Needed: Teflon Men
The title of my submission comes from the designation given to President Reagan in the early years of his presidency. Somehow, nothing of the mud and the slander thrown at him stuck to him; the man was above reproach. I had to think of the term as I found my mind occupied with the matter of obtaining new officebearers to replace those who have finished their term in the consistory.
It's the time of year in which an announcement is made from the pulpit, giving to the congregation "the opportunity to draw the attention of the consistory to brothers deemed suitable for the respective offices."1 That raises for all of us the question: who is suitable for office in the Church? Who ought we to suggest to the consistory, and who ought the consistory to nominate? Again, once the nomination slate is presented to the congregation, for whom should we vote? We understand the matter to be important, simply because the Church is not a club so that its officers should be made up of the congregation's most talented or most popular members. The Church is not a democracy either, so that its officers should represent the various strains of thinking found amongst its membership. The Church is the body of Jesus Christ, and that makes Jesus Christ the Head of the Church and officebearers His ambassadors. So we want to know: what criteria has Christ stipulated for those whom He would call to office in His Church?
In this article, I want to lay before our readers what Paul writes to Titus about the standards God has set for officebearers (Titus 1:6-9). We will look at the qualifications for the officebearer and I hope to consider why these qualifications are necessary and what the implications are for us as church members.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to Titus, reminding him of the task Paul had entrusted to him on the island of Crete. The gospel had been preached to the people of Crete, various had come to faith, but churches had not yet been established. Hence Titus' task: he has to travel through the various towns of Crete and "appoint elders in every city" (vs 5). With the instruction Paul included also a list of the qualifications required for officebearers. Titus, then, had to take this list with him, as it were, and compare the various brothers with the standards of this list and then ordain those who satisfied the criteria. The fact that the Lord has caused this list to be preserved for us in His Word implies that the list is binding on us today too.2
The qualification required for an officebearer is captured in the word "blameless", a word used twice by the apostle in his list. All the rest of what Paul writes in the vss 6-9 flesh out what Paul means with the word "blameless". The term "blameless" captures the notion that the appointed officebearer can be faulted for nothing; nobody can allege anything against him. One tastes the flavour of the word from the way Paul used it elsewhere.3
To the Corinthians Paul wrote about the work of Jesus Christ, saying that Christ will,
confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord.1 Cor 1:8
Similarly, to the Colossians Paul writes of how Christ has reconciled them "in the body of His flesh through death" so that He might "present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (1:22). We catch the drift of Paul's point with the word "blameless": the term captures the thought that God finds no fault with these persons; the saints of Corinth and Colossae are justified by the blood of Christ so they can stand before the judgment seat of God. In the words of Paul to the Romans:
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?Rom 8:32f
The term "blameless", then, captures the notion of being totally without fault. If "blameless" in the context of Corinthians and Colossians means that a person can stand before the judgment seat of God (be it through the atoning work of Jesus Christ), how much more must the term in our text mean that one is 'blameless" before the judgment seat of men?! What Titus has to look for in his search for elders is brothers against whom nothing can be alleged, brothers who are without fault in the eyes of men.4 One can throw at them what one will, but nothing sticks: men of teflon.
This incredibly high standard for officebearers receives expansion in what Paul writes further in the vs 6-9. The various other characteristics mentioned in these verses all relate to what people can see of the person appointed to office; they're all observable. The officebearer is to be "blameless", and that faultlessness comes out in the way he treats his wife. Our translation has it that he is to be "the husband of one wife". A better translation would be that an officebearer is to be a "one-woman man".5 Then the point is that he's devoted to this woman, is totally faithful to the wife God has given, be it in health or in sickness, in riches or in poverty, in love or in strive. He's faithful, and so as every marriage is to do he reflects something of the faithfulness that characterises the Lord God in His unceasing faithfulness to His sinful people.
