The Perspicuity of Scripture and Why Qualifications of an Elder Matter

Why do the qualifications given by the Apostle Paul in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 matter? Well, it depends. It depends on whether you believe the rest of Scripture matters. The Bible says some hard things. The Bible gives ALL of us a cross to carry. They that lose their lives will gain it. Do not love the world or the things that are in it. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Do not return evil for evil. And the list could go on and on. This is where the concept of the clarity (or perspicuity) of Scripture comes in. Does the Bible mean what it says? Can you take it at face value? If you believe that, yes, the Bible does mean what it says even when it says hard things to me or you personally (and it still means those hard things for you and I today), then the qualifications of an elder/pastor should profoundly matter to you. When hard things in Scripture are ministered without grace by a hard man who doesn’t meet the qualifications of an elder, their value for human flourishing as God intended is trampled. 

The qualification of an elder should matter to you first because, well, you believe in the perspicuity of Scripture (if you don’t, this article is written particularly to those who do hold this belief, but you are welcome to listen in). If you believe the Bible means what it says and can be taken at face value, then you by default believe it means what it says about the qualifications of an elder. But, second, if you hold to the perspicuity of Scripture, you also believe in elder authority (Hebrews 13:17). If you don’t believe in elder authority, then the qualifications of the one who holds the office are irrelevant. If you do believe in elder authority (and I do), the qualifications resonate in I Timothy with utmost importance for the rest of how God planned the Church to function. The Apostle Paul presents the role of elder in the Church as one of sacred importance and influence. Pastors are influential. They hold a holy (set apart) role in the Body of Christ, and therefore, the qualifications of the person holding that office matter greatly.

For those who hold to the perspicuity of Scripture and believe that Scripture is the final authority for faith and practice for believers, when we do not obey Scripture on the issue of the qualifications of a pastor/elder, we create very large stumbling blocks for those who do not hold to those foundational beliefs.

Consider these qualifications with me. I’m not going to go through all of them for the sake of time, but I’m going to explore the ones that seem less straightforward and argue that they are actually pretty clear.

[3:1] 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. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)

The first qualification is that an elder be above reproach. The Greek word here means that he is not open to censure, which is severe disapproval often presented in writing. (Note: all definitions here are from Strongs Concordance and Google dictionary.) Above reproach doesn’t mean that an elder never receives criticism. It doesn’t mean that he never makes a mistake. It does mean that his sins, mistakes, and errors do not accumulate to the point of wide, severe disapproval. When formal, written, charges are brought against a man, charges by more than one witness that reflect severe disapproval, this man is no longer fit to be in the office of elder. If you believe in the perspicuity of Scripture.

Another qualification similar to being above reproach is that an elder must be respectable. This word is used one other time in the New Testament, oddly enough when Paul is teaching about women wearing proper or respectable clothing in I Timothy 2. The implication of this word is that the elder does or says what fits the moment. Proper clothing is the clothing that fits the situation, not drawing undo attention to itself because it is inappropriate. The same goes for an elder’s words and actions. He must be someone who does not draw undo attention to himself by saying/doing improper or inappropriate things that do not fit the needs of the moment.

A pastor/elder must also be hospitable. Peter uses this same word when he tells us in I Peter 4:9 to “be hospitable to one another without complaint.” This is one who welcomes people to himself. He isn’t standoffish or unavailable, and he does so without complaining of the intrusion into his family life. This is a hard value to make yourself have if you aren’t naturally gifted this way. But if you believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, this should characterize your life if you are an elder. Why? Because for the office of elder to work as Scripture intends it, for a pastor to shepherd his sheep, he has to be in personal contact with them. The Spirit moved Paul to set up a value system for what God intends His pastors to be, and we are ill advised to minimize something like hospitality because our itching ears prefers someone who can attract thousands with his words.

If a preacher can attract thousands with his words but is not hospitable, there is a different role in the Church for him, evangelist. But he does not meet the qualifications of a pastor/elder. If you believe Scripture.

A pastor/elder should not be violent and quarrelsome, but gentle. This includes verbal violence as well as physical violence. Jokes about beating someone up, expressing a desire to hurt someone, and threats against someone all fall in this category. I’ve written a lot about that here, so I won’t unpack it more in this article.

I want to end with Paul’s closing warning in I Timothy 3 about who should and should not hold the office of elder.

[7] Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Here, more than any of the other qualifications, I want to call on my brothers and sisters in Christ to value this qualification as a belief in the perspicuity of Scripture demands. I note conservative evangelicals falling into a bad trap of widely labeling outside criticism of evangelical leaders as persecution. That is a dangerous view. If outside criticism of a pastor/elder is mostly persecution to be ignored, then Paul has written an irrelevant phrase here in holy Scripture. But if you hold to the view of Scripture I have, you know what I have just suggested is basically blasphemy. No, this qualification matters, and woe to us who disparage it and write off outside criticism as persecution.

If a man is not esteemed outside of his congregation at some level, outside of the Body of Christ at some level, HE SHOULD NOT HOLD THE OFFICE OF ELDER. If the other pastors in his city are rising up to cry out against him. If his local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations are interviewing multiple people outside of his church who think very poorly of him, he should be removed from the office of elder. Outside public outcry against an elder/pastor is much more likely to be God’s discipline than Satanic persecution, if this passage of Scripture is to be believed. 

