Thursday, October 27, 2016


When looking at the qualifications of a spiritual leader in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we can see that they describe an individual of impeccable moral character (almost to the point of disqualifying most individuals). The elder is not just one who protects and gives sound doctrine, but he also serves as a moral example to the assembly. This is an individual who has a proven track record of good, moral living and gentle, yet firm, leadership in the family setting. The reasons are obvious: How can a man whose moral character is questionable exhort and rebuke others into holy living?

When a servant of the Lord succumbs to moral sins, two things happen—the faith of the assembly is shaken and the gospel is ridiculed by unbelievers. In many cases non-Christians seize upon the opportunities to criticize the Christian faith and charge Christians with hypocrisy. When this happens, we make the gospel unappealing (Titus 2:5, 8, 10). When a servant of the Lord is guilty of some serious moral failure, he must be removed in order to protect the moral integrity of the testimony.

The foremost requirement of a spiritual leader of any kind is that he be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, 10, Titus 1:7). That is a difficult prerequisite, and not everyone can meet it. There are some sins that irreparably shatter a man's reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever. Even Paul, man of God that he was, said he feared such a possibility. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he says, "I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified." This scripture assumes that one can be "disqualified" from preaching or ministry. When referring to his body, Paul obviously had sexual immorality in view. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 he describes it as a sin against one's own body-sexual sin is in its own category. Certainly it disqualifies a man from spiritual leadership since he permanently forfeits a blameless reputation as a one-woman man (Proverbs 6:33; 1 Timothy 3:2).

Trust forfeited is not so easily regained. Once purity is sacrificed, the ability to lead by example is lost forever. What about forgiveness? Shouldn't we be eager to restore our fallen brother? To fellowship, yes. But not to leadership. It is not an act of love to return a disqualified man to public ministry; it is an act of disobedience. By all means we should be forgiving. But we cannot erase the consequences of sin. I am not advocating that we "shoot our wounded." I'm simply saying that we shouldn't rush them back to the front lines, and we should not put them in charge of other soldiers. The local assembly should do everything possible to minister to those who have sinned and repented. But that does not include restoring the mantle of leadership to a man who has disqualified himself and forfeited the right to lead. Doing so is unbiblical and lowers the standard God has set.

Why is it that we put such a high priority on doctrinal teaching and overlook moral failure or at least don’t put a high standard on it? We often seem to turn a blind eye to the moral failures of those who lead. Perhaps it is that we ourselves struggle in so many moral areas that we have lowered the standards. But God has never lowered His standards and expects the moral life and the doctrinal life to match! 

I wonder if Leviticus 21:16-23 doesn’t provide some help for us? Perhaps the spiritual principle can be applied. As brother Campbell points out in his book The Church of the Living God (page 230). “A priest with a blemish could not enjoy the full privilege of his place as a priest. Though permitted to eat the bread of his God, he could not go in unto the sanctuary or approach the alter to offer the bread of his God, he could not represent the people in priestly service. If we apply this principle to the church, we observe that to lead the gathering of believers in prayer, praise or ministry is an official, representative, priestly service, and the above principle would mean that a believer with a corresponding, spiritual blemish is not to approach God for the people, or speak to the people for God.”

Brother Campbell goes onto to say, “Isaiah 52:11 contains an important admonition for all who minister in the Church. “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.” This must be maintained, God’s priest must have clean hearts, tongue, hands and feet. If not, they cannot minister in the sanctuary.”

While not all of this is applicable directly, I believe that the principle would be if one struggles with some type of blemish, something that continually mars his testimony, that brother has disqualified himself and should not continue to serve the Lord publicly.

Tim Hadley

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