Author: Ron Graham
Having Faithful Children
We have been looking at the qualifications of elders and deacons under three main headings...
- 1. Good character and reputation
- 2. Teaching ability
- 3. Family leadership
This page concentrates on the third item in that list. Paul says that an elder must have "faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination" (Titus 1:5-6). Writing to Timothy Paul states this qualification as follows: "One who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity" (1Timothy 3:4-5). He indicates the same qualification for deacons, "good managers of their children and their own households" (1Timothy 3:12)
1 Must Elders and Deacons Have Children?
The aspect we look at first, is whether the requirement to have faithful children would disqualify a man with no children at all.
We begin with a statement that seems almost ridiculously obvious: If a job advertisement says that applicants must have a reliable car, it's no use applying for that job if you don't have a car at all. Likewise, if an elder or deacon must have faithful children, then it's no use nominating a man for the job who has no children at all.
Well that sounds good and logical, but let me be the devil's advocate and give you another analogy, this time with a twist.
THE DOG IN THE PARK
Imagine that a man comes to the gate of a park, and desires to go inside for a walk. However, there is a notice, which states, "Persons Entering This Park Must Have Their Dogs On a Leash". "Well that's lovely," thinks the man. "Here I am, just about to enjoy a walk in the park, and I have not got a dog about my person anywhere, let alone a leash to put him on. Since I cannot obey this rule, I am prohibited from walking in this park!"
Common sense tells you that this man is not thinking straight. Any sensible person can see that the man does not need to have a dog. He is allowed to walk in the park dogless. The sign just means that if he happens to have any dogs with him, then they must be on leash. This man, who has no dog, is nevertheless qualified to walk in the park.
You can see, no doubt, where that is leading: Some would say that the requirement to have faithful children applies to men who have children. When a man has no children, the question of children's faithfulness does not arise. The lack of children does not prohibit a man from being an elder, any more than the lack of a dog prohibited the man from walking in the park.
THE FALLACY EXPLAINED
The conflicting analogy of the dog in the park creates a fallacy in our thinking, because we have not asked what the requirement contributes to the task. Are people with dogs better park-walkers than people without? Are people ill equipped to walk in a park if they lack a dog? Not at all. People with dogs just need to ensure that the dogs are under control.
Now, what is Paul thinking?
- (A) That children might be a problem for elders and deacons, so he will eliminate from eldership and deaconry any men with children unless the children are under control (just as the park notice eliminated people with dogs unless they were under control) OR
- (B) That having faithful children contributes a benefit to the task of eldership and deaconry without which benefit a man would be ill equipped to do the task (like having a reliable car equips one to do the advertised job)
Obviously Paul is thinking along the lines of (B) not (A). So the dog in the park story is not analogous to a situation where a requirement is a qualification for the task and contributes to a person's worthiness for the task.
2 Why Have Faithful Children?
Why does Paul make it a particular requirement to have faithful children? How does it contribute to their suitability? The answer ought to be obvious. However, Paul makes sure we do not miss the point: "if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" (1Timothy 3:5). That's why an elder is to have faithful children.
We observe three clear facts:
- (1) A man demonstrates that he would be a good elder in the church family, by demonstrating that he can rule his own family, particularly the children.
- (2) If a man's children are unfaithful with a reputation for dissipation and rebellion, then that man is not capable of taking charge of the church.
- (3) A man who has no children cannot provide the church with that kind of evidence and experience. He cannot produce the necessary qualification in a sufficient degree.
Imagine that a man applies for a position as a salesperson. The interviewer asks, "Have you had any experience of selling in this field?" The answer is no. "Have you a sales record in some other field perhaps?" The answer is yes. "In that case we can consider you for the position."
The man's selling record gives the prospective employer a good indication of how this man would go as a salesperson in the new field. Furthermore, that previous experience may be considered as preparing the man, in part, for the new position.
In the same way, a man's leadership experience as a husband, father, and head of a household, qualifies him for leadership in the church.
3 Is One Child Sufficient?
We found no basis for appointing a man without children as an elder or deacon, but now, we ask another question, just one step up from that: What about one child?
This question concerns what some call "the plurality of children." We have established that a man must have children. But would a man with only one child come under that category?
THE CASE FOR "NO"
One line of argument says no, he would not qualify, because the scripture says "children" (plural) and not "child" (singular).
This statement may be used as ammunition for an argument which runs something like this: Paul told Titus to appoint "elders" (plural) in every church (Titus 1:5). Paul and Barnabas appointed "elders" (plural) in every church (Acts 14:23). This has always been taken to indicate a plurality of elders in each church, not as accommodative language which would include one-elder churches. Why then, when we read that an elder must have "faithful children" (plural), do we use a different rule, and say that the term accommodates a one-child elder? Shouldn't we be consistent in both cases?
Such an argument is known as a priori, an "if-this-then-that" argument. To be fair and reasonable, an if-this-then-that argument must link things that are similar in all critical points. For example, Paul's argument "if a bad father then a bad elder" is a fair and reasonable a priori argument, because in the critical factors the two roles are similar. They do have differences of course. For example the children are ruled by one father but the church is ruled by an eldership team. Yet that is not a critical difference. It does not invalidate the demonstration of leadership in the household as a prior basis for recommending the man for leadership in the church.
