October 20, 2020

An Example of Much-Needed Integrity: Biblical Requirements for Leadership

shoot.jpgThe issue of integrity is going to be huge in the Southern Baptist Convention in the next couple of decades. More and more younger leaders are calling for true integrity in commitment to what the Bible says, what we say and do, and what we declare is the will of God.

Those battles for integrity will be worked out in local churches as well as in the halls of conventions and the offices of denominational power brokers.

I’m going to show you what that battle for integrity is going to look like, and, in this instance, why I am very, very hopeful that we just might make it through as a better convention.

An IM reader sent me the following material recently. First, here is a covenant similar to one this man is being asked to sign in order to continue serving as a deacon at a church where he’s been a member and a deacon for many, many years.

I don’t object to this kind of covenantalism at all. I support it. But there can be some problems. In the unprinted preamble, this covenant says it is a list of Biblical requirements for being a deacon. Here’s the gist of the covenant document. (Excuse the caps. That’s the text as printed.)

1 I AM A BORN AGAIN BELIEVER IN JESUS CHRIST. I BELIEVE IN SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH.

2. I WILL SUPPORT THE TOTAL CHURCH PROGRAM AND ATTEND ALL REGULAR CHURCH SERVICES, INCLUDING SUNDAY AND WEDNESDAY SERVICES AND DEACON MEETINGS, UNLESS PROVIDENTIALLY HINDERED.

3. I BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS THE INSPIRED WORD OF GOD.

4. I AM A BIBLICAL THITHER (10%) TO MY LOCAL CHURCH.

5. I AM A SINGLE MALE OR HAVE BEEN THE HUSBAND OF ONLY ONE WIFE, EXCLUDING THE DEATH OF FORMER SPOUSE(S). MY WIFE IS NOT A SLANDERER OR GOSSIP AND SEEKS TO BE FAITHFUL IN ALL THINGS. I SEEK TO RULE MY HOUSE WELL BY GODLY STANDARDS.

6. I DO NOT DRINK, SELL, OR SERVE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES.

7. I DO NOT GOSSIP OR BACK-BITE. I DO ALL THAT IS IN MY POWER TO SEEK HARMONY IN THE CHURCH.

8. I KEEP IN CONFIDENCE THOSE THINGS ENTRUSTED TO ME.

9. I SEEK TO WIN THE LOST TO CHRIST.

10. I RECOGNIZE THE GOD-GIVEN SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP THAT IS INCUMBENT UPON THE OFFICE OF THE PASTOR AND SEEK TO SERVE UNDER THAT LEADERSHIP.

I UNDERSTAND THAT THIS COVENANT MUST BE SIGNED AND RETURNED TO THE CHURCH OFFICE BEFORE I CAN SERVE IN AN ACTIVE POSITION FOR THE COMING YEAR.

Here is the letter my friend wrote in response. As I said, it is a model of integrity and a servant’s mindset and heart.

1 Tim. 3:8-13 (KJV)

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongue, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; [9] Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. [10] And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. [11] Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. [12] Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. [13] For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

I am unable to sign the Deacon Covenant Agreement. There are two primary reasons for this. First of all, a deacon is to be not double-tongued. To be double-tongued is to say two different things, one to one person or persons, and saying something different to other persons or persons. To sign this covenant would make me double-tongued in the matter of tithing / giving. I have discussed the subject of tithing with some members of our church. I told them I believe tithing is biblical, but is a requirement under the Old Covenant. I said that I do not believe that tithing is part of the New Covenant.

