In the two churches I serve, we are taking a small break from Exodus in order to take a look at elders and deacons. There are a fair number of misconceptions out there concerning these two offices. I would like to write a few words concerning these misconceptions, and how we are to view the offices of elder and deacon properly. This post will look at the ruling elder.
The qualifications for ruling elder are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (a very similar list of qualifications is given in Titus 1:5-9). We can summarize these qualifications under three general headings: holiness, love, and wisdom.
Under holiness, we include the following: above reproach, husband of one wife, self-controlled, not addicted to wine, not greedy, and having a good reputation.
Under love, we may include hospitality, not a bully but gentle, and not quarrelsome.
Under wisdom, we include sensible, respectable, able teacher, one who manages his own household well, having his children under control, and not a new convert.
Some of these qualifications need a bit more explanation. Being above reproach always reminds me of the character in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress who has a robe of such spotless white that all the mud that the world throws at him cannot stick to his spotless robes, but always falls to the ground. An elder must wear the spotless white robe of Christ’s righteousness by faith.
The phrase “husband of one wife” has reference to the known practice of polygamy prevalent at the time. Hence, an elder whose wife has died and he has remarried is not barred from being an elder. Nor is a divorced and remarried elder necessarily barred from being an elder (all will depend on the circumstances of the divorce, and of his second wife, as to whether they are biblical reasons or not).
The phrase “able teacher” is also vitally important. Paul means not only that an elder must be able to teach, but that he must also be a learner. Someone who does not continually learn cannot possibly teach. Much mischief is done in churches where the elders are not grounded in solid Reformed teaching, and therefore they cannot recognize error in a pastor who comes along. Ruling elders must not take the pastor’s word for it. They must always compare the teaching of the pastor with the teaching of Scripture. And by the latter phrase I mean the whole counsel of God, which consists not only in what is expressly written down, but also what may by good and necessary consequence be deduced from Scripture. The analogy of faith is very important here. The elder of a Presbyterian or Reformed church must be very familiar with the creeds and confessions of his denomination.
Verses 4-5 compare the family of an elder with the church itself. The family is a mini-church. Not a whole church, mind you, since the body is made up of all members of the local body who have all the necessary gifts of the Holy Spirit given to them. This is why men must be leaders of the church, since they are to be the leaders in the household as well (see Ephesians 5). See this article for an excellent argument on this very topic.
Verse 6 shows the dangers of new converts in relation to positions of authority. I have heard many stories about new converts being thrust into positions of responsibility in the church, only to have terrible things happen as a result. New converts tend to have a very polarized view of situations. They do not tend to recognize how complicated the Christian life can be. As a result, they tend to be rash in coming to decisions, when patience and wisdom are required. The new convert can therefore be quite the bull in the china closet. I offer these few thoughts on the ruling elder in the hopes that they might prove useful to someone somewhere.