Answering Some Common Questions re: ELDERS & SERVANTS and explaining some of the reasoning behind our leaders’ conclusions
Hello Brothers and Sisters,
On January 3, the elders and evangelist of the Athens Church of Christ presented the names of six men to be considered by the congregation for appointment as elders. We also presented several men and women to fulfill the role of servants, overseeing specific areas of need in the church.
Over the last 3+ weeks, members have had the opportunity to study the topics of elders and servants (deacons), hear some teaching from Douglas Jacoby on the subject, and approach nominated individuals and current leaders to ask questions and discuss any concerns. We highly encourage any who wish to take advantage of the time remaining prior to this Sunday to ask questions or express their thoughts.
Below is an attempt to address some of the more commonly asked questions that have been raised over the last few weeks, as well as explain some of the reasoning behind the leadership group’s thinking.
How do we determine who should, versus should not, serve in the role of an elder or servant?
We use the Scriptures as our standard. The Bible gives us guidance regarding the qualities that someone serving in these roles should possess. The Bible is the standard by which we live and make decisions, and is the final word on everything, including church leadership.
We can never deviate from the Scriptures simply because “times have changed” or something doesn’t seem to make sense to us based on our own human wisdom. While there is always room for legitimate discussion and, in some cases, even disagreement regarding the meaning of a passage, there is no disputing the divine inspiration and authority of the passage. (1 TIM 3:1-12, TITUS 1:5-9, 2 TIM 3:16, 1 COR 3:19)
TITUS 1:6 says that an elder must have “children who believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Why, then, is it deemed okay to have/nominate men whose children are not disciples as elders?
The Greek word often translated “believe” can also, just as viably, be translated “trustworthy” or “faithful.” Biblical scholars point out that the passage could mean ‘trustworthy or faithful to the Lord,’ but it can also, just as easily, mean ‘trustworthy or faithful to one’s father.’ So why have members of our current leadership group come to the consensus that we believe the correct interpretation to be ‘trustworthy or faithful to one’s father?’
Whenever there is legitimate dispute about the meaning of a passage, one of the first things we should do is look for clear evidence from other scriptures. The entire Bible is “God-breathed,” therefore, we know that it will not contradict itself. We can often shine some light on the meaning of a disputed passage by looking at one more clearly understood.
To interpret the passage as “faithful to one’s father” (respectful, obedient, etc.) seems more consistent with other scriptures. For example, in 1 Timothy 3, Paul says nothing about elders’ children needing to believe in Jesus (be faithful disciples), but he does say that an elder must manage his household well and see to it that his children obey (respect) him. Thus the emphasis is on the father-child relationship, not the child’s relationship with the Lord.
What Paul seems to be suggesting is that, since an elder is to be a “father” of the church, he needs to show himself to be a good father to his children and one whom they respect. The original Greek wording also suggests that the respect being described is in the present tense and currently ongoing. Thus it is possible that a man may not have always had this kind of relationship with his children but does in the present, indicating growth. It also indicates that an elder may still be currently raising his children.
If having children who are baptized disciples is a universal requirement for elders, why didn’t Paul emphasize this to Timothy as well as Titus? But, if the actual meaning in Titus is ‘children who are faithful to their father,’ then the directions given to Timothy and Titus seem to mesh well.
Second, this interpretation seems to make more sense. While we must always be careful not to rely simply on human reasoning when it contradicts the Bible, it is also true that when multiple viable meanings of a passage are possible, human reasoning can play a valuable role in drawing conclusions.
To say that a competent, spiritual man who is a gifted leader and has proven to be a good husband and father is not qualified to serve as an elder solely because an otherwise respectful child has decided not to follow Jesus does not seem to make much sense. More importantly, it does not find any scriptural support elsewhere; especially when you see examples of godly leaders in the Bible whose children did not follow suit (i.e., Samuel, David).
Third, there is arguably a cultural dynamic to consider. In the first century, entire households typically followed the father in matters of religion. This included wives, children, and slaves. This is why we read in Acts that often entire households were converted.
Any child who did not practice the faith of their father would not simply have been viewed as disobeying the Lord or lacking personal faith, he/she would have been viewed as rebelling against the father himself. It was not a culture that put value on children “thinking for themselves” or “developing their own convictions.”
Thus, matters of practicing the faith and respecting the father would have been closely intertwined. Again, in light of Paul’s words to Timothy, even if belief in the Lord is somewhat in sight in Titus, it still appears that the significant issue is the child’s relationship with the father, not his/her personal relationship with God. In our modern-day culture, a respectful offspring who has a good relationship with his/her father but does not follow Jesus would not be viewed as rebelling against their father, but rather simply making their own decision about God. Thus it would not reflect in the eyes of the culture a problem in the father-child relationship.
For these reasons, we have concluded that one need not have children who are faithful disciples to serve as elders. However, one must show himself to be a godly man, a gifted leader, a faithful husband, and a loving and capable father.
1 TIMOTHY 3:12 says that a servant (deacon) should be “faithful to his wife.” Does this mean that a servant must be a married man?
The passage can be interpreted two ways (as noted by many scholars). It could be saying that a servant must have a wife, and only one (be a faithful husband). However, the passage can also be taken to mean that a servant does not have to be married, but if he is he is to be a faithful husband to his wife. So which is it?
