“If there is one who is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, whose children have faith, not open to the accusation of reckless living or undisciplined behavior, for it is required that the overseer is irreproachable as God’s steward, not intractable, not short-tempered, not violent, not greedy, but hospitable, a lover of good, prudent, upright, pious, disciplined, being devoted to the Word as taught faithfully, that he might be able to exhort people in doctrine that is sound and reprove those who deny it.”
Our next qualification is more obvious…at least I would hope it would be. The Elder is not one who is open to the charge or accusation of ασωτία (asotia) or ανυπότακτος (anupotaktos). The first is usually taken to mean “living with reckless abandon”… or essentially, living like the Prodigal Son. The word is derived from the Greek word σωζώ (sodzo), which means, “to save,” but begins with an alpha-privative, which, in essence, negates the word. It would be a bit of a linguistic stretch to say that we could translate this as an Elder “must not live like those who are unsaved,” but such a definition does not miss the context of the passage. While many of us may indeed be “reformed Prodigals,” reckless living and a life of reckless abandon are not characteristic of a mature Christian and thus are not indicative of those who would lead Christ’s church.
The second of our terms is arguably more condemning of our modern American church’s leadership. And, it again contains the alpha-privative, negating the meaning of the original term, which is: ύποτάσσω (hupotasso), which refers to one who is submissive to authority. Thus, ανυπότακτος (anupotaktos) refers to one who is undisciplined, rebellious, and who refuses to submit to authority. Modern American church leaders often like it when people submit to their authority, but just as Christ submitted to the authority of the Father, all in the church, especially the church’s leadership, must submit to authority.
To what authority do they submit? They must first and foremost submit to the authority of God himself as God has revealed himself within the Sacred Scriptures. There is no wiggle room on this, there is no room for pragmatism. If a man is stubborn and refuses to submit to the teachings of scripture, refuses to live a lifestyle that is called for in the scriptures, or who teaches (or holds to the teachings of) things that are contrary to the plain reading of scripture, that man is not eligible to hold the office of Elder.
Yet, how many Elders rule their churches with a rod of iron or wield that rod in Presbyteries or Synod meetings. How many Elders of churches teach things that are inconsistent with the teachings of scripture, whether for preferential or pragmatic reasons. We are not called to be independents, but we are part of a church whose Head is Christ. And Christ has decreed in the Scriptures that leadership in His Church be servant leadership, not using authority in a domineering way, but by humbly leading as a result of the respect garnered because he leads a faithful Christian life. How radically changed our churches would be, were church leadership to take this seriously.