The relevant passages are the following: 1 Timothy 3:4-5, “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?).” Titus 1:6, “… having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (NKJV).
All would agree that the IDEAL scenario is for each qualified elder to have a plurality of children who are all faithful Christians. Unfortunately, the fallible world in which we live has always challenged and complicated what is ideal, and the Bible does not specifically address every conceivable situation with which we are confronted. This necessarily requires judgment calls for each unique case in light of general biblical principles. Here are some real-life dilemmas.
What about a man who has only one child? Could he qualify to serve as an elder? While some would disagree, I believe he could. Genesis 21:7 states, “[Sarah] also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age’.” Here the plural “children” simply means one or more and applies to a single child. If an audience were asked, “Raise your hand if you have children,” surely the single-child parents would be expected to raise their hands. Note the following passages where the plural “children” clearly does not discount the parent of a lone child: Matt. 7:11; Luke 14:26; 20:28-31; 1 Cor. 7:14; 2 Cor. 12:14; Eph. 6:1, 4; 1 Thess. 2:7, 11; 1 Tim. 3:12; 5:4, 10, 14; Titus 2:4.
Some would argue that a man with multiple children is more qualified to deal with differing personalities and inter-personal conflicts than a man with only one child. But this is a subjective perception rather than a biblical mandate. One could reason that a man with ten children is more qualified than a man with only two children, but obviously the two-child man is not biblically disqualified. While perhaps less than ideal, I don’t view a man with only one child as biblically disqualified to serve as an elder.
What, then, does “faithful” mean in Titus 1:6? In light of the parallel description in 1 Timothy 3:4, a case can be made for “not unruly” in society and “compliant” while under the father’s direct influence. However, this interpretation is based on ambiguity and mere possibility rather than certainty. The more natural meaning, and surely the more solid position, is with reference to being faithful to the Lord.
If a man has multiple children, therefore, must they all be faithful Christians? What if a father has ten children, nine of whom have obeyed the gospel and the other has not yet reached the age of accountability? It seems to me that this man has proven himself as “one who rules his house well” and would be scripturally qualified. What if he has ten adult children, nine of whom are faithful in the church and one is rebellious and unfaithful? Seeing that he no longer has direct control or immediate authority over his sons and daughters who have grown up and left home, he has still proven himself as a capable leader and can’t realistically be held accountable for the rebellious one who has resisted his direction. To suggest otherwise would be to impugn the Lord himself (cf. Psalm 107:6-11; Isaiah 1:2).
Those of us who were raised by godly parents and are faithful in the church are testimonies to the way it’s supposed to be. Irrespective of how insubordinate we may or may not have been in the past, we exemplify receptive, moldable, compliant souls, as do our own faithful children. But this does not address the godly parents whose counsel is persistently rejected by the defiant son or daughter, not to mention any number of unseen variables beyond parental control.
Now here’s where it gets tricky. What percentage of one’s children must be faithful in order for him to be scripturally qualified to serve as an elder? It is reasonably clear to me that if none of his children is faithful, he is not scripturally qualified. But what about 90% (as in the above hypothetical case)? While not ideal, I am not prepared to say that such a man is disqualified (assuming he meets all other criteria). What about 80%? 50%? 33%? 10%? Again, the Bible does not offer a specific, definitive answer to every conceivable, real-life predicament. Therefore, based on common sense, mature reasoning, general biblical principles, and knowledge of each unique situation, judgment calls have to be made.
The only dogmatic statement I can make (and am compelled to make) is that a man should not serve as an elder if none of his children is faithful to the Lord. When multiple children are involved, the lower the percentage the more circumspect we ought to be. If I were to err, it would be on the side of caution.
Consciences must not be violated. Unnecessary conflict should be averted. Commitment to doctrinal purity and the spiritual health of the church ought to supersede personalities, preferences, feelings, and opinions. For “if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5).
--Kevin L. Moore
Related Posts: Train up a child
Related articles: Michael Whitworth’s He Must Have Faithful Children.
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