Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking

I feel compelled to begin this post with a bit of personal disclosure. I hope it's not inappropriate or offensive, most of all to the memory of people I'm thinking about as I write.

My grandfather and my brothers are alcoholics. My grandfather was a binge drinker. For months he was sober... and then he'd "fall off the wagon," exploding in verbally abusive fits and from time-to-time violent behavior. In his sober periods, he was professing Christian. When drunk, you couldn't reason with him from the Scripture or speak to him of Christ. In his later years, in declining health, he gave up drinking. And he was one of my favorite people. He had a jolly laugh that caused his shoulders to jiggle and his head to fall back. And when something was particularly sweet to him, he'd let out a warm and oozy, "Yeeesss, Lord."

My brothers also binged. There's tended to be longer than my grandfather's. And like my grandfather, they lost all social skill when drinking. They lost jobs. They lost friends. They also lost their families.

Personally, I don't have any objections to the Apostle Paul's instruction in 1 Timothy 3:2. An elder or pastor should "not [be] given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome." Drunkenness, violence, and being quarrelsome are strung together here probably because they are strung together in life. Generally, where you find one, you find the other. My experience growing up around so many men sinfully given over to alcohol makes this vivid and necessary wisdom. I trust that not many others have difficulty with this instruction.
Though I love my grandfather and my brothers, and though my grandfather may have professed faith in Christ, they would not be suitable candidates for leadership in the church.

In 1 Tim. 3:3, Paul takes up qualities related to those in verse 2 (temperate, self-controlled, respectable). However, in verse 3, he states the issues in the negative. He rules out some negative characteristics. Previously, if the qualities were present the man in question satisfied the requirements. Here, if the qualities are present, the candidate is disqualified.

"Given to drunkenness" is as it sounds, a tendency to drink intoxicating beverages to excess, until the faculty of a sober mind is lost. Calvin notes that it includes "any intemperance in guzzling wine." An elder is not a winebibber.

Violence often follows intoxication. But a brawling and violent disposition is unbecoming a pastor. He is not to be a "striker." Instead, gentleness is to be his way. A pastor must evidence this beatitude, rather than its tawdry opposite.

And finally, an elder must not be quarrelsome. He is not argumentative and divisive. Paul wrote the same instruction in his second letter to Timothy. "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive" (2 Tim. 2:23-26). So, far from being an arguer, the pastor avoids arguments, patiently instructs, and recognizes that a spiritual battle normally lies beneath such disputes in the church. Patience, gentleness, and teaching are the rule of the day. And those things are not to be confused with lampooning every person with a different opinion. It more often requires discernment to stay far away from "foolish and stupid arguments." How often have pastors found themselves enmeshed in some controversy or another over some wild and silly idea. The church needs men who are able to see through such demonic ploys and give the people a model of soberness and peace.

Some Observations to Make and Questions to Ask:

1. Is the elder given to drunkenness? Does he partake of alcohol at all, and if so, is it with appropriate sobriety? Whether at home or in the community, does he drink to the point of intoxication? Are there other forms of intoxicant that enslave him?

2. Look for men who show an ability to biblically discern between the cardinal matters of the faith and "foolish and stupid arguments." We may see this in a man's teaching, if he's had opportunity to share. Does he use "public air time" to receive people to "doubtful disputations" or speculative and fanciful ideas, or does he demonstrate sound and mature judgment that emphasizes the truth of God. Is everything a matter of conscience for him and a "hill to die on," or can he parse out less important and unimportant issues? Does that show in his conversation with the sheep, or does he attempt to herd them into some "correct" mold on every issue no matter its significance?

3. In the midst of conflict is he patient and gentle? Sometimes conflict in a church is the pressure that refines diamonds. Perhaps there have been difficult situations in the church's recent past or in its current life. Who demonstrates a 2 Tim. 2:24 ability to avoid foolish disputes? Who responds with gentlenss and avoids retaliation and striking at "opponents"? Are there men facing attack and arguments who maintain hope in God that those who are lost in error or combativeness might be given from God the grace of repentance? Those men are maintaining an eternal and spiritual perspective instead of giving in to arguments and fights.

4. Beyond avoiding fights, is the prospective candidate a peacemaker? Does he do everything within his power to maintain unity in the church? (Rom. 15:5-6; Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:15) Conflict avoidance may be merely that... avoidance. An elder should be an agent of peace and reconciliation. It's a ministry given to all Christians, but an elder must be an example of positive peacemaking and unity building. It's one thing to "stay out of something," and quite another with patience and gentleness to teach others to lay down their arms and join arms. Such would be an excellent elder.

5. Is the man a physical abuser of his wife, children, or anyone else? He must not be a "striker." In the way he disciplines his children, if it includes physical discipline, is the discipline fueled by anger, rage, jealousy, or disappointment? Or, would his wife and children say his discipline is sober, appropriate, and godward? Is there a past history of spousal abuse? Current pastors would be wise to investigate how old or recent that history is, whether it was before or after conversion to faith in Christ, and if there are and have been well-established patterns of repentance and accountability. A man given to violence in his home obviously would not be managing his own family well.

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