How Much “Above Reproach” Should an Office Bearer Be?
Men of Good Testimony…
When office bearers are ordained in church, we can hear in the prayer of thanksgiving, among others, the following words: “We thank you that you give us men of good testimony who are endowed with your Holy Spirit” (from the Dutch Form of Ordination).
“Men of good testimony…” Exactly those words may at times raise questions with an ordained brother: “Am I of good testimony?” When we have come to know ourselves by God’s Spirit as a sinner before God, then we will not place a feather in our own cap. On the contrary, we will understand Paul’s question: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16b).
There may also be questions in the congregation. “That man is now sitting up front in the elders’ bench, but you should see him throughout the week…” Can such a comment be justified?
Also, when church council discusses possible candidates (for office bearer) this may be a point of discussion. It happened once that, prior to making up the list of possible candidates, we read from 1 Timothy 3 and talked about this a bit more, and one of the brothers sighed and said: “When I read this, all of us might as well go home now…”
But it does say in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:7 that “an overseer must be above reproach”. What does that mean then? And how should we deal with this concretely these days?
Before I deal with this further, first a comment to start with: In this article we will not examine in great detail all the characteristics of the Biblical profile of the office bearer — we do not have the space for that here. I would like to deal with some characteristic features relating to the demand to be above reproach, about which we regularly face questions nowadays.
To Be Above Reproach; In General
What may we expect, based on the Word of God, from an office bearer?
In the first place, that he himself is united with Christ through a living faith, and that by grace he himself shares in the things which he discusses with others. In the Form for Ordination of Ministers of the Word we find that beautiful short phrase: “Love Christ”.
Well, if that love from and toward Christ lives in the heart, it will be noticeable in the whole walk of life of the office bearer. He can even be called to account about this. For, after all, he may represent Christ, the Shepherd and Overseer of the saints. The office bearer can only do this when he is, as per Titus 2:2 “sound of faith”. The experience of sin and grace is not foreign to him. He knows, by personal experience, the battle of faith in the daily fight against Satan, the world and his own flesh. In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 many things are mentioned which are to adorn the office bearer (I leave out for now the difference between the offices; 1 Timothy 3 speaks about elders and deacons; Titus 1 is just about elders).
When we check on the conditions which are set for the office bearers, we notice that for the most part these are things which may be expected from every Christian. Only the demand for the ability to teach/give instruction stands out (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9). In short, he does not have to be a “super saint”, but he must be a sincere believer.
But why is it then still being said of an office bearer that he must be above reproach and someone of good testimony? Because exactly they who are giving spiritual guidance ought not to give any reason which works against the message of the gospel, not within and not outside the congregation. So, it is here about one’s life revelation, one’s behaviour. Then the office bearer, with an eye to his responsible position within the congregation, may as well pray twice what every Christian must ask for: “Grant…that we may so direct our whole life — our thoughts, words, and actions — that your name is not blasphemed because of us but always honoured and praised” (Lord’s Day 47, page 561 of the Book of Praise).
So, we ask from the overseer that he be awake and sober. Here that means “serious”. It is not fitting when we, as servants of Christ, have a gaudy, lavish lifestyle. We should not just set our sights on all that we see. Is moderation not also a fruit of the Spirit? And does that perhaps tie in with the interior of our home and the car we drive?
Chastity is also mentioned; someone is respected because of his attitude. You still encounter it in the congregation that people speak very highly about office bearers who have since died. “You could see it of him!” Do we not very much need this today? Would that not fill young men with holy jealousy, those who often look critically to office bearers, as if they are not quite “real”? Do they discover in us persons they can identify with and who reflect Christ’s character in their daily life?
It is also said that someone who leads spiritually, “must not be enslaved to wine”. In Scripture we read regular warnings against drunkenness (e.g., Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18). Such a lifestyle surely cannot go together with holding office. In article 72 of the Church Order (in the Book of Praise, page 659) drunkenness is therefore mentioned as a gross and serious sin which is to be punished with the suspension or deposition of the office bearer.
Addiction is a form of bondage. Then you do not show in your own life the liberating force of the gospel. For, as it says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
To Be Above Reproach; a Few More Specifics
How do we think in this regard about an office bearer who smokes? It is known that for many Christians in other countries, smoking is just “not done”. They do not understand that Christians in The Netherlands have no issue with someone who smokes. My question is: do they perhaps hold out a mirror for us? And is the packaging not very clear, as it tells us that “Smoking Kills”? Do we then as office bearers set a good example for the congregation when we light another cigarette? Can we justify that in light of what it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 20 — “So glorify God in your body.”
I am just asking you… I will never forget how in the congregation where I grew up in as a boy, an office bearer “who smoked” became ill with lung cancer. On his death bed he confessed to God and to the congregation his smoking as the cause for his illness. With his behaviour he had dishonoured the Name of his God.
When we speak about the office bearer being above reproach, I also want to mention the point of genuine faithfulness. We may expect from an office bearer to attend the worship services twice per Sunday. I am convinced that someone who is determined not to attend twice on a Sunday, should not be nominated to become an office bearer. How can such a person during a home visit admonish members (i.e., asking them to join in worship, as per Hebrews 10:25) who do not attend faithfully, when he himself does not attend faithfully? How is the service of the King of heaven alive in his heart?
Above reproach. That does not mean without sin. Whoever gets spiritual understanding of the self, discovers that there is much within him that he is shameful of/for. But it is: the person, who wants to serve Christ with all his heart and across the whole spectrum of his life.
To Be Above Reproach; in Marriage and in the Family
It is said of the elder and deacon they he must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2).
A multiple relationship, in whichever way that may be, is out of the question.
Moreover, here it is not about the situation of a second marriage after the passing of the first wife for the Bible leaves room for this (Rom. 7:1, 3 and 1 Tim. 5:14).
What we also should not read in this is that an unmarried man would not be able to become an office bearer — think of Paul himself. The apostle only emphasizes that the marriage of an office bearer has an exemplary function. He cannot be faithful to the bride of Christ, his congregation, if he is unfaithful to his own wife.
Also, the family situation as a whole is of importance. If the family is “a church within a church”, then this certainly holds for the family of the office bearer. He must manage his own household well as per 1 Timothy 3:4, 5. According to Titus 1:6 the children of an elder are to be believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
A proper functioning as elder can be obstructed therefore in two ways:
- The elder himself is to blame that there is no order in his family; or
- Outside of the blame of the elder, his child(ren) sets out on a wrong path.
It is the question however, if in the last-mentioned situation, someone cannot be an office bearer, especially when it is clearly a choice made by the child him/herself. But it regularly happens that the brothers can be attacked for being in this situation. How necessary it is then to surround each other as brothers and become “a shepherd for the shepherd”, so that together a way may be found before God’s face.
To Be Above Reproach; in Society
An office bearer should also be well thought of by outsiders, as per 1 Timothy 3:7. Not that they cannot say anything wrong about him, but positively: we are hearing good things about him.
The purpose should be clear: in your walk of life there should not be a stumbling block for the spreading of the gospel, but there should be a clear path for this so that, under God’s blessing, also outsiders may be drawn closer to him.