this went thru my mind (on violence)

 

V-for-violenceAustralia & gun control: I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too. by John Howard

“… nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.”

Children, culture, guns, heroes, power & violence: Giving Up Chuck and the Daisy Red Ryder [required reading]

“My heroes have always been powerful. Heroes are and should be powerful, but how you define power… that makes all the difference. … The American definition of “power that solves problems” is intertwined with the cultural mystique of guns and violence. Once my definition of power changed, a few years ago, my heroes did as well …”

Christ’s cross, discipleship & violence: A Meditation on the Cross by Paul Smith [required reading]

“I’ll say it again. If you are nailed to a cross you cannot hold a gun. If your hand is wrapped around an instrument of death you cannot grasp the hand that was pierced with an instrument of death.”

Deception, fake quotations, & lies: Did Jefferson Really Say That? Why Bogus Quotations Matter in Gun Debate

* “‘The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.’ … staff ‘have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote’ those words.”

Drone strikes: The Guilty Conscience of a Drone Pilot Who Killed a Child

“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last August that in Pakistan’s tribal areas alone, there are at least 168 credible reports of children being killed in drone strikes.”

Faith & guns: If I Can’t Take My Gun, I’m Not Going by Neal Whitlow

“Modern weapons and an individual’s right to possess them are not dealt with in scripture. All the texts dealing with warfare don’t seem to apply. However, there a few principles from the New Testament that inform my thinking on the subject.

“It is not the responsibility of God’s people to overwhelm the darkness by force of arms. We use other tools to fulfill our mission. Our weapons are truth, faith, patience, love, forgiveness, and hope. … God’s people defend the defenseless. …  Jesus calls us to abandon our compulsions of power and control. Let’s face it. A big part of the reason that Americans can’t let go of our guns is we are enamored with the feelings of power and invincibility they give us.”

Faith & nonviolence: Jesus’ Way Doesn’t Work by Tim Archer [required reading]

“The church heard Jesus’ message. They didn’t run away. They didn’t fight. They endured patiently. For more than two hundred years. They suffered. They died. They loved their enemies and prayed for them. They turned the other cheek. And they were killed for it.

“Because Jesus’ way doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect your from suffering. It doesn’t protect you from death. (well, not immediately) It doesn’t bring your enemies to their knees. It doesn’t protect the weak nor avenge the innocent. In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ way is a complete failure.

“If you’re looking for something that works, don’t look to Jesus’ teachings. But remember one thing: if you choose what makes sense to men, you’re choosing something that God despises.”

Gun control & President Obama’s plan: * The President’s Plan to Reduce Gun Violence [required reading; download the .pdf file]; * Joe Biden Addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Jan. 17 [55 min. video; skip to 10 min., 20 sec. to begin]

* “Download the full text of the President’s plan.”

* Scroll down to the Opening Plenary Luncheon to find this video.

Gun control & public opinion: In Gun Control Debate, Several Options Draw Majority Support

“Fully 85% of Americans favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, with comparable support from Republicans, Democrats and independents. Similarly, 80% support laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns, with broad support across party lines. But this bipartisan consensus breaks down when it comes to other proposals.”

Gun control & the states: * Gun Laws in the US, State by State – Interactive [very interesting & helpful]; * The Gun Challenge

* “… the majority of gun legislation in the US is enacted at the state level. That has brought broad variations across the country, with states taking different approaches to issues ranging from sales, permits, licensing, self-defence and carry laws.”

* “Inevitably, a bill like Wyoming’s has been filed in Texas.”

Guns & self-defense: * How Often Do We Use Guns in Self-Defense?

“We don’t know exactly how frequently defensive gun use occurs.”

Guns & the escalation of danger: Lessons From Guns and a Goose by Nicholas D. Kristof

“… that episode … underscores the role that guns too often play in our society: an instrument not of protection but of escalation. … One study, reported in Southern Medical Journal in 2010, found that a gun is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member or guest than in the death of an intruder. Another study in 1993 found that gun ownership creates nearly a threefold risk of a homicide in the owner’s household.”

