Thursday, June 04, 2015

Keeping It Relevant

Is this old enough for you?
In a previous post, I set out the evidence from scripture that elders ought to be, well ... older.

Bit of a disappointment, I know. It is the nature of our society to obsess over youth: to make a big deal of energy, enthusiasm and an absence of wrinkles.

That’s actually a pretty modern quirk. Societies all over the world used to have great respect for the wisdom that comes with age, even though such sagacity was rarely accompanied by a six-pack or a pretty face.

No more. We’re so happy to see young people contribute in our churches that even if what they offer is mediocre and half-hearted, we’re pole-vaulting over each other with joy and pronouncing them the next big thing.

Almost always to their detriment, and ours.

I promised to deal with some of the more popular objections to my thesis, laid out here, so let’s get on the road:

1.   “There are 20 year olds who meet the biblical definition of an elder”.

Respectfully, there are not. There are 20 year olds who show promise. There are 20 year olds who are active in the church. God bless ’em. We need more of them. Let’s not discourage their participation in the slightest.

Please, please, please … let’s not pretend every sincere, active youngster is an elder.

The only way a 20 year old meets the definition of an elder is if you ignore both the usage of the word presbuteros in scripture and three qualifications Paul sets out for elders: the part about “not a novice” and the part about “whose children believe” and “behave”. Our households are evidence of our spiritual maturity, our ability to lead and whether we merit the respect of those who know us best. It takes time to build a credible household. It takes time for the church to judge that evidence. 

A 20 year old cannot possibly have established a track record of any consequence. In North American culture, he has almost no genuine work or life experience. There are many things he can offer the church, but leadership is not one of them. Ask yourself this: why are we in such a hurry to pin badges on novices? Are we really that hard up? Are we afraid they’ll leave if we don’t? These are not good reasons to recognize elders.

2.   “There are 50 year olds who do not meet the biblical definition of an elder”.


Okay, I’m not being dismissive, but I’m not sure what the point is. Lots of Christians don’t meet the biblical definition of an elder. We can start with all women in the church, as wonderful and spiritual as many of them may be.

Are we suggesting that we ought to stop considering 50 year olds for recognition as elders because not all of them meet the qualifications?

I’m not sure what sort of thinking lies behind such a statement. What we can certainly affirm is that it is not relevant to the subject in any way.

3.   “It is the Holy Spirit who makes overseers. There are elders in their twenties. Therefore, the Holy Spirit made them.”

This is a leap. There are men who are made elders by the Holy Spirit. Then there are the men recognized as elders by the churches. These groups are not necessarily synonymous. Sometimes churches recognize men who do not qualify. Sometimes (less often, I suspect, since we live in dark and desperate days) a church may fail to recognize a man who does. We cannot work backwards from what we are currently doing to decide what is right. 

The Holy Spirit makes elders by equipping men to meet the criteria he set out in scripture through the apostle. But God is not double-minded: the Holy Spirit cannot be said to have “made” an elder whose personal characteristics and circumstances currently fail to meet those laid out in the New Testament.

He gives young men the tools to be useful in the church. That’s exciting for us, and perhaps those young men will one day grow into the role of elder, demonstrating every characteristic laid down in the epistles and being duly recognized as such. Or perhaps they will have affairs, experience marriage breakdowns or serious parental failure, drift away from the things of God or develop bizarre doctrinal leanings. We will not know until they have been tested by time and proved their durability. I’ve seen all of these things occur over the years.

The fact that twenty-something, recognized “elders” exist, and the fact that some of them have been a great blessing to local churches, is a testimony to the grace of God.

It is not an indication that we should presume on his grace by contriving to reproduce decisions that are unscriptural.

4.   “Being an elder requires energy. Therefore an elder should be younger.”

Amazingly, “energy” is not among the qualifications Paul gives to Timothy and Titus. We may prize it. Paul didn’t.

5.   “I think we need to emphasize the idea of spiritual maturity, rather than the world’s emphasis of physical age.”

Giant, howling red herring. The “physical age” component comes straight out of the word of God. The world has no interest in physical age. It idolizes youth above all.

Ask Julia Roberts what she earns per movie compared to ten years ago. Nada. Zip.

“Spiritual maturity”, where elders are concerned, of necessity means meeting the criteria laid out in Timothy and Titus. There can be no other reasonable definition of “mature”. Those qualifiers invariably involve testimony, time and children. Sorry, there are no shortcuts, however much we might like them.

You cannot shoehorn a teenager into this model without breaking the shoe.

6.    “Insisting that elders must be older is restrictive.”

Yes. What is provided in Timothy and Titus by the apostle Paul is, in one sense, a set of restrictions.

What would you prefer as an alternative?

Looking for Thinking Christians

Got more arguments? Bring them on, please. I have yet to see the New Testament scriptures on this subject addressed seriously. All the arguments made against older elders are arguments from circumstance, utility, practicality and convenience. And anecdotes to beat the band. Oh, and we’d rather not hurt anyone’s feelings.

None of these mean a thing.

Surely someone can offer a better rebuttal than what we’ve seen so far.

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