by Al Maxey

Issue #132 ------- July 3, 2004
If there is anything that we wish to change
in the child, we should first examine it
and see whether it is not something that
could better be changed in ourselves.

Carl Jung (1875-1961)
The Development of Personality

The Children of Elders
Must They Be Baptized Believers?

The people of God have from the very beginning been charged with the spiritual nurturing of their physical offspring. Children are a blessing, but they are also a responsibility. Even more ... they are a trust from our God. He has graciously entrusted us with the precious lives of these little ones. Not only are we to provide for their material, emotional and educational needs, but our provision is less than perfect if it fails to provide for the spiritual as well. In the covenant writings of Israel, the people of God were commanded to take the great words of Truth contained in, and attendant to, the Shema and "teach them diligently to your sons, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:7). In Eph. 6:4 Paul exhorts fathers to bring up their children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." After all, "what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask him for a fish, will give him a snake" (Matt. 7:9-10). Caring fathers will give that which is good and appropriate to their children (vs. 11, cf. James 1:17), and what greater good is there to give one's own child than the knowledge of the love and grace of our Father in heaven?! I can't help but think of the statement made by Michael Reagan at the funeral of his father, our 40th President, when he boldly told the world that the greatest gift his adoptive father had given him was the gift of his faith and assurance in Jesus Christ! Oh, what a powerful testimony that was!!

It should be the goal of every Christian man and woman to instill within their children a strong love for and faith in the Lord. When this happens, a parent's heart rejoices; when it doesn't, there will always linger a certain sadness within one's soul for that son or daughter who has chosen to follow a different path. We love them no less, but it hurts to see them reject a life of nobler purpose, and ultimately that eternal life, we know could be theirs in a relationship with the Lord. Sometimes, though, despite one's best efforts, a son or daughter will choose not to embrace one's spiritual values. At times like these, parents will very often "beat themselves up" with regrets and recriminations, perhaps blaming themselves for the lack of faith evidenced in their children (who may well be grown and gone, no longer living under their roof and parental oversight; a daughter may be married and now under submission to her husband, for example, rather than her father).

In some cases there may well have been some things these parents could have done differently; mistakes may have been made in the past which influenced the decision of their offspring. In many cases, however, the son or daughter simply chose, as a result of their own reflection, a different path. All we can do as parents is plant the seed in their hearts and lives, and do our best to nurture spiritual growth unto maturity while they are with us. Ultimately, however, whether or not lasting fruit is ever produced in their lives lies outside of our power to determine or control. This principle with regard to instilling belief and faithfulness within others is seen clearly in Paul's statement regarding his own evangelistic effort: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Cor. 3:6-7, NIV).

In the context of such considerations regarding the convictions of one's children, there always surfaces the question regarding the children of elders. Must elders in the church (as opposed to "normal" or "regular" members) be 100% successful in the instilling of their own faith and convictions in their children? Must his children all be baptized believers? Is there zero tolerance for anything less than perfect success in the spiritual rearing of an elder's children? If an elder has seven children, and six of them are faithful disciples of Christ, but one is not, is that man thereby unfit to serve as an elder? If an elder's son decides later in life (at the age of 50, for example) to reject the beliefs of his father, should that elder then immediately step down as an elder of the church? These are all questions that have plagued the One Body for generations. Just the other day a subscriber wrote me with this plea, "Brother Maxey, I need an answer to this question. Please help! Can a man be an elder of the church if his children are not members of the body of Christ? Or, does the phrase 'faithful children' merely refer to them being 'obedient to parents'?"

The two key statements made by the apostle Paul regarding an elder's relationship to his own household are: Titus 1:6 -- "...having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion" (NASB) and 1 Timothy 3:4-5 -- " who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity; but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" (NASB). It is rather clear from these two statements that a man's relationship with his children is indeed relevant to his fitness to serve as an elder in the church of Jesus Christ. However, the above statements have far too frequently been wrested from their overall context and manipulated to become proof-texts for some pet patternistic dogma of some party or faction.

