1 Timothy 3, above reproach, ecclesiology, elders, Jason, pastors, Titus
As seminary draws to a close and the next chapter of life is down the road, no longer in a distant future, but hopefully in the near present, dating future churches becomes a part of life. As you begin to date them (by date I mean of course courting) you begin to “get to know” the church. But then it’s not just me dating, my friends are dating other churches, we get together at lunch (or coffee) and talk about our first phone call, meeting, or the visit where we meet the parents. We’re not gossiping, but finding out how the process is going because after all, we love each other, love Jesus, and want to minister to people the Good News. But one discussion comes up time and time again with those dating churches, among elders, exegetes, students, and lay-men. What does it mean to be “above reproach”?
Often this discussion comes in context of a church, pastor, or person’s perspective of “freedoms” (drinking, seeing R-movies, listening to secular music, driving a sports car, eating meat offered to idols, and other related issues). Some churches require a pastor or elder to sign away certain freedoms so that he may remain above reproach. Why? What is the intention? There are a few:
1. The pastoral staff and elders should be imitated in his walk with Christ. The pastor therefore needs to be such a good example that he does not partake of certain activities because those activities could be offensive.
2. Partaking of certain freedoms could cause another to stumble.
3. There might be certain people in your congregation who struggled or are struggling with a certain issue (drinking) and therefore you, pastor do not want to be an excuse for him to drink.
4. You don’t want to bring reproach on the church because culture might frown upon the activity.
These are all valid concerns and at the heart of the issue is love. Do we, who desire to servant-lead our people, love them enough to lead them in such a way that our desire to have personal freedom does not get in the way? We should!
But, is asking a pastor or elder board to refrain from drinking, smoking, dancing, and seeing movies the right step? Does that lead to above reproach? Often the proposed position is taken because the church wants to keep the pastoral staff clean and avoid criticism, the charge of sin, or not being above reproach.
To answer this let me affirm one reality: A pastor needs to be above reproach. If you finish this blog post and say, “He doesn’t believe a pastor needs to be above reproach.” Then PLEASE SCROLL back up this point and re-read it until you figure out that I believe a pastor needs to be above reproach.
What does it means to be above reproach? This is actually easy to define. Turn in your Bible to 1 Timothy 3. Beginning in verse 2, read until you reach verse 7. Then turn in your Bible to Titus 1:5. read until verse 9. Did you catch that? You just read the definition of what it means to be above reproach.
Strauch provides good insight:
“Heading the list of qualifications stands the general, overarching, ‘all-embracing’ qualification: ‘above reproach’. To be above reproach means to be free from any offensive or disgraceful blight of character or conduct, particularly as described in verses [1 Timothy 3:]2-7.”
Notice the qualifier, “as described [in the rest of the list].” The great question is “What does Paul mean by ‘above reproach’?” I believe he defines it so that Timothy, Titus, and those reading the letter would know EXACTLY what he meant. It means he’s a husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted [please note the qualifier] to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. . . .
Paul knew exactly what he meant by “above reproach” and he made sure the reader knew too. So now the question. If this is what it means to be above reproach, then why do we create or add to the list other actions? Was Paul’s list insufficient for the 21st Century? Did Paul not understand there would be people in congregations who would be drunks and possibly struggle when he or she is around wine? In fact, if meat-offered-to-idol eaters existed, how come Paul didn’t mention that in his list to Timothy? Was Paul not concerned with holiness? The way we interact with meat idolatries and alcohol, you would expect that principle to be primary in Paul’s mind when discussing pastoral ministry.
Think about this. One reason we have organizations, churches, elder boards with the requirement not to drink wine is because it could cause the weaker brother to stumble or you have someone in the church who has a history of sin regarding said substance and we don’t want them to say, “See the pastor does it, it’s okay.” We then run to Romans and 1 Corinthians, using meat as the paradigm for alcohol (or insert other cultural sin here). But, when Paul lists his above reproach list he says nothing about eating meat? Why? Maybe Romans 14:16 provides a good answer, “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.” What Paul? Do not let what for you is a good thing be spoken of as evil! That’s a command!
Think about our list. Pastors don’t drink, smoke, chew tobacco, dance, listen to secular music, but just pray every Friday night for those who are out watching rated-R movies. Now, is your congregant really going to say, hey, I picked up the wine and got drunk because I know you pastor drinks wine? Probably not, I have a greater shot of him looking me in the eye telling me he drank the wine because Jesus drank the wine! It’s problematic when Jesus himself cannot meet the criteria our elder boards are required to hold too.
