Home > Theology > The dis-qualifications of an elder

The dis-qualifications of an elder

It is with some trepidation that I wade into this issue, but recent events, both at a local church, and in Alex Grenier’s ongoing relationship with Calvary Chapel, have me thinking about this stuff at some length. I hope kind readers will bear with me; as always I’m not especially interested in whether one particular man or another should be a pastor, but rather I’m looking for guidelines when trying to pick a church that is a safe place for myself and my family.

As everyone knows, Paul the Apostle sent his traveling companions Timothy and Titus a couple of different places and then wrote to them giving instructions on the handling of elders and deacons in the local churches in the cities he sent them to. Those of us with a high view of Scripture typically derive our views on the qualifications of pastors, elders, and deacons from these instructions, and we typically dress up our views by calling them “biblical eldership” or some such.

When writing to Timothy Paul sets a very high standard for elders, including spiritual maturity, absence of various vices, managing his household, etc. In a later section Paul also gives Timothy instructions regarding money given to elders, and warns against being quick to judge elders. What Paul doesn’t do is outline the process or criteria for disqualifying an elder.

Some readers draw a bright line, saying that any elder who isn’t fully qualified is disqualified. See e.g. this article by Orthodox Presbyterian writer Archibald Alexander Allison [link]:

It is the church’s God-given duty to keep all unworthy men out of the office of ruling and teaching elder. Should a man already in office show himself unqualified for the office he holds, the church must be diligent to remove him from that office. In so doing the church will uphold the honor of Christ and insure that the church is edified unto greater peace, purity, and unity.

Not everyone draws the same conclusions. I was surprised, for example, to find in Jay Bakker’s book Son of a Preacher Man his claim that since God had called his father (televangelist and Assemblies of God preacher Jim Bakker) nobody was qualified to tell him he couldn’t return to the pulpit after he did his prison time.

I have on occasion seen a deacon board confront and fire a preacher because his wife left him and wouldn’t return. I’ve also seen Paul’s later instructions “do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” used as a way to discredit mounting accusations against a pastor because none of the anecdotes had two or three independent witnesses.

If I had to stake a out a position here, I would be inclined to say that since the Scripture doesn’t say clearly how to handle the difficult problem of removing a preacher (yes, note the equivocation between the ancient “elder” and the modern “preacher”), then

  1. There’s a great deal of liberty to be had here
  2. It’s important to find out what position the church you’re attending takes, and what process they have in place for guaranteeing they will behave consistently with that position
  3. These verses serve as a prism of sorts, and the standard we use to interpret them often says more about the reader than about the text

That being said let me turn to the case of Bob Grenier, pastor of Calvary Chapel Visalia [link]. His son Alex has accused him of physically abusing Alex and at least some of his brothers, including punching them in their heads, etc. These accusations are central to understanding Alex’s blog Calvary Chapel Abuse [link]. After having read a fair amount of Alex’s blog over the years, I have to say I find Alex’s accusations credible. I don’t think he’s lying; I don’t think he’s mistaken; I don’t think he’s exaggerating. Having decided that Alex is credible I have to choose one of two positions:

  1. It’s okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years. Or
  2. It’s not okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years.

Because honestly if there’s nothing wrong with hitting children then there are no more questions here about whether Bob Grenier is fit to be in the pulpit.

This is not a subject the Scriptures treat  in great detail either; the proverbs about “sparing the rod” notwithstanding. There’s more going on in the Grenier situation than simple disagreements over disciplining children, anyway.

But on balance I would have to say no; it’s not okay for a preacher to punch his children, repeatedly, over a period of years.

I have focused on this particular accusation for a reason: Paul the Apostle singles out physical violence as being off-limits for an elder. This gets rendered “not violent” in the ESV and “no striker” in the KJV; I do occasionally see people attempt to interpret this prohibition as being a description of temperament (as if “not violent but gentle” were just a poetic way to say “really gentle”) but I can’t find a good reason not to take it literally: a violent man shouldn’t be installed as an elder.

Also, and this is more of a personal opinion, I have to suggest that if a man has two or more adult children making serious public accusations against him, he isn’t “managing his household well” (ESV) or “ruling well his own house” (KJV).

I have to argue that if I were responsible for ordaining Bob Grenier, and I knew these things about him, I would be failing my responsibilities if I ordained him.

Now if I read the tea leaves here (starting at say [link]) it looks to me like Chuck Smith has decided that he isn’t going to do anything about Bob Grenier and nothing is going to change his mind. And there isn’t, apparently, anything in the Calvary Chapel way of doing church that can or will do anything about Bob Grenier.

I don’t know what it means about Calvary Chapel that Bob Grenier is still in the pulpit, but I would encourage thoughtful readers to find out more before committing any time, money or energy to a Calvary Chapel. It says a lot; I’m just not sure what.

Of course like a lot of things about Calvary Chapel this will probably get revisited when Chuck dies and the new regime, whoever they are, take control. I for one hope they will clarify this aspect of church leadership for the benefit of those of us who love Calvary and wish them well.

 

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