A version of the this article was originally published in THEOOSE an online Christian Magazine Sep 14, 2002
I have broken all of the Ten Commandments countless times with a deliberate will, in my heart and mind, and in fact with the exception of murder, which I have come pretty close to actually accomplishing a couple of times. Amazingly, I was never arrested or tried for any crime, nor did I ever contract any incurable disease. I am not likely to be a candidate for elected office, or even attached to an ongoing campaign, because I am not shy about sharing my past when it seems appropriate to me. I try not to brag about my past mistakes, although there are several amusing anecdotes I might relate. I do not make a point of recounting long lists of conquests, drugalogues, or high-speed car chases. But I decided around the age of forty, that I would say what was on my mind, and to tell the truth about myself as far as I was able, and to tell what I thought was the truth about others, when I thought it might be of some good.
I have been asked to be an elder a couple of times in the ten plus years I have been sitting with the Presbyterians. After giving a brief explanation of why I could not accept such an exalted position, I was invariably asked to reconsider my position. This left me wondering how the person asking me ever got to be an elder. Let me share with you how I measure up against the list of qualifications necessary for position of elder or deacon. The Bible tells us in the book of James to confess our sins one to another. You take the part of the righteous man, and hopefully yours will be a fervent, effectual prayer. The qualifications for an elder or deacon in a Christian church are found in the third chapter of the book of First Timothy, verses two through seven.
- Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.
- Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
- not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
- He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.
- (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
- He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.
- He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
The words “above reproach” or “blameless” mean un-rebukeable, inculpable, “not guilty”. I meet this qualification in Christ, but I do not think that this is what Paul is talking about. I think he is talking about a man who doesn’t have to worry about someone coming around and saying, “How did this guy ever get to be an elder when he did this, or does that?” Now irrespective of whether I am actively involved in sin that involves others, I have been on the planet a fairly long time, and a lot of people have known me in weaker moments, both before and after I became a Christian. They could, if they desired, step forward and suggest that I was not above reproach. I believe that the Lord puts a hedge around those whom He chooses to rule His church from their youth, and that these vessels of honor are spared the foibles and embarrassments that my sinning has afforded me.
The husband of but one wife
The fact of the matter is that I am the husband of three wives, two of them since remarried to other men. I am quick to acknowledge that it would have been better to only be married once, but in view of the facts I consider myself lucky not to have been polygamous. The scriptures relating to remarriage and adultery cloud the issue to an extent that any man who has been divorced can never in clear and good conscience become an elder. Worse yet are those who would stand by and allow such a one to be made an elder for the sake of keeping the peace.
As I read the definition in Strong’s, I see that vigilant means to be heedful of circumstances and potential consequences; prudent. While I may be getting better at this, I would not want to bet the congregation on it. I am rather impulsive and can only attribute a lifelong blessing of the Lord’s Providence as an explanation of why I am not dead or serving a life sentence in prison.
That is to say, sober, moderate of opinion or passion. I am definitely not any of these. I am satirical, sarcastic, and passionate about a variety of opinions, political and theological. I am a glutton, overweight and undisciplined. I forget to brush my teeth daily. I say whatever comes into my mind, sometimes just to see a person’s reaction. I act on impulse, often to my great regret.
I suppose you could say that I am reasonably respectable these days. I conduct myself in an orderly, decorous manner. I bathe often, my fly is zipped, my clothes clean, and I do not carry on in public with wild company.
Nothing pleases me more than to have guests for dinner, especially if they are fellow Christians, or missionaries. Traveling college Gospel quartets are the best, and can they eat! I am also usually always willing to drive someone somewhere, or to let them sleep on my couch, as long as it is not for more than a few days. After all it’s a small house, and I like my peace and quiet. I also tend to be more charitable towards women then men, expecting men to make their own way in the world. I bring home the occasional hitchhiker, to clean up and feed up.
Able to teach
I enjoy teaching, and have successfully taught a variety of skills to a variety of people. I believe that I have a gift for teaching. There is an intimacy to teaching that surpasses ordinary conversation, which I find very attractive. I enjoy using skills that I have mastered to help others accomplish something.
Not given to drunkenness
I have not been drunk or high since 1981, forty years. It’s a long time for someone who was as enamored with debauchery as I was.
Not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome
I know how to conduct myself as a gentleman. I do not seek to fight, and have made it a point not to go places where violent men hold sway. I strive to be kind and gentle to women and children. I know how to apologize and know that a kind word turns away wrath. I am somewhat long suffering and do not anger easily. But I do not anger gradually either; I go straight from placid to wrath. I consider it a great blessing that I have only had a few violent episodes in my life, but surely this was because I have met very few people who have ever provoked me. I like to debate with someone who can make their point logically, and if I can make mine in the same way, but I avoid argument for arguments sake. Let’s score this one as a tie.
Not a lover of money
I guess I am not, seeing as how I have never thought it worth sacrificing anything for. I have never worked a job long where conditions did not suit me. I have never worked an hour of overtime unless I had absolutely nothing better to do. Aside from a small pension now that I have retired, I am what you would call a member of the genteel poor.
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
If I have failed completely at anything, it is managing my own family. From my first marriage, have a son I have not seen in over forty years, since he was aged one, and a daughter I had not seen either, who died from a drug overdose. From my second marriage I have two other sons, who during their adolescence manifested all the worst traits that I had demonstrated to them over the years. It is only in my last marriage, for the past twenty-seven years, that I have experienced a progressively peaceful and ordered domesticity. My hope is that my sons continue to regain their sanity, living apart from me as they now do.
