TITUS: Right Doctrine Matters
TITUS, WEEK ONE: RIGHT LEADERSHIP
Over the past several weeks, we wrestled with how we take a biblical approach to common problems facing all of us: disappointments, discouragement, and doubts. There’s a lot of emotion that goes along with those struggles, and the origins of those struggles are as unique as the number of people in this room. I hope you found the series helpful. You can find transcripts of those messages on our website, byhaliaumc.org.
This morning I want to turn our attention to a little book of the New Testament that often gets overlooked: TITUS. While the content and life-lessons may not be as emotive as the previous series, the impact on the church and the world around us can be quite profound.
Let me begin with a series of questions:
- Do you think that having certain beliefs about the nature of God, humans, salvation, grace, good works, etc. matter? Or can we choose to believe what we want without consequences?
- What DO you believe? And on what basis do you believe what you believe?
- How do your beliefs truly shape your behavior? OR…do your actions (and the actions of those around you) shape your beliefs?
Why is all of that so important? Can’t we just come to church, hear a sermon that makes us feel better, and go home? (sometimes, but not usually.) Every generation of Christians faced these and other questions, we are no different. But perhaps never in the history of Christianity has the church been in such a crisis (to borrow a phrase from professor and author, Dr. Billy Abraham) of “doctrinal amnesia.” He was speaking about the United Methodist Church, but it could be applied to any church, I believe.
In an effort to become more relevant, pastors and churches have focused more on ways to attract new crowds than on WHAT truth God would have the church hear and respond to. People respond to positive messages that everything is going to be okay…and, because of Jesus, everything WILL be okay for the believer and follower of Christ. People are less interested in hearing about the nature of sin and the importance of repentance, the significance of the incarnation of Christ and the implication of grace in our daily lives.
Nonetheless, if we choose to avoid the topics of right leadership vs. wrong leadership, right teaching vs. false teaching, and right living vs. ungodliness, then we might as well avoid most of the NT letters like those to the Corinthians, Timothy, Galatians, and Titus to name a few.
And since we are not in the habit of eliminating books of the Bible, I would like to offer a three-week series on the book of Titus to see what it has to teach us about the nature of right doctrine, right leadership, and right living.
Since it’s a short book, we are going to read one chapter each week. If you have your Bibles handy, turn with me to the book of Titus. It’s wedged between the letters to Timothy and the little one chapter letter to Philemon. In some ways, it’s like Titus is there to the right of Paul’s letters to Timothy to prop it up; but I’m glad it’s in our canon of Scripture. [READ TITUS 1]
Do ya’ll remember one of the first rules to reading and learning any written material? Ask basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? And Why? Let’s do a quick overview of Titus.
Who? Paul is writing to Titus, his “true son in our common faith,” as he puts it. Paul had led young Titus, a (non-Jewish) Greek to faith in Jesus Christ. Titus is not mentioned in Acts, but he IS mentioned 13 times in the NT.
He was a traveling companion of Paul’s who went with him and Barnabas from Antioch to Jerusalem to show the apostles and other Jewish believers how an uncircumcised Greek, non-Jew could love God just as much as they did and be considered part of the family of God.
Apparently, Titus was quite trustworthy and responsible, since he was the one who had been entrusted to deliver the rather severe first letter to the Corinthian churches AND to complete the collection of their gifts for God’s people in Jerusalem.
After Paul was released from house arrest the first time, he and Titus worked together on the island of Crete and was left to continue in that work after Paul left.
When? Around A.D. 62-63 between Paul’s first and second incarceration. (Paul was executed somewhere between A.D. 64-67.)
Where? Paul is writing from Macedonia to Titus on the island of Crete. Crete is the 4th largest island in the Mediterranean Sea known for a low level of morality as proclaimed by one of Crete’s own prophets: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12).
What? Paul is giving authorization and instruction about establishing leadership in these newly established island churches as well as reminding him of what Christian living looks like.
Why? I love it when the book answers itself. In verse 5, Paul writes, The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint (ordain) elders in every town, as I directed you.
As we dig into this first chapter, I want to begin with a couple of definitions. The first is “doctrine.” In describing the qualification for elder, Paul makes this statement in Titus 1:9àHe must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. The Greek word used here, didaskalia, is used 11 times in the entire NT, with seven in Paul’s letters to Timothy (a more thorough exhortation for sound doctrine) and three times in Titus.
