I’ve had around a hundred topics or ideas that I’ve wanted to write about at some point, but life has not afforded me the time for writing and likely won’t in the future, so I’m going to try to set aside some time every few days for writing and see what I can come up with.
It won’t be much, but *something* is more than nothing. To start off my highly reduced blogging load, I’m going to address a few simple questions that I’ve received in the past and have not made time to respond to. The first question is one that has come up multiple times for me:
What does 1 Tim. 3:4-5, and specifically the comments about elders and their kids and the home, mean in practice?
In other words, does an elder in a church need to resign if his adult children no longer profess belief, or run off and live shameful, foolish or wicked lives?
What about if his young kids use the church’s fancy multi-function printer in a counterfeiting scheme to help the church fill the offering plate?
What about if one of his teenage kids one day proclaim that they don’t want to attend church any longer and start attending a local “free thinkers” club?
What about if his toddlers run in the sanctuary/foyer/worship center/praise plaza/whatever area of the church is sacred and while eating mouthfuls of ill-gotten communion wafers while screaming like a chimpanzee and pretending to smoke a rolled-up bulletin like a cigar?
Now, I’ve heard of all these stories, and many more, happening in churches (in actual real life…though I suspect the toddler intended the bulletin to be a trumpet/kazoo instead of a cigar). I know of elders in churches having teenagers that had multiple illegitimate children and yet those elders remained in “good standing” with the church, and I know of pastors who have lost their jobs because their 4-year-old was running around outside the church post-service (without the communion wafers & cigar…just running in the parking lot). Both of those seem rather extreme, but most of the time churches are struggling with matters that fall into far less extreme categories.
But where does one draw lines?
How does one handle the biblical warning in this area?
Let’s examine the obvious passage in question (1 Tim. 3:4-5) and see if we can’t gain some direction on this all.
Here’s the broader passage of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Setting it up a little, 1 Timothy 3:1 talks about how desiring to be an elder is noble, and 3:2-3 talks about one skill (“able to teach”) that elders should posses along with eleven moral qualities (a ratio that far too many seem to miss). Then, in 3:4-7 Paul gets into details with three more characteristics (a good manager of his home, a mature convert, an externally-respected fellow), and goes into a little more detail about each of them.
Let’s look specifically at 1 Timothy 3:4-5 now:
4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
Verse 4 gives the principle (“manage his own household well”) with the qualifying phrase that explains how he’s supposed to manage his household (“with all dignity keeping his children submissive”). Paul then gives the reason for this characteristic (“if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”)
So then, the middle phrase (“with all dignity keeping his children submissive”) is the real crux of the passage, but the questions neither start nor end there. What does it mean to manage one’s household? What about keeping your children submissive with all dignity? What age does “children” refer to?
Clearly, the passage is saying that any elder’s children must look like this at all times, right?
Here’s where a little word study comes in helpful!
What are “children” in the Scripture?
Specifically, are adult descendants of a person still considered “children”?
The term here is teknon, and it’s a common term in the New Testament (occurring 99 times, not counting all the cognate variants). It often is used as synonymous with “offspring”, without specific denotation of any actual age, though when it’s used in reference to adults outside of the times that Christians are called “children” of God, it’s always metaphorical (see 1 Cor. 4:14 & 17; 2 Cor. 6:13; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 2:22; 1 Thess. 2:7, 11; 1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 2 Tim. 1:2, 2:1; Titus 1:4; Phile. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:14, 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:14; 2 Jo. 1:4, 3 Joh. 1:4; Rev. 3:23). My point here is that once people are adults, they are never referred to as “children” any longer, at least in the same way that they were when they were toddlers and pre-teens.
There is an interesting point to make in Ephesians 5 and 6 as well. In Ephesians 6:1, Paul addresses children directly and commands them to obey their parents, but in Ephesians 5:1 Paul addresses the parents directly and commands them to imitate God “as beloved children”; in other words they’re to act “like” children in a specific way…but they aren’t actually children. There’s an implicit assumption of young age in the term “children”, but Ephesians 5:1 and 6:1 (among many other passages, like 1 Pet. 1:14) suggest that in the New Testament one is either a child or a parent (i.e. Colossians 3:20-21). Humanity, in its broadest sense, is broken down chronologically into one of those two categories. Not “children” and “adults”, but rather “children” and “parents”.
Another point worth mentioning is that in his instruction to widows, Paul assumes that children are part of the immediate household (1 Tim. 5:4) and also that later in the same passage, Paul speaks of older women having “brought up children” (past tense – 1 Tim. 5:9). This seems to suggest that there was a time when the rearing of children had ceased, or been completed in some way.
Due to these reasons, I’d suggest that children are “children” as long as they’re dwelling in their parental home and under their parent’s authority…which in the New Testament era would have been aroun 14-18 years old and in our modern era should generally refer to someone being under the age of 17-20 (though today “childhood” shamefully continues on into the 30’s for many…).
Let’s just say that if an elder has a 35-year-old living at home who spends their time playing video games as opposed to working and making profitable use of their time (I understand that there are always exceptions to every rule), there’s some other serious and pointed questions that need asking.
The term “rule” is a rather straightforward term that appears only four places outside the book of 1 Timothy, and 4 times within the book (2 of which are in 1 Tim 3:4-5).