Gun ownership: Why I Don’t Own a Gun by Brian Zahand

“I don’t own a gun because I don’t need one and I don’t want one. And that is perfectly acceptable. Please try to be at peace with this. As I said, I don’t own golf clubs either, and that’s bound to upset some people too.”

Gun violence & statistics:* Lack Of Up-To-Date Research Complicates Gun Debate by Carrie Johnson; * How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown? [interactive map]

* “Public health research dried up more than a decade ago after Congress restricted the use of some federal money to pay for those studies.”

* “The answer to the simple question in that headline is surprisingly hard to come by. So Slate and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths are collecting data for our crowdsourced interactive. This data is necessarily incomplete. But the more people who are paying attention, the better the data will be. You can help us draw a more complete picture of gun violence in America. If you know about a gun death in your community that isn’t represented here, please tweet @GunDeaths with a citation. (If you’re not on Twitter, you can email slatedata@gmail.com.)”

Military & prayer: How Do We Pray for the Troops? by Craig M. Watts [required reading]

“The language of public prayer should express a reality shaped by the creative and redemptive activity of God, not simply one that can be read from the pages of the newspapers or heard from the mouths of either marketers or politicians. …

“So when I stand to pray in worship I never pray that God protect our troops for the simple fact that we don’t have any troops. We do not gather as Americans who plead on behalf of national interests or partisan favor before either God or the world. We are the church. Who we are has been determined by whose we are. We are people of God. We gather as the body of Christ united with Christ’s body throughout the world. Yet I do pray for the protection of soldiers and civilians alike. I pray indiscriminately, without regard to borders because all people are creatures made by the hand of God and are so loved by God that God sent God’s only begotten Son on their behalf. May they be preserved from danger and be restored to circumstances where they can live without the threat of violence either to them or from them.”

50 things I once believed (3)

 

So, how and why did I come to change my mind about these matters of my faith? I see at least seven steps common to virtually all of my change in belief.

First, someone challenged my thinking. In essence, they dared to say to me, “I respectfully disagree, and here’s why.” It wasn’t a matter of confrontation or debate, simply a clear and respectful challenge (let me underscore the word “respectful”). Someone dared to ask me why I believed what I believed, patiently listened to my response, and then either deliberately tried to set up a checkpoint of thought in my path or tried to plant in my mind the seed of a differing view.

In a few words, they disagreed with me without being disagreeable about it. As a result, I learned, and continue to learn, to welcome, rather than resent, questions about my faith.

Second, I dared to truly consider what the person had said or written. Actually “consider” isn’t a strong enough word; “ponder” is more accurate. But we’re talking baby steps here; consider, then ponder! This is often no easy thing to do, particularly given the speed at which we live our lives today and how so very much competes for our attention every minute of every day. Distractions are about us like the air; they’re everywhere. But unless a thought, especially a challenging thought, has time to settle deep into our mind, we will never open ourselves up to the chance of changing our mind.

If I changed my mind about something, it was because I didn’t let things go in one ear and straight out the other. This could very well be the most personally challenging of all the steps I’ll list here, for a full and busy life is not a friend to reflection.

Third, I talked with God about these things with faith. I prayed for God to shed his light on the matter. I asked him to show me if I was wrong, where I was mistaken, and what path to take. I trusted him to lead me to a better understanding and practice of his will. I believed he would cross my path with the people, places, things, and experiences that would answer my requests of him.

I believe he did. And I believe he does.

Fourth, I sought more information from the person who planted the seed. This rarely happened at the time of the question or challenge, but came about instead after pondering the matter a bit. It was as simple as saying to the person who had differed with me, “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. Tell me more. I’m here to listen and learn, not debate or argue. I want to know more about what you believe and why for your view intrigues me.” Significantly, it was in this listening that I often discovered that some, or even all, of my conceptions as to what exactly others believed, or why they believed what they did, were often skewed mistaken.

How very embarrassing, but, oh, how enlightening is this step! In this I continue to learn that embarrassment is more often than not, a necessary part of learning. If I will not risk shame, I will not grow. It’s as simple as that.

