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Spiritual immaturity manifesting as moral ambivalence in South African Christian churches leaves very little visible difference between us and the world. If we were to be honest with ourselves the situation isn’t much different within Baptist circles. Why might that be? One reason is that our shepherds, those who ought to walk before the flock by example, are no longer held accountable nor expected to epitomise Christian virtue. Where leaders flounder the flock falters and falls, our witness withers and our moral authority wanes.
In addition the church is suffering from an acute case of schizophrenia . Out of a desire to be culturally relevant we’ve grown increasingly tolerant of doctrinal diversity to the point that even within the Baptist Union of Southern Africa we have a fragmented multiplicity of identities. Collectively we no longer pursue God’s objective truth as earnestly nor love it as dearly as we once did and so our churches flip flop, blown hither and thither by every wind of doctrine. Once we were characterised as the People of the Book now we’re nothing more than a Fad Driven Church.
Paul gives much sound advice to Timothy and Titus concerning their ministerial responsibilities. Two principals shine through: Christian leaders are to exemplify the truth of God’s Word and be pursues of that truth.
A cup of coffee and the morning newspaper is all one needs to discern that not all is hunky-dory with the church and its leadership. “Zelda and Ray McCauley to divorce” (South African Press Association 2010), “Corruption rocks Anglican diocese in SA” (Eggington 2010), “Pastor held over rape” (Mkhulisi 2010).
John MacArthur (1939), in the forward of his book on this subject, wrote, “As the leaders go, so go the people.” Countering the apparent downward spiral of many leaders from virtue to vice Paul offers the following sage counsel: the great privilege of being God’s instruments, used to His glory and participating in His work hinges off our continual suitability to that task. We’re to be vessels of honour, sanctified and prepared, exemplifying God’s truth in our daily lives.
Charles Ryrie (1999:481 – 483) highlights four qualifications by which every Christian leader must continually be measured:
Personal character: In the broadest sense elders should be,
Family life: Because the family serves as a testing ground elders must rule their households well and their children should be seen to be dignified and faithful (1 Ti 3:5).
Spiritual maturity: An elder should not be a new convert (1 Ti 3:6).
Community life: His public testimony, that daily walk before others, must be exemplary (1 Ti 3:2).
A leader’s character and conduct is his testimony. For this reason Paul writes, “22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Ti 5:22). The process of recognising an elder should include close vetting of all aspects of his life and ministry prior to ordination. It is not likely that one so tested would fall away however if he does he must be held to account. “20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Ti 5:20).
As elders we’re to walk before our flock with integrity of character as we’ve “promised the Lord, the congregation, and each other to be faithful in: Continuing to exhibit the character qualities, stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1 – 7 and Titus 1:5 – 9, that are still required of each man as he continues to serve as an elder” (Swartley 2005:74).
This two part series considers the following statement, “Christian leaders must be both exemplifiers of truth and pursuers of truth.” Did this resonate with you? If so go and check out the series African Leadership Pitfalls.
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