Children that Believe
Children that Believe
When Paul was giving the qualifications for elders, one of the qualifications given was expressed in the expression, “having children that believe” (Titus 1:6). Over the years I have tried to take this statement at face value, that the children an elder has must be believers, that is, Christians. Yet another point of view is that this qualification does not mean they have to be Christians or believers in Christ, rather that they simply need to be “faithful”, that is, trustworthy and reliable, either to their earthly father or to reliable in some way.
The Term “Believe”
The Greek term that the NASV renders “believe” is often translated “faithful”. Yet, even in those contexts, we are often talking about a faithful believer in God (Matthew 24:45; 24:21 “Well done, good and faithful servant”; Acts 16:15 “If you have judged me to be faithful”; Colossians 1:2 “saints and faithful brethren”; 1:7 “a faithful minister”; 4:9 “a faithful and beloved brother”; 2 Timothy 2:2 “Commit thou to faithful men”. The term is often used of God who is faithful, and then the term is often used as a synonym for a Christian:
- “Which believed” (Acts 10:45).
- “He that believeth” (2 Corinthians 6:15).
- “Them which believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).
- “Especially of those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
- “Be an example of the believers” (4:12).
- “If many man or woman that believeth” (5:16).
- “They that have believing masters” (6:2).
Even when the term means “trustworthy” is it typically in a context that we are talking about someone who is reliable in relation to the things of God and not merely someone who is reliable when it comes to being on time or going to work (2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 3:2,5; 1 Peter 5:12). As I looked at the uses of the term, God is faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:3), His message is faithful (Revelation 21:5), and God’s people are faithful (Revelation 2:13). In all the uses of the term I had a hard time finding a usage that was used in a purely secular sense, that is, reliable without any connection to God or spiritual things.
How Do I Define Faithful/Apart from God?
If the term faithful here has no connection to God or being a Christian, then how do we define it? What does it look like? Because if I say the term involves being reliable in what they say, keeping their word, that brings me back to God and His commands. If I say that the term involves obeying their parents, that brings me back to Scripture (Ephesians 6:2). Or that they go to work (1 Timothy 5:8).
My problem with saying that this qualification does not mean that the children must be Christians, rather it is simply saying that they must be reliable people, is that the Holy Spirit would be placing a far greater emphasis on being faithful to men than in being faithful to God. What this also means is that I could have a son or daughter who is an atheist, fornicator, or homosexual but as long as they are reliable to their earthly commitments, like employment, show up on time, pay their bills on time, etc…, that they fit the definition of “faithful children”. Because we all know such people who are very faithful in relation to their careers, hobbies and causes. I don’t think that the early Christians, when they heard the term “faithful” would have thought of a faithfulness that was disconnected from being faithful to God.
One point of view is that if “faithful children” means “children who are Christians”, then the verse should have read something like, “Having children who believe, not being unbelievers”. Yet the contrast is between children that believe and children accused of dissipation and rebellion. The argument is that since the contrast is not between the specific terms “faithful” and “unfaithful” or “believer” and “unbeliever”, then the term faithful cannot refer to someone who is a Christian. In response:
- First, I would contend that dissipation and rebellion are a fair and accurate contrast with someone who is a Christian. They are the opposite of how a Christian should live. In fact, this type of contrast is found in 1 Peter 4:2-3. The unfaithful are rebellious. God has more than one term for someone who is faithful, just as He has more than one option in describing the unfaithful. We even see this in various English translations.
- In 2 Corinthians 6:15 in the KJV uses term rendered in Titus 1:6 “believe”, and translates it “believing” and then contrasts it with the English term “infidel”, while the NASV uses the term “unbeliever”. In John 20:27 the KJV reads “but not faithless, but believing”.
- Consider Hebrews 3:18-19. Where God parallels unbelief not the term belief, but unbelief with disobedience.
Timothy and Titus/Must Be Exactly the Same?
Another point of view is that the church in Ephesus only had Paul’s letter to Timothy and not the letter to Titus, so that “children that believe” in Titus 1:6 and “keeping his children under control” (1 Timothy 3:4) must be identical qualifications. My response would be:
- I would not claim that the Christians in Ephesus had no access to any other letters from Paul, because Peter speaks of Christians having access to many of Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16). For example, the Christians in Colossae had access to the letter written to them and were to pass it on to another congregation, and were also going to receive one of Paul’s letters that was coming from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).
- Added to this, we need to remember that these early congregations had inspired men working with them. Even if it is true that they never saw the letter to Titus, the inspired men among them would have known about whatever instruction they needed in the letter to Titus.
- Just like the Christians in Rome and Corinth who received letters, but in those letters there is no discussion of the qualification of elders, they still had access to such information from other letters or from inspired teachers.
- Added to this, elders existed in local congregations long before the letters of Timothy and Titus were written (Acts 14:23). So the qualifications were well known before Paul penned them in these two letters.
- The idea that the qualifications given in the letter to Titus can in no way be an expansion upon what was given to Timothy does not fit what Paul says to Titus. For example: To Timothy the qualification concerning teaching reads, “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), yet to Titus more information is given: “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). This expands “apt to teach” or includes some additional specifics, such as having the ability and willingness to use the word of God to counter false teachers.
Only While at Home?
I am not a fan of the position which says that they only have to believe while living at home, but can be unbelieving after they leave and this does not impact a man being qualified to be an elder. Titus does not place a limit on how long they must be faithful. Nothing in either qualification talks about them “being at home”. It simply says the elder manages his own household well, and his children are under control. I believe many are right when they say that the real test of whether a child believes or not is what they do after they leave home.
How Many Have to Believe?
The term “children” can in other contexts include the singular child. Yet the word is plural here and I think we can get into trouble if we say that the plural always and must includes the singular. If that is the case, then why have plurals and singulars? The term “elders” can include the singular elder, but this does not mean that a congregation can have only one elder. At face value, the text is saying to me that the elder needs to have a plurality of children, and no matter how many he has, they need to believe. Consider for a moment that 1 Timothy 3:4 does not say that he rules a “portion” of his household well. Or, “keeping some of his children or at least one of them under control”.
The Slippery Slope
In my experience, once we walk away from the center of the text, “children that believe” it becomes very easy to end up having elders who don’t have any children that believe. Because we can start reasoning:
- At least one child who is a Christian qualifies him.
- Or, he used to have at least one faithful child while they were at home.
- Or, as long as he has at least one dependable child who goes to work, is on time and pays their bills, he is qualified. And to me, by the time we have reached this point we have made the qualification rather meaningless.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017