I can sign a covenant that says I give cheerfully to the Lord. I can sign a covenant that says I give regularly and systematically to the church. My personal belief is that tithing is a biblical ceremonial requirement of the Old Covenant

2 Cor. 8:1-24 (ESV) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, [2] for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. [3] For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, [4] begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— [5] and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. [6] Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. [7] But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. [8] I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. [9] For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. [10] And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. [11] So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. [12] For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. [13] I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness [14] your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. [15] As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” [16] But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. [17] For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. [18] With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. [19] And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. [20] We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, [21] for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. [22] And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. [23] As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. [24] So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

Paul teaches that the motivation for the Christian to give is not compulsion by virtue of the Old Testament means for providing for the Levites. Rather, the reason that I can cheerfully give to God is the fact that though Jesus was rich, for my sake he became poor. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Tithing teaches that God owes the first tenth, and we own the other ninety percent. I believe that God owns it all. Jesus does not deserve only ten percent of my possessions. He deserves it all. Tithing teaches that I will be under Jehovah’s curse for not tithing according to the Law. Malachi 3:6-12 (ESV) “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. [7] From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ [8] Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. [9] You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. [10] Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. [11] I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. [12] Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

Galatians 3:13 says that God will not curse me, for Jesus’ sake.

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hanged on a tree.

I have also taught that wine consumed in moderation is not a sin. To sign this covenant would make me double-tongued in regards to teaching about wine consumed in moderation. I firmly believe that wine consumed in moderation is not a sin. I do believe that drunkenness is a sin. A deacon is not to be given to much wine (drunkenness). Alcoholism and drunkenness are terrible problems in our society. So is gluttony and obesity; and premarital sex and adultery. The same argument for abstinence from all alcohol could also be made for food and women (that was typed with tongue firmly placed in cheek).

This covenant also lists qualifications of deacons that are not biblical. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 lists the requirements for deacons. Wednesday church attendance and tithing are requirements of the covenant that are not found in 1 Timothy or Acts 6. These should be stricken from the covenant as they are extra-biblical. This is the second reason way I cannot sign this covenant.

I am praying that my friend’s gracious and honest response will begin a dialog about the Biblical requirements for those who serve as deacons.

I also hope this kind of loyalty to scripture and servant’s attitude will prevail in our midst.

Comments

  1. I’ll give the drafters of the deacon covenant the benefit of the doubt and say they did this with the best of intentions. But, why is it, that even with the best of intentions, calls for accountability/holiness/deeper devotion, etc., almost always collapse back into legalism? Michael, I hope you’ll keep us apprised as to how this plays out. If your friend can actually initiate a real dialogue about these issues that doesn’t lead to his leaving the church or being asked to leave the church he needs to write a book about it. It would be an instant classic.

  2. What a gracious response on the part of your friend. I look forward to hearing the response from the church leadership – but I fear what it will be.

    #2 made me laugh as it reminds me of the requirements of a cult-like leader I once had the misfortune of working with. Question: What qualifies as “providentially hindered?” Do I need to get a note from God.

    #4 Your friend’s response to tithing in my not so humble but accurate opinion, is spot on.

    #6 should also include, “and I won’t allow people in my cab who have alcoholic beverages, either.”

    #10 should also include “and I swear I will not touch the Lord’s anointed.”

  3. That is an excellent response.
    I couldn’t figure out what being a biblical thither was – was it being a place, an embodiment of the church? Then I read the response and it all made sense.
    I once applied to teach at a Christian school where their spiritual requirements (listed on the last page of an 18-page application, mostly “essay” questions of doctrine and educational philosophy) were to (1) abstain from alcohol and (2) go to church every Sunday. I was apalled. And I told them that. I told them I could not sign that, and in addition, it disheartened me that their requirements listed nothing about loving God or my neighbor, nothing about taking care of the poor and needy, etc. I didn’t get a call back from that position. A year later, I did get a call for another position in that school. They must have been desperate!

  4. Okay, let’s try this one more time (my last attempt didn’t post, for some odd reason).
    I love his response. Incidentally, I couldn’t figure out what it meant to be a “biblical thither” – an embodiment of the church hithter and thither? Then I read the response and had a good laugh at myself.
    I once applied for a position at a Christian school. After filling out an 18-page application (which consisted mostly of “essay” type questions on doctrine and philosophy of education), I read the requirements they asked me to sign. Their spiritual requirements had two parts: (1) abstain from alcohol and (2) go to church every Sunday. I was appalled. And I told them so. Where was the love your God and love your neighbor as yourself part? Where was the care for the poor and needy part? I didn’t get a call about that position. A year later, I did get a call about another position at the school. They must have been desperate.