Note that almost none of these qualifications in I Timothy 3 are about how much Scripture this elder knows and how well he can teach it. Being able to teach the Word accurately is only 1 out of 14 or 7% of the qualifications Paul gives. Do not read me saying that teaching the Word accurately doesn’t matter! Instead, I contend strongly that teaching the Word accurately isn’t ENOUGH for this sacred role. The ability to teach the Word clearly needs to be accompanied by the fruit of the Spirit in order for a man to qualify for this precious office of sacred influence. This is why Paul give us 13 other qualifications other than being able to teach the Word – because this role is one of enduring influence over people. This is a role that is set apart by God for the long term good of His people, for their flourishing in His image. Paul gives us these sobering qualifications twice, and if you value that precious, old doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, you should value all of these qualifications, and in fact insist on them, in your pastor. When a man who can teach the Word but is lacking in the other qualifications is allowed to continue in this role, it harms people. It diminishes the very Word he is teaching. Those who allow him to stay in office do the same.

15 Responses to The Perspicuity of Scripture and Why Qualifications of an Elder Matter

  1. Kristen August 6, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    With regards to the perspicuity of scripture, I think there is a problem with the modern understanding of that principle.

    Here’s the doctrine as conceived by the early Protestant reformers:

    “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”
    Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), emphasis added.

    The original doctrine states that the Bible is clear enough regarding matters of eternal salvation, that anyone can, by reading diligently, understand how to be saved. However, this understanding of perspicuity has changed in the last hundred years or so, such that nowadays people think there’s something wrong with the idea that we might need to learn about the historical and cultural context of the non-salvation-oriented passages, in order to really grasp the original intended meaning.

    It is each original message, as understood by the original audience, that is inspired– not what it may seem to be to us, thousands of years and half the globe away. Salvation is one matter: it has to do with the relationship of humans to the eternal God, and is therefore timeless and understandable in any age. But much of the Bible has to do with the way humans relate to one another, and this is inextricably bound up with human history and culture.

    This is why I think we have to be careful with assuming that this passage teaches that a pastor must be a man.

  2. Wendy August 6, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Thanks for adding that, Kristen. Readers will benefit from your clearer explanation of what perspicuity meant in the history of the church.

  3. Sallie Borrink August 7, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    I'm an outsider to the situation to which I'm sure you are referring, but have been following it closely for a long time. If he survives this latest exposure… I'm just at a loss for words.

    But at the same time this is the natural outworking of people infiltrating the “church” who value worldly accolades and success more than they do the Word of God. The actual believers who are still present there must not love this person or they would not allow him to continue unchecked. It is not love to allow someone to continue destructively year after year. But the fear of man is a powerful force and obviously many fear him more than they love him.

  4. Anonymous August 7, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    a tragedy and exceedingly sorrowful, even many events in our day. In any case, the Lord looks even more spectacular than ever, that He would set His heart upon a certain people, no matter what, doesn’t He. And to think He will entrust us to be able to judge, only in a holy and righteous manner, angels one day. In the meantime, we know that all unrepentant acts of unrighteous means to any end will be accounted for with the Lord of the universe. And how hopeful it is that the Lord is purifying and refining, making ready His bride even on this day,and let us join in prayer for His work, if we dare, knowing we are included in it.

  5. Edward August 8, 2014 at 1:56 am #

    “12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;” -1 Timothy 2

  6. Doug Hawkinson August 9, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    “When formal, written, charges are brought against a man, charges by more than one witness that reflect severe disapproval, this man is no longer fit to be in the office of elder. If you believe in the perspicuity of Scripture.” Is that really your position? Charges merely need to be brought against a man.

  7. Wendy August 9, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    That's Paul's position, not mine. I Timothy 5 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

    A charge against someone is more than an unproven accusation, and the fact of multiple witnesses establishes it, similar to a court of law.

  8. Anonymous August 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    watching the Kings news clip though, thinking the Lord’s wisdom would result in a better way than involving, appealing to the secular world; even the world knows trying a case in the court of public opinion is unethical ?

  9. Wendy August 9, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Paul teaches in verse 20 that confrontation must escalate when an elder persists in sin after multiple witnesses prove a charge. I don't like the involvement of secular media, but that's on Mars Hill's BoAA that didn't force Mark out when they needed to, not on those pointing out his longstanding disqualifying sins against others.

  10. Anonymous August 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    one thing for sure, all the way around, there is much to stoke hunger and thirst for righteousness.

  11. Anonymous August 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    that is, in hope, all the way around, for much RECEIVING the perspicuous scripture..

    or do we all not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? let us not be deceived; the deeds of the flesh are evident which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which we have been forewarned, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

    Such were some of us – but NO LONGER -we were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. We walk by the Spirit and don’t carry out the desire of the flesh, for those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
    1 Cor 6 :9-11;Gal 5:1,16,25-29

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  13. Curious Thinker August 13, 2014 at 1:29 am #

    I'm not sure about the casting out a pastor/elder when others speak out against them. What if an elder/pastor is being unfairly or wrongfully accused, or is in fact being persecuted? Wouldn't it be better for the pastor/elder to prove their innocence? I will probably research more on that verse.

  14. Anonymous August 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    all personally convicting too.. innocence?.. wondering wasn’t claimed innocence a part of what Job attempted but then he retracted, repenting in dust and ashes; wondering too if sacrifice/offering is ever accepted while one is reminded that your unreconciled brother has something against you ?

  15. Anonymous August 15, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    I've only currently been following the recent events and I somewhat agree with you that if he survives this latest exposure, I would be at a loss for words. But by survives I mean to say, survives in ministry and/or survives in church leadership/eldership. I have been closely watching out for one other thing of which I haven't heard anyone mention – his influence and mentoring over numerous pastors of so many other churches far and wide who have been groomed to be his next-generation version. We need a thorough and complete cleansing Lord.