Of Good Reputation With Those Outside

In the second post in Ref21's brief series which Todd started yesterday with 'What Is Not Happening,' I want to focus on the last qualification for eldership, 1Tim. 3:7, 'Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders....'

At first glance, that is an odd qualification for Paul to include in the list.  Often, Christians are not well thought of by those outside.  I am fortunate to have two jobs which shelter me to a large extent from the rough and tumble of  life in the secular world.  Many in Cornerstone's congregation work in secular environments where there are many pressures on Christians precisely because Christians are not liked or respected in the wider world.  Yet that is often because of the offence of the cross.  The message of the cross is that we are all sinners and in need of a savior.  That is an offensive message.

Clearly, Paul is not requiring Christians to abandon the offence of the cross in order to qualify for office.  What he is saying is, to use the old English idiom, that elders should be decent people.  Their neighbours, work colleagues, and non-Christian friends should know them as people of integrity, who embody the Christian virtues in which they profess to believe.  

The reason should be obvious: the church's leaders are the public face of the church.  When a Christian falls, say, into adultery, it is a bad enough scandal.  But when a leader falls, the impact is so much greater because the general public regard leaders as the moral barometer of the church as a whole.   A further implication of this is that the manner in which a church handles the sin of its leaders will be seen by the wider world as indicative of the church's own commitment to her stated moral standards.

Returning to recent events, it is surely a good thing to see some movement towards repentance on behalf of Mark Driscoll.   As Todd indicated yesterday, when a brother sins and repentantly asks for forgiveness, we must not withhold that forgiveness.  Yet in every case, we must not only trust but also verify by looking for fruits in conformity with repentance.  That is what makes the language of 'hey hater' and the claim that the moral onus is suddenly all on the critics so inappropriate.

The world, however, takes a different line.  It does not trust and then verify.  It verifies and then, after a period of time, if at all, it trusts.  And that is not something we can simply dismiss as the way of the world and as of no relevance to us.  When Paul speaks about 'of good reputation with those outside,' he demands that the church take the logic and the opinion of the world seriously when we are dealing with leaders and when we are not talking about the offence of the cross but rather the offensiveness of some Christians' behavior.

This has twofold relevance in the current climate.  First, what has become the standard New Calvinist approach to the critics (either ignore them as irritating upstarts or point to them as the real problem -- but never, ever, treat their concerns as worthy of serious respect) fools nobody but those who want to be fooled.  It certainly does not fool the outside world as it looks on.  And as the various Mars Hill scandals have made their way into the secular media, we can assume that the favoured strategy of 'Now, see here, you little whipper-snapper...' will be seen for what it is: a deflective move to avoid  addressing the root problems.

Second, we need to remember that overseers are held to a higher standard because they are the public face of the church.   That is why behavior such as we have witnessed actually disqualifies from office, no question.  Now, there are some sins, such as adultery, which I would argue disqualify from office permanently.  For some other serious public sins, it can be for a period of time.  As restoration to office requires restoration of reputation inside and outside the church, such a time cannot be specified precisely in advance.  It requires the fallen leader working at some other calling while being pastored under the Word by wise and godly men until such time as he has grown to maturity in the faith.  Then he may again be qualified to be considered once more for office.  As Todd pointed out yesterday, disciplining fallen overseers is not hateful but the best thing that can be done for them.

The moral onus is on the church.  It is on the church to make sure that its leaders are of goodmolesworth_reasonably_small.jpg