There are many who adamantly insist, for example, that the phrase "having children who believe" can ONLY mean that the children MUST be baptized believers, that they must be faithful members of the Church of Christ group (and no other), and that they must remain so throughout their entire lives (forever free from the falterings and failings common to other children of other members of the church). Anything less, and the father is not fit to serve as an elder. If a man has seven baptized, believing children, who have remained faithful for 40 years (and their father has served faithfully and effectively as an elder for 30 of those years), and just one of those children, at the age of 60, suddenly abandons her husband and runs off with her boss, then that father must step down as an elder; he is no longer, as of that moment, "fit to serve" ... or so say those who advocate this position. Lest you think it unbelievable that anyone would actually endorse such a doctrine, consider the following:

As one can quickly see, just from these few limited illustrations, some have turned this into a rather complex issue for many disciples of Christ, which has led to considerable conflict within the church. Thus, it behooves us to examine the two statements made by the apostle Paul very carefully. What exactly is Paul trying to convey to us in these passages about the relationship of an elder to the members of his own household? What is he suggesting to us with regard to the qualities an elder should possess in order to be an effective shepherd of the sheep in a fold of the Lord's One Flock?

Examining the Biblical Text

The major point of conflict in this whole discussion centers around the interpretation of Paul's statement to Titus -- "having children who believe" (Titus 1:6, NASB). What specifically does the apostle Paul mean by the term "believe" in this particular context? The Greek word employed is pistos, which can be variously translated and which has a rather wide semantic range. "Faithful, believing, true, trustworthy, credible, sure" are all accurate and commonly used translations. This word appears 66 times in the NT writings, with 33 of those occurrences being by the apostle Paul. Notice the following ways in which this passage is rendered in various translations and versions:

  1. New American Standard Bible --- "having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion"
  2. New International Version --- "a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient"
  3. Hugo McCord's translation --- "having believing children, not accused of debauchery or disobedience"
  4. New American Bible (the St. Joseph edition) --- "the father of children who are believers and are known not to be wild and insubordinate"
  5. King James Version --- "having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly"
  6. Living Bible --- "their children must love the Lord and not have a reputation for being wild or disobedient to their parents"
  7. Contemporary English Version --- "their children must be followers of the Lord and not have a reputation for being wild and disobedient"
  8. American Standard Version (of 1901) --- "having children that believe, who are not accused of riot or unruly"
  9. Revised Standard Version --- "his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate"
  10. Holman Christian Standard Bible --- "having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion"
  11. New English Bible --- "the father of children who are believers, who are under no imputation of loose living, and are not out of control"
  12. New King James Version --- "having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination"

As one can quickly see, some regard the word as denoting belief, whereas others regard it as denoting faithfulness. A few, opting for paraphrase rather than translation, suggest it denotes following the Lord or loving the Lord. Part of the problem here comes from interpreters adding their assumptions to the text. For example, suggesting these children are baptized "believers" is merely an assumption. Such is not specified in the text. The NT writings clearly reveal that some people have indeed believed in the Lord and yet not responded in a visible way. "Many did believe in Him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, so they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God" (John 12:42-43). Paul says the elder is to have "believing" children, but the text nowhere states these children have responded with either confession or immersion. That is purely an assumption; sheer conjecture ... which is hardly a basis for establishing universal precedent, pattern, precept, or policy.

Let's take the alternate translation "faithful," as another example. The elder is to have "faithful" children (according to the KJV, and a few other major translations). Okay .... "faithful" to what? To whom? Faithful to their parents? Faithful to the Lord? Faithful to the church? Faithful to the Scriptures? Faithful to the traditions of their faith-heritage? Faithful to their spouses, if married? We're simply not told specifically unto what or whom these children are to be "faithful," although each of the above has at some point been suggested. To declare it is lifelong faithfulness to either the Lord Jesus or to the Church of Christ group and its traditions is nothing other than human speculation at best. It could just as easily be faithfulness to their parents (which the context actually seems to favor far more).

