I have written two previous articles on gender roles and authoritative teaching. It is essential to keep in mind that central to the question of an elder’s requirements one to consider familial structures, and who has the God-ordained duty to have and exercise authority. In both instances, God has called men to fulfill those purposes. I used those articles to set up the argument that I will now present here on the question of women serving as elders in the Church, which I must state at the outset that they cannot. If we take Paul’s writings seriously and authoritatively as God-breathed Scripture, then we cannot reconcile the culture’s push to put women in positions of authority, particularly in the Church and the family. As I pointed out once in the previous article, this does not mean we can or should ignore women, nor does it mean that we should not value women as our co-regent over God’s Creation. That said, God has still placed a hierarchy by which that co-regency to flourish, and it is not through Egalitarian means.
This article will utilize as its base text 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which deals with the qualifications for the elder, some of which must also be upheld by deacons in v. 8-13 (the issue of deacons will be in a separate article). Part of the concern I have with issues today surrounding the office of elder is twofold: 1.) There does seem to be a push for women elders. Some seek to elevate women to teaching posts in the Church, which Paul had explicitly forbidden in the Church. 2.) There is always a concern for unqualified men. To hold the office of elder is undoubtedly a noble thing (1 Tim. 3:1). However, not everyone is called to this office since it is one that is so elevated in the Church.
Therefore, this article is not to call out women, per se; instead, it is to demonstrate what an elder is, which is neither women nor unqualified men. Not everyone who has a love of Scripture and theology needs to be a pastor or elder, or even a deacon, just because they love Scripture and theology. While the work of a pastor is not less than that, it is more, and this needs to be understood. So, we have to consider what an elder is.
What An Elder Needs To Be
Paul begins by saying that an elder, or overseer/bishop, must be “blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.”
The list of qualifications on its out to dissuade several individuals from seeking the office; for example, when Paul says an elder is to be sober-minded, he is saying that the elder must be of level mind, to have good sense, and exercise sound judgment. It is a call for wisdom among the Church leadership. Wisdom must also come in with his temperance in that he should control his emotions and desires, which also means that he should not resort to violence in disputes (physical, emotional, etc.). He should be able to his gifts to build up and not tear down (i.e., gentleness). Nor should he be greedy, which should dispel the notion that men go into ministry for the money since pastoral ministry is not very lucrative.
While these are significant characteristics, Paul says that an elder needs to be able to teach, be a husband of one wife (which should be enough to denote that an elder must be a man), manage his own home, especially his children. These issues go back to previous articles I have written, which called for male headship in the family and being able to exercise authority in teaching. While all of these qualifications matter, these are perhaps of particular importance. If a man cannot rule his own house and family well, how can he rule the house of God and the people of God? If he is unable to teach, then how can the people of God be shepherded correctly in the Word of God and not be easily swayed by the world’s ways and the world’s wisdom (Rom. 12:1-2)?
Crucially important to the issue of ruling his own house well and being able to teach falls back onto God’s command for men to be leaders. If men do not keep the standards God has given them, how could he possibly be expected to lead the Church? God has given men the high responsibility to lead their families, which translates into the Church. A man should be able to lead the local congregation he is called to and to see that they are spiritually well-nourished, much in the same way he is supposed to be able to for his own family. If he cannot do this for his family, then he cannot and should not be called to do so for a congregation. An elder must be diligent in his own spiritual life, in his family’s spiritual growth, and for the congregation.
A Call For Good Elders
Paul says in this passage that an elder must not be a new convert (or novice), lest he is given over to pride. Pride is the root cause of many men falling from the ministry. It’s not the only cause, but it is undoubtedly a significant one. We ought to call for elders to not be spiritually immature, which is manifest in new converts. I would argue, then, that not only should an elder not be a new convert, but that he should not be spiritually immature.
New converts, babes in Christ, may have a great desire to share Christ with the world, as many new converts do. But, they ought not to be elders because there is still a wealth of spiritual knowledge to be taken in that they do not possess because of their immaturity. For example, a new convert may have a desire for teaching and evangelism. Still, I know of many new converts who ignorantly begin touting up suspicious characters, like the Televangelists we see on TV or YouTube. This type of error reflects that their spirituality is still too immature to know that Joel Osteen is not a good teacher, while John MacArthur certainly is. There is little to no discernment among new converts, which is a dangerous deficiency for an elder. The best way to mitigate this issue is to shepherd and disciple young believers, and if they show evidence of growth and a call later, then they should pursue ministry, but not until then. We need good elders.
The need for good elders is high, especially with the current battles confronting the Church today. We need men who can keep themselves and their families in line, who can lead and teach well, and who are mature enough to discern right from wrong, good from evil and sound doctrine from false doctrine. Discernment is also a big issue, which seems to be relevant nowadays. For example, a good elder should be able to tell the difference between Pauline Theology and Black Liberation Theology. A good elder should be able to see the utter uselessness of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as helpful analytical tools. Perhaps one could mean well in using these things, but the error should not be in the Church, and one must see the danger and call out in love those who lack discernment.
Yes, we need good elders. Praise the Lord that we have congregations led by faithful men. But, elders must be diligent in their work as elders, but also as fathers and husbands.