By the Rev. John MacLeod, Stornoway
A paper given at a Theological Conference.
(Continued from last month)
Part 2 – Elders, Deacons and Others in the Church
(Part 1, in the last issue, dealt with the pastor and his conduct, including that in his own home.)
THE life and behaviour of the ruling elders and deacons, within their own spheres, is to conform to this pattern also and they, when necessary, are to be counselled accordingly. Since the higher office includes the lower the special qualifications applicable to deacons in 1st Timothy 3: 8-12 are required in all office-bearers and, where relevant, in all believers. They must be “grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well”, and again found “blameless”. If it is required that they be “blameless”, deacons are not to be chosen at random. The choice must fall on those who are approved by their past life, and ascertained to be well qualified. There seems to be some diversity of opinion as to who exactly are meant in 1st Timothy 3:11 where we read in connection with deacons, “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” For our present purposes, we take this meaning from it: if the ordinary wife is, scripturally, to be an helpmeet to the husband, then the office-bearer’s wife, whether he be a deacon, elder or minister, should excel others as far as Christian demeanour and behaviour are concerned.
It might be appropriate, at this stage, to introduce a remark or two on the place of women in the church as that is drawn to our attention in the Pastoral Epistles. There is no mistaking the note of authority struck by the Apostle when he declares: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1st Timothy 2:12). This does not, of course, mean that she is debarred from teaching her own family in the home, or instructing children in the Sabbath School (what would we do without them?), but it does mean that women are excluded from the office of teaching in the church of God or preaching the Gospel which God has committed to men only. This particular scripture together with the prohibition we have in 1st Corinthians 14: 35, 36 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak . . . For it is a shame for women to speak in the church” prove beyond shadow of doubt that women ought not to enter the office of the ministry. Calvin anticipates the objection that Deborah and others were appointed by God to govern the people and that this sanctions the placing of women in office by saying that, “extraordinary acts done by God did not overturn the ordinary rules of Government, by which he intended that we should be bound.”
The exponents of “Womens’ Lib” must lay aside Scripture here when Paul adds that the woman is not to usurp authority over the man. They are to be subject, and to be given the right to teach in the church of God would imply a rank of power and authority not divinely granted them. “The government of women,” says Calvin, “has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing.” Now we know why John Knox, who wrote his book, “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” while resident at Geneva, chose to give it that title! It was, of course, Mary of Guise in Scotland, and the even more infamous Mary I of England, that Knox had in his sights. It is interesting and thought provoking that in recent times we have had not only a female Queen, but, also, and for the first time, a female Prime Minister. The subject is a very delicate one in our day when the so called “Womens’ Lib” movement is so strong and enjoys full, mass media support. It cannot be other than grieving to the Holy Spirit that the plain scriptural view of the place of women in relation to the man should be so often set aside, and that even legislation is introduced to ensure that women have the same opportunities for advancement as men in certain professions which are not suited to them the Armed Forces, for instance. The implementation of this policy has led to the development of absurd situations.
While on the subject it might be appropriate to note that women’s apparel, hair and outward adornment are referred to. These were matters of sufficient importance, let it be noted, in the eyes of the Holy Spirit for Him to move Paul to lay down the guideline: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold or pearls, or costly array” (1st Timothy 2:9). It would seem that it was very necessary to emphasise the need for modesty and sobriety in Ephesus. It was, by all accounts, a city of vast wealth and expensive merchandise and the temptation to sin in loving the world and the things of the world was very great. Women are no less vulnerable in our day. Are not the artistic, eye-catching window displays, the glossy catalogues and the mannequin parades all set up to exploit women in this regard. Moderation is to be the rule, and all that is not in accordance with modesty and sobriety is sinful and unscriptural and to be disapproved of. This scripture alone will suffice to condemn the wearing of jeans or men’s clothing by women without referring to the more plain prohibition of Deuteronomy 22:5. “The women shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” Certain other practices are condemned the plaiting of the hair (do modern perms come in here?), the prominent displaying of jewels, golden rings and the like the motive for the ostentatious wearing of such adornment must be suspect. Calvin maintains that “these things commonly carry along with them other evils, and arise from ambition or from want of chastity as their source.” There is no clear direction given here with regard to the length of the woman’s hair but that is clearly enough expressed elsewhere. It is quite remarkable that in our day in most of our congregations, the vast majority of the names on our communion rolls are the names of women, and their deportment in a sinful age is of particular importance as far as the reputation of our church is concerned. The principles underlying these directions are of course as applicable to the behaviour of men as they are to the behaviour of women.
