differ from most SBC churches here as many hold to the idea that the two are the same. We will be examining one major difference from 1 Timothy 3 that sets elders apart from deacons.

Next week we will look at a biblical case for elder rule in the local church. Stay tuned!

Currently I am reading Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. This book, written in the 17th century, may be the most challenging book on Pastoral Ministry ever written. Yesterday, I gave you a quote from this work and thought it would be appropriate to continue with Baxter and the theme of Pastoral Ministry for today’s “Issues in Theology.”  Baxter was clear that a pastor is called to take heed to all the flock. Baxter also says, “But, while it is our duty to take heed to all the flock, we must pay special attention to some classes in particular.” Baxter gives six different groups of people that will be in our communities that need different kind of attention.

1. We must labour, in a special manner, for the conversion of the unconverted.

Baxter says, “The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labour with all our might.” The man of God should be willing to undergo any suffering or discomfort for the sake of men and women who await an eternal punishment. How easy it is to get distracted by “church stuff” and neglect this great need to labor for the conversion of the unconverted.

2. We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us with cases of conscience.

“A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies, and the lawyer for their estates; so that each man who is in doubts and straits, may bring his case to him for resolution; as Nicodemus came to Christ” (Baxter, 96).

3. We must be ready to build up those who are already truly converted. In this respect our work is various, according to the various states of Christians.

Baxter goes on to break down this group for us even more:

a. There are many in the flock that are young and weak, who, though they are of long standing, are yet of small proficiency and strength.

“This, indeed, is the most common condition of the godly. Most of them content themselves with low degrees of grace, and it is no easy matter to get them higher” (Baxter, 97).

b. Another class of converts that need our special help, are those who labour under some particular corruption, which keeps under their graces, and makes them a trouble to others, and a burden to themselves.

c. Another class who demand special help are declining Christians, that are either fallen into some scandalous sin, or else abate their zeal and diligence, and show that they have lost their former love.

“As the case of backsliders is very sad, so our diligence must be very great for their recovery. It is sad to them to lose so much of their life, and peace, and serviceableness to God; and to become so serviceable to Satan and his cause. It is sad to us to see that all our labour is come to this; and that, when we have taken so much pains with them, and have had so much hopes of them, all should be so far frustrated. It is saddest of all, to think that God should be so dishounoured by those whom he hath so loved, and for whom he hath done so much; and that Christ should be so wounded in the house of his friends. Besides, partial backsliding hath a natural tendency to total apostasy, and would effect it, if special grace did not prevent it” (Baxter, 99).

d. The last class of the converted are the strong.

4. We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each religion performed.

I can’t emphasize enough how crucial this point is. There is not any institution around that God has ordained that has been around longer than the family (Gen. 2:24). One of the downfalls of many churches today is that church becomes the one place you don’t see your family. We send the men here, the women there, the youth over there, and the children have to go around the corner to the blue building down the street. I’m not saying that there should never be these kinds of specialized ministries. However, it is crucial that families worship together. We want to strengthen families in the Lord. We want corporate worship to be seen as time where families really do grow closer together.

5. We must be diligent in visiting the sick, and helping them to prepare for a fruitful life, or a happy death.

I don’t think I have an aversion to visiting the sick. I think I have an aversion to what it has turned into. Most preachers are required to visit the sick; and they do so with a vengeance. However, it is the preparation for a fruitful life of happy death part that seems to be absent. Pastoral visitation is not to become “shoot the breeze” sections where nothing is really talked about and then you say a little one minute prayer with a Bible verse at the end. I am guilty of this as well because it’s so easy to let it happen! This is a hard discipline for the pastor and for the one who is sick, but a necessary discipline nonetheless!

6. We must reprove and admonish those who live offensively or impenitently.

Baxter writes, “Before we bring such matters before the church, or its rulers, it is ordinarily most fit for the minister to try himself what he can do in private to bow the sinner to repentance, especially if it be not a public crime.” Let me paraphrase this for you, “Pastors need to have a spine!” We are not called to walk on eggshells when it comes the the spiritual life of our flock. Sin is destructive and shepherds are called to protect their sheep from destruction. This means that there will be times when sinners refuse to repent and go on a tirade about the minister. This is of no consequence. Their souls matter to much to worry about what people may think of you.

You may be starting to see why a pastor cannot be a CEO or an administrator or a financial guru. While all of those things are important in their places, it is not the calling of a shepherd. Just this list from Baxter is enough to keep any man of God busy for the rest of his life with his flock. That is my dream and vision for Enjoying God Fellowship. This is the kind of shepherd I want to be for the rest of my days. Soli Deo Gloria!