In Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul lays out some protocol for those in Titus’ pastoral care. In verses 1 & 2 of chapter 3, Paul exhorts Titus to “remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” As an evangelical who edges closer to confessional Christianity each passing day, I affirm the authority of Scripture to determine faith and practice. So let’s look at the context in which this exhortation is given.
In the beginning of the book, Paul lays out the means by which anyone is a leader in the Church at all: the Gospel. We read,
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…
This is the apostle’s delcaration of the purpose of his ministry. When he speaks of the promise that has been before the ages, he is addressing the promise of the coming of Christ and the true Gospel which delcares salvation by faith in Christ alone. Paul’s very ministry is reinforced solely by the Gospel, evidenced by his use of “being at the proper time manifested in his word” etc. The means by which this Gospel is proclaimed is through the “preaching with which [he] has been entrusted,” the substance of which is given in other letters such as 1 Cor. 15, Ephesians 1-2, the entire book of Galatians and so on. In other words, Paul’s specific message is well-documented, namely the Gospel and its implications.
Paul then moves on to listing qualifications for overseers in Titus 1:5-16. The qualifications are well-known, but two of them I will reference for the purposes of this post.
First, a word about the phrase “above reproach.” This is a commonly misunderstood phrase, often taken as a standalone command. Taken in context, however, it would seem to be that Paul then goes on to define what “above reproach” actually means, one of which is to be free from arrogance. The other is to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
The word, as taught by the apostles, is given for us in Scripture. All of our actions must be correctable by Scripture. If someone comes to me and, in context, provides proof that I am causing problems in teaching doctrines of demons or stirring up weak women, then I must repent. If instead I am faulted for upholding the demands of Scripture, namely that every opinion, including my own, would be held up to the light of Scripture and repentance and the forgiveness of sins would be preached and offered for every thought not captive, then that fault is completely groundless.
“Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). This is an interesting statement. It calls those in the office of overseer to give instruction not in being nice or keeping the status quo, but in sound doctrine. Evangelicals Protestants are, by definition, to hold to the view of sola Scriptura. Any traditions which are binding are traditions found specifically in the pages of Scripture. Any distinctive, denominationally or congregationally, must be evaluated in the light of Scripture.
If you’re an elder at your church, are you more concerned about unity around relationship or the gospel? If both are important, are they of equal importance? The text here doesn’t indicate that they are of equal importance.
This is vital to the wellbeing of the church, both as a whole and in regard to its individual members. We are, after all, a family. But around what is our relationship to be centered? Keeping people happy? Avoiding the appearance of evil, per 1 Thessalonians 5:22, for the sake of gossipers?
Nowhere in Scripture do we see where Paul tells us to keep people happy. And nowhere does Paul say that we are to flee evil appearances, not even in 1 Thess. 5:22…he instead instructs us to abstain from every kind of evil. In fact Paul tell Timothy to “preach the gospel; in season and out of season. This means that even if it is unpopular, if people are offended, or if it is uncomfortable, we are still charged as Christians to hold the gospel paramount.
Paul continues in Chapter 2, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” This comes on the heels of qualifications for elders we have already discovered. Remember, there are no chapter divisions in the original text. They were added much later so that we could easily reference them and they are often fairly arbitrary in their placement. What is the sound doctrine? The Gospel! Remember back in 1:3: “…and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior”?
The gospel, succintly expressed, is that Christ, acting outside of me, apart from my will, died for me in history and that he rose again, giving me his righteousness which covers me like a robe would. His righteousness is always and always will be alien to (outside of) me.
So if the elders are not proclaiming Christ and Him crucified for our sins and are instead neglecting that teaching, opting for preaching of things which are more in fashion to their congregants’ ears such as women’s rights, abortion rights, environmental concerns, creation care or origin of species, then they are NOT fulfilling the qualifications set forth in Titus 1 & 2.