Fifth, I investigated matters for myself. That is, I started reading and digging into the subject at hand and as I did so, I deliberately read outside of my comfort zone. I read things that challenged my views and differed from my understandings. I read the other person’s mail, so to speak. I tried to walk a mile in their moccasins. And as I did so, I deliberately tried to keep an open mind and to not engage the material in a combative spirit. And then, having read the other person’s mail, I’d go back and examine my beliefs in light of what I had encountered.

I have grown to relish this step, for it is here that I hear the cogs of my mind turning most clearly.

Sixth, I began to look more closely at the fruit of my beliefs and the fruit of the beliefs of others. Ideas have consequences and as I traced the trail of various beliefs to their logical ends and began to pay attention to how they were commonly and outwardly expressed, I discovered much more about the real “stuff” of these beliefs. I found that sometimes a belief that sounded reasonable in my head and didn’t meet strong resistance when expressed in words, actually made little sense at all, or was contradictory to the facts at hand, when put into practice. Typically, what I learned from these observations came as a complete surprise to me. I had expected one thing, but witnessed another. I believed that practice is the acid test of faith, but I came to realize that if I didn’t hang around long enough to see what happens to the belief when it was put into the acid, I’d never really know what my beliefs, or the beliefs of others, were made of.

I can’t begin to say how immensely powerful this single step was to opening my eyes up to my change in belief on some matters (for example, #6 on my list). Some of the most humbling experiences in my life have come from taking this step quite seriously. I believe it is one of the most commonly overlooked and least often practiced of the disciplines mentioned here. May this change.

Finally, I made it a point to not stop looking at, thinking about, listening to, and seriously considering, the minority view on matters. This didn’t come naturally for me, nor did it come easily or quickly. It was something I had to work hard at developing. What influenced me strongly then was the fact that there were people around me, or people to whom I frequently exposed my mind, who believed the same way I believed. They were “the majority,” in my mind, because they were my circle of influence. What slowly dawned on me across the years is that “the minority” view on a matter needed to be given extra attention in my mind if their perspective was to ever get a fair hearing. How so? Because the influence of “the majority” was so strong in my mind that it tended to filter out any real chance of detailed consideration of differing views. And so, I made up my mind to no longer be capable of being a mere bobble-head doll, nodding in near automatic agreement with those in my circle of greatest influence. I deliberately chose to allow other perspectives to go against the flow and challenge my thinking.

This is a huge, significant step for it strongly calls out what I actually believe about God. None of us hold our beliefs alone, but majorities and minorities don’t factor into the mind of God. As a Christian, I live under his sovereignty, not my democracy.

Without a doubt, I remain a very long, long way from where God would have me to be in terms of my walk with him, and my being shaped into his Son’s likeness. But this shaping must occur, inside and out, and must not ever stop. If by sharing these things with you, you find you’ve been helped in some small way, then I know that I have been helped as well.

God have mercy and give more of his light to us all as we can see it. And may he smile on all of us as we seek to become and reflect his ways. Amen.

50 things I once believed (2)

 

Halt! You have reached an accountability checkpoint. Did you make your list of things you once believed in regard to faith, but now no longer believe? If not, stop, drop, and write. If so, proceed.

No doubt you’re wondering: “Why on earth did you ever believe some (or all) of those things?” I could name more reasons, but I’ll limit myself here to enumerating and commenting on six.

First, I came to hold the vast majority of those beliefs because someone taught them to me. If not by declaring them to me with their words, they trained me to hold them by their actions. I know of no one who willfully tried to deceive me into believing anything. Quite the opposite; they sincerely thought they were following the will of God and, perhaps even deliberately trying to enlighten me. But the fact remains that as I look back on such now I think: “My foolish heart was darkened and I didn’t even realize it at the time. As was their mind, too.”

Second, I believed many of these things because I thought they made sense to me in the moment and because I thought they helped me make sense of the people and situations around me. We humans will live without many things, but truly few of us will live without answers. And where no explanations are obvious, explanations will be created. This is just part of the stuff that makes us tick; we simply must believe something and that something must explain something going on in our head, going on around us, or both.