Didaskalia means teaching or doctrine. More specifically, it means established teaching, viewed as reliable, time-honored). Sound Doctrine comes FROM God and is ABOUT God for the GLORY of God. Though the triune God is the ultimate source of doctrine, He has chosen to minister doctrine to us through His prophets and Apostles in Holy Scripture.
Until the day when God speaks to us face-to-face in His eternal kingdom, Holy Scripture is the source and norm of sound doctrine. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 says this: 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the servant of God a may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The nature of this teaching to which Paul is encouraging elders to cling to and encourage others with is in a word—Christology: the incarnational nature of God in the Person of Jesus Christ that transforms people to life of godliness.
Notice the opening line of this letter: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. Later in chapter 2, Paul reiterates that the grace of God has appeared which offers salvation to all people and this gospel “teaches” us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions. He goes on to elaborate by saying this appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, is Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness. And finally, in chapter 3, Paul states again that when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
Do you see it? Three different times Paul teaches us that it is the manifest presence of God through the saving work of Jesus Christ that is the SOUND DOCTRINE that needs to be taught.
Let’s contrast that with another word that is NOT in Titus but may well describe the kind of false teaching Paul is concerned about: Heresy. What is heresy? According to an article in Crosswalk.com, Pastor Mike Leake describes heresy as the choice to abandon the widely accepted teaching on an essential doctrine and embrace one’s own view. Heresy is to “preach another gospel”, as Paul stated in Galatians 1:9. It is heretical because it is teaching which has abandoned the “pattern of sound teaching”.
Paul describes the kinds of people engaged in false or inaccurate teaching within the church as “rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group.” A more formal title for the circumcision group could be “Judaizers,” who were okay with non-Jewish converts to Christianity so long as these new Gentile converts followed Jewish law and practices.
But when these Gentile believers made claim to be in the family of God and receive the promises given to Israel, the Judaizers were less than pleased! They tried to persuade churches to adopt Jewish practices in order to be “real Christians.” Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a scathing assault against those “mutilators of the flesh.”
Apparently on the island of Crete, they experienced this kind of teaching, too, because Paul is warning Titus to silence that bunch and sharply rebuke folks within the church who are starting to accept Jewish myths. These folks claim to know God, but by their actions deny him.
Sound teaching…teaching on the nature and character of our triune God, his grace in offering salvation to all people through the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, is central not only to faith in God but also in godly living. The former informs the latter. The gospel is the basis for Christian ethics. We will spend more time on this subject next week.
Paul has written to Titus encouraging him to “put in order” what was “left unfinished.” Unlike the churches in Ephesus where Timothy was the under-shepherd, Crete contained newer church plants that did not have established leadership yet. It was VITAL that the right men were ordained or appointed to lead these churches.
Now. Let’s deal with the 600 lb. gorilla in the room. No, not Bob Alberson! (jk dude!) Let’s talk about this passage regarding the qualifications for elder. I’ll read it again. It is this passage, along with the one from 1 Timothy 3:1-7, that many churches use as criterion for pastoral leadership. And clearly, such leadership is in view here.
But what if such qualifications were NOT limited to those who have the title, “Rev.” or “Pastor” in front of their names? What if these qualifications were used for all those who help guide over the local church?
In Titus, the Greek word for such a leader is in the adjective form, presbuterous, which means, a mature man having seasoned judgment/experience; an elder. In antiquity, elders where members of the Jewish Sanhedrin or of the Christian community, and they were always men. Why is that? Well, in what kind of society was Paul and Titus living? Patriarchal. Women had little, if any, leadership in Jewish or Greek-Hellenistic societies. It’s no wonder that women would not have been considered for the position of elder.
In Timothy, Paul uses the Greek word, episkopay, which means “to look intently on, to oversee, to supervise.” The qualifications for “overseer” in 1 Timothy are very similar to those of Titus; and that’s because these two offices are interchangeable.
We could debate till the cows come home whether or not men should be the only ones qualified to hold the office of elder in a church (whether that be pastor only, or pastor AND church council of elders). To me, this is a secondary issue. I’m currently reading a book on how to interpret scripture in light of today’s culture. What truths transcend cultural and time, and what truths are bound within them? It can be tricky. To be honest, there are some passages that I’m not quite sure about. Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-9 are two of them.
