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Qualifications of Elders

Submitted: 11/8/2004
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Question: Concerning qualifying for serving as a pastoral-elder or deacon, your comments concerning the following three scenarios would be greatly appreciated. 1) A man and woman lived together outside of marriage before salvation, lived apart while contemplating salvation, obeyed the gospel, and then married. Everyone remembers their pre-salvation lives, but also witnessed their godly progression out of sin. Is this man eligible for service and is his wife considered eligible to be his helpmate in service? 2) A 'saved,' single man and a 'saved' woman/mother who is married to an evangelist have an affair 'because the evangelist was gone and left her alone so much.' The woman becomes pregnant and has a child from the adulterous relationship. The evangelist and the woman finally divorce. The woman (with both of her children) and her lover move to a different state and avoid appearing together in public for awhile, eventually publicly reconnect but do not live together, marry when their child is 5 years old and her child with the evangelist is 10 years old. Is the new husband eligible for service and is she eligible to be his helpmate in service, teaching children and leading a ladies' group? Their past could, as time passes, be hidden because they all have the same last name. If they are not eligible for service, why isn't this 'under the blood' as scenario No. 1 might be considered? 3) An elder/deacon has the public appearance of having the family life and character qualifying him for service as does his wife; but, in reality, for a time he struggled with lustful thoughts while his wife harbored jealous thoughts about another couple in service being 'more used.' They have come to grips with their 'hidden sin' and have repented--no one knows about it but God, not even each other. Do they qualify for service as a couple? How would this be handled in collegiate-eldership? What are the differences between eligibility, or are they all okay for service? How does 1 Peter 4:8 and James 5:20 relate? Thank you for your comments.

Answer: 1) The issues when selecting elders are credibility, giftedness, maturity, experience, and godly character. In the scenario you have described there is nothing that would automatically disqualify the man from serving as an elder. It would, however, be necessary that the man have credibility with the members of the assembly.

2) There is a difference between salvation and service. “Under the blood” has to do with salvation. I believe anything is forgivable if there is honesty, humility, and repentance. But just because a sin has been “put under the blood” does not mean we can just pretend as though it never happened. There are issues of trust and credibility that must be considered. In the scenarios you have described, the difference between 1 and 2 are glaring. The first happened prior to the new birth, the second after.

In 1 Corinthians 5:11-12 Paul wrote, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person.” This verse does not apply if there has been genuine sorrow and repentance, and the sinful conduct has ceased. But this verse does demonstrate that not all sins are equal. There are some that are so severe and demonstrate such a lack of character that anyone “named a brother” who engages in them must be shunned by the assembly.

Proverbs 6:32-33 says, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away.”

3) In this scenario, the couple has not disqualified themselves. We all battle the wrong kinds of thoughts and feelings at times. The issue is not whether we experience these things, it is what we do with them. Do we battle them or do we yield to them and begin to allow them to effect our public life? It sounds like this couple handled their struggles in a mature, godly fashion and overcame them.

It is important to understand that to have our sins “covered” does not mean that there are no repercussions when we act in flagrantly immoral ways. Just because a person is forgiven does not mean he is trustworthy. In a collegial eldership, each elder must be above reproach. This does not mean that there can be no blemishes in his background. It only means that he must have sufficiently overcome them and demonstrated his character so that the assembly as a whole considers him to be a godly, moral man. In some cases this will mean a significant amount of time must elapse. In other cases where there has been adultery, divorce, and remarriage, there may be no amount of time that can erase the scars. As Solomon said, “His reproach will not be wiped away.” No one has a right to serve in leadership. It is a privilege extended to those who show themselves to be fully qualified.