Third, some of these things I believed simply because I had never considered otherwise. They were things I had simply “always believed,” or so I thought. Holding such convictions was something akin to breathing; it was just something I did without need of ever giving it thought. Quite literally, some things I believed (and no doubt believe, present tense) without thinking. This, perhaps more so than all of my reflections on my beliefs, gives me great pause. To hold convictions of great consequence without thinking about them; I don’t even want to think about that! But think, I must.

Fourth, some of those matters I held as faith, but no longer do, I held because I wanted to be accepted by those around me. Now that may come as a shock to some of you who know me, and know me well. I am an independent spirit, to say the least. Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don’t recall ever choosing any conviction in my life because I thought it would gain me some inroad or standing with another. Such a mentality is nauseous to me, more nauseous than some of my former beliefs. However, just because I consciously shun such thinking, I would be a fool to think that such doesn’t work on my psyche and influence me in subtle, and unconscious (or subconscious) ways. Such is true for all of us. We are, in part, a product of our environment and we all, to one degree or another, want to fit in with our environment.

Fifth, I surely held some of those matters of faith in reaction to other beliefs. I saw what I perceived to be a great ditch on one side of the road and so I swerved hard to the other side to distance myself as far as possible from the perceived danger of the ditch … only to steer right into an equally deep, if not even more dangerous, ditch. I left the road because I feared leaving the road. No, such a position makes no sense at all, but whoever said all we humans believe springs from good sense? And so, some things I believed, no doubt came from well-intentioned, but nevertheless fatal, over-correction.

Sixth, I held all of those beliefs because I chose to believe them. I’m the one ultimately responsible for having held them, just as I’m the one finally responsible for having changed them. The buck stops here; I’m the one to blame. For all that could be said as to the influence of people, places, and things, I remain the captain of my soul, so to speak. No one forced me to believe any of these things. However I chose to embrace them, ignorantly or reflectively, I am the one who chose them.

So, why change? Hopefully there’s only one reason: because I’ve learned better. I want to believe it’s because I’ve gravitated more toward the center of God’s will. “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.” And the clearing of the clouds, that is the owning up to the fact that a great many of my firm, religious beliefs have significantly changed through time (and will, no doubt, continue to change in years to come if God grants me life and sense), affords me, as well as others, great gain. For when I acknowledge my changes in faith:

  • I more truly own the faith I have,
  • I open my mind to more of God’s light,
  • I guard myself from merely “following the herd,”
  • I call myself afresh to sharpen my critical thinking skills,
  • I break down some of the walls that hinder those yet to believe,
  • I cultivate the soil of my heart for the growth of honest humility,
  • I make it easier for others to change and/or admit their changes,
  • I pick up off the ground some of the stumbling stones for the next generation,
  • I am stirred to be more deliberate toward keeping the unity of the Spirit among believers,
  • and I find myself moved to be more patient with, and merciful toward, those with whom I differ.

And having said that, once again you have homework: pray about these things, the things on your list. How you arrived at them and how you came to leave them behind. Your prayers will be solid preparation for the conclusion of this series in tomorrow’s post.

50 things I once believed (1)

 

Would you care to engage in a simple exercise that’s a bit humiliating and humbling, all at the same time?

What? You’re not sure you want to go there? Not to worry. Rest assured you will profit from this experience if you’ll only approach it with honesty and absolute transparency, following it up with deep reflection and prayer.

Everyone on-board now? Good; let’s do it! Here’s the exercise:

Make a list of fifty things you once believed were true in regard to faith, but now no longer believe.

Yes, there are a few rules for this exercise. Here they are:

1. Reach back over the span of your entire life, not merely listing beliefs you’ve held recently.

2. List the beliefs you held that aren’t just “safe” to admit. Go for broke and let it all hang out. Who do you think you’ll surprise? God?

3. Don’t just string up “little fish” here. Put the big fish in the cooler, too.

4. Resist the urge to cull out the beliefs you held for only a relatively short period of time. If you firmly believed it, no matter for how long, it’s a candidate for the list.

Now since I try not to ever encourage you to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to first do myself, here’s my list of 50 things I once believed in regard to faith, but no longer believe, appearing here in no particular order.