The consensus of the Athens Church of Christ leadership is that the passage is not prohibiting single men from serving in the role of servants. How do we come to this conclusion?
First of all, we must be careful about relying too heavily on passages like Acts 6, where it says the church appointed several men to oversee a specific need in the congregation. Some want to point to these men and, in light of 1 Timothy 3, insist that they must have been married. Others want to point to this passage and insist that, because there is no mention of wives, it shows that 1 Timothy 3 should not be taken to mean that servants must be married men. The fact of the matter is that the passage is not conclusive in either direction. It tells us nothing of the married status of any of these men (although it is highly likely they were married because most men were). Any conclusion based on this passage is speculative.
However, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul shares with the congregation in Corinth that, while it is not a sin to marry, he wishes that more could be like him and remain both single and pure. This would allow them, among other things, to be more fully devoted to the work of the Lord.
If assuming a role of service as a “deacon” involves increasing one’s responsibilities in serving the Lord and his church, then why would a life circumstance increasing one’s ability to fully serve the Lord disqualify someone from serving? Additionally, why would Paul promote living an unmarried life if by doing so he knows he is encouraging otherwise capable servants to disqualify themselves?
There is not a conclusive response to these questions, but they do lend weight to the argument that one can assume leading in a servant’s role and not be married, especially when said area is one of expertise and strength for the disciple in question. Again, this understanding of the passage also seems to make the most sense, especially given that we have numerous examples of single men and women effectively filling such roles in the church.
Can women be “appointed” to servant roles in the church?
1 TIMOTHY 11 refers to the yυναῖκας (gynaikas), which, in Greek, is the word for both “women” and “wives.” The same is true of the word ἄνδρες [andres] which is the word used for both “men” and “husbands. Therefore, whenever these words appear, scholars who translate the Scriptures into English must determine if the passage is addressing women & men or wives & husbands. Context often helps clear it up, but not always. Sometimes scholars agree. Other times they don’t. How the words are translated and read are determined by the conclusions of the translators.
This is certainly the case with 1 Timothy 3:11. Several translations read “wives,” which can mean that the passage refers to the wives of servants. (ESV, KJV, NKJV) Other translations read “women,” which can be taken to mean not merely women who are the wives of male servants, but rather/also women who are to fulfill specific roles of service themselves. (NIV, NASB, ASV)
So, which is it? While scholars debate and no one has come to a conclusive answer that removes all doubt, the leadership of the Athens Church of Christ has adopted the view that, yes, women can be appointed as servants responsible for specific areas. Why?
One, it is a viable understanding of the passage–as viable as the alternative. Two, there is implication in the Bible that women (i.e. Phoebe and others) likely served in such roles and there is extra-biblical historical evidence to support said conclusion. Three, it makes sense, especially when a sister is gifted and has expertise in a specific area.
NOTE: Keep in mind that although we believe married disciples, single disciples, men, and women can all be appointed to areas of service, that is not to say that there are not certain roles and responsibilities better filled by married individuals as opposed to singles, or one gender rather than the other. The determining factors are the spirituality of the disciple(s), the nature of the role, and the gifts and abilities of the disciple(s) involved.
Is there a conflict of interest having an elder who is married to a current member of the board?
No. The answer becomes obvious when one understands the relationship between our board of directors and the eldership. The Bible says nothing about having a board. The church board is in place, in large part, for legal reasons. As a non-profit we are required by law to have a board. However, biblically, it is the elders who are tasked with managing the affairs of the church, even when those matters are financial and administrative in nature (1 TIM 5:17).
In order to free the elders up to focus predominantly on the spiritual well-being and shepherding of the congregation, we have entrusted to the board the task of providing “wise counsel” for the eldership when it comes to the financial and administrative matters of the church (Proverbs 15:22). In other words, the board focuses on things like the budget, etc., and then presents to the elders relevant facts and recommendations. The elders then have the final say because, biblically, they should. There is no conflict because the board is an advisory group, not an authoritative one. The board is there to assist the elders. There are no competing interests between the two.
A few final notes:
Know that, most of the time, the elders accept and embrace the board’s suggestions. We have an AWESOME BOARD and we in the leadership group value and trust their judgment.
There is room for disagreement on the issues mentioned above. It is not essential that we all come to 100% agreement. It isessential that we all recognize the leaderships’ decisions are based on our understanding of scripture, not our own preferences or opinions, and that these conclusions have been prefaced with great amounts of study and prayer.
What matters most is that we all remain unified and focused on the task at hand: Growing to Maturity in Christ and becoming the God-Glorifying Community God Calls the Church to Be! If you have expressed any concerns or thoughts you have regarding potential appointments and a decision is made you don’t totally agree with, please trust and respect the decision of the leadership and rest easy knowing that you said what you felt you needed to say. Please do not take it to mean that your concerns were not taken seriously and considered. They were. And we, as the church leadership, remain open to further study and persuasion as we continue to study and understand the Scriptures. Please know that you matter and your voice is valued and welcomed. We simply came to a different conclusion based on our current understanding of scripture and what we feel is in the best interest of the church.