There are actually three questions here, and we will attempt to answer them in the order asked. (1) How long is a man responsible for the actions of his children? There is obviously a time when parents no longer have control over what their children do, even though they may be distressed by their conduct. Children reach a point in life when they become personally accountable to God for their actions. They have free will and are able to choose for themselves how they live and behave. Ezek. 18:20, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” A father is not responsible for the conduct of a child over whom he has no control or oversight. He does not bear the guilt, so saith the scripture.
This, of course, does not relieve him of the heartache or remorse that he feels at the rebellion and disobedience of his children. The fact, however, that a parent may not be responsible for his child’s conduct does not preclude the fact that such conduct might reflect unfavorably upon the parent. (2) If an elder’s forty year old child leaves the church, can he still serve as an elder? My answer will appear unreasonable and arbitrary to many, however, in my view the only safe and scriptural answer is – no he may not be an elder. If one child can be out of the church or unfaithful, and the man still qualify as an elder, then they all may be out of the church. Such an interpretation flies in the face of the qualification.
Either a man has faithful children or he does not. When a man has one or two faithful children and one or two that are unfaithful, he does not have “faithful children.” The elder must be one that “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?).” There are two considerations here: first of all even though the man whose children leave the church cannot be held responsible for their conduct, (it was certainly not his wish that they go wrong), the fact that they do leave the church reflects on his “ruling well his own house.” He obviously failed here. Paul asks, “How shall he take care of the church of God?” – a question every preacher should ask himself who appoints a man to the eldership who has children out of the church. His success in raising his family is a precursor to his success in taking care of the church. The qualification deals with something he “has” done.
Note: “having believing (or faithful) chidlren” is not something he might do later on. One whose children leave the church just has not proved himself worthy to “take care of the church” as one of its elders. While this conclusion is difficult for many to accept, I personally cannot answer it differently in good conscience. (3) If an elder’s child makes a huge public mistake while living at home, but makes a public confession, will the man still qualify as an elder? I have no idea what the querist means by “a huge public mistake” but will answer that if the child makes amends for his/her conduct, I do not believe that would disqualify the man from being an elder.
The very fact that the child makes amends for his/her conduct would indicate that the parent had taught them correctly in such matters. Remember the bible did not say “perfect children” but “believing children, not accused of riot or unruly.” Now, should that same child continue to do things that fall under the category of riotous or unruly, then it would be evident that the man has failed in ruling well his house, and is not qualified to serve as an elder.
Published in the OPA December, 2001