  5. As a Sola Sciprtura Reformed Presbyterian etc etc I also find the “Covenant” being signed as being unbiblical. It’s actually more or less “typical” of some SBC churches though, I would assume.

    The denomination to which I belong – the Presbyterian Church of Australia – has for many decades been subjected to the deadening effects of liberalism. In 1977, however, the more liberal elements of the Presbyterian church (about 80% of them), went out to merge with another denomination. The 20% who were left were mainly evangelical.

    I say this as a preamble because the PCA is still suffering from those effects. Becoming an elder in the PCA required a person to subscribe to the Westminster Confession – but pre 1977 no one seriously understood it. As a result, elders came in who said “Yes I subscribe to the WCF” without knowing or reading it. Many elders, even today, still reject basic principles of Christian belief.

    This has been changing, of course. As the denomination has become more evangelical, and younger elders are being appointed, more people know the WCF and potential elders who reject it (or, at least, important parts of it – there is a provision for minor differences of opinion) are not coming in to eldership.

    I feel for this guy. He believes the Bible and can’t sign the church covenant.

  6. Wow- this sounds very much like our church (A/G, not SBC). I think your friend gave an excellent, reasonable, and humble explanation of his position; I wish I were this humble about it!

    As my brother the Ph.D Theologian is fond of pointing out, there are instances in the OT where men were commanded to SLAY God’s anointed. People should be careful with that particular defense…

    -Jim Bob

  7. Histrion (Jay H) says

    I am praying that my friend’s gracious and honest response will begin a dialog about the Biblical requirements for those who serve as deacons.

    You might try addressing that prayer to St. Jude. 😉

  8. Hehe. The chap down the street who practically runs our tiny parish church has a dog that could just about answer “yes” to #2 #5 #6 #7 #8 and #10. My goodness, he’s over half way qualified!

  9. Reading this made my day. Just seeing that Believers like this one are out there–taking a stand in such a strong, courageous & intelligent but thoughtful and humble manner–has given me encouragement.

  10. Scripture’s guidelines for deacons indicates that the expectations for leaders are greater and higher than that for laymen. Demanding that one stick to the scriptural guidelines, and go no further, is simply another form of legalism. It denies any specific, personal revelation God may have given to that particular church.

    A church should be able to make the deacons’ requirements whatever they like. It shows what that church sees as priority, and (hopefully) reflects the congregation’s needs. If a church demands the deacons tithe, it’s because the church needs to actually give as if God owns at least 10 percent and stop using the “We’re a New Testament church” excuse to rob God and hobble His church. If deacons mustn’t drink, it’s because few know what moderation means anymore — look at the average American’s waistline for proof. If deacons must attend many services, it’s because the relationships in a church don’t grow when we only see one another once a week, and without relationship there’s no accountability. There’s just legalism.

    We shouldn’t assume these things are based on legalism unless we can see for ourselves whether there’s any love in the church. The bare words don’t show it. The response doesn’t show love either; it shows civility, which is a good sign, but there isn’t much of an attempt to understand where the church is coming from — it’s just a rejection of everything the writer can’t stomach.

  11. K.W.:

    It totally escapes me how one can bind the conscience of any person with anything other than the explicit teaching of scripture or clear principles derived from that. Tithing is neither. What is the point of insisting on the INSPIRATION of the Biblically explicit qualifications of deacons as listed in the pastoral letters if qualifications BEYOND those listed can be put on equal footing?

    I can understand your point if a statement separated Biblical qualifications and Church expectations, but treating non-Biblical requirements as Biblical is- excuse the word- cultic, not just legalistic. It’s an abuse of scripture.