(Man alive this is embarrassing, but hey, I promised you this would be humiliating! I did tell you I no longer believe these things, right?!)

1. The only way God’s Holy Spirit works in the life of a Christian is through the word of God.

2. It is forbidden by God for a Christian to ever divorce another Christian except for the reason of sexual adultery.

3. Warfare, while being a sad, lamentable state of affairs, is essentially a “non-religious issue” for being a Christian nation, we only pursue “just wars” and engage in war in such a way as God himself would unquestionably approve.

4. The only “real” English Bible translations are the KJV or ASV 1901.

5. To read or study the religious writings or messages of authors or speakers outside of the Churches of Christ is to pollute your mind and to endanger your soul.

6. It is my responsibility as a Christian to spend a significant portion of my time serving as something like a “brotherhood policeman,” watching for wrongdoers within my church heritage and publicly calling them out on their sin.

7. The Old Testament doesn’t have much of anything to offer to Christians today, having been replaced by the New Testament.

8. The Gospels are something akin to “secondary” literature compared to the importance of the Book of Acts and the epistles.

9. Audible prayer must be concluded with the statement of the phrase “in the name of Jesus;” just saying “Amen” won’t get the job done.

10. The totality of Christ’s church essentially consists of the folks who gather together on Sundays with a sign in the front of their building that reads “Church of Christ,” and only a small portion of them, to boot.

11. It is wrong to associate in any fashion, including prayer – except for the sake of attempting to make correction – with any religious teacher who is not a member of the Church of Christ.

12. The United States of America is “special” in the eyes of God compared to all other nations.

13. Virtually perfect attendance of church assemblies and stellar knowledge of the Bible are the two chief keys to becoming, and the true measure of, a faithful, growing Christian.

14. The acts I engage in during Sunday morning church assemblies are far more important to God than anything else I engage in during any of the other hours in a given week.

15. To die while in the act of sinning is a guaranteed ticket straight to hell, bar none.

16. A genuine Christian is to be about maximizing the number of Christian friends and acquaintances they have and minimizing the number of relationships they have with those who are not Christians.

17. All people who go to hell are literally, ceaselessly roasted alive in fire forever, tortured eternally by the decree of the living, loving God, be they Hitler or your golden-hearted, absolutely selfless, non-Christian neighbor.

18. Submitting to baptism for any reason other than expressly “for the forgiveness of sins” (or for any group of reasons and motivations that did not specifically include “the forgiveness of sins”) was most likely nothing more than getting wet and “doesn’t count.”

19. Everything depicted in the book of Revelation concerns the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

20. Christ’s true church had, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist between about 100 A.D. and 1800 A.D.

21. Every human being on planet earth had heard the gospel preached to them before the last of Christ’s apostles died.

22. Zero miracles have been worked in the world since the death of the last person upon which the apostles laid their hands.

23. The Roman Catholic Pope is the anti-Christ spoken of in John’s writings and the “man of lawlessness” mentioned by the apostle Paul.

24. Involvement in religious associations (such as a ministerial alliance or a church softball league) is a sign of serious compromise of Christian conviction.

25. It is wrong for a woman to pass a communion tray while standing up.

26. For a church to construct or own facilities for any purpose other than its own Bible classes, worship gatherings, and church meals is a serious misunderstanding of the purpose of the church.

27. Any view other than the days of creation (as mentioned in Genesis 1-2) being literal twenty-four periods of time is heresy.

28. It is wrong to contribute money to a church in any other fashion, or on any other day of the week, than by depositing it in the offering plate on a Sunday.

29. It is sinful for a Christian to engage in dancing of any kind in any context, just as it is wrong for a Christian to ever drink any alcohol at any time, period.

30. For a sermon to not include a direct appeal (or “invitation”) for those yet to believe to do so, to repent, and to submit to baptism, is wholly unacceptable.

31. The number of Bible verses a teacher or preacher quotes, or at least references by citation, is the second most important criteria by which the quality of a message is to be judged.

32. It is possible for all Christians everywhere to see all things alike in terms of faith.

33. Fasting is not a helpful spiritual discipline for Christians today and anyone who would suggest otherwise should be regarded with suspicion since “fasting is not a command of the New Testament.”