Speaking of context, doesn't the overall context in both of these passages suggest to you that Paul's real concern here is the relationship of the children to their physical father, rather than to their heavenly Father? What level of control does this potential elder have over his own household? That is the question! After all, "if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3:5). The word translated "manage" is the Greek term proistemi, which means "to preside over; to superintend; to manage; to govern." It appears eight times in the NT writings, and is only used by Paul. In 1 Tim. 3:4 Paul uses this same word, saying that an elder must be one who "manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity." This thought goes along quite nicely with the statement in Titus 1:6 where the children are said to be "believing, faithful, trustworthy" and "not accused of wildness or rebellion." Paul says nothing about the elder's children being "believing" in his instructions to Timothy, by the way; that statement is found only in the epistle to Titus. However, to both these evangelists he speaks of elders having their households, and their children specifically, under control. Their children are managed well, superintended effectively, governed wisely, and thus are not accused of being wild, unruly, and insubordinate. This is the contextual emphasis of the two passages!! It is the children's response to the father's authority within the household, rather than the Lord's authority over the church, that is in view in the context of these two passages! That certainly does not diminish the importance of the latter for all of our lives, but it is simply not the focus of these two passages; contextually, they suggest a different authorial intent.

I personally feel the passage would be better rendered as follows: "...having children who are worthy of trust." "Trustworthy," after all, is a valid meaning of pistos, and it certainly fits the overall context better than the word "believing," or even "faithful." This translation also has the benefit of being consistent with the other usages of this same Greek word in the same context of discussing the qualities of elders. For example, in 1 Tim. 3:1, when Paul writes, "This saying is trustworthy: if anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work," he uses the word pistos .... the very same word used in Titus 1:6. In 1 Tim. 3:11 he further states, "In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything" (NIV). Again, we see that the quality of being trustworthy (same Greek word) is critical to those within the household of the elder, whether it be his wife or his children. This demonstrates he is a good manager of his home (both spouse and offspring), that he has the ability to govern well, and that his family is faithful to his example and leading; they believe in his vision for and direction of the family, and are submissive to it.

In translating God's Word, and also in the interpretation of the inspired text, we must be very cautious lest we insert our own personal assumptions and/or party traditions into the text, and in so doing ignore the overall context. Declaring that an elder must have children who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who are baptized, and who remain faithful to the Lord and to the Church of Christ group the remainder of their lives, is declaring far more than Paul ever did in these two passages. Far more! Such dogmatic assertions further fail to take into consideration the meaning of the words employed and the context in which they appear, both of which suggest rather strongly an interpretation far different than the ones traditionally proposed.

How wonderful it would be ... how ideal ... if every elder in the church could declare that his children, all of them, were men and women of deep faith and commitment, and that they remained so throughout their lives. What a joy that would be!! Sadly, elders are no less inhabitants of the "real world" than other disciples of Christ. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, children go astray spiritually .... and it happens to the most devoted of our Lord's people (they are not exempt; examples of which are common throughout Scripture). God had some of His angels rebel against Him ... are we to question or doubt His ability to lead? One of the Twelve betrayed Jesus. Is He thereby unfit to be the Messiah? Demas deserted Paul ... should we therefore challenge his fitness for apostleship? The harsh reality is: we live in a world where the forces of evil have a powerful influence upon those about us so as to lead some astray, and this often touches even our own beloved families.

We do our very best as parents, who believe in and trust our Lord God; we seek to the best of our abilities to entrust those same cherished convictions to our children; but, the reality is, some will choose a different path. What could God have done differently to prevent the rebellion of some of the angels? How did He fail? What could Jesus have done differently to prevent the betrayal of Judas? How did He fail? The answer, of course, is that they didn't fail. Nor do many good men and women fail when their sons or daughters choose a different path. It happens! That is just a fact. Sad, but true; but not necessarily reflective of the overall spiritual fitness of such persons to be, or not to be, effective leaders.