The argument, "If elders (plural) does not accommodate the singular, nor does children (plural)", is a valid argument provided the two cases agree in all critical points. The argument for NO rests on that.
The argument for NO also uses the "safe side" principle. If there is any doubt as to whether having one faithful child is sufficient to qualify, then let's be on the safe side (says the NO argument) and insist on a plurality of faithful children. Then we know we are right.
THE CASE FOR "YES"
Some would point out that Titus 1:6 and 1Timothy 3:4 (which have the term "children") are the only passages available on the subject of plurality of elder's children. There is no other material which enables us to qualify, modify, or clarify the word "children" in these verses. Therefore it accommodates the singular. On the other hand "elders in every church" does not accommodate the singular because several passages are available to show otherwise. That is a critical difference. So one is not an a priori argument for the other.
Let me put that more simply: Suppose you ask a man, "Do you have children?" and he replies, "Yes, one..." —there is nothing odd about that, is there? You have both understood the term "children" as accommodative of the singular. You have understood the word "children" in context as meaning "one or more children." In the same manner (the argument for YES says) we should take the term "faithful children" as accommodating the singular, because we have no evidence to the contrary. It was different in the case of "elders in every church" because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
As for being on the safe side, the YES argument points out that "the safe side" is a two-edged sword. How can it be "safe" to run the risk of disobeying God's will by refusing to appoint elders and deacons? How can it be "safe" to leave lacking what God wishes fulfilled? To permit a debatable grammatical technicality to lie as an obstacle between the commandment of God and our compliance, may well be regarded as dangerous rather than safe!
The YES argument would agree that a man with ten faithful children certainly provides abundant indication of his suitability, whereas the man with only one child provides the least. The real question is whether the least is sufficient. That is a matter of judgment, but I think it is fair to say that such a man is not very well qualified at all as to "having haithful children".
4 Must All the Children Be Faithful?
People not only question whether an elder must have children at all, or whether he must have more than one child. They also quite properly question whether all the children he has must be faithful.
THE CASE FOR "NO"
Imagine a good father. Of his three children, two were faithful children. One child however strayed, and became a drug addict. Should this father have been judged a failure or a success in terms of having faithful children? Would he have been qualified for eldership because he had two faithful children? Or would he have been disqualified because he had one unfaithful child?
The case for NO appeals to the court of common sense. Obviously, this father did not have a perfect record in terms of his children being faithful. However, he did not have a bad record either. Why would it be unscriptural for him to be appointed an elder, if, on balance, people gave him credit for the faithfulness of two children, and did not hold his other child's unfaithfulness against him as any fault of his? Common sense (says the case for NO) tells us that, where people respect a man for the way in which he rears his children, in spite of the fact they know of a black sheep in the family, then such a man may be regarded as "having faithful children" to a sufficient degree to be qualified for eldership.
The case for NO adds this thought: A man might be weak, irresponsible, and a poor influence upon his children. Fortunately however, the mother might exert a good influence and discipline so that in spite of the weak father, the children are all faithful. They might all obey their mother who tells them, "Do as your father says!" In a legalistic and literal sense, this man has faithful children. Yet our own common sense tells us that we could not righteously regard this man as "having faithful children" in the spirit of Paul's requirement, because the man cannot take credit for the faithfulness of his children. It would make more sense to appoint his wife as an elder than it would to appoint him!
The case for NO cites the instance of a man who might "know how to rule his own household" but not all his children respect that, and some may rebel. Their father is not incapable of ruling them. They simply refuse to place themselves under his control. Surely that is their fault, not his. And if it is not his fault, then why (asks the case for NO) should he be disqualified from eldership because of it?
You will recall, when discussing "The Purpose of Qualifications" there was an illustration about a vegetarian restaurant that also served some meat dishes yet served the purpose for a hungry vegetarian. The case for NO uses this analogy. Not all the dishes in the restaurant had to be vegetarian for the restaurant to serve the purpose. Likewise, not all the children of an elder or deacon need to be faithful for him to serve his purpose.
THE CASE FOR "YES"
You will also recall the analogy of the bald tires. For a vehicle to serve its purpose of safe and legal transport, how many of its tyres must be roadworthy? All of them. In the same way (according to the YES case) all the children of an elder or deacon must be faithful.
The case for YES will also employ the "safe side" argument. If there is any doubt whether all the children must be faithful, then let's stay on the safe side and say yes they must.
Both the case for YES and the case for NO have to take into account what God wants when he seeks a man "having faithful children". As we have previously seen, God has not left us in doubt. The scripture gives the reason for seeking a man whose children are under his rule. "For if a man does not know how to rule his own household, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1Timothy 3:4-5).
The requirement is that "a man know how to rule his own household." The evidence for that is seen in the character and behavior of his children: they are "faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1:6).
The same picture is further down made of the deacon. He is a man who rules his own children and household well (1Timothy 3:12). The Titus passage itself makes the same point, if we treat "not accused of wild behavior and disobedience" as a comment on the faithful children, rather than as a separate characteristic of the elder.
So we know why God wants men with faithful children. It demonstrates his ability to rule well. Is this demonstrated only when all his children are faithful? That is a matter of judgment, but I think it's fair to say that when a man is nominated for office, there is an onus to examine and prove that any unfaithfulness and rebellion among his children is not a reflection on his ability to rule his household well.