The faultlessness that's to characterise the brothers Titus is to look for, Paul continues, is to come out also in the way the brother governs his family. Our translation renders Paul's words very accurately: "having faithful children." The RSV has translated the phrase as "his children are believers" (as does also the NIV: "whose children believe"), and then the thought arises in our minds that we cannot nominate or elect a brother whose children have strayed away from the Lord. The point of the apostle, though, is not that the children are believers. Paul uses the word "faithful" here in the same way as Jesus used it in His parable of the "faithful and wise steward" (Mt 24:45; Lu 12:42). In that parable, the point of the word "faithful" was not that the steward was a believer; the point was instead that he carried out his office faithfully, according to the expectations of the master. So too here: the point is not that the children are believers; the point is rather that the children are faithful in their role as children, that is, they listen to their father, their father has them under control, has taught them the art of obedience.6 That father is "blameless" in the way he runs his family; he shows in his manner of being father something of what God as Father is like.
The "blamelessness", the faultlessness that's to characterise the brothers whom Titus is to appoint as elders becomes obvious in more than the family structure alone. The second part of vs 7 contains five negatives:
not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money.
The absence of these characteristics shows something of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The brother may not be "self-willed",7 that is, he's not to be arbitrary, unconsidered.8 He's not think only of himself, think that he alone is right, be insensitive to the thoughts of others.9
Nor is he to be "quick-tempered".10 That is, he's not to be impulsive, quick to fly off the handle.11 Anger is not be-fitting for a child of God, for with anger one gives place to the devil (Eph 4:26). It is for God to be angry and punish sin, not man (cf Rom 12:19).
A candidate for the office is not to be "given to wine".12 Scripture knows that wine dulls the senses. God, though, has commanded man to have dominion over creation, not to be controlled by any created thing. Hence Scripture's condemnation of drunkenness (1 Cor 5:11; 6:10; Eph 5:18), and of giving oneself to drink (cf Lev 10:9; Prov 31:4f). If a man can't control himself, he's distinctly not "blameless"; yes, he's unfit for the office.
Nor is he to be "greedy for money,"15 as if living is for this life and the comforts one can build up here. One can't serve God and Mammon, Jesus had said (Mt 6:24), and to live this life in pursuit of wealth is to demonstrate that one's priorities are distinctly wrong.
The five negatives all come down to this: the brother eligible for office in the Church needs to show in his daily living the fruits of regeneration, of being changed by the Holy Spirit so that the Lord his God is his everything. Blameless such a brother is to be, so that no charge can be made to stick: a man of teflon.
The apostle proceeds in vs 8 to list six positives, six attributes that are to be distinctly present in the brothers Titus is to ordain to office in the churches of Crete. "Hospitable",16 says Paul; the eligible brother must show hospitality. Paul doesn't mean simply that the brother is willing to offer bed and breakfast to the wayfarer; hospitality in the Scripture extends farther than such externals to include also reaching into the lives of others in order to help. Christ, after all, has reached into the lives of lost sinners, and so redeemed sinners are gratefully to do the same to those around them.
The brother is to be a "a lover of what is good".17 The point of the term is not that the candidate abstractly loves good things and clucks his tongues at what is evil. Rather, the term conveys the notion of activity so that the brother is actively doing good to others and so is seen to be displaying love for them.18 He's not an island in the congregation, concerned about his own affairs, but denying himself to promote the well-being of the other.19 He's also to be "sober-minded",20 of sound mind. That is: he's rational in his thinking (cf Mk 5:15), is level-headed, can control himself, is not carried away by what he sees or hears.21
Again, he's also "just, holy, self-controlled" 22 as the last three words of vs 8 say. These three words express the relations the brother has to others, to God, and to himself.23 The word "just" describes here the relation the brother has to others; he respects the other, gives him his proper place. The word "holy" describes the relation to God; the brothers Titus is to appoint are to have a holy respect for God, are to be pious, recognise Who God is, know their place before God. The last word, "self-controlled", denotes that one can control oneself in the sense that one knows one's own limitations, and won't become proud through the praise of others.
Once more, the blamelessness Paul stipulates for the officebearer involves still more. Vs 9: he's also to,
hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught.