It is extremely important to note a vital biblical principle here ... one often overlooked by those who suggest a man is unfit to serve as an elder if a son or daughter chooses not to embrace the same faith as their father. God has only called us to plant the seed in the hearts of others, and to do our best to nourish what growth occurs; He has never held us accountable for whether another accepts or rejects that Word implanted. We cannot compel others to believe against their will, nor can we compel them to remain faithful to the Lord throughout their lives, if such is against their own will. If after sharing the gospel with them, and encouraging them the best we can to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, they choose a different path, then we have done what we could ... we were faithful to our calling to share the Word. We cannot be held accountable for their failure to respond. And this is true even if that person is our own beloved son or daughter. Shepherds sometimes do suffer the loss of one of their flock -- even good shepherds -- without such inevitable loss necessitating they be forever removed from their calling as shepherds.


Oh, how every elder longs with all of his being for his children to accept the Lord Jesus and live faithfully all the days of their lives. Oh, how they pray daily for their children! And, Oh how their hearts break when a son or daughter chooses the "far country!" To then suggest, as some do, that such men are thereby unfit to serve as elders is, in my view, unconscionable; it entirely misses the truths and principles contained in God's Word regarding the matter. We simply cannot compel belief in and faithfulness to Jesus Christ or a particular faith-heritage. We can only plant and pray! Yes, we work the soil and remove stones and pull weeds and water, but in the final analysis whether or not our efforts bear fruit lies in the hearts of our children. We can control those within our house to an acceptable degree, if we are effective managers, but no man can compel another's heart to believe. Even God, who certainly has control over His household, does not force faithfulness from His children! Jesus Christ led His disciples well, but He also did not force belief or coerce one to the point of conviction! Neither can we ... not even with our children. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but YOU were unwilling" (Matt. 23:37). God the Father has graciously and lovingly granted free will to each of His children; the freedom to choose ... and His capacity to effectively lead His vast, universal household is not in any way diminished thereby, even when some of His children choose to reject Him.

The only thing Paul has declared with respect to an elder's relationship with his own household is that he will manage it well, superintend it wisely, keeping his family under control, so that there is no accusation from anyone that his family is unruly, wild and disorderly. They are trustworthy (both wife and children). He governs his household effectively and is thus a leader who has the respect and obedience of his family.

Yes, ideally an elder's children will also come to share his spiritual convictions. No doubt he will do all in his power to see that they do. However, if a son or daughter chooses not to embrace his faith, as some will, but yet remains respectful and orderly and submissive to their father's governing authority over the household, and if they are perceived by those both inside and outside the church as well-behaved and trustworthy, then this man is no less qualified to serve as an elder than the one who was blessed with all of his family embracing his faith, for, after all, it is the former quality Paul has here decreed, not the latter. Again, let us be very careful that we do not demand more of these men than the Lord Himself ever did through the writings of His inspired servants. There is the potential for great harm when we assume more than is contextually warranted, and there is great danger when we then elevate these many human assumptions to the status of LAW governing the church, imposing unrealistic expectations upon those we look to for pastoral guidance in the fold.

Reflections from Readers

From a New Reader in Kramatorsk, Ukraine:

Please add me to your mailing list for Reflections.

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Thanks, brother, for the fantastic article on Pondering Patternism. If I've heard "Behold the Pattern!" once, I've heard it a thousand times ... and, frankly, I am sick of hearing it. I own this book by Goebel Music. I bought it when it first was published and touted by the brethren where I used to attend. I studied it, underlined it, showed it to other brethren, and gasped at some of those "uncertain sounds" that others were making. Looking back now, I can see how easy it is to get caught up in the group of "watchdogs" that permeate the church of our Lord. One starts barking, soon another starts barking, and pretty soon, many brethren are barking in an attempt to "tree" a liberal. If it wasn't so sad and maddening, I guess it would really be very funny. Keep up the great work, and I'll keep reading and studying -- your messages are balms to the soul!

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Bro. Maxey, For almost a month now I have been reading some of your materials from a Christian brother who is subscribed to Reflections, and who sends them on to me. I commend you for taking the pains and time to address some of the critical "issues" which are plaguing the Lord's church. I am especially impressed by your decorum, clarity and scholastic presentation.