The “Do not do” list created to be “above reproach” seems more like a reclassification and redefinition of holiness. Paul’s list defines the qualifications, we do not need to add to it! The “do not do” list reveals our own cultural presuppositions and preferences then it does biblical holiness. If we’re to be consistent with the “do not do” list, we must add computers, McDonald’s, and living in smog or other unhealthy cities. Thousands struggle with internet pornography. Some men have to cut ties to the internet and computers. Is it possible our computer will cause them to stumble? Where does our list stop?
We cannot have higher standards than Jesus! We cannot think our treatment of a subject is not only holy, but super-holy, as if we can have higher standards than the Lord. If the Bible does not agree with your definition of holiness, then you need to redefine your definition of holiness! There are not layers of holiness as if you’ve attained to a different level. You can’t have a “higher” standard than Jesus!!!!!
So the question comes up, what about the weaker brother? Some of us exalt the weaker brother as if he is actually the holy one! So is abstaining from one of the gray areas permanently the answer? No. Scripture commands us to correctly inform and train the weaker brother! Sure, we might avoid doing or discussing a freedom in front of the weaker brother but it doesn’t require permanent abstention. Pastors need to train the weaker brothers to think biblically! We need to train him to call sin sin, the origins of sin, and the work of Christ!!
In summary, the “Do not do” list is problematic for four reasons:
1. It promotes the wrong idea of holiness.
2. It also promotes the wrong idea of sin! Sin comes out of the heart. Sin is not bottled up on a shelf and sold over the counter. It comes from out the heart. The bottle isn’t sinful, the person wielding the bottle is sinful. The most dangerous thing is the human heart!!
3. It calls what is a good thing evil.
4. It undermines 1 Timothy and Titus.
We need to orient our view of holiness from Scripture. It should be reflected in how we mimic Jesus. A pastor who drinks one glass of wine a week (again, not getting drunk) can be imitated because he shows restraint, control, and discretion through his actions. If he loves Jesus and his character proves a love for Jesus then anyone could imitate his practices and remain holy–above reproach.
Mike Mcmurray said:
The whole search process can be really stressful for both sides of the search. The one thing that I really liked about the book When The Word Leads Pastoral Search was the authors emphasis on the concept that the Lord God leads us to the church that He would have us serve at. I am a true believer that His sovereignty is absolute and is the key to the search process.
Have you read What to Look for In a Pastor by Brian Biedebach?
Oh well I guess there is “only watch movies made before 1955 except for Pixar.” It would go between b and c in my previous list
P.S. Thanks for this post, Jason. I’d follow you to the ends of the earth to fight cultural fundamentalism.
Hey can you guys talk about how Christians should approach entertainment sometime? I tried to write a paper on this in my M.Div but didn’t very far (which was reflected in my grade for said paper).
I’m thinking specifically as it relates to our kids. Should we teach them to a.) watch whatever they want, b.) fast-forward the sex scenes like good Christians or c.) recounce the ways of the English completely.
None of those ever sounded appealing to me but I’m not sure what other options there are and I feel like I should have a plan before they reach middle school…
I think that is a GREAT question! You’ve got me thinking on it too 🙂 I was hoping I could invite you in to teach me though! Yet I wonder if the question is indicative of a greater issue.
You don’t raise your kid in a vacuum. You probably spend time instructing your children, teaching them about the Lord, sin, forgiveness, Christ, the cross, idolatry . . . All of those issues affect what we do.
To the parent who does not teach a child about the sinful heart, need for reconciliation, forgiveness, and Christ, I would say ALL the answers will be problematic because the child is learning a false gospel. Liberty without right knowledge seems to be more of a feeding the flesh while skipping a scene or avoiding movies all together is like pretending the problem doesn’t exist so when the child is no longer under the parents eye, confronted with sinful desires and actions he/she has never encountered there really is not a grid to think through in handling the problem!
It seems like if you instruct the heart and attack the heart, actions will then reflect a right foundation! So when confronted with a TV show / movie (produced by unbelievers) your child will have a right frame of mind to interact with the situation. For me and my boys the question I ask myself, “Does Z or I have the mental capacity to deal with this situation?” Have I instilled the right foundation? and yet, I obviously would say at no point in time is pornography okay to watch either (which can eliminate some ‘romance’ movies too) just a few thoughts, I think some development is needed though . . . you up for the challenge?
Shawn, I really wrestle with how to answer that because I think a GREAT church can have an unbiblical stance but the reason for their stance is more out of practice than theological. And yet, another church, their stance is indicative of their cultural fundamentalism. I think I would have to weigh every church differently. What if you have a group of men, love Jesus, but none of them drink and they haven’t really thought about it, but they want someone else who doesn’t drink, smoke, or chew either?