If the above qualifications are not met, dear Christian, then Titus 3:1-2 cannot be claimed by anyone in order to get a member of a congregation to fall in line with the desires of said elder(s). The three most important rules of biblical interpretation are context, context and context. If a group of people are appointed to be elders by a congregation but fail to proclaim the message Christ has given us to proclaim according to Scripture (Luke 24:47, 1 Cor. 15, Ephesians 1 & 2, etc.), then as a result, those elders lose any biblical authority to speak.
If we are evangelicals of the Reformation, then we hold to Sola scriptura. This means we are not free to speak ex cathedra about the opinions of a group of men calling themselves elders. That board of men being at peace with this or that decision or action does not a Scriptural decision make. Sometimes, there are things Scripture does not speak to. In those instances, calls of fair or foul may be made. In instances of gossip or of preaching, or of any other action or condition to which the Scriptures speak, then they must proclaim only what Scripture deems meet and right to do.
Furthermore, in Titus 3:10-11, we read: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” But what is the context of this verse? Who is it who causes division?
The answer lies in Titus 3:9…and, by extension, back at 2:1. If anyone gets involved in disputes about the law which are foolish and are NOT teaching in accord with sound doctrine, then they are causing division.
Those who fail to teach the Gospel, regardless of their title, are the ones who are divisive.
The good news here is that Christ died for disobedience against Him. Christ died for the disobedience of those who love the Church…me, you, anyone who is called a leader, pastor or layman. Repent and believe that good news.
Elder problem? This is mostly good, true stuff, though I would question your contextual reference of Titus 3:9 in limiting this to foolish controversies about the law. It says, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” It encompasses more than just disputes about the law, especially when considered along with 3:1 and 2, which highlights a proper attitude of humility, including “to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
Agreed…my point was not to limit the scope. Rather, it was to specifically identify the content. We are to be gentle in terms of the Gospel…and to contend for it. This can, should and must be done by showing courtesy…but that doesn’t mean we continually allow “niceness” to determine what we do…rather, we let the Gospel do that.
I’m curious why it is so important to uphold a Gospel that suggests that Christ never acts inside of you in your life. Additionally, your latest synopsis seems to depart from the Scriptures in that it requires NOTHING of you whatsoever, not even a question of you placing your trust in Christ. There is no question of you even so much reaching for the fringe of His garment or stretching out your voice to Him. By this summary, we have absolutely no invitation to participate at all in what Christ is doing, even by consent. Additionally, such a teaching suggests that God offers His righteousness to either a) absolutely everyone even if they patently refuse it or b) some anonymous group that cannot be identified through any criteria.
I offer these observations because a) you have expressed concerns about sound doctrine in this post and b) I’m not sure you would say something like expressing belief in Christ is wholly unnecessary because God’s gift is absolutely arbitrary.
If it happens in my life (my trust, my acceptance of Christ, etc), it isn’t the Gospel. It’s a FRUIT of the Gospel, but it’s not the Gospel itself. That’s where I draw a hard line because that’s where I see Scripture drawing a hard line.
Any participation (which is, of course a fruit which comes from the regenerated life) is strictly that…fruit. Not a component. Expressing belief in Christ is most certainly important as a FRUIT of regeneration.
I guess I see sort of what you’re saying, but I cannot help but feel like you separate the fruit from the vine or the soil from the seed. The fruit lives in union with the vine, receives its nourishment from the vine. But equally, the soil matters.
Our choice to engage with the face of Christ is just as much the Gospel and His choice to engage with us. The fishermen and the Pharisees had different responses. “Come follow Me” is the Gospel, same with “Take up your cross.”
But interestingly, your summary of the Gospel also speaks nothing of regeneration. Your Gospel seems almost wholly restricted to approximately 0-33AD. Yes, the Gospel is a historical reality, but Christ as the Transcendent, Ever-Existing One encompasses so much more.
