Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 19, 1964
NUMBER 28, PAGE 1,3b

The Elder And Proverbs 22:16

Wm. B. Wallace

The ability of a man who would serve as an elder is partially proven by his faithful household. "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (Timothy 3:5). He must have "faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (riot or unruly — uncontrollable or insubordinate) (Titus 1:6) The point of both references involves the household of the elder. A man who does not exercise an healthy and controlling influence in his household would be a weak influence as an elder in the Lord's household.

It is certain that a man who manifests but little influence toward faithfulness to Christ in his household is not elder material. But what of the cases where an elder's children naturally leave their father's household to form households of their own? Are we to judge the elder to be guilty or in fault when unfaithfulness, "riot or unruly" situations arise in other households? Is this a reflection on the qualifications of the elder?

Not necessarily. The Heavenly Father "nourished and brought up children" and yet "they have rebelled." (Isaiah 1:2). Does this reflect on God's ability and qualifications? Certainly not, it merely manifests that there are situations in father-children kinsmanship where the father is not in fault when children become unfaithful.

Now what of Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Does this mean that if an offsprIng of an elder is imperfect or unfaithful after leaving his father's household, he has been improperly reared and the father is proven to be disqualified as an elder? No. In the qualifications Paul does not make the father responsible for the acts of his children who are no longer in his household. As an elder does not have shepherd authority over those who are not in the local flock, so the father is not necessarily responsible for the misconduct of those not within his own household. If a man quits the church, severs his relationship with the congregation, or moves to another flock, the elder has no "rule" over him. Likewise when a son leaves his father's house to form another, his father no longer oversees his conduct.

Proverbs 22:6 is a general rule and is thus generally true. It cannot be understood in the sense of perfection. It has natural limitations. A Christian father will naturally teach his son not to sin, yet his son will sin. (John 1:8) Proverbs 22:6 was written in a different setting and applied to a different situation than that involved in the instruction of Paul concerning qualifications of an elder. For an illustration, note that I Timothy 2:15 is another general rule. It states, "notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing." Suppose a woman cannot or does not bear children, is she lost?

Consider Ezekiel 18:1-32 where the doctrine of individual responsibility for sin is set forth (verses 4, 20). Verses 5 through 9 describe a good father who walks in the statutes of God including teaching and raising children properly (See Deut. 4:9-10, 6:7, 21, 11:19, 31:12-13). It is taught that if this good father "beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood" (verse 10), the son shall be responsible for his own sins and the father will not be accountable for the sins of his son, (verse 20). Do you suppose that the good father described in Ezekiel 18:5-9, whose son became a robber and murderer, do you suppose this father did not train up the child in the way he should go? If he did not, he was not just and lawful, nor did he keep the statutes of God. But the record describes a father who is just and lawful and one who does keep the statutes of God.

You may reply that there are some things to be considered regarding the teaching of Ezekiel 18 which make it inapplicable to the elder-child situation. This is true, and likewise there are some things to be considered about Proverbs 22:6 which make it inapplicable to the elder's children who become unfaithful after leaving their father's household:

To lift a remote proverb from an Old Testament setting, and use it as a weapon against an elder because of imperfections among his children who are no longer a part of his household, does not do justice to fairness and good Bible understanding. The contention of some people regarding Proverbs 22:6 smacks of the Baptist doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy and if the proof of an elder's ability to rule his own household depends on the perpetual goodness of those no longer in his household, we would have to continually scrutinize the conduct of households other than the elder's in order to prove the elder's ability to rule his own household!

We do not minimize the importance of the truth reflected in Proverbs 22:6 neither do we make an application of it where the Holy Spirit does not. We would not recommend a man to the eldership whose children reflect poor spiritual background, yet we would not make an issue out of the habitual misconduct or unfaithfulness of one or two among several others who have left their father's household to form households of their own.

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