The task of selecting men to serve in the offices of the church is a very serious matter. Calvin says that Paul mentions it in preference to everything else because in the spiritual building (the church) it nearly comes next to the doctrine. It is a labor that must be done with greatest discretion and much prayer. The church that ignores this will surely suffer dire consequences of ill-government for it is like a plague to the church when either unscrupulous or spiritually incompetent men control the presbytery. To avoid this as much as possible, the consistory and the congregation should punctiliously consider the requirements of the officebefore appointing men thereunto.
Likewise should those who aspire to the office consider seriously the magnitude of the office they seek as well as the rigid requirements of fulfilling the same. It is certainly true that “he who seeketh the office of a bishop, desireth a good work” (I Tim: 3:1, R.V.) but then it should also be noted that this passage speaks of work and this means, as Calvin writes: “that they who aim at this should carefully consider with themselves, whether or not they are able to bear so heavy a burden. Ignorance is always rash; and d mature knowledge of things makes a man modest. How comes it that they who have neither ability nor wisdom often aspire so confidently to hold the reins of government, but because they rush forward with their eyes shut? On this subject Quintilian remarked, that the ignorant speak boldly, while the greatest orators tremble. For the purpose of restraining such rashness in desiring the office of a bishop, Paul states, first, that this is not an indolent rank, but a work; and next, that it is not any kind of work, but excellent, and, therefore, toilsome and full of difficulty, as it actually is. It is no light matter to be a representative of the Son of God, in discharging an office of such magnitude, the object of which is to erect and extend the kingdom of God, to procure the salvation of souls which the Lord Himself hath purchased with His own blood, and to govern the Church, which is God’s inheritance.”
It should be evident then that it does not belong to every individual to discharge the office of elder nor does the mere subjective desire alone qualify one for the office. This important role in the church can be performed only by those whom God Himself qualifies according to the requirements which are set forth in His Word. By all concerned these must never be ignored. Too often this is done to the serious detriment of the church.
On the other hand, our emphasis upon the requirements of the office must not be construed so as to frighten those who do possess gifts and abilities but who under the cloak of a false modesty seek to be excused from duty. Such persons can often be found in the church. They always minimize their own ability. There are always others who, according to them, are much better qualified. Such persons have need to be pointed to their duties and obligation to employ whatever talents God has given unto them in the service of the church of Christ. To neglect that is sin. It is, of course, understood that all do not have the same qualities and that there is a wide diversity of gifts in the church. And every kind of gift is also needed. (I Cor. 12) When our fleshly modesty is inclined to cause us to shirk our spiritual duties, we ought to seriously consider the words of Scripture, “If any man minister (serve), let him do it as of the ability which God giveth that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom be praise and dominion forever.” (I Peter 4:11)
In the pastoral epistles we find a clear definition of the requirements of elders. We wish to examine these passages rather closely and will, therefore, quote them here in their entirety. The first of these is I Timothy 3:1-7.
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to. hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
And almost parallel passage we find in Titus 1:5-9.
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I appointed thee; If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
And, although I Peter 5:2, 3 speaks more of the duty of the elders than of the requirements of their office, it must nevertheless be pointed out that in this passage mention is made of the fact that the elder must be an example unto the flock. This is a fundamental requirement especially because, in the light of the context, the elder is characterized as a servant rather than a lord. Whoever lacks this one quality and is not able and willing to become the least and servant of all is at once disqualified, regardless of other abilities.
Before we now consider the detailed meaning bf these passages, it is necessary that we point out two things in general. First of all, when you read these passages casually, you are immediately in danger of committing a two-fold error. On the one hand there is the real possibility of drawing, the wrong conclusion that whereas these requirements or qualifications are so rigid and stern that there is no one who can possibly meet them, it is quite impossible to even consider selecting men on this basis. Where, for example, will you find men who are blameless, just, holy, etc.? Have not and do not all sin every day and come short of the glory of God? Will not even “the holiest of men admit their unworthiness to serve in the offices? Who then is sufficient unto these things?
In answer to this we must point to the words of Paul in II Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament.” The qualifications for the offices of the church of Christ are gifts of grace. No one has any of them of himself. Both the natural and the spiritual powers to rightly function in the office of elder are divinely bestowed. Without this all, without exception, are disqualified. If this is borne in mind there will be no danger of human boast but rather, “He that glorieth will glory only in the Lord.”
On the other hand, there is the possibility of drawing the equally wrong conclusion that whereas the requirements enumerated in these Scriptural passages are humanly impossible, they do not have to be strictly applied. The practical result of this is that they are not applied at all. They are completely ignored when nominees for the office are considered and these are then selected according to fleshly standards. The name of a certain brother is considered as a possible nominee for elder. It may be pointed out that the brother lacks certain of the above requirements. Perhaps he does not rule his own house well or he has a reputation of being covetous, etc. These points are discussed and, finally; it is decided that whereas these passages of Scripture cannot be applied too stringently, the lack of the brother on one or two matters can be overlooked and the name is placed on the nomination. This conclusion is entirely unwarranted. The passages cited above belong to the inspired Word. They are given for our instruction and guidance. However difficult it may be to find suitable men for the office, we may never ignore them in order to uphold a brother in his fault. We may not push the Word of God aside at our convenience. All of our actions must be governed by the Word and certainly the important labors of the church in selecting men for the holy offices must be guided step by step by the Word. Only then can we have reason to expect a blessing upon our work. To neglect the Word and proceed in our own way will only result in misery and ill-consequences for the entire church.
In the second place, we should point out that these passages that speak of the requirements for the office of elders do not speak essentially for them alone. In a general way they apply to every member of the church. You must never read them with the thought that they do not apply to you but are only for the elders and then perhaps, in your mind at least, brush them still further aside by telling yourself that you will never be an elder anyway. There are not two or three standards by which Christian character and conduct is to be gauged. There is but one rule for the one people of God. For example, the texts do not mean that only elders must rule their houses well, be the husband of one wife, be no brawler or covetous, etc. Frequently those whose own house is in disorder and who are most guilty of these various things are the first and loudest in criticizing and condemning the least flaw of the elders. What was that which was said by Christ concerning the casting out of the beam in one’s own eye before one can see to cast the mote out of the brother’s? (Matt. 7:5) And which true child of God is there that would dare to deny that the things written here concerning the qualification of elders apply also to him or her? Indeed they do! In the general sense of the word this means that it is required of every member of the church that they meet the specifications of office bearers in the house of God for in a very real sense that is just what every true member of the church is. The Christian is one who is partaker of the anointing of Christ, and, therefore; is prophet, priest and king. With this in mind, these passages will be of interest to us in a twofold way: (1) as they apply to those who are called to serve in the special offices of the church and, (2) as they apply to ourselves as we are called to serve God in the office of believers in the midst of His church.
In this light we shall examine them, D.V., next time!