Author: Ron Graham
Having Faithful Children
So far, in our examination of the term "faithful children", we have not really examined what the word faithful means. There are differing views on what the word faithful means in Titus 1:6. On this page, we look at these.
Note: We will consider the arguments for each of three possibilities in the form of a debate. Firstly we will hear the moderator's opening remarks, then the case for the standard view among churches of Christ will be put. Following that, the other two propositions will be debated.
1 What is Meant by “Faithful”?
This debate is about the qualification for elders that requires them to have "faithful children". What does that mean? Some translations render the Greek pistos in Titus 1:6 as "believing" rather than "faithful". From these two words, there arise three distinct possibilities regarding the children in Titus 1:6. They could be...
- (1) Children who have believed and been baptized and become faithful members of the church. The word is used in this sense, for example, in Paul's first letter to Timothy (1Timothy 4:3,12, 1Timothy 5:16, 1Timothy 6:2).
- (2) Children not old enough to be baptized, but like "these little ones who believe in me" whom Jesus referred to in Matthew 18:1-6. Jesus was talking about little children, not older children.
- (3) Children who are faithful in the sense that two of the stewards in the parable of the talents were faithful (Matthew 25:21,23). In this sense it would refer to children who are obedient and under their father's control, as well as trustworthy and a credit to their father.
The debate will be in three parts. First the affirmative will be taken by those who hold that faithful children are batized believers. In the second and third parts, the affirmative will be taken by those who take the second and third views above.
2 Children Who are Baptized Believers?
The proposition: That faithful children are only those who are baptized believers.
THE AFFIRMATIVE CASE
In several instances of pistos, it is clear from the context that the people described as "believers" or "believing" are in fact baptized believers, that is to say, Christians and members of the church. Here are some examples...
- "those of the circumcision who believed" (Acts 10:45)
- "a certain Jewish woman who believed" (Acts 16:1)
- "what part has a believer with an infidel?" (2Cor 6:15)
- "those who believe and know the truth" (1Timothy 4:3)
- "be an example to the believers" (1Timothy 4:12)
- "any believing man or woman" (1Timothy 5:16)
- "those who have believing masters" (1Timothy 6:2)
It is the most accepted view among churches of Christ that the word pistos in Titus 1:6 means faithful Christians, baptized believers, just as it does in the above examples.
A distinction should be observed between the qualifications for a deacon and the qualifications for an elder with regard to their children. An elder must have believing children, that is to say his children must be baptized believers. A deacon's children, on the other hand, need only to be under control because "believing" is not specified in (2Timothy 3:12).
THE NEGATIVE REPLIES
- (1) What Paul required for the elders, he required "likewise" for the deacons (1Timothy 1:8). Reading the qualification for an elder "One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence" (1Timothy 3:4), and then reading the qualification for deacons, "Ruling their children and their own houses well" (1Timothy 3:12), Timothy would hardly be likely to detect a difference and think that Paul required something of an elder's children that was not required of a deacon’s children.
- (2) We would expect the qualifications given to Titus regarding an elder's children to match those given Timothy. The standard interpretation "compares scripture with scripture" so one passage clarifies the other. However it does so in a manner of filling in gaps rather than eliminating differences. That would mean Timothy and Titus each had inadequate lists of qualifications, so each would need to read the other's list to get the full story.
- (3) Paul did not use the word pistos in the qualifications he gave Timothy. There is nothing in the qualifications Paul gave Timothy that would tell Timothy that an elder's children had to be baptized believers.
THE AFFIRMATIVE RESPONDS
- (1) The word "likewise" does not mean exactly and altogether identical. It just means "in a similar way".
- (2) The list given to Titus says nothing of deacons, because Titus was to "appoint elders in every city" in Crete (Titus 1:5). He was not asked to appoint any deacons, so he did not need the qualifications for them. Furthermore, there seems to be an assumption that Timothy and Titus had never discussed the qualifications of elders and deacons with Paul, and that all they each knew about the matter was what Paul wrote to them individually in the letters we have. That is a most unnatural assumption.
- (3) Although Paul did not use the word "believing" or "faithful" in his letter to Timothy, he did require "reverence" of the children. An elder was to be "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence" (1Timothy 3:4). The word "reverence" necessarily implies baptized believers and necessarily excludes the unbaptized child, since "reverence" is religious worship of the sort that only baptized persons are capable of. This is emphasized by the requirement for "all reverence". Even if little children are capable of some degree of reverence, that is not good enough. The verse requires "all reverence", the full measure of religious worship. Only grown children who have been added to the church are capable of this. Timothy, being aware of these things, would have excluded men from the eldership whose children are not baptized believers.
THE NEGATIVE REPLIES
In relation to the term "reverence"...
- The phrase "with all reverence" refers to the manner in which the father keeps his children in submission so the reverence should not be attributed to the children but to the father.
