“He must 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. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” Titus 1:9-11
Two Things: Set the Church in Order and Appoint Elders
In Titus chapter 1 Paul lays out instructions for Titus to follow as he organizes the Cretan church. Titus, who is Paul’s “true child in the common faith” (Titus 1:4) is being presented with the commands of God in how He desires His church to be handled. God cares about His Word being properly handled as well as His church. Paul instructs Titus to “put what remained in order.” Here in verse 5 of chapter 1 we see God cares about the order of His church. The first matter of order is appointing qualified elders. Verses 5 thru 9 are necessary qualifications that Titus is to be aware of as he examines the Cretan regenerate men who will hold authority in the church. Titus is to choose qualified elders in every town. I imagine that the appointment of elders was crucial for the churches protection against false teachers and spiritual health.
Dual Purpose of Teaching Right Doctrine
In verse 9 we see a “must” statement. Other “must” statements are found in 1 Timothy chapter 3 pertaining to elders qualifications. Paul, by the inspiration of God, tells Titus that elders or overseers of the church “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.” In order to hold firm to the Word of God we must first have hearts which He has transformed, because the “natural man” cannot understand the things of God. Only those who are of the same Spirit of God can understand the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). How can a person hold firm to the Word of God without being taught it correctly? But first, how can a person be taught unless God has given them His Spirit to understand? Titus is on the lookout for men who have the Spirit, who have been taught the Word, and who hold firm to the Word. Why is this important? On the island of Crete there were many Jews who were teaching heretical doctrine (man’s commandments and Jewish myths) that caused confusion. Titus was to choose men who had a credible testimony of salvation, and had a tight grip on the Word of God. What do you see in your church today? Are there men who you voted into leadership who are genuine believers and who hold firm to the Word of God? How do we make good judgments about such leaders? The rest of verse 9 shows us that by holding firm to the Word these men are able to do two things:
1. teach healthy doctrine
2. rebuke those who try to contradict it
Does the Church Have the Right Leaders in Place?
The elders should be holding fast to the sound doctrine, the Word, by teaching it faithfully to equip others. This is similar to how Timothy was directed by Paul to “entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (1 Timothy 1:2). What Timothy was to entrust to faithful men was the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. Also having men who are teaching the sound Word fulfills the Great Commission by “teaching all what I’ve commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). If we want healthy churches, we will appoint men who are set apart in the church. The church should be able to distinguish these men from others because they are the watchers and caretakers of their spiritual diet. In the church at Crete needed God’s ordained structure for the church. God, through the pen of Paul, wrote out the blueprint for how His church was to be put in order. Elders were crucial to handle the “rebellious men,” the “empty talkers,” and the “deceivers.” In some churches today, we have a similar system; however, each office is defined in contrast to Scripture. In some Southern Baptist churches, deacons have been given the authority that, according to Scripture, only elders should have the right to possess. Deacons are men and women who are just as vital to the church as elders, but who carry out different responsibilities as assigned by Scripture. In some SBC churches, deacons are defined as having leadership roles; therefore, women are left out of being deacons. However, the Biblical role for deacons is that of a servant leader. They are not specifically described as teachers of the Word. In light of this, women are qualified to be deacons with the church. The unbiblical, traditional SBC model hurts the biblical complementarian view of gender roles in the church. The Biblical model shows us that women and men have distinct roles. God has ordained and designated certain men and women to meet qualifications as laid out in 1 Timothy 3 for elders (men) and deacons (men and women).
Don’t Recklessly Appoint Your Leaders
Let us be careful when we do things or name leaders just because their family is good tithers to the church. Beware of the leaders who inherit their deacon or elder status. Make sure that the men and women who are in leadership are qualified to be there. Pastors will have to give an account concerning their flock. I hope they have appointed leaders in a way that lines up with Scripture’s mandates while being fearful of God’s instruction. His way. Not ours. Now church polity isn’t my gospel, but I do believe that as Christians we must strive to honor God. Honoring His word is honoring Him. Churches who strive to honor God will honor His word. His word is sufficient for how to structure the church that brings Him glory. He knows how to bring himself glory. As Paul Washer said back during the G3 Conference, “His Church, His way.”
Posses the Word To Defend It
Christian, are you so familiar with the Scriptures that you could point out false doctrine if it were taught from the pulpit? Christian, is your pastor teaching you a Biblical gospel? If you entered the doors of a Mormon or Universalist “church” can you tell the difference between their false gospel and the Christian’s true gospel? When you hear false teaching, whether on the television, internet, or in your office, does it make you cringe? The false teachers in Crete were “upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain.” Has your church prepared you to know the difference between false teaching and Biblical teaching? In 1 Peter 3:15-17 we are taught to be ready to make a defense for the reason of the hope that is within us. This means that the gospel that is the power that brought us to salvation is the same gospel we need to be ready to defend. First, we must possess it if we want to defend it. There are many today in the church who try to defend a gospel they don’t hold firmly within their heart. Charles Spurgeon, the “prince of preachers,” once said in a lecture to his students to “take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others.” Also Richard Baxter in his book Reformed Pastor wrote, “Take heed to yourselves lest you should be void of that saving grace of God which you offer others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim the necessity of a Savior to the world, your hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits.” O, how trifling it would be to work in the ministry for 40 years and miss heaven because your ministry was your righteousness.
Working Out Right Doctrine in Church Community
Our work as Christians on earth is done in submission to the Lord not for admission into His family. As church members, we should be striving to ingest the Bible allowing it to shape our understanding of God. If we go elsewhere to develop our theology and neglect the Bible, then we may wind up being influenced by men or women who are teaching for “sordid gain.” This is where elders or pastors come in. Having multiple elders whom the body of believers trust allows for guidance, reproof, and accountability. The overseers of the church are to maintain the churches doctrinal integrity. Now if the Spirit is at work in your life as a church member, then you too should be aware and able to discern what is truth and what is a contradiction to truth. However, elders are designed as tools of affirmation and commendation. The purpose of churches having more than one or two elders is for the sake of congregational care. Having elders in the church spreads out the responsibilities amongst several men instead of one man. I believe that much of “pastoral burnout” has to do with churches who have unbiblical models. I believe if these churches were to transition to the New Testament model their pastors would be focusing more on what the Bible calls him to do instead of what the church culture says he ought to be doing. Hospital visits, home visits, mowing the lawn, cleaning the sanctuary, ordering flowers for funerals, organizing home meals list, etc. was never meant to be the pastors job. In the Bible, these are not even his two main responsibilities. If you want your church to be healthy you’ll spread the ministry tasks out correctly. The teaching elder will be about submitting to the study of the Word and in fervent prayer. The elders will take care of the church business, doctrinal fidelity, church discipline, and teach when needed. The deacons will serve by caring for those in need within the church. The church members will heed to the call to disciple those within the church, serve the community, encourage one another, pray for each other, and obey the Word. There are many more duties of elders, deacons, and church members, but I hope you see that the church’s ministry is to be divided to the whole Body. How else can the church be the body if we are not also the hands and feet?