06 June 2023

How the elders of Crete oughta behave.

Titus 1.5-9.

Paul left Titus in Crete because its churches had a leadership vacuum. I mean, there might’ve been people the Christians imagined were leaders, but Paul considered them inadequate, as we can tell from what he had to write to Titus. They lacked spiritual maturity. Titus didn’t.

Here, Paul reminds Titus that maturity—good fruit and good character—correctly defines a person who’s considered an elder of the church. You’re not an elder without it, and ought not be a leader without it.

Titus 1.5-9 KWL
5 This is why I have you remain in Crete:
So you might organize the things we leave there.
So you might designate elders for each city,
as I commanded you.
6 If a certain person has no controversy about them,
a one-woman man,
has believing children,
has never been accused of excessive living
nor of being unsubmissive
7 —for a supervisor has to be uncontroversial,
being like God’s butler.
Not arrogant.
Not quick-tempered.
Not drunk.
Not picking fights.
Not greedy for “prosperity.”
8 Instead, loves strangers.
Loves goodness.
9 Holds tight to what’s consistent
with the message of faith as taught,
so he might be able to help in the sound teaching,
and in rebuking those who contradict it.

A number of Christians claim Paul’s only describing pastors, ’cause Paul mentioned “a supervisor” in verse 7. (Greek ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, KJV “bishop,” NIV “overseer.”) This is a word the New Testament tends to use to describe bishops and head pastors; it’s not just any church leader. Thing is, the elders of a church do supervise all sorts of things in a church, whether they have the title “pastor” or not. And really everyone in church leadership should be qualified to step up when the pastor or bishop isn’t available; everybody should meet these ground-floor qualifications, no matter what title they have. Got it?

Defining an elder.

Paul’s description is a list of words, which means unfortunately I gotta preach the dictionary. But preach it properly: I’m gonna go over how the lexicons of ancient Greek define these words, instead of cracking open my Webster’s Dictionary and telling you how the people of today define the 17th-century words of the King James Version. (Which have changed meaning over the past 400 years, so now they mean even less what Paul meant.)

HAS NO CONTROVERSY ABOUT THEM (Greek ἀνέγκλητος/anéngklitos, “unaccused”) and UNCONTROVERSIAL (μὴ ἐν κατηγορίᾳ ἀσωτίας/mi en katiyoría asotías, “not charged with unsalvation”). These are people who have nothing hanging over their heads. Nothing. Not accused of anything illegal, inappropriate, unethical, immoral; nobody’s gonna accuse this person of being a con artist, of not really being Christian.

Some preachers are gonna claim this is only a legal term—so they’re not legally accused of anything. That’s a fine distinction which only exists in the present day. If you were accused of something in ancient times, sometimes you answered for it before the city leaders… but sometimes you didn’t, and it hung over you as a persistent rumor. Your reputation was toast before anyone had ever met you.

So Paul instructed there should be nothing hanging over these people. Nobody in the church should have a problem with them. (Nobody outside the church either, though we’ll get to that elsewhere.) The gossips and grumblers had nothing on ’em. The devout had no problem with ’em. No scandals tainted their record. The church wasn’t overlooking serious potential problems and character flaws because these guys were just so talented, so anointed, so capable, so charismatic, or any of the other excuses today’s churches typically make when they put problem people in charge.

Connected to this are Paul’s other adjectives in the subsequent verses: These folks aren’t rebellious, go-it-alone, answer-to-no-one types. Not arrogant, angry, drunk, picking fights, or focused on results instead of people. They don’t make excuses for their fleshly behavior; they don’t even do fleshly things. They don’t try to ignore or intimidate others in the church, or hand down decrees like a tinhorn dictator and expect everyone to unthinkingly, unquestioningly obey. They’re trustworthy. The church will never be embarrassed by having them in charge.

