Summary: Leadership in the congregation is to reflect the Lord’s choice rather than seeking diversity as defined in the world.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
Church records gathered from southern churches during the Antebellum period in the United States tell an amazing tale. There are accounts of Baptist congregations composed of both slave owners and slaves. There are instances recorded telling of congregations pastored by slaves. The Baptists of the South were convinced that God’s work transcended the socio-political scene, being composed as it was of redeemed individuals. Consequently, the criterion for selecting elders and/or deacons was based upon demonstrated Christian maturity, rather than being based upon socio-economic or political considerations.
The congregation of the Lord is to be a welcoming place, a place where anyone will be accepted to hear the message of life. Those who believe the Master and who are born from above become members of the Household of Faith, members of the Body of Christ. Here, within the assembly of the righteous is found a true unity that is born out of the common faith we share. Consequently, Christian maturity—holiness, godliness, righteousness—is what recommends an individual for leadership within a congregation. The world seeks diversity of race, culture and sex at all levels of organisations. The church, however, seeks righteousness in those who lead.
Today, however, a new push that must prove detrimental to church health is in the ascendency among the faithful. It is an emphasis arising from the world, and not from the Head of the Faith. It is an emphasis on making ourselves acceptable to all people; and it has introduced a virulent heresy into the life of contemporary churches. Contemporary Canadian Christendom is rife with the thought that ecclesiastical offices must be representative of the race, the sex and perhaps even the social status of those who rely upon those offices. Thus, rather than seeing that He who bought the church with His Own blood appoints whom He wills to holy office, contemporary Christians have adopted the wisdom of this dying age, seeking to ensure that no one feels excluded. In our drive to be sensitive, we have neutered the Faith by creating something of an affirmative action program to ensure diversity in the church.
We will do well to refresh our memories of how men are appointed to holy office. For the continued health of our own congregation, and in order to encourage all who must be accountable for seeking out those who are called, I invite your participation as we explore the instruction provided by the Apostle to the Gentiles for discovering those who should lead us.
COMPOSITION OF THE CONGREGATION — There are two questions before us in this message: what is the composition of the congregation; and how are leaders for the assembly to be selected? If we can settle the first of these matters, it will make settling the second of the matters somewhat simpler. The congregation will demonstrate unity of purpose, unity of qualification for membership and diversity reflecting the milieu in which the body is found.
In 1 CORINTHIANS 12:13, Paul makes a statement that reveals the composition of the Body. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” It is not distorting Scripture to state that on the basis of this particular verse, the Body is composed of individuals without reference to cultural background and without reference to economic background.
When writing the Galatian Christians, Paul makes a similar affirmation when he writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [GALATIANS 3:28]. He is speaking somewhat more broadly in this passage; he is not focused specifically on the composition of the congregation, but speaking of the redeemed as a whole. Those who are saved are not redeemed on the basis of race or culture, economic condition, nor even on the basis of sex. Whenever we speak of the Household of Faith, we recognise there are only saints and ain’ts.