But what I do believe…and what I do think transcends time and culture with respect to his passage are the actual character issues called into question. Let’s look at these for a second:
- Blamelessà The Timothy passage says, “above reproach.” This is a primary characteristic that summarizes all the rest. I think that’s why it is listed first. To be above reproach means that there should be no legitimate accusation that could be brought against the elder that would bring disrepute on the gospel or the church.
In February of this year, NBC reported that 220 Southern Baptist pastors, ministers, deacons, volunteers, Sunday school teachers and others were found guilty of sexually abusing over 700 churchgoers for more than 20 years. Many high-profile, mega-church pastors have found themselves accused of different kind of scandals. Most notably: Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, and most recently, James McDonald.
When leaders in the church engage in any activity that can hinder the proclamation of the gospel or the prospects of others responding to God’s grace, then we have a problem. As the leader goes, so goes the church. [BY CASTING CROWNS-- It's a slow fade when you give yourself away, It's a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray, And thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid. When you give yourself away, People never crumble in a day, It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade]
- Faithful to his wifeàI’m using the NIV, but in the ESV and other translations it reads, a husband of one wife. Does this exclude divorcees from church eldership? Many denominations interpret it that way. Others regard individuals who were divorced for the biblically legitimate reason of adultery to still be qualified so long as they are faithful to their current spouse. The key, I believe, is faithfulness. Do they take their marital covenant seriously?
- Children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedientà Scholars differ as to whether Paul is implying that a person somehow has the power to insure that their kids are saved in order to be qualified for overseer. Others see that Paul is suggesting that a household where the children are faithful to their parents and don’t give reason for the accusation that they are rowdy hellions.
- Blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Okay. I have my letter of resignation right here. (JK) But seriously, when Paul unpacks what he means by “blameless” with this descriptive list, I cringe. While I don’t drink (anymore) and don’t try to get your money, I can be quick-tempered and I like to shoot things! Okay, targets. I realize I can be overbearing at times. Am I not qualified as elder? How many in this room are also disqualified from top church leadership on this list alone? Let’s move on…
- Instead, he should be hospitable, loves what is good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. I think I fare a bit better in this list…but perhaps only a bit. [NOTE: the word self-controlled is used no less than 5 times in Titus! It must be important.]
- Finally, an elder must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, SO THAT he can encourage others by sound doctrine AND refute those who oppose it. This brings us back around to the importance sound teaching. Biblical teaching on the incarnational, salvific nature of our Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely the bedrock of the Christian community.
In July of 2016, Karen Oliveto of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church was wrongly and defiantly ordained as the first lesbian bishop. Later that year I preached a message on the Authority of Scripture being the primary divide between traditional, orthodox Wesleyan Methodists and liberal, progressive Methodists, NOT our beliefs about human sexuality. What we believe and teach matters, folks!
Another book I’m reading is called the Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism, by Dr. James Heidinger. He rightly argues for the failure of seminaries, denominational leadership, and clergy to adhere to and teach sound doctrine as the primary reason for a steady decline in membership. In the introduction, I found this great quote from the evangelical Anglican theologian, J.I. Packer: “Liberalism swept away entirely the gospel of supernatural redemption of sinners…It reduced grace to nature, divine revelation to human reflection, faith in Christ to following His example, and receiving new life to turning over a new leaf.”
So what? What does all this have to do with me, pastor? Glad you asked. Sound teaching of God’s divine Word has EVERYTHING to do with sound living. If we are careful in our attention to sound, biblical theological truth—ALONG WITH BELIEF IN AND A LOVE FOR JESUS AS OUR SAVIOR—then the natural outflow is a life of godliness.
Sound teaching has EVERYTHING to do with the state of the church now and advancement of God’s kingdom tomorrow! It goes without saying: “As the pastor goes, so goes the church.” But I contend that—"As other elders (overseers) of the church go (NOT just the paid ordained clergy) then so also goes the church!” We should ALL strive to live accordingly to Paul’s descriptive of godly leaders above reproach. Next week, we will look at what right living within the church looks like. [Hint: It’s involves a word I said was in this letter 5 times.] Let’s pray.