34. It is wrong for a Christian to wear jewelry or furnish their home with decorations depicting the cross.

35. It is wickedness for a Christian to happily listen to – much less directly participate in by singing along with – spiritual songs, psalms, hymns, or any other genre of music, that is accompanied by instrumental music.

36. The church of Christ and the kingdom of God are synonyms for the same thing, one not being anything more or less than the other.

37. It is simply not possible for anyone who has never even heard of Jesus Christ to have the slightest chance of salvation, God deliberately limiting any extension of his mercy only to those who have heard of his Son.

38. In all instances, the marriage of a Christian to someone who is not a Christian, is a marriage not fully recognized by God.

39. It is unoffensive for a nation’s patriotic symbols to be displayed in a house of worship.

40. Applause, the lifting up of hands, swaying or moving in rhythm with songs, or saying anything other than the word “Amen” – be it by man or woman, young or old – is to be avoided and frowned upon if you are a part of the audience in a worship gathering for such is unbecoming of worship offered to God.

41. Singing in a worship gathering other than congregational singing (be it a solo, a duet, a choir, etc.) is sin.

42. “The unforgivable sin” is suicide.

43. Providence is a fabrication of the mind, all human matters being solely, and strictly, the result of chance or choice.

44. God has never heard a prayer from someone he hasn’t already saved.

45. Going to a movie with a rating other than G or PG is a shameful sin, and even watching those with a rating of PG is suspect.

46. It is simply inconceivable to call yourself a Christian and vote any other way than straight-ticket Republican.

47. To remove life support, once begun and deemed necessary, is actually murder, in virtually any and all situations.

48. Heaven is a place with streets of real gold.

49. Virtually nothing is a matter subject to individual conscience for virtually all things are matters of faith (cf. #32 above ).

50. Grace is something best not talked about, for it is a “behind the scenes” teaching of Scripture, easily misunderstood, and not really relevant to everyday Christian living.

Well, by now you must either be thinking, “You’re mighty dumb, Dave!” or “What cult did you crawl out of, Smith?”

While I won’t try to argue the observation or the question, I will gladly share with you why I’m sharing this list with you … but, you’ll have to read tomorrow’s post to get it.

And I’m going to ask you to make your own list of things you used to believe in terms of faith before you read it. That’s right, you’ve got homework to do so go to it. If you hit a wall, ask someone who has known you a long time, and known you well. I’m sure they’ll help you remember a few things!

elders: a closer look at their qualifications (2a)

 

When a church considers appointing individuals to serve as elders, another important question needs to be asked: is their family life healthy?

Two texts are foundational for the asking of this question:

… the church’s supervisor … should be faithful to their spouse … They should manage their own household well—they should see that their children are obedient with complete respect, because if they don’t know how to manage their own household, how can they take care of God’s church? (1 Timothy 3.2a,4-5 CEB)

Elders should be … faithful to their spouse, and have faithful children who can’t be accused of self-indulgence or rebelliousness. (Titus 1.6 CEB)

These two texts can be outlined as addressing three questions:

a. Are they faithful to their spouse; that is, are they a one-woman man?1 Tim. 3.2; Titus 1.6

b. Do they manage their household well, fostering respect and obedience in the lives of their children?1 Tim. 3.4-5

c. Are their children faithful, not self-indulgent or rebellious?Titus 1.6

The second (b) and third (c) questions are essentially synonymous, being attempts to gauge just how good of a manager the candidate has been thus far in life of those under his closest care. Today we’ll make ourselves content with considering (a), what it means for a candidate for elder to be faithful to their spouse. We’ll take a look at the matter of children in tomorrow’s post.