A ONE-WOMAN MAN (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ/miás gynekós anír). Yep, that’s a literal translation. Some bibles go with “wife” instead of “woman,” ’cause they presume this is about a monogamous marital relationship. No it’s not: If your elders are single, you do not want ’em “courting” somebody new every weekend! Not to mention you don’t want ’em promiscuous, nor looking at the singles in your church as their own personal dating pool. How on earth can you trust them to lead people when they’re constantly on the prowl?

In both Jewish and Cretan ancient culture, polygamy happened. Thanks to Roman influence it was frowned upon, but it still existed; polygamists just kept it on the downlow. Despite this, this statement isn’t so much about polygamy (which is a very unwise lifestyle, with complex family issues which would make a Christian far too busy to be in church leadership), nor even adultery (which, as a fleshly lifestyle, disqualifies people from leadership right there). It’s about promiscuity.

Sex is a powerful temptation. Not just for ministers, but everyone. Just about every church has undergone a sex scandal. (If yours hasn’t… well you only think it hasn’t. It’s just not known to the public. Or your church is relatively new, and it’s only a matter of time.) Loads of churches get people to look the other way at sex scandals when those involved were “only the usher” or “only the secretary” or “only a youth leader.” They downplay the fact we’re meant to give such “small” jobs only to mature Christians—i.e. elders. But way more sex scandals involve pastors—and it’s because churches regularly put someone in charge who lacks sexual self-control.

BELIEVING CHILDREN (τέκνα ἔχων πιστά/tékna éhon pistá, “children having faith”). Every minister’s first priority is their family. If they’ve not raised their own kids to be Christian—if their own devout lifestyle hasn’t impacted their children for the better—they really don’t have a devout lifestyle. I’ve seen this happen dozens of times with coworkers who were devout on the outside and fruitless on the inside, and their kids always see their insides. They’re hypocrites, the kids know it—and it’s why they don’t believe.

Now I don’t know that Paul was writing about adult children. ’Cause sometimes we do absolutely everything right, yet once our adult children are on their own, they choose to quit Jesus. It sucks, but it happens all the time. Arguably that’s on them, ’cause we did lay the proper groundwork when they were younger. But some Christians insist such parents should’ve done way better. I don’t know how gracious that assessment really is.

Regardless, I will say if Christian can’t point their minor children to Christ, when the kids are most open to him, how does this demonstrate any ability to lead God’s church? It really doesn’t.

NEVER ACCUSED OF EXCESSIVE LIVING (μὴ ἐν κατηγορίᾳ ἀσωτίας/mi en katihoría asotías, “not under a charge of unsalvation”), and NOT DRUNK (μὴ πάροινον/mi párinon, “not near wine”). Being asotías in Greek culture meant you were too messed up to be saved. Usually from the sorts of immoral behaviors that outraged even the gods (and if you know the mythology, the Greek gods were rather immoral themselves): You were that far gone. The gods were gonna destroy you.

Some translators figure this clause isn’t about the elder, but the elder’s kids: He has believing children who aren’t prodigal brats. Because they can’t imagine an elder who’d behave this way. Which only goes to show how sheltered they are; I’ve known plenty of “elders” who were this way. Minded their manners at every church function, upstanding in the community in nearly every way, but Friday nights they’d have friends over for dinner and a few bottles of wine, and get drunk and silly… or worse. Paul described that as asotía: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” Ep 5.18 KJV You want elders who never lose control of themselves—who can never use the excuse, “I can’t imagine having done that; I must’ve been so drunk.” Yeah well, you can’t afford to let down your guard like that. Ever. You’re in leadership now.

This applies to problem drinkers as well as alcoholics: Ministers shouldn’t need “liquid courage” before they can approach people. Nor should we figure—as young people will—that once our job is over, we can go to the pub and get sloppy. Too many people love to use the excuse, “The minister does it; why can’t I?” Part of being mature, and a leader, is we curtail our Christian freedoms for the sake of immature Christians.

