By Irven Lee
I recently received a letter from a lady in another state asking some questions concerning elders. Her main inquiry was whether a man may be an elder if he has only one child. This, in part, is my answer to her. I hope that it may be of benefit to someone else as well.
“I like the spirit of your letter concerning an elder with one child as you indicated your desire to know the truth. This question about whether an elder must have more than one child has been a matter of controversy among good brethren for all of my lifetime and before. I have preached for a little more than fifty years. No one now living could write a well-prepared scriptural letter that would settle the question for all, even if all the brethren should see and carefully consider the remarks. I do not write as one who will be able to remove all controversy. There is a correct answer, and it is proper to search, but I would offer a word of restraint in one’s being too dogmatic for his understanding.
“Chapter 21 of Genesis tells of the birth of Isaac, so it is not about elders and their qualifications. It does give an example of an inspired writer’s using the plural form of the word ‘child’ in reference to one son. Sarah said, ‘who would have said unto Abraham, tha t Sarah should have given children such? For I have borne him a son in his old age.’ She had only one child, and yet the word children is used in reference to this one. One of the brothers mentioned in Matthew 22:23-30 would have had children if he had one son. Note Matthew 22:24.
“If one visited my father sixty years ago in taking a school census and had said, ‘Do you have children who will be in school this fall?’ he would likely have said, ‘yes, I will have one boy in the second grade.’ Would that have been the correct answer? My father had only one child.
“There are several examples of the plural form of sons or children in referring to one child in the first few chapters of 1 Chronicles (e.g., 1 Chron. 1:41; 2:7, 31; 3:22; 4:13). It is my impression that the plural form – children – is used to refer to one or more. As a young preacher, I was convinced that an elder must have more than one child, but verses such as those listed above have changed my mind. I was wrong then or I am wrong at this time.
“I would not agitate and disturb the church to demand that it accept my understanding of the use of th word children. If the church in a given community could not agree to use an elder with one child, such a man would be defeated before he began his work. There is often a closed mind on this and several other matters concerning elders, and many churches have suffered much from bitter friction.
“I hope my remarks may help some and do no more harm at all. Let the church be spared anguish and bitterness.”
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 5, p. 143
March 7, 1985