1 Timothy 3:2a “Now the overseer must be above reproach”. Recently there has been some discussion in the world I walk in as to what being “above reproach” means, specifically for us leaders in the church, namely for Elders and Pastors (of which I am neither). Set in the context of some “super” sin, what does it mean to be “above reproach” (although I believe that the Bible teaches degrees of sin, there is a sense in which all sins are “super” since they offend a Holy God, what I mean by “super” is essentially the sins God seemingly point out as greater: murder, adultery, theft, etc. which are essentially listed in 1 Timothy)?
Some people argue that if you commit any of these “super” sins at any time in your life, then you are ineligible to be an Elder or Pastor, due to being not above reproach. Others argue that it is ok if you commit these sins before your vows as Elder or Pastor, but not after. And still others argue that Grace covers all these sins so that even after committing these sins as an Elder or Pastor there is a chance, although slight, that one might eventually be able to be an Elder or Pastor again. Personally I do not think Scripture is clear in support of any of these sides, thus we must appeal to something else and Scripture at the same time.
This something else I am speaking of is the concept of risk/reward. When Scripture (or human philosophy) isn’t clear on something, we must weight the risks verses the rewards on the issue at hand. Take Abortion for example, even if it cannot be “proven” that the fetus is a human being, the fact that it might be, or that we are even dealing with human beings at all, means we ought to take it very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we ought to protect the fetus due solely that it might be human and we might be murdering a human in abortion. The main reason here is that no one has the right to murder an innocent human just because of his or her own inconvenience or even to free themselves from bondage – except perhaps to save their own life – , but this isn’t a talk on abortion.
Likewise in the issue of Elders and Pastors we are dealing with Christ’s church, and the representation of God and His Word. This is a very big issue. So even though Scripture might be unclear in the details, ought we not error on the side of safety? This means that, for the sake of purity and not wanting to commit greater error, we should be very strict in the standards we hold for these offices, not more lax.
For hypothetical sake, let us argue for both sides: if God means us to be lax how great is the sin if we are stricter than He commands? Or if God means us to be strict how great a sin is it for us to be more lax? In other words if we might sin either way, which sin must we avoid in this case? I would argue that being stricter is a lesser sin, than being more lax. The reason why is if we keep out a few good men from the office, the damage to the church and Christ’s name is less than if we let in a few bad men who will smear the church and Christ’s name.
I know this touches on the debate between doing only what the Bible commands, and only not doing what the Bible forbids. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, I think in this circumstance we ought to be firmer then not, and thus guard the purity of the Church very aggressively.
In conclusion I do believe the selection of Elders and Pastors is not an easy one, and in every case it ought to require much discussion and prayer. Personally I think we should lean more on the side of keeping any person who has been divorced, committed adultery, murder, embezzlement, and the like, from being Pastors and Elders. There are plenty of other places they can serve in the church, and there are other men who can fill their shoes, and is it really worth the risk bringing in such a man into such an office or even back in?