The Greek text underlying the Common English Bible’s translation “faithful to their spouse” is identical in 1 Timothy and Titus: mias gynaikos aner. This Greek phrase is open to several different possibilities of interpretation. Luke Timothy Johnson has stated the matter with clarity and conciseness:

“The phrase mias gynaikos aner (literally ‘a man of one woman’) is capable of several meanings. It could mean that the man was married once and, if widowed, did not remarry. It could mean monogamous rather than polygamous. It could mean faithful to a wife and without a mistress. It could also be taken as prescribing a married overseer rather than a celibate one. All these definitions are possible. … Preceded as it is by the adjective ‘blameless’,” the main point of the requirement would seem to be first the avoidance of any appearance of immorality.” (The First & Second Letters to Timothy, pp.213-214)

Now we must remind ourselves once more: Paul’s lists (1 Timothy 3.1-7 & Titus 1.5-9) are a product of the environment in which they were formed. Polygamy was common in the ancient world, particularly among the dominant, Gentile population in which Timothy (in Ephesus) and Titus (in Crete), the addressees of Paul’s letters, made their ministry.

And all the more specific to the environment to which Paul wrote was the matter of those who opposed Timothy and Titus’ ministry. Much of Paul’s instruction for what Timothy and Titus were to do (in regard to elders as well as other matters) was shaped by what their opponents were doing. Paul wasn’t writing to make matters vague or unclear Timothy or Titus, rather he was writing specifically to help clear up any potential murkiness in their minds that Timothy and Titus’ opponents may have been able to plant in their minds (or the minds of others) concerning family life. Paul’s directions to appoint elders who were “committed to one woman” is certainly sharpened by the recollection that some of Timothy and Titus’ opponents advocated (and likely were given to the personal practice of) two very different perspectives: prohibiting marriage altogether (1 Timothy 4.3) and the seduction of women (2 Timothy 3.6).

In light of these considerations, it seems clear that by saying someone fit to serve as an elder must be a “one woman man,” Paul was simply pointing a godly way between the ditches of enforced celibacy and polygamy. Given the context of his letters, he need not be construed as indicating any more than that to Timothy and Titus. Celibacy is a gift few receive (1 Corinthians 7.1-7) and so it would be wrong to make it a requirement for all believers to be celibate (as did some of Timothy and Titus’ opponents). Equally mistaken would be the opponents’ view that a Christian could be acceptable and maturing in God’s sight while living a life of immorality. Paul would certainly have none of either of those views and so, he wrote to steer his understudies, Timothy and Titus, around those moral potholes.

So where does that leave us today in terms of application? It would mean, among other matters, that we should not appoint as an elder anyone who frowns on marriage. Likewise, we should avoid appointing anyone to a church’s eldership who, if married, is not faithful to their mate due to their being engaged in sexual immorality with others or is committed to multiple, simultaneous marriages. If married, their relationship with their spouse should be on the trajectory of building faith in each other, not breaking faith with each other.

On a final note, we must consider whether Paul’s statement regarding being faithful to one’s spouse of necessity implies that a person who serves as an elder must be married and that if their marriage ends (be it due to death, divorce, or whatever reason) they should step-aside from that capacity. If we view the list of qualifications from a legalistic perspective (i.e. – “the checklist”) and ignore the general context of the lists, the answer would be “Yes, a person must indeed be married to serve as an elder and once they cease to be married, they are no longer qualified.” However, if we view Paul’s lists in the context of their time and as functioning more like a painting than a legal contract, the answer would be “No, the absence of marriage is not a deal-breaker for a candidate.”

This matter in Paul’s lists has been a thorny issue for ages and so, as is the case anywhere in Scripture where two or more legitimate interpretations of Scripture can be seen, individuals, as well as congregations, will have to follow their conscience when it comes to application. However, let it be noted that conscience must be founded on the basis of Scripture, not tradition. We must not be more restrictive than Scripture allows anymore than we dare to be more flexible than Scripture restrains. At times, this is an exceedingly difficult road to walk.

As for myself, in terms of modern day application, I believe a well-known minister, author, and elder of years gone by within the heritage of Churches of Christ, David Lipscomb, interpreted Paul’s directive here in 1 Timothy 3.2 and Titus 1.6 quite well when he wrote:

“We believe an unmarried or childless man, if otherwise qualified, may be a bishop or a deacon. I think where the Scripture says ‘the husband of one wife’ it means he must have but one wife and be true to her.” (David Lipscomb, Questions Answered By Lipscomb & Sewell, p.204)