I think it’s fair to assume “excessive living” applies to both the prospective elder and the elder’s kids. If you’ve got an elder whose kids are constantly stoned or getting into trouble, the elder needs to step down from church leadership duties and deal with the kids.

NOT UNSUBMISSIVE (μὴἀνυπότακτα/mi… anypótakta, “not… insubordinate”) and NOT ARROGANT (μὴ αὐθάδη/mi afthádi, “not self-willed” or “stubborn”). This is a particular plague among Americans, and it shows up all the time in our independent non-denominational churches. And of course among Christians who don’t care to submit to other people; not their job, not their spouse, and certainly not the government. They won’t submit to Jesus either: They just reinvent him till he thinks exactly the way they do, then use their newly-minted “Jesus” as their excuse to do their own thing.

By “submit” I do not mean to obey others; lemme be clear. Submission is about taking others into consideration whenever we do things. How are our behaviors gonna affect them? Will it offend them unnecessarily?—and are we being kind about it, or are we just being dicks? Have we thought about how our behavior will reflect on fellow Christians, on our church, on Jesus himself? Are we actually being selfish, or have we put others first like Jesus does? Are we actually being fair and promoting justice, or are we really promoting our hangups and prejudices?

Too many prominent Christians actually take pride in being insufferable a--holes, and don’t care at all that they’re driving pagans far away from Christianity because of it. They aren’t even trying to clear up any misunderstandings, or bridge any gaps: They think they’re righteous, and righteousness should offend pagans. Heck, they’re happy to offend pagans even more, just for fun. But that’s evil fun, and these are depraved people, who show no trace of God’s grace nor the Holy Spirit’s fruit in public. It’s seriously messed up. And it disqualifies them from Christian leadership.

Likewise arrogance: They won’t take correction. Won’t heed advice. Won’t follow better examples. Won’t recognize other authorities. Not even Jesus.

NOT QUICK-TEMPERED (μὴ ὀργίλον/mi oryílon, “not inclined to anger”). Sometimes people translate this “not angry”—which stands to reason; you don’t want an angry Christian in leadership. But this is just as bad: One who instantly flies into a fury. You might know what sets this person off and fearfully avoid it, or you might have no idea and fearfully avoid everything. Either way, it’s way more fear than we oughta see in a church.

A quick temper is an obvious sign the person lacks gentleness, the Spirit’s fruit of emotional self-control. Christians need to learn to keep our emotions in check—especially anger, because people do awful things when we’re angry. We’ll sin greatly, and regret it later… which is hardly a trait you want in people whose duty is to encourage fellow Christians to resist temptation!

NOT PICKING FIGHTS (μὴ πλήκτην/mi plíktin, “not punchy”). Too many people love fighting. Might be actual, physical fistfights, wrestling matches, cage fighting, or brawling. Might be intellectual fights. Either way, the Spirit’s fruit is peace, and someone who loves to get into a fight shows an obvious lack of this fruit.

Note there’s a difference between fighting, and starting a fight. That’s a distinction we have to make. Sometimes there’s no avoiding a fight. If someone attacks your family, you may have to fight ’em. But there’s a big difference between defending your family, and preemptively assaulting someone who looks like they might be a problem. And there are too many Christians who wholeheartedly approve of preemptive strikes. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy. Justify later.

But being pugnacious demonstrates no fruit of the Spirit: No self-control. No peace. No gentleness. No grace. It’s purely indulging the flesh—then justifying it by saying it was for righteous reasons. There are no righteous reasons to attack first, and I don’t care what your favorite TV pundit claims. Neither does Jesus, who told us to shake the dust off our feet and walk away; Mt 10.14 nor Paul, who told us God is meant to do all the fighting. Ro 12.19 Not us. No matter how much we wanna.