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

Thanks for your last issue on Barton W. Stone, because it is a parallel to my own history. While I am a Calvinist, the issue of liberty of conscience is most important to me.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

I ran across your writings about 6 months ago when studying about instrumental music. I have spent time in both instrumental and non-instrumental churches. You have opened my eyes to a lot of our traditional beliefs. Thank you!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, Thanks for another excellent Reflections article! I particularly appreciated your comments about taking the Good News among people with whom we may disagree about details. If we are to follow the example of Jesus, that's exactly what we must do. That, dear brother, is exactly why I'm so very enthusiastic about the ecumenical Christian housing ministry known as Habitat for Humanity. It is indeed past time for Christians to get out of their hallowed halls and begin interacting with their communities. The charter, mission, and purpose of the ministry is to demonstrate the love of God as His servants while proclaiming the Good News to the tune of musical instruments called hammers and saws! The ministry is a unity movement bringing together all who hear Jesus say we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, together with any other stragglers who may agree everyone needs a simple, decent, affordable place to live and grow into all that God intends. Down with the sectarian walls! Up with the roofs! Praise God and pass the nail bucket!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Maxey, I have been relatively quiet while reading your writings. Most of your opinions I agree with. But I am compelled to send this email to you now regarding your last article. I do not have the respect that you seem to have for the leaders of the Restoration Movement, particularly Alexander and Thomas Campbell. Their own words show they were inconsistent and laid the foundation for the patternism you described earlier. Thomas worried too much about his own image than to stand where he should on the issues of the time. To be blunt, he was "wishy washy" (a Texas term) on several issues. While it may appear I am being too hard on the men of the Restoration Movement, I probably am. Every time men decide to impose or elevate tradition (patterns) over the simple gospel of Christ, legalism and division thrive, and people get hurt. It is for that reason I reject the doctrines of the Campbells, Stone, and others of that religious movement. For example: the phrase turned to doctrine -- "Let us be silent where the Bible is silent and speak where the Bible speaks." Want to talk about the inconsistency with that one?!! Therefore, like many of my generation, if you call me a "Campbellite," or any other "-ite" --- other than Christian --- get ready for the fight of your life. Don't take this as a personal criticism ... it's not. It's just that I have witnessed so many problems with Restoration Movement doctrine I can't even begin to tell you!

From a New Reader in Zimbabwe, Africa:

I have been reading your Reflections online and would appreciate getting these regularly.

From a Reader in Texas:

It was a glorious day a few years ago when my wife and I visited the Cane Ridge meeting house, and made pictures of Barton Stone's tombstone. The old house has been enclosed inside another building to preserve it, but one can still go inside and stand in the pulpit where Stone stood. An eerie feeling. I may try to come out your way when it cools off in the fall. Keep up the good work.

From a Baptist Pastor in Texas:

Just a note that, while looking for a discussion on neophilia, I ran across one of your Reflections (Issue #99) and have now spent a good part of my day reading your discourses on music and worship styles. Please subscribe me to your Reflections. I was also startled to read one person refer to you as a "liberal." Do you bear this label theologically or just traditionally? It does not appear, through your writings, that you are a "liberal" in theological terms. As a pastor, I continuously deal with those that say, "Because it is old, it is good." Or, the other extreme, "Because it is new, it is good." I attempt to press both for scriptural justification. That is why your neophiliac/neophobic remarks really strike a chord in me.

I have performed both a wedding and a funeral in two Church of Christ churches here in town. It struck me as curious that cds or tapes were okay (and they included instruments in the religious and secular songs) but an actual instrument would not have been permitted in either of these more conservative congregations. I also have helped run concerts with other Church of Christ believers. It has helped me with the diversities of those that follow your faith tradition.

From a Well-Known Leader/Author in Texas:

Al, a great job on one of our founding documents, and an ideal time to do it -- its 200th anniversary. I dredged up an article I did on the subject on the 175th anniversary! At the ACU Lectures we celebrated the document, and I listed 10 freedoms in this document. I might repeat them in an upcoming essay. Keep the light shining!

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