    I believe ministry can have expectations that are not in scripture, but they do not come with the AUTHORITY of scripture.

    Insisting on teetotalism is going directly against the teaching of scripture on the subject of moderate use of alcohol.

    MS

  12. Michael: I’ll excuse the word “cultic” because I think you misunderstand my intention.

    When I went to Bethany University, there were requirements for living in the dorms that simply weren’t biblical. Nowhere in scripture does it say that men and women are to be segregated from one another in their living quarters, or that we’re to be prohibited from alcohol or tobacco, or that God didn’t approve of movies rated PG-13 and over. I see their purpose, but of course they aren’t biblical. But I wanted to live on campus, so I accepted the rules for the time that I lived there.

    When I’ve taken secular jobs, frequently there are job requirements that also aren’t biblical. I met them whenever I wanted those jobs. I didn’t care to debate their biblical validity first, and write a 10-page letter explaining in detail, with extensive quotes, why I couldn’t work for them. I wanted the job, so I met their requirements. Once I got the job, maybe I could talk them into changing the rules, but if I couldn’t, I still followed them.

    That’s the way I look at the deacon positions in a church. To be a deacon is a calling from God; but it is at the same time a job. If you don’t agree with the job requirements you may not necessarily be called to be a deacon at that church; but what I think is more likely is that you are not yet willing to give up your Christian freedoms for the sake of your weaker brothers. Romans 14 is my guideline in this. If the church is weak and needs their deacons to be ascetics, you do what you have to if you’re going to minister to that church. But if the position is all about putting your spiritual maturity on display (particularly with a 10-page letter), you’re not yet ready to serve that church. Maybe not anyone.

    I agree: those other requirements aren’t biblical. But for the sake of others they need to be followed just as solemnly: not half-heartedly, nor condescendingly, nor hypocritically. By all means, point out that they aren’t biblical mandates, and that you’re following them for other reasons. Just make sure you don’t do this to draw attention to your own piety, or to ridicule the church for its strictness. The overarching principle, as in all church matters, is love. Do it in love. Do it ’cause you love the people in your church. Don’t do it for any other reason. There are no other reasons.

    Now, to put the shoe on the other foot: Naturally I wouldn’t require for my deacons any more than scripture mandates. There would have to be some drastic need — like we had a lot of recovering addicts in the church, with a high recidivism rate — before I’d add to Paul’s lists. I don’t want to drive away anyone God has qualified to minister. But I don’t run a denomination. These things aren’t up to me. I could choose to go independent… but that will cause another rant out of me that’s completely off-topic.

  13. Oh: briefly on tithing. (You brought it up.) Jesus, in Mt 23.23:

    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

    Emphasis mine. Tithing, and other parts of the Law (not the Pharisees’ interpretations and customs, which are extra-biblical) should not be left undone. Yes, 100% of what we have belongs to God; and that should be the lens we look through when we give and study giving. Unfortunately it has become the excuse we use for not contributing a penny to our churches.

  14. Four notes:

    1)1) Jesus also said leave your sacrifice at the altar and be reconciled. He was a practicing Jew in temple Judaism.

    2) I’m going to assume you know that old covenant tithing was actually several tithes and if we followed the OT pattern of tithing it would be far far more than 10%.

    3) Cultic is a descriptive term, not an insult. If a group requires what the Bible does not and 1) doesn’t distinguish the difference and/or 2) requires it in the same way as Biblical requirements, then the behavior is cultic in nature. If it’s cultic when cults do it, it’s cultic when we do it.

    4) In the New covenant, tithing can be suggested as a guideline, but not as a requirement. The refusal to be consistently New Covenant in our practice is a major issue with groups like Southern Baptists.

  15. Well, there I misunderstood you. I’m too used to people flinging around terms like “cultic” when they mean “heretical” and shouldn’t have assumed you did the same. Sorry.

    As for tithing — I don’t agree; but it’s your blog and you get the last word on it.