NOT GREEDY FOR “PROSPERITY” (μὴ αἰσχροκερδῆ/mi aishrokerdí, “not [into] embarrassing gain”). A lot of people covet success, however they define success: They want money, possessions, power, titles, positions, and to get ahead. They went to some fly-by-night school and got a “doctorate,” or went to a weekend conference and came back “certified” or “with extensive training,” or they self-published a book on Amazon and now they call themselves an “international author.” Or other such exaggerations.

They want money, and they don’t care how they get it: They’ll get involved in some iffy get-rich-quick deal, or get mixed up in some shady pyramid scheme. I had a friend on Twitter who regularly tried to get me involved in his cryptocurrency business—which he had packaged with a bunch of Christian-sounding jargon to make it sound like they weren’t getting rich by getting suckers to buy something worthless which they didn’t fully understand, but were getting rich by following “biblical principles.” Thank God, their business went under before they conned anyone else. Now imagine if this guy was a church leader, convincing the people of his church to put their money with him because they believe they can trust him. Yikes.

Such people usually aren’t satisfied with only being an elder. “Elder” is another title to put on their résumés—and a handy one! Mixed in with a dozen impressive titles, they’re also a church elder. Doesn’t that make it sound like they got their wealth through moral means? Even though it wasn’t necessarily?

And they want their eldership to be a big success as well. They wanna be the most popular elder. Or the head elder. Or carry more influence and weight than the head pastor. Or they only want prestigious duties and titles, but they’re never around, and don’t really care much for the people of the church.

Or they want it to look like they’re doing a spectacular job in their role, but they’re actually doing nothing, and lying about results. Like giving a testimony of “We had 20 people come forward!”—but not to receive Christ; the preacher told everyone to come forward, so all 20 of ’em came up. You know, fraudulent stuff like that.

Bluntly, these “slight exaggerations” are lies and hypocrisy. You do not want a liar, nor anyone unethical, in leadership. It can get really bad, really fast.

LOVES STRANGERS (φιλόξενον/filóxenon). Bad leaders fear and distrust strangers. Good leaders welcome strangers: Come on in! Worship with us! Do you know Jesus? Would you like to?

The KJV renders this, “Loves hospitality,” and yes, a mature Christian leader is gonna love making strangers feel comfortable. An immature one is gonna promote cliques, of making sure the only new people to the church are “the right people,” and is gonna demand newbies adapt to us instead of being all things to all people.

LOVES GOODNESS (φιλάγαθον/filáyathon). Or “loves good people.” They’re not gonna root for bad people. They’re not gonna rejoice when political leaders do cruel things to their political opponents, or squee when someone “gets what’s coming to them.” They’re not gonna enjoy movies or video games where someone can get away with all sorts of evil, and live vicariously through those characters. Sin’s actually gonna bug them. Sinners too.

But while they might denounce general or particular sins, they’re never gonna attack sinners. They know better: Jesus loves sinners. So must they; so do they. They’re gonna remember to be gracious and patient and loving with sinners. That’s goodness too.

SOUND-MINDED (σώφρονα/sófrona, KJV “sober”). Because the KJV translates this as “sober,” lots of people nowadays tend to contrast it with “not drunk” in verse 7. Thing is, in the 1600s “sober” didn’t primarily mean “not drunk”; it meant “thoughtful.” You used sound judgment.

Elders need to be in their right minds, all the time. They need to stay away from the booze and weed. If they need to take meds, they take their meds. If they’re surrounded by things which make ’em emotional, they need to get ahold of those emotions; take them into consideration of course, but not be driven by them.

Especially rage, anger, fear, and other things which get people to stop thinking and panic. Fear isn’t a product of the Holy Spirit; a sound mind is. 2Ti 1.7 Pursue that.

FAIR (δίκαιον/díkeön, “equitable”). This word regularly gets translated “just,” “righteous,” and “holy.” The first two are pretty good synonyms for fairness; the last one really just emphasizes that fairness is holy, but doesn’t really say why it’s holy: Because God is fair.