All classes, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, servants and masters are exhorted in regard to duties belonging to them in their several places and relations. It is sound or wholesome doctrine to declare that “the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” Most times we are more given to reproving the sins and faults of the young than the old. All too often we tend to regard the aged sinner as incorrigible. We have conversed with men who were on the very threshold of eternity and their ignorance of even basic, foundational Gospel truths was appalling and this after having spent all their days under the Gospel. There is something particularly sad and shameful in the spectacle of an old man under the influence of drink, or frolicking on a dance floor, or engrossed in watching a lascivious play or programme or even a boxing or football match on the television seemingly oblivious to the fact that he must soon, according to the course of nature, give an account to his Maker. How desirable to find the hoary head walking in the way of righteousness and to this end the pattern of conduct set forth here is to be commended to them.
It was sound doctrine to urge the aged women to give evidence of being holy and godly, “not false accusers, not given to much wine.” Calvin says here (perhaps somewhat unkindly?) that, “Talkativeness is a disease of women, and it is increased by old age. To this is added that women never think that they are eloquent enough, if they are not given to prattling and to slander if they do not attack the characters of all. The consequence is, that old women, by their slanderous talkativeness, as by a lighted torch, frequently set on fire many houses. Many are also given to drinking so that, forgetting modesty and gravity, they indulge in an unbecoming wantonness.” We should be thankful that we do not have many (if any) answering to this description in our congregations. Cases of drunkenness among women, young or old, are in our midst, of rare occurrence but this seems to be the direction in which, it would seem, aged women will go if restraining grace be removed. Free of these vices we find the aged women encouraged to be teachers of good things, that is, by their example training the younger women. The propriety of the aged women undertaking this duty rather than Titus becoming immediately concerned with it is to be noted – he, himself, being a young man. These young women were to be taught temperance and to be lovers of their husbands and of their children. They were to be workers at home which seems clearly to imply that the woman’s first duty, in ordinary circumstances, is to attend to the home; in another passage they are exhorted to marry, bear children and “guide the house.”
Now what about young men? They are merely enjoined to be “sober-minded”, but when we consider that Timothy and Titus were to set an example to such, being young men themselves, then we see that much is implied in being “sober-minded” or temperate. “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example to the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1st Timothy 4:12). It is all there without going into a detailed exposition of the virtues mentioned. Ours is a day in which a determined assault is being mounted by the great adversary of souls to destroy the morality of the young. The written word (novels and magazines for instance), and the mass media (particularly the television), are made use of by the agents of the god of this world in their campaign to destroy biblical morality and pollute the minds of sinners of all ages but particularly the young. What is pure and chaste is now derided and we feel much in need of divine help in this particular branch of our pastoral work. The opulence of the age, the high wages now paid to young people, the proliferation of haunts of pleasure and of licenced premises making strong drink so readily available that the housewife may now simply put it down as another item on the shopping list, the subtle and varied ways in which gambling is encouraged, and so on, makes it all the more difficult. These sins are to be faithfully exposed as being the “foolish and hurtful lusts” that they are, and which unrepented of, will drown men in destruction and perdition. “Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine,” is the apostolic injunction.
Living as we do at a time when the subject of industrial relations is often hitting the headlines, it would perhaps be appropriate to draw attention to what appears to be taught us about the matter in the Pastoral Epistles. Leaving aside the question of slavery which was the deplorable practice prevalent at the time, and taking account only of the underlying principles governing servant and master relationships, we find here that the servant when commanded to do what is lawful, right and dutiful is to obey his master. This, moreover, is to be done with a desire to please, that is, well and willingly, and with the utmost trustworthiness and dependability. By such becoming conduct servants were, and are, to “adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour.” The duties of masters are spelt out very clearly in other parts of Scripture and masters as well as servants come under the general exhortations given in these Epistles in relation to behaviour towards others as superiors, inferiors and equals. If the mutual master-servant duties specified in Scripture were adhered to, the need for taking industrial action would not arise. The practice of giving the shop floor worker a place in the board room is, in our view, contrary to Scripture teaching, and only makes for confusion. As far as obedience to the civil magistrate is concerned the Christian’s duty is expressed in a clear, unambiguous manner. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates.” This subjection and obedience is not, of course, absolute. When the civil powers introduce laws which are contrary to the revealed will of God, then, it is clear, that it is our duty to obey God rather than men. Adherence to this principle led to Christians in Rome being cast to the amphitheatre lions.
Paul draws all classes together when he draws attention to the salient fact that the manifestation of the grace of God unavoidably carries along with it the exhortation to lead a holy life. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11,12). All are under the same discipline, under the obligation of denying “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and all are to live “soberly”, with self restraint, that is with regard to ourselves, “righteously” or justly, that is, towards our fellow men and “godly”, that is, towards God, serving him with reverential love and fear. If all men lived thus I need hardly say that this would be a wonderful world in which to live.