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Choosing a Leader: Who is fit to lead?

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The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men. – Samuel Adams

Today, when some people are abandoning long-held voting principles out of fear of losing the Republic altogether, it’s important to remind ourselves of God’s minimum requirements for a leader.

Some will say that we’re electing a President, not a Pastor, of the United States.  (Therefore the Bible has no relevant guidance for us when choosing civil leaders.)  That is a false division.  If we look at God’s qualifications for church leaders, we may find that many of them are not spiritual criteria, but matters of character, temperament and reputation that surely must apply to all leaders.

From 1 Timothy 3:2-7 using the NAS95 translation:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach

An “overseer” is the head of a local church (and I wish we would go back to using the biblical word for the biblical position!).  It’s difficult to find folks who are “above reproach” for political office in America, since a candidate may be reproached for any absurd fantasy – like being the son of someone who plotted to kill Kennedy.  Could we say that a leader should be above reasonable reproach?  He shouldn’t have a serious criminal record, a documented history of lying, or a string of shady business dealings, for example. 

… the husband of one wife…

Uh-oh.  Someone will point out that conservative icon Ronald Reagan was divorced and remarried when he took office.  True, but that doesn’t change the standard.  I like Harry Truman’s view: “If a man lies to his wife, he will lie to me.  And if he’ll break his oath of marriage, he’ll break his oath of office.”

The requirement in the church is male leadership.  The passage just before the one we’re examining, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, deals with that.  But there were godly women (Deborah and Judith) who led the nation of Israel.  I don’t think the door is closed to female political leaders in times of crisis – when godly and courageous men are hard to find.

(If you can say with a straight face that Hillary Clinton is a godly woman, I’ll nominate you for the Comedy Hall of Fame.)

…temperate…

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words reveals: “…the RV marg[inal reading] ‘self-control’ is the preferable rendering, as ‘temperance’ is now limited to one form of self-control….” 

So God requires as leaders those who are self-possessed, not easily provoked, in control of their passions.  That sounds like a very practical, as opposed to a spiritual, qualification.

…prudent…

A prudent person is the “wise” man of Proverbs, weighing his words before he speaks, thinking strategically, not drawing ‘red lines’ without a plan to back them up.

…respectable…

The Greek word carries the idea of “orderly” and “proper.” [Online Bible]

…hospitable…

“Loving strangers.”  Don’t confuse this with approval of lawbreaking, however – the Bible doesn’t.

…able to teach…

This criterion is more important for a church leader than a civic leader, but our best Presidents have been able to explain and teach, as well as persuade.   

…not addicted to wine…

An intoxicated or “high” Commander-in-Chief is unthinkable.   Sorry, Mr. Johnson.

…or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable…

In Greek this is “a striker;” in English, a pugilist – a boxer.  It’s someone who’s always “got his dukes up,” spoiling for a fight.  Rather than seeking and prolong quarrels, a godly leader looks for ways to help his opponents save face in reaching accommodation, where possible. 

…free from the love of money.

Both Hillary and Trump have problems meeting this requirement, I think.

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…

To all appearances, the major candidates meet or exceed this requirement.  

…and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.

I’m disappointed in one of my heroes, Dr. James Dobson, for endorsing Donald Trump and excusing him as a “new Christian.”  If so, he would still be disqualified in the mind of a Christian voter.  The concern here is that power would go to the head of someone not prepared for it.

And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

“The church” is italicized to show that it is added by the translators, though it’s certainly implied.  Could we say that a US President should have a good reputation with those outside the country – while also observing that this qualification is listed last?

There is no religious test, someone will remind me, for public office in this country.  But the Founders and previous generations of Americans saw no conflict with that, and their moral obligation to choose men who were upright, who were steady and seasoned adults, and who feared the Living God.



 

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