What comes to mind when you think about qualifications for elders in the church? Ultra-spiritual? Other worldly? Or perhaps irrelevance?
In Titus 1.5-9, Paul sets forth qualifications for elders. At first glance, they seem very ordinary and perhaps even out of place in the letter. In fact, as it turns out, Paul has adapted a list of virtues common to ancient Greco-Roman society for his own theological purposes here (see also Titus 2.1-10 and other places like 1 Tim 3).
I’ll share a couple of reasons. For one, like in the time of Abraham’s sojourn and during Israel’s Babylonian exile, NT believers live as citizens of two kingdoms. This means that Christians, including elders, are called to live in the midst of the world and hold many things in common with unbelievers – things like dress, families and many civil responsibilities. Unlike Israel living in theocratic Canaan (the Promised Land), Christians are not called to separate themselves from the world through keeping various ceremonial laws for purification and separation. (For, Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial and judicial laws at the cross.)
Second, Paul is concerned throughout the letter about the witness of the gospel to outsiders, especially in a context where Christianity had a reputation for being a radical and revolutionary social movement. Not only does Paul want to give unbelievers no reason to discredit the gospel on account of bad behavior, but he also wants elders (and by inference all Christians) to adorn themselves with good works in order to make the gospel attractive to a watching world (Titus 2-3). This is in keeping with Paul’s call elsewhere for Christian’s to lead quite and peaceable lives (1 Tim 2.1; cf. 1 Thess 4.11).
Third, Paul’s ordinary list of qualifications is an indirect polemic against the Jewish false teachers who still insisted that Christians should be separate from the world in external and superficial ways (Titus 1.10-16).
Fourth, by the time we get to the book of Titus, Paul is signaling the transition from the extraordinary (Apostolic) foundation-laying period in the church to the ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament that we enjoy in the church today (cf. Eph 2.20; 1 Cor 3.11). One does not need to have seen visions or be able to heal the sick in order to qualify as an elder.
Fifth, the ordinary nature of these qualifications takes the focus off the individual and exalts the power of God working through imperfect human instruments (cf. 2 Cor 4.7-12). Not only are the qualifications not “super-spiritual” or “super-holy” (things the false-teachers insisted upon) but there is no requirement for super-charisma or super-popularity and the like (things the world equates with relevance and success).
The qualifications on Titus 1 are important for all of us because they teach us what we should be looking for in those who aspire to being elders, as we are a part of voting these men into office, and in turn hold them accountable to their doctrine and life. These qualifications also teach us important truths about the nature of the Christian life in God’s two kingdoms.
Certainly the message of the gospel that the minister is called to preach and teach is not ordinary and has nothing in common with the world. But more on this and the specific elder qualifications in the weeks to come…