In Romans 12:8, 1 Thess. 5:12, 1 Tim. 5:17 the term is used to describe the practice of elders in the church; how they “rule” or “oversee” the people in the church. It’s not so much a term related to having authority as opposed to a term related to giving care/guidance/attention to a person/people (a nuance that comes out well in 1 Thess. 5:12 where elders “labor among you and are over you”).
In Titus 3:8 and 3:14 it’s used to refer to the relationship of the believer and their good works, bringing out the nuance of “devotion” or “having concern for” (“…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” – Titus 3:8). It involves an active use of authority for a beneficial purpose rather than simply the position of authority in and of itself.
So, an elder must guide and care for his household well, and how to recognize if one’s doing it “well” is seen in the following clause of 3:4, “with all dignity keeping his children submissive”.
c. Dignity and Submission
Dignity is translated from the Greek term semnotes (it appears only in 1 Tim. 2:2, 3:4 and Titus 2:7) which comes from semnos (it appears in Phil. 4:8; 1 Tim. 3:8, 11; Titus 2:2) and carries the idea of gravity. It’s interesting that 1 Tim. 3:3 & 11 contrast the term with the idea of being double-tongued or slanderers. The term also carries the nuance of “honorable”. The idea in both terms is speaking/portraying something or someone honorably instead of negatively. I’d suggest that in 1 Tim. 3:4 the idea is one of the elders’ children treating Christ/Christianity as serious and honorable (mostly meaning adhering to Christian standards of conduct), as opposed to openly condemning Christ/Christianity.
The children of an elder should show forth the positive influence of the beliefs and worldview that has been influencing them, regardless of their personal profession of either. The children of elders should be examples worthy of emulation, at least as far as external behavior and demeanor are concerned. They should be mature, responsible, decently mannered, and self-controlled. This brings us to the last term.
What does “submissive” mean?
I’ve already did a fairly in-depth study of the term hypotasso here, so I won’t repeat myself except to say that the Greek term is hypotasso and is a military term for referring to how troops fall into line. The idea is one of fulfilling a role, or placing oneself in one’s required location within a formation. It has to do with order and self-discipline; putting yourself where you need to be in relation to others and their roles/needs. Doing your required part as a component of a greater whole.
So, an elder needs to exercise his parental role in the lives of his children towards an end (not the end, but an end) of teaching them to be an example of honorable conduct. His kids must not be out of control. This is actually spelled out in the parallel passage in Titus 1:6, where it says “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.”
It’s necessary to point out that “believers” in Titus 1:6 is a translation of the term pistos, or “faithful”. I’d suggest that it’s not a command for an elder’s children to be regenerate (since that’s beyond anyone’s power to accomplish), but rather honorable and conducting oneself in a way befitting Christian profession (whether or not one actually professes belief in Christ). This is seen in how “faithful” is contrasted with not open to the charge of debauchery (asotia – “riotousness”) or insubordination (anypotaktos – hypotasso with negative particle “α” at the front – literally “non-submissive”). So, the point here is that people who watch these kids aren’t accusing them with being trouble-makers or profligates, which parallels the requirement of the elder himself to be well regarded outside the church in vs. 7.
These days, we’ve seen some rather overt expressions of what profligate and troublemaking look like:
So, that hopefully gives us some good trajectory to think upon.
An elder must have children, as long as they are of the age where they would typically be in the home, that positively reflect the instruction and care that he gives them. They must not be publicly accused of being hellions or troublemakers, and they must instead be exemplary kids who exhibit self control and honorable conduct.
Also, once an elder’s kids are out of the house and out on their own, especially having children of their own, any wicked conduct on their part doesn’t disqualify an elder, though wisdom would suggest that at such a time and elder may want to step down temporarily (if needed) and do what they can to positively influence and instruct their children.
Obviously, there are plenty of examples of kids who simply go berserk when they leave home, and if they’re unregenerate, then sinners gonna sin. Most youths who were raised in God-honoring homes and instructed in the Scriptures tend to rebel more subtly by rebelling in small ways against their upbringing (i.e. becoming lazy or materialistic), but every now and then even the best-raised children become, well, atheist vampires.
Seen that before.
That being said, if an elder has done a proper job in the home, a rebelling child will still have some restraint and respect even in their foolishness and rebellion.
So as a bottom line, if an elder has grown kids who have been out of the home for years and those kids rescind their previously-made profession of faith and/or swan-dive into sin, it does not require that elder step down from decades of outstanding church service.
If an elder has high-school kids who are involved in either crime or sexual immorality, they need to step down from their role for a time and get their house in order.
If an elder has young children (toddlers or elementary school aged kids) and they’re the church hellions who run around stealing honey and biting anyone and everyone, then that elder also needs to step down from their role for a time and get their house in order.
He may also want to confirm that his children are humans and not Honey Badgers.
That mistake has also been sadly made before.
It’s my hope that this post may prove to be of assistance to people in such circumstances in the future.
If that’s you, please let me know; I’d love to hear your story.
Also, if someone in your church has ever confused a Honey Badger with one of their children, I’d really love to hear that story as well.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Currently checking my children’s bedrooms for Honey Badgers” Unger
3 thoughts on “Do Elders’ kids need to be saints?”
Thank you SO MUCH, Lyndon, for working through this and providing clarity. Where would the Church be without teachers?
Peace to you, brother!
Thanks for this Lyndon
I always appreciate your posts.