For me the two driving principles are how do they view sin? And how do they view the cross and Christ remedying sin? Where does sin start and what did Christ accomplish? The principles for me are Gospel. This is one reason why I think we should take fundies to task because their gospel is slightly askew when they promote external “things” are sin and do not promote sin being in the mind/ heart. Now the gospel is more about what you do/don’t do than idol / worship.
Christ forgives, removes the shackles of sin, cleanses, cleans, regenerates, and causes us to live out good works prepared before hand. I have a new heart and what I do is worship because I love Jesus. sitting around a camp fire, smoking a pipe, having a beer with 6 other men who love Jesus can be worship because the heart is right, the Lord is the bond, and the men love Jesus together! . . . I’m just say’n . . .
Mike Mcmurray said:
This is interesting; I love reading your blog.
When I was searching for an endorser for the chaplaincy I came across these issues. In the end I settled on one that did have this requirement. The convent stated the two big ones, drinking and tobacco, and a third vague requirement. I am sure the vagueness of the third requirement was meant to cover things like pornography. I understood and grasped the concept of their intentions. The issue was one of becoming a stumbling block for others, just as you mentioned.
Still I was shocked at the need (or perceived need) for endorsers to require this of their chaplains. Not only shocked but also a little offended, and then admittedly, I was worried that a look at my past would disqualify me. God’s grace and perfect timing presented an opportunity for me to write a Bible study class on the topic of deacon selection. Without getting into the details of which I am sure you are familiar with, I found that the words deacon, elder, and overseer were all interchangeable and had the same basic requirements, just as you outlined. Research into why Paul prescribed these requirements led me to understand that there was an issue with false teachers and corruption of leadership in the early church. Further research opened my eyes to the fact that this problem has not gotten any better, perhaps even worse.
As I learn more about what it takes to earn the trust of a congregation I find that trust is the key issue surrounding the requirements that ministries and churches place upon their prospective leaders. A book I read for a Christian Leadership class called “Being Leaders” states, “it takes a new pastor at least five years in most established churches to build the kind of credibility that it takes for people to follow. And there is no guarantee that it will happen in five years or any time thereafter.” (Malpurs, 52). Malpurs goes on to explain why research points to this unfortunate mistrust of new pastors. Throughout the last few generations there has been an increasing amount of letdown from Christian leaders. The younger the generation seems to get, the less initial trust they are willing to place in their new leader.
My own observation of pastor searches (from both sides of the search) is that the generational gaps play a role not only in trust but also in expectations. While the younger generations have less trust they also have fewer expectations. The older ones more trust, and more expectations, they tend to want things done their way. In many cases until you came along as a prospective pastor the older generations have seen only one pastor and they expect things to be done the way he has always done them. For that reason the sheep are way out of their comfort zone and scared. Even in situations where the last pastor left on a bad note they will sometimes long to see things done his way just for a since of normalcy.
There is also the issue of reputation. 1 Timothy 3:7 tells us that reputation is important. In many cases the convent agreements concerning drinking and such are precisely due to an issue of reputation. Most of the time those you will meet who serve on the pastor search committees have no real concept of what it means to have a calling such as ours, and further more they don’t understand the commitment we have made to that calling. Mine own commitment is illustrated in what I call my life verse, 2 Cor. 4:5, with a major emphasis on “your bondservant for Christ sake.” Many who serve on that committee are great servants of the Lord but they lack the understanding of your willing obligation. What they do understand is that there are far too many instances of members of the clergy miss-stepping in mainstream media. They see it all the time on the news, and they immediately begin to think of the reputation that the church in case has lost. The last thing that they want is for this to happen to their church at the hands of a new pastor that they don’t know or truly trust yet.
I hope sharing some of my insight helps you as you move further into the courting process. I am also in the courting process and have yet to discuss such things, It only came up in my search for an endorser. Also there is a book that I would recommend, When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search. It is really short but also really insightful, when my church began thinking about how to find a new pastor nine months ago many of us read it. When I read it I wasn’t ready for church dating yet, however it was good to get a look at the other side. The insights have really put perspective on some of the things that I have been asked in interviews. In any case, good luck, and my prayers are with you!
Thanks Mike, those are insightful and your lessons learned resonate with what some of my profs told us too!
I wonder how much thought really goes into hiring pastors? Grace Advance is an program here that helps match churches with pastors. One of the leaders habitually says, “Churches are often one piece of information short of making a good decision.” They’ve learned many churches are unaware of necessary information to make the right decision and even know how to take care of their pastor.
I think you’re right regarding trust. It takes a long time for people to learn that I (or any of us) really do love you and we want what’s best for you. My main goal is to show people love and trust the Lord will show them I really do love them.
I think you’re very perceptive and have a lot of wisdom regarding candidating. Your observations on the different age of people in the congregation are really helpful too! Thank you!!!!