- The word for "reverence" in the Greek, is the noun semnotees. It appears only three times in the New Testament. It's cousin, the adjective semnos, appears only four times. These two words are derived from the verb sebomai. This occurs only ten times. This is too small a sample from which to make a critical or conclusive word study. So there is no proof that "reverence" means religious worship.
- One occurrence of semnos attributes it to "things" (Philippians 4:8). "Whatsoever things are noble..." The word for "noble" or "honorable" is semnos. Things can be honorable, noble, venerable, worthy of reverence and respect. But things cannot be religiously worshipped. That would be idolatry. Thus, the argument that semnotees must mean "religious worship" is false.
- Even allowing that reverence means religious worship, little children are just as capable of religious worship as they are of love. A child's love is immature, yet a child can be all loving. A child's joy is immature, yet a child can be truly happy. A child's curiosity is immature, yet a child can be consumed by curiosity. A child's determination is immature, yet we all know how extremely determined a child can be. Likewise, a child's worship is immature, yet when a little child prays to the heavenly Father at bedtime, or joins in the family worship listening to Bible stories and singing religious songs, surely God accepts that worship as "all reverence" from the child.
Be aware that the teams are now "changing ends". At this point in the debate, those who took the affirmative above are now taking the negative. Those who took the negative now take the affirmative.
3 Little Ones Who Believe in Jesus?
The proposition: That faithful children include little ones who believe in Jesus.
THE AFFIRMATIVE CASE
Jesus spoke of "these little ones who believe in me" (Matthew 18:6). These were little children not yet grown up (Matthew 18:1-6). If a man's children are "little ones who believe" surely he has "believing children". If we insist that "faithful children" can refer only to baptized believers, then we are saying that little children who believe in Jesus are unfaithful.
Faith is a process. It starts with a child-like faith. It develops as a growing recognition of sin and a maturing consideration of the gospel. In the fullness of time it culminates in the obedience of faith. To find a man with "believing children" we simply look for children who appear to be developing well along that path of faith. We look for, and a man who is bringing up his children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:1-4).
When a child has an unquestioning belief in Jesus, that belief is a credit to someone, usually the parents. To instil such a belief in a child's mind is a good work unequalled. This has a corollary. If anyone takes away that belief from a child, "it were better for that person if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).
If we can understand (Matthew 18:6) as covering children not yet old enough for baptism, why can we not do the same with Titus 1:6 and 1Timothy 3:4?
THE NEGATIVE REPLIES
Whilst little children being brought up in a Christian household are invariably believers in Jesus and safe in his arms, there is going to be a time when someone will cause them to stumble, and they enter into sin. What status do they have at that stage? Are they little ones who believe or condemned sinners needing to obey the gospel? Surely they are the latter.
Of course we would not say that "little children who believe" are unfaithful. However it is next to certain they are going to become so. When they do, you can hardly described that as part of the process of developing faith! It is becoming unfaithful. These children have become like the prodigal son.
Now if we appoint an elder on the basis that he has little ones who believe, what happens when, later, they become sinners? Do we stand the elder down from office until his children are baptized? This hiatus is truly a hole in the argument for taking "faithful children" to mean "little children who believe".
4 Children Who are Obedient and Trustworthy?
The proposition: That faithful children are those who respect and obey their father.
THE AFFIRMATIVE CASE
A few verses down from the phrase "faithful children" (Titus 1:6), we find the phrase "the faithful word" (Titus 1:9). This is the same Greek word (pistos) and it obviously means trustworthy and reliable in verse 9, why not in verse 6?
Now our opponents may reply that "the faithful word" means the Christian word, therefore "faithful children" must mean Christian children. This sounds all right, but the two things are not parallel. A Christian child is a baptized and believing child. But the Christian word is not a baptized and believing word. Obviously, the word "Christian" has subtly different senses, confounding instead of clarifying the matter.
In the parable of the talents, two of the slaves were called "faithful" (Matthew 25:21) meaning obedient, trustworthy, respectful. Calling the elder's children faithful in this sense makes the qualifications given to Titus and Timothy consistent.
THE NEGATIVE REPLIES
- In an attempt to find men qualified for eldership, we should not weaken the qualifications God has laid down.
- At the outset of this debate, we listed several scriptures where the word "faithful" refers to baptized believers. We remain unconvinced that it should mean anything less in Titus 1:6.
- The affirmative's watered down version of "faithful children" is at odds with the alternative translation that requires an elder to have "believing children".
- The parable of the talents may use the term "faithful" to mean obedient etc., however the parable illustrates a person's relationship with Christ. Our opponents want to apply the meaning of one isolated word in the parable to the elder's children. We want to apply the meaning of the whole parable. If an elder's children are not obedient to Christ, then he should not be an elder.
- An elder in the church is a shepherd of souls (Hebrews 13:17).. His charge is to guard and guide them to eternal life. Unless he has done this already for the children of his own household, he is not qualified to do it for God's household. Merely having his children obedient to himself doesn't constitute grounds for making him an elder. He needs to have led his children to be obedient to Christ. After all, that is the kind of leadership that he will exercise in the church.