Mature Christians are gonna try to be fair. I don’t know if we’ll ever be perfectly fair, like God is; we all have our biases. But the important thing is to try. To demand a just society, instead of letting things fall as they unfairly will—in the laps of the wealthy and powerful. To plead the cases of those who tend to fall through society’s cracks. To listen to victims, and not automatically side with the popular. To love everyone, not just the “deserving.”

Immature Christians are just gonna follow the crowd, and the crowd sucks.

PIOUS (ὅσιον/ósion, “sanctioned [by God], holy”). Usually gets translated “holy,” and holiness is a good definition. But why are mature Christians holy? Not just because God sets us apart for himself, which he does with every Christian, including immature ones. Mature Christians are holy because we strive to stand apart from the world, like God. We’re not meant to be ordinary people. We’re meant to be weird—in a good way, of course.

When we religiously strive to follow Jesus, and religiously listen to the Holy Spirit, we’re gonna act more like Jesus. Share his attitudes. Exhibit his character. Be more gracious. Be more mature. It just comes naturally. We’re not gonna follow the world’s patterns, but the Spirit’s. And those who follow the Spirit instead of the world are definitely qualified to lead the Spirit’s people.

Whereas those whose religion is off track, who’ve adopted hypocrisy instead of holiness, or who are trying to win fans instead of point people to Jesus: They really don’t stand out from the world. They’ve slapped a Christianist veneer over it, but it’s functionally no different. Isn’t holy.

SELF-DISCIPLINED (ἐγκρατῆ/engkratí, “holds power [in oneself]”). Plenty of Christians talk about being Spirit-controlled, but interestingly, the Spirit inspired the authors of scripture to talk about being self-controlled. About not being tossed around by the waves of every passing fad, but knowing what the Spirit expects of us and doing that. About not being micromanaged by God, but using the brains he gave us to do the right things he expects of us on our own. About being disciples, not robots.

A mature Christian is gonna exhibit lots of self-discipline. Learned, unfortunately, the hard way: We spent an awful lot of time learning to resist temptation. Which sucked. But we did it!

HOLDS TIGHT TO THE MESSAGE OF FAITH AS TAUGHT (ἀντεχόμενον τοῦ κατὰ τὴν διδαχὴν πιστοῦ λόγου/antehómenon tu katá tin didahín pistú lóyu, “holding tight to the faith-word according to teaching”). Elders need to not just know our Christianity, but be committed to it. No, we don’t need to be fully trained theologians and seminary graduates. But we do need to know the basics—especially if we’ve been living them out. We need to know our church’s faith statement. We oughta know the creeds, that Jesus’s death frees us from sin, and what God’s kingdom is. We should be praying, reading our bibles, attending church regularly, and being generally religious about our relationships with Jesus.

We need to be committed to these things. Churches should never have an elder who believes in God, but isn’t so sure about Jesus. Or doubts whether prayer works. Or doesn’t believe in miracles, nor resurrection, nor trust the scriptures. If elders don’t, it’ll come out, and become a giant problem.

Elders without these traits.

All the traits above which Paul listed to Titus, imply he found just the opposite in Crete—and elsewhere.

People who were far from blameless; there were all sorts of criminal accusations against ’em. People who were far from monogamous. People with pagan kids. People who refused to submit to anyone, Paul included; Jesus included. Arrogance, hair-trigger tempers, drunkenness, belligerence, trying to get rich, trying to get famous, trying to get “likes.” People who didn’t love strangers and goodness. Thoughtless, unfair, irreligious, no self-control, no sticking to the gospel but adapting it to appease others, and compromising it for the sake of unbelievers.

A church full of those sorts of leaders is kinda frightening. And unfortunately, is pretty common nowadays. Churches have a bad habit of not picking people of character to lead them. It shows; too many of ’em are unhealthy and cultish.

The next bit of Titus gets into what Christian leaders should not be—based, sad to say, on what the Christian leaders of Crete were. On what Paul found there when he’d last visited. Wasn’t pretty.