We are both in Lent and in a period of transition in the Catholic Church. This is not an unreasonable time for us to be examining the role and leadership of the Church.
But to do that, we have to start with some theology. Firstly, we do not deserve to be rescued by God. He does that because he loves us, and he loves those who are faithful to him. Secondly, there are criteria or qualifications to be a pastor or minister or priest: or to use tbe biblical term a presbyter, an elder.
6For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
7It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you — for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. 11Therefore, observe diligently the commandment — the statutes, and the ordinances — that I am commanding you today.
5I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: 6someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. 7For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; 8but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. 9He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.
Being a member of the congregation of saints is a great honour. It is the result of God not just rescuing us from slavery — so that we are able to do good, and give him glory, and love him — and by the atoning work of Christ, we are adopted into his family, his tribe. The covenant that God made with Israel still stands. He will be faithful to them. And he grafts us onto that basis of covenant — as Paul said, we are wild olive branches grafted into the tree.
But that does not take away the fact only a subset can become elders. The qualifications are:
- Is blameless. Well, none of us without sin. But in this passage, the implication is that he is a person of good reputation, who has not been in trouble with the law: this may be what is still called “of good character:. — a test required to register as a professional in NZ.
- The husband of one wife. You have been able to keep one wife with you. You have not had many wifes at once, as the patriarchs did., nor have you had many wifes in a series. I consider those who are divorced (As I am) to be unqualified.
- Whose children are believers. This is the prayer of all of us. That our children will continue in the faith: the covenant of baptism has some efficacy as does walking with the LORD and teaching them the gospel. You really do not know how strong this is until the children leave: but if an elder cannot convince his children to believe, and be fruitful within the family, he will not be able to do that in the wider church.
- Does not rebel or party. Is not a player. . Does not spend his time in political activity or subversion. Is able to work with all. And does not throw wild parties as if his house is the home of an evil fraternity.
- Not quick tempered, drunk, or arrogant. All these things enslave you and remove your self control. You should not drive or blog if you are in these states. Nor run a congregation.
- But a lover of goodness.. self controlled. The love of goodness leads to the cultivation of the virtues of prudence, the development of the habits of self control, and the practical outworking of this in his lives.
- Of sound doctrine. The ability to defend the faith, and teach the true faith. It is implied here that eldership is a teaching ministry.
Now a couple of glosses. Our Roman friends say that a priest should be single: that the role of running a church is such that there should be no distractions. This is a gloss: the elders are allowed to be married. But multiple troubles (and multiple wives or divorces mean troubles) will distract a man from this role. The family is the core component of the church — God puts most of us in them, and those who have the gift of continence in singledom should be honoured, for they war without the worries parents and spouses will have — but the elder should not be distracted.
A similar gloss would be that those with other ambitions should not be in eldership. When you are trying to get to partnership or tenure or start up a business you are consumed by this — and any other energy should go into your family. Older men, who have been able to get through thsi period and no longer are driven to achieve, are able to put their energy into the church.
What I think is a much less acceptable gloss is women in eldership. Paul does not say the wife of one husband. Older women have a very important task — and that is to teach their younger sisters in the faith how to keep their man — and dealing with the variable emotions that a woman goes through, particularly when she has a child, requires a fair amount of energy. (Yes, this is subversive and offends the high priestesses of feminism. So? Male heterosexuality offends those silly women).
Only a few men in the church, who have been faithful, will qualify for eldership. All can be in the congregation. For eldership is not a rank or merit badge to be gained. It is a serious burden before God. In our quest to be inclusive and democratic, we have misplaced the covenantal basisi of this, and lost sense of the seriousness we need to take around appointing such elders.
And in the Protestant West, this has to change.