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.
I have been a Christian for forty-five years, but whose counting?
He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
This takes us back to verse one, doesn’t it? I have a pretty good reputation in Florida. Of course I’ve only been here a few decades.
It is clear to me that I am not qualified to be a deacon or an elder according to standards delineated in the scripture. I am resigned to that fact and comfortable with it. But I am not comfortable with the organization of the church today. When I speak of these matters, I do not solely mean my own denomination. The organized visible church includes a wide variety of denominations, encompassing a wide variety of errors. I am beginning to suspect that there may a great number of Christians who are not members of any organized church because of what the church has become.
We have developed a priesthood worthy of ancient Israel, based on earthly credentials rather than on spiritual maturity. The mechanical printing and translation of the scriptures into common language was opposed by the Roman priesthood for the alleged reason that the common man would be unable to comprehend the deep truths found therein. The Protestant movement was based in great part on debunking this falsehood. But now we would not consider having a pastor who has not been to seminary. The Master of Divinity degree guarantees the bearer to be an expert in the understanding of the scriptures. But this is a task easily within the grasp of any person, even someone with below average intelligence, if they have the Holy Spirit for a teacher and guide. Scholarship, of course, is to be desired in any field. But the artificial delineation between cleric and layman robs the church of its power.
Church members expect the pastor to be their authority, rather than growing strong in their own knowledge of the Bible. They come to worship service on Sunday but do not bother to study the word of God themselves, because they have a paid man bearing the sword for them. After all, they would have to go to seminary to have a real knowledge of the scripture. Nonsense! So, the church has become an assembly of spiritually weak individuals, led by someone bearing far more than his share of the burden. What a recipe for ineffectiveness!
Let’s talk about money. We have salaries and mortgages that seem out of proportion when the needs of widows, orphans, youth, the sick, the imprisoned, and missionaries are considered. People do not put more money in the plate, because they do not like the way it is spent and would never be so impolite as to say so. New “church plants” immediately embark on building programs in order to draw nice looking congregants to the show that they put on every Sunday. They hope that the well heeled, nice looking congregants will dutifully put some money in the plate so that the note on the building and the salaries of the pastor, the music minister, the secretary, and whoever else can be paid. In this way, they hope to build a big ministry and eventually do something, someday, worthwhile for Christ.
Older churches are hamstrung by the maintenance costs on the buildings they have. You could tear down half the church buildings in most communities and still not fully utilize the ones that remained standing. The last thing a church should do is build a building, until they find themselves in a position where there is absolutely no other option. When the apostles or the great preachers of our age preached, hundreds were added to the church at a time. But the discipleship that comes afterward is done one family, one individual at a time, by trained, fully empowered men who wrestle with new converts like God wrestled with Jacob, fully engaged, until they are sure they have some type of a mutually accountable relationship between them. That requires involvement by a large number of committed men, too many to pay, who are willing to give a substantial portion of their time, gratis. Do that, and then you might find someone willing to trust you to do what is really supposed to be done with the money.
A brief comment on the law. We can all agree that Jesus did not in any way come to abolish the law. He did remove all condemnation from the law for his elect, by his death and resurrection. We who love Christ should love the law, and seek to hide it in our hearts, and to follow the spirit of it, that is, to love God with our whole heart mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we should never think for a moment that we are even remotely successful in doing so. This is my problem with many of the “Truly Reformed”. Whenever they talk about the law, I get the distinct impression that they think they are keeping it. This is a great error, and believing it causes one to preach a false gospel. Sanctification is not so much a process of learning to successfully keep the law, as it is an increasing awareness of how inadequately we do so.
If I for a moment thought that some people were as successful at keeping the law as they let on, I would despair greatly, for you see, I am relying solely on the blood of Christ for my salvation, not on my behavior. I don’t expect my behavior to get much better before I die, but of course with God, you never know. This, I believe is one of the reasons so many people won’t come to church, including many of the elect. They know how sinful their own hearts are, and are emotionally crushed at the thought that so large a group of people could succeed in achieving righteousness where they have failed. This, or they are outraged and revolted at the thought of sharing close quarters with so large a group of liars and hypocrites. I know the church does not really mean to give either of these impressions, but they do. The rest of the churches might take a lesson from the Roman Catholics who beat the breast three times at every service saying “mea culpa!” Perhaps it is often just a meaningless ritual, but sometimes the Holy Spirit causes one to beat the breast quite hard.
We have determined that I am unfit to be a deacon or an elder. This does not prevent me from being a church soloist, or a Sunday school teacher, or an evangelist, or from witnessing, or from cleaning the bathrooms at the church, or from writing. Every Christian man or woman has his or her proper place in the body of Christ. My career as a church soloist is about over as my singing voice is rapidly deteriorating. My career as a student of the scriptures and politics, and my future as a teacher and writer is, Lord willing, just beginning. I consider myself greatly blessed to have a worldview firmly grounded in the reformed faith. Perhaps I will yet build my house upon the rock. Christians are a part of the body of Christ whether churched or unchurched. It is unnatural and unprofitable for a Christian not to be part of a healthy Bible believing church. But it is long past time for Christians to look closely at the scriptures and ensure that their church, its leadership, and its practice conform to the Word of God.