I would consider regeneration to be a fruit of the preaching of the Gospel…faith comes by hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ. I’d also direct you to my friend Aaron Gardner’s recent post on the same topic: http://wp.me/pttRS-Pk
So what then do you possibly do when you encounter someone who continues to live a life marked by persistent and destructive sin without any indication of repentance? The old adage is “I love to sin, God loves to forgive, it’s a wonderful arrangement.”
Christ does not leave us dead in our transgressions but raises us to newness of life. His work of Resurrection cannot be described as mere “fruit” of the Gospel; it is at the core of the message.
He is the Incarnate God. He takes on our human flesh. The Gospel does wear flesh and acts within it. Yes, Christ is wholly unique; but equally, Christ is wholly accessible to us. We cannot grasp the essence of Christ, yet we do encounter His energies (the concept of essence and energies comes from the Cappadocian Fathers).
To put things another way, Christ work does not strike me as unidirectional. He will work from the outside-in as much from the inside-out. Somewhere, deeply embedded in each and every person in a way that I can never understand, is the image and likeness of God.
The Gospel does indeed wear flesh. Christ’s. Not mine.
If Christ also remains wholly outside of us, then how did He dwell in Mary’s womb? How does His willingness to dwell in her shape our response?
Mary is a special test case…nowhere in Scripture is the parallel drawn that you just presented. His willingness to be born of Mary shapes my response in worship that he came to give his life a ransom for many, which is his stated purpose. He lived to die and rise…to obey the law perfectly, in our place.
“It is not I who live but Christ who lives IN me.” St Paul letter to the Galatians, with emphasis added.
That is NOT the Gospel…it’s a FRUIT of the Gospel. I’m not denying the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the believer…but THAT isn’t the Gospel.
Your gospel creates no room for our response, whatsoever. Christ came into the world because someone consented to cooperate with God’s will that He would come. The gospel gets carried to the ends of the earth after Pentecost because someone consented to cooperate with God’s will that the message would be spread. Christ lay dead on a rock because someone put Him to death on the Cross even as His suffering is completely and wholly voluntary.
Whether someone believes that Christ is the Son of God who for our salvation lived, suffered, died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and will come again to judge the living and the dead does not change the fact that is who Christ is. He is Truth, He is Way, He is Life.
But your gospel points to nothing that allows Christ to work in us. You say that the Gospel must be applied to the hearer, but you have offered nothing to suggest why. If Christ effects nothing in us, then why do we even bother?
“Christ came into the world because someone consented to cooperate with God’s will that He would come”? That’s synergism. That’s not what Scripture teaches.
The Gospel creates the response in those who will believe. But the response is not part of the Gospel itself. It’s a fruit of the Gospel. Perhaps I can further explain this idea in a future post.
Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Christ never forces Himself upon anyone. He doesn’t barge in and take over, but He’ll woo us forever.
Look, I’ve never figured out Calvinism. Ever. Totally dead, totally depraved, God forces Himself onto whomsoever He wills while still making a selection so those He chooses appreciate being chosen. I know that you’re a Calvinist, through and through. But what I do not get is how any Calvinist engages in evangelism, positive dialog about human persons, or the dignity of choice. There’s no reason for any human person to do anything in response to the Gospel in Calvinist theology.
There’s nothing good in saying that fruit is awful, hideous and to be despised as it makes nothing manifest. There is no encouragement to enter the awful, aweful, terrifying, and liberating life of the Godhead. Perhaps you’ll show up at the judgment clothed in Christ’s righteousness (and I do pray for God’s Grace to cover all). Yet I pray that God’s grace can shine through you and your life as treasure in a humble vessel, I pray that Christ acts through you to save you and your hearers, I pray that the Spirit enlivens you and quickens you to do God’s will.
But it saddens me a great deal that I have to resolve your theology through Calvin than through Christ.
That isn’t an accurate summary of Calvinism. I’ve read very little of Calvin, if anything at all. Certainly nothing in the last five or six years.
So if you’d like to work through an accurate summary of the Gospel as presented apostolically, I’d be willing to do that.