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“Of Good Reputation With Those Outside”

In this blog post, Dr. Carl Trueman focuses on one of the qualifications listed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3. The last of these, in verse 7, says, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

AlcoholicsAnonymous Church SignThis post is a continuation of his critique of recent scandals swirling around Mars Hill Church’s pastor Mark Driscoll. Dr. Trueman says of the “two-fold relevance” of this last elder qualification to the “current climate”:

First, what has become the standard New Calvinist approach to the critics (either ignore them as irritating upstarts or point to them as the real problem—but never, ever, treat their concerns as worthy of serious respect) fools nobody but those who want to be fooled. It certainly does not fool the outside world as it looks on. And as the various Mars Hill scandals have made their way into the secular media, we can assume that the favoured strategy of ‘Now, see here, you little whipper-snapper…’ will be seen for what it is: a deflective move to avoid  addressing the root problems.

Second, we need to remember that overseers are held to a higher standard because they are the public face of the church. That is why behavior such as we have witnessed actually disqualifies from office, no question. Now, there are some sins, such as adultery, which I would argue disqualify from office permanently. For some other serious public sins, it can be for a period of time. As restoration to office requires restoration of reputation inside and outside the church, such a time cannot be specified precisely in advance. It requires the fallen leader working at some other calling while being pastored under the Word by wise and godly men until such time as he has grown to maturity in the faith. Then he may again be qualified to be considered once more for office. As Todd pointed out yesterday, disciplining fallen overseers is not hateful but the best thing that can be done for them.

I’m reminded of the pitfalls of the social networks and the blogosphere, which are visible to “outsiders,” whether believers or unbelievers. In the name of Christian liberty (more robust and well-known to Reformed Christians), some have flaunted drinking and smoking on Facebook and other places. And when they are taken to task for offending other Christians, they counter by saying, “O you of little faith, grow up! Don’t be legalistic! Don’t be a rank fundamentalist!” I mean, would Paul have said the same thing? (cf Rom 14:13).

Those in the Reformed churches who flaunt alcohol and cigarettes on Facebook would leave the impression to non-Reformed Christians—and non-Christians—that Reformed churches are full of liberal drunkards and addicts (not true, of course, but in the Philippine context, that’s what it would mean). You can drink or smoke all you want in the privacy of your home, but to proclaim it on Twitter and Facebook will leave a different impression to “outsiders.” I’ve heard enough of these remarks from others. Flaunters can explain Christian liberty all they want until they’re blue in the face, but won’t convince many.

And isn’t it possible that a Reformed church, even as small as it is, would have congregants who have a mixture of views regarding Christian liberty? If this is so, then flaunting Christian liberty would eventually destroy a church. And elders especially need to be reminded again and again by Dr. Trueman that “overseers are held to a higher standard because they are the public face of the church.”

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