The reference is to the word of God as it comes to the congregation through preaching and teaching, a word of God that agrees with the doctrine handed down through the apostles.24
A candidate for the office in the church must cling25 to a preaching faithful to that teaching; under no circumstances may he let go of that word. "Blameless" he's to be, and that means in the context of vs 9 that he can never be faulted for denigrating God's Word of life, never be faulted with belittling it, changing it, not taking it seriously, ignoring any element in it. Rather, he clings to the preaching of Scripture, clings to the gospel he's confessed. In our language today, the eligible brother stays with the three Forms of Unity through thick and thin, never mind the attacks leveled around him against the teaching of God's Word.
The persons Titus was to appoint to office in the churches of Crete had to measure up to exceedingly high standards! We hear his list, and we're convinced: never shall Titus succeed in finding on the island of Crete a man who's blameless, a man above reproach, one upon whom no dirt will stick; never will he find a man who can serve as officebearer in the Church of Jesus Christ. And we're equally convinced: if Titus were to come in our congregations with the standards of God in our chapter, not a single brother could be nominated, elected, ordained... And those now in office had best submit their resignation... Anyone measure up to these standards? No... And least of all myself...
Wanted: Teflon Men
The men Titus was to appoint to be elders in the churches of Crete had to be 'blameless", Paul had written. The word 'blameless" captured the notion of being above reproach; persons suitable for the office had to be men of such spiritual calibre that nothing could be made to stick on them.
As we listened previously to the demands Paul recorded, we became increasingly convinced: if Titus were to come to our congregations with the criteria Paul listed in Titus 1, not a single brother in our midst could be nominated, elected, ordained. And those now in office had best submit their resignation... I now want to consider why the criteria for officebearers are so demanding. This consideration will lead us to conclude that actually every believer is to match up to the standards mentioned in Titus 1.
Paul is exceedingly categorical about the point that "a bishop must be blameless". The word translated for us as "must" is the same word Jesus used with Nicodemus in that discussion about entrance into God's kingdom; to enter that kingdom "you must be born again" (Jn 3:7). That is: there's no option. Those not born again simply can't enter, and equally: those who don't measure up to the standards of Titus 1 simply can't be appointed to an office in Christ's Church.26 The qualifications Paul lays before Titus are not standards the brothers need to pursue once they've been ordained; these, says Paul to Titus, are the qualifications you must apply in your search for suitable candidates, and these are the qualifications which a potential candidate must satisfy before ordination.
A bishop must be blameless...
Why might it be that the standards are so high? Why must a potential officebearer be "blameless", beyond reproach, without fault? The answer is this: the "bishop" is "a steward of God" (vs 7). A "steward" in the days of the Bible was a person to whom a master had entrusted his house, his property. Jesus describes that "faithful and wise steward" of His parable as the "ruler over the master's house" and his task was "to give (to the household) their portion of food in due season" (Lu 12:42). That's characteristic of the steward's task: he's to care for his master's property, rule over it on the master's behalf. Obviously, then, the chief thing required of this steward was that he was faithful to his master.27 He had to care for the household as his master would, measuring up to the standard of the master.
The officebearer is appointed overseer in the Church of God, is "steward of God" over God's house. That identity gives to the elder the obligation to care for God's Church according to God's holy standard. As to what this holy standard of God is, we shall do well to digress briefly to the Old Testament, and learn from there what the requirements for the OT officebearers was.
Lev 21 tells us that no priest is ever to touch any dead person, with the exception of his closest relatives (vss 1-4). No priest is ever to display physical evidence of grief in the face of death either (vs 5). When a descendant of Aaron wants to marry, he may under no circumstances marry a woman who has once been a harlot or been defiled or divorced. If it might happen that a daughter of a priest plays the harlot, she's to be burned with fire (vs 9).
Again, no son of Aaron was permitted to offer a sacrifice to God if that person had some sort of physical defect, be it that he was blind or lame or had broken a bone or had eczema, etc. Vs 21:
No man of the descendants of Aaron the priest, who has a defect, shall come near to offer the offerings made by fire to the Lord.
