“”Unqualified Elders and Deacons?”

“If a sister congregation appointed elders and deacons who are not qualified according to the Scriptures, do we have the right to object or to oppose the appointments? What if we objected, and the appointing congregation justified its decision (appointing elders and deacons) citing the principle of “local autonomy,” what is to be done? We are now taking the flak for not doing something decisive about it, so we desperately need the advice of brethren (Name withheld).

_________________

In answering this question, I am not taking the sides of anyone. I don’t know the background of this problem, but I know that the problem involves the proper understanding and use of the Scriptures as regards the quality of men to be appointed as elders and deacons.

Note that I used the terminology “quality of men” instead of “qualification of the men” to be appointed to the above -mentioned work, task, position, or office. These qualities are laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Was Paul speaking here by his authority as Christ’s ambassador or apostle? Yes.

Does this ambassadorship or apostleship of his carry some authority? We affirm that it does. In fact it carries MUCH authority. His authority is rooted on the authority of the One who sent him. Respect for the Word Paul preached (meaning the Bible) means respect for the authority of God who sent the Word (or Bible) into the world.

Need we to differ from Paul as regards the qualities of men we as preachers appoint to the offices of elders and deacons? No. That is disrespect for the Word of God which Paul preached.

What if we do? What if differ from Paul?

You mean what if we differ from the Word that Paul said?

You as a church cannot invoke freedom to disagree, because such would mean disagreement with what the Scriptures say. While we all are free in Christ, we are not free to violate His will. We are not free to do what we will in matters of faith. While we may be free to disagree on matters of opinion such as the number cups to use on the Lord’s table, we are not free to disagree on the number of wives an elder must have (only one!), for this involves a matter of faith. While we may be free to disagree on the kind of songbooks we would use in worship, we are not free to disagree on the kind of music to use in worshipping our God (no drunkard songs, no instrument, for that is another kind of music)

Whence cometh this monster called “local autonomy”? It is not even in the Scriptures. But it has often been used to justify our disagreement with the Scriptures, it has been used to twist the Scriptures, it has been used to impose human will above the Scriptures.

Did Paul violate “your local autonomy” when he sent Titus to set things in order in Crete? Paul was not in Crete; he was somewhere else. Titus was a preacher in Crete, not an elder nor a deacon in the church in that place. The Cretan Christians never invoked their “local autonomy” when a Greek preacher sent by a Jewish apostle came on the scene and said, “Wait a minute, you guys. Let’s set this straight. Your elders must be such and such…”

One good act of a member in that one body glorifies the God who owns that body; one abusive act of members of the one body shames God and blasphemes His name. A misinterpretation of the Scriptures by a member of the body or by a collegial group of people in that one body, when pushed to its limits, divides the body. It destroys that body. Remember that there is only one body, and that body is the church. We are members of that one body, and we should be caring for one another, we should be responsible for edifying or building up the members of the one body in any place in the world. I can teach anyone in the one body, be he in Pangasinan or Benguet or in Germany or Australia, and I can do this in the name (or by the authority) of the one God who owns every local congregation in every place on earth. If that member or that church does not listen, I will keep preaching that message God wants me to preach. It is not I whom they disobey; it is God. They don’t do me harm by not listening to me; they harm themselves.

Why is it that when I preach about the love of God in every congregation no one objects and invokes “local autonomy”? But when I preach on the subject of 1 Peter 3:21 (”Baptism doth also now save us”) some foreign missionary objects and says, “You can preach that in ‘your’ church but not here”?

Why is it that when we suggest to this church it is high time they have elders, they rise up in unison, saying, “Amen, brother, and more amens”? But when they appoint someone whose qualities leave much to be desired, and we preachers object they now say, “Wait a minute, you can do that in ‘your’ church, but leave us alone”?

That church has a problem, or may be some members of that church has a problem. That problem began when we as preachers did not do our job to educate them much on the respect of the Scriptures. May be it began when we majored on LOCAL AUTONOMY and minored on hermeneutics. May be it began when we in our haste to save them before the day comes rush them into the watery grave of baptism and not teach them, “You must also do everything that God wants a Christian to do as he goes and grows.”

Let me ask more questions: Why doesn’t this congregation listen to you? What was wrong with your message? How did you say it? Did we tell anyone in that congregation to shape up or ship out? Did we threaten to expose anyone? Did we show love when we shared to them the word?

Did we appear to them as whatsamacallit with some degree from some university somewhere and tell them they better listen because they don’t know much?

Or did we give them the impression of a servant of God pleading all men to obey their God, persuading them to do things God’s way and not their way?

Some messages are sometimes lost on deaf ears because of bad impressions we as preachers make.

What is to be done? Educate. Teach them some more. Maybe I will ask the brethren in that congregation to defer appointing their elders until we all have studied what the Scriptures teach on the subject.

Another question: In what sense does that brother not possess the quality needed as an elder? If the death of his wife makes him a widower, then he becomes wifeless. An elder must be the husband of one wife (meaning a wife who is alive); a husband of a corpse does not of course qualify. Shall he remain as an elder? What if there were only two elders in that congregation? If the elder just “widowered” (my English!) steps down, that leaves only one elder standing. Shall this remaining elder step down too?

My option is to ask this elder just “widowered” to get married and remain as elder. If he remains a widower elder for a month or so while still looking for a wife, then the congregation must exercise patience with him until he gets himself a bride. This I am saying as a matter of opinion. If someone in the congregation agitates the congregation to remove that elder, be watchful of that man. He may be interested in the position, or he is just looking for trouble. I won’t suggest you appoint this agitator as an elder–you are buying more trouble.

If both elders step down because one of them no longer meets the stipulation of 1 Timothy 3:2, then I salute these men for making the sacrifice. But if the congregation retains them as elders on temporary status (that is, until the widower gets himself a wife), then I would salute the congregation for making the sacrifice.

I won’t agitate removal of the men at the helm. But I would sit down with the church and ask them to study their options. In all things I and the church should exercise patience and love. Agitating and making an advocacy for the sake of “purifying” the body won’t help; it is like burning the whole hen house because some hens have louse.

Let me stop right here. But you can ask me more questions and I will tell you more answers. Next time.

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