Question TIme - Should elders discuss matters relating to oversight with their wives?
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Should elders discuss matters relating to oversight with their wives?
Before answering this interesting question there are a couple of matters that need to be clarified, even though it will not be possible to expand upon them. Firstly, whilst there are advantages in elders being married we must not assume that it is essential for them to be married, for marriage is not a pre-requisite to serving the Lord as an overseer. Secondly, apart from issues that are confidential, elders ought to share matters with the whole assembly and not just their wives.
Just after God made Adam he stated, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’, Gen. 2. 18. This was God’s pattern for all marriages, and the closeness of the husband/wife relationship is such that it is described in the scriptures as being ‘one flesh’. The wife is to be the intimate companion of her husband, in which she reciprocates his affections and takes an appropriate part in matters that concern him.
However, whilst the foregoing is a general principle, it has to be acknowledged that there will be times when the husband may not be at liberty to discuss matters with his wife. Of course, this scenario is not to be confused with his deliberately withholding something that he could, or should, legitimately discuss with her, but relates to matters where he is not permitted to divulge information. For example, there are several spheres of employment where husbands are duty bound not to disclose information to anyone, and, in these instances, no one would suggest that it violates God’s pattern for marriage.
Similarly, in the course of their work as elders, brethren will occasionally be privy to matters that cannot be shared with others. This may relate to something that a person, or even a family in the assembly, have confided to them. It may relate to an action that has to be taken but the details have to be withheld temporarily, until such time as it is correct to make them known more publicly. There are numerous situations that could arise for which information needs to be held confidentially by the overseers, and in those instances they ought not to share things with their wives.
Whilst those who champion a politically correct agenda might suggest it would be good to have a woman’s perspective on matters, our sole guide must be the word of God. The scriptures make it clear that the leadership of an assembly should only be taken by males who exhibit certain spiritual qualities. We do not read of female elders, nor are the wives of elders referred to as ‘associate elders’ or ‘co-elders’. Undoubtedly the wife of an overseer will desire to support her husband in every way she can but this will not mean that she has to be informed of everything. She may be conscious of him feeling the strain of the burden of the work; she will be aware of the times when he will be away from the home visiting needy saints; she will also know of times when he has ‘burned the midnight oil’ because of the care of the assembly. In all these situations she will do all she can to encourage and sustain him in his service for the Lord, for without this assistance his task would be far more onerous – but none of this vital support necessitates her husband telling her things that should be known only by the elders.
Where there is mutual trust, respect, and love in their marriage, an elder’s wife will readily accept her husband’s need to honour confidentiality. She will understand that the very nature of his service means that there will be times when he carries burdens he cannot tell her about. She will also appreciate that his withholding information is not an evidence of a lack of love for her, but of his care for the Lord’s people.
One reason why there ought to be a plurality of elders in an assembly is that, at times of stress when they would normally unburden themselves to their wives, they can count on the support of their fellow elders.