What, now, was the motivating factor behind this high standard of physical perfection amongst the officers of the OT tabernacle? The motivating factor is described in Lev 21 as this: God is a holy God, and therefore anyone who would serve in God's tabernacle must also be holy, perfect. Vs 8: the priest,
shall be holy to you, for I the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy.
And vs 23: that son of Aaron with the defect;
shall not go near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a defect, lest he profane My sanctuaries; for I the Lord sanctify them.
It comes down to this: the priest had to reflect what God was like. There was nothing broken about God, nothing imperfect, nothing unholy; hence the priest who served in Gods house must also show no brokenness, no imperfection, no un-holiness.
This reality of God's perfection is the motivating factor also behind that impossible list of qualifications in Titus 1. Over the years since the days of Lev 21, the Lord God has not changed; He still remains holy, still remains unaffected by the fall into sin, still remains totally without fault. Though so many years have gone by since the tabernacle was established, though so much has happened in the world under the direct control of God, no one can yet fault God of any error. So also His stewards are to be blameless, without fault, holy as God is holy.
Certainly, there's development since the days of Lev 21. Titus is not told to ensure that the potential officers are healthy, that none suffer from eczema or a limp or has an eye defect. What was largely physical in the OT has become spiritual in the NT; the stress now lies on how one lives one's faith.28
But what was typified by the physical perfection of the OT officebearer is still to be typified by the spiritual blamelessness of the NT officebearer: God remains so holy, so perfect, so void of sin, and so the officebearers of the Church are to be holy, blameless, void of sin also. That's the norm of God's Word, based on the reality of Who God is.
Yet before we despair of ever finding brothers in our midst who can be stewards of God, we are to note that the qualifications mentioned of any officebearer in Titus 1 are presented elsewhere in Scripture as qualities demanded of every Christian! Scripture is full of it: every child of God is to flee from sin, hate sin, be holy as God is holy, yes, be perfect as God is perfect. Page after page spells it out: every child of God is to be blameless, faultless, above reproach!29 None of us may be unfaithful to the wife God has given, none of us may let our children be unfaithful children in the sense that they don't know their place as children. Not a single one of us may be self-willed or quick-tempered or given to wine or violent or greedy for money. And each one of us is to be hospitable, love what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled. And all of us must hold fast to the word of God as we've been taught it. It's definitely not the intent of the apostle to suggest that in the Church of Jesus Christ there are two classes of people, the one blameless, holy, perfect, void of obvious sin (that's then the potential officebearers), while the other lacks blamelessness, hasn't reached some sort of a goal of perfection, still struggles with sin. It's not that the officebearer is to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the congregation; it's rather that the rest of the congregation is to measure up to the same standards God has set for officebearers. God, after all, is God, holy, perfect, and His people are to be the same.
What, then, is required of those who could serve as steward of God? This: that they be simply true believers.30 And we understand: the true believer is what God has called him to be; that believer lives out of his faith, lives according to his faith, lives consistently with his faith, is (in other words) blameless. Not that he's without sin, but the point is that he knows his sins and hates them, knows his weaknesses and fights them, confesses his sins before the throne of God and seeks forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ. The office of overseer in the church of God is not reserved for a special class within the congregation; according to the qualifications listed by the apostle in Titus 1, that office is open to anyone who lives out of faith, is open to anyone who lives as a child of God ought to live.
That brings us, then, to the practical implications of Paul's instruction in Titus 1 as it pertains to the election of officebearers. For the time of year is upon us when the congregations are requested to submit to the consistory names of brothers deemed suitable for office in the Church and to vote on the names presented by the Consistory. Whom shall we propose as brothers suitable for office? For whom shall we vote? According to the instruction of the apostle, popularity and talent are not decisive criteria in determining whose name we suggest or for whom we vote. Because God is God, one can be steward of God only if one is blameless. So we vote for those brothers who are blameless before God, faithful men who – be it with so many weaknesses – who live consistently with the faith God has given, who adorn the Christian faith with a manner of living consistent with God's holiness. By God's decree, these sort of men only are suited to be stewards of God.