The Theologian - The internet journal for integrated theology


Titus 1:5-9

by Lee Gatiss


I was fascinated a week or so ago (October 2002), to find this article in the Church Times: “In Praise of Openness”.  It is by former Prime Minister John Major, and it extols the virtues of open government – the idea that Governments should tell the truth, and not keep secrets from the electorate.

The Church Times have printed this article with an ironic and quite sarcastic sub-title:  “Keeping things from people leads to cynicism, argues John Major.”  Why is that ironic?  Because the caption underneath the picture reads, “John Major wrote this piece before his affair with Edwina Currie became public.”

Yes, John Major himself had kept things from people.  He had kept his affair with another Government minister secret from the public and, of course, from his wife.  He praises openness for Governments, but he obviously didn't consider it so important for him.

This is interesting because it shows us something about human nature.  It shows us that we have double standards.  Time and again we are told that the personal private life of our public figures has no bearing at all on their ability to do their jobs.  So if a Government minister has cheated on his wife we shouldn't worry – it doesn't mean he is lying to us about his election promises... But in reality, sooner or later what a man is in private, he will be in public.

But this article by an adulterer praising openness, shows us how easy it is to be a hypocrite.

We can say one thing and do another.  We can have one standard for ourselves and another for everyone else.  This doesn't just apply to our political leaders of course.  It applies to every one of us.  How difficult it is to avoid the accusation of hypocrisy.

All of this has an important bearing on the passage from Titus chapter 1 that we have just read.  The apostle Paul writes to his co-worker Titus and addresses this very question of public-private morality and talks about the qualities necessary for leaders in the Church.

We're going to look at Titus 1:5-9 under three headings.  First we need to establish what an elder is in verse 5.  When we've done that we'll look more closely at the consistent lifestyle of a church leader, and then the teaching role of a church leader.

So let's dive in at verse 5 of Titus 1.

Paul writes:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

So, Paul tells us the reason for the letter.  He's left Titus in Crete so he can finish up a few things that they left undone during their missionary work there.  What needed straightening out?

Well, they had planted churches in the towns and villages of Crete but those groups of Christians did not necessarily have a system of Christian leadership and pastoral oversight.

That is what Titus was to put in place.  He was to appoint “elders” or in verse 7 they are called “overseers”.  “Elders” means not that they are elderly, but that they are more mature believers charged with maintaining the spiritual well-being of the church.

We're not talking about a one-man band sort of ministry here, but a team ministry in every church.  It used to be the case that the vicar would do everything all on his own.  He would preach, teach, lead services, do the prayers, the readings, all the visiting, weddings, funerals, and administration.  But slowly over the last 50 years especially we have moved to a model where other people are involved with these things.

So now, we can have other believers as our housegroup leaders, our churchwardens, our PCC, our visiting team, and our children's church leaders.  And that's as it should be.  Because it is not biblical to have the clergy doing everything.  Leadership of the church is a team job, not just the Vicar's job.

What is envisaged in the Bible is a group of men together taking overall responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the local church.  Women are involved too, of course, but the Bible says that it is especially the men who will answer to God on the last day for the way in which their church was led.

And it's talking about local people too, not someone who is shipped in for 3 years or 10 years.  Such people are more like Titus himself, short-stay missionaries who are imported for a few years to equip and train and to make sure things are going along as they should.  The church in Crete was not ultimately the responsibility of Titus – he would soon move on.  His job was to teach it well and ensure that the right kind of leadership was in place.

So that's what Titus was to do in Crete.  He'd been left behind by the Apostle Paul in order to appoint the right people for this important work.  But what does a church leader look like according to Paul?  What kind of men should Titus choose and appoint and equip and train?  Let's look now at the consistent lifestyle of a church leader.  The consistent lifestyle of a church leader.  Cast your eyes again over verses 6-8...

What does a church leader – not just a curate or a vicar, but any church leader - look like according to this?

First, they must be blameless.  The word means someone who is above reproach, someone of unquestioned integrity and consistency, someone of irreproachable character.  Not perfect.  It doesn't say you have to be perfect, because that's impossible of course.  But if there's someone who's motives and actions and words are constantly suspect or inconsistent – that person is not to be appointed to any level of church leadership, whether as a Sunday school teacher or an Archbishop.

Then it says an elder must be literally, “a one-woman man”.  That doesn't rule out singles, it just means that if a church leader is married he must be faithfully married.  And he must have faithful children – Paul doesn't literally mean that the children must be sound converted believers “or else”, but he is saying (as he says elsewhere) that if someone cannot run their own household very well then they should not be put in charge of God's household.

Then there's this list of negatives in verse 7.  An overseer, someone who oversees the church, must be blameless, and not overbearing.  He mustn't be a bully, someone who is stubborn or arrogant.

Not quick-tempered – he mustn't fly off the handle whenever someone makes a comment or when something goes wrong.  Not given to drunkenness – he mustn't reach for the whiskey or run for the pub every night to drown his sorrows at the hard work of looking after God's people.

Not violent – there mustn't even be a hint of physical intimidation about the way an elder leads.  Not pursuing dishonest gain – money should not be the motivation of a church leader.  After all, it's about serving the Christ who himself served us by giving up the riches of heaven to die in poverty for us.

So that's what the overseer or elder must not be.  What about verse 8?   Rather, he must be hospitable – church leaders should have good personal relationships with people.  They should have friendly welcoming households.

One who loves what is good – not someone who takes delight in evil.

Self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined – church leaders need to have these qualities if they are to do the hard work in children's church or on the PCC.  Homegroup leaders need to be disciplined if they are to set aside the right amount of time to prepare for their Bible studies or carve out time to visit someone who is struggling.  They need to have a measured temperament, and be good upright law-abiding citizens.

In other words, according to verses 6-8, church leaders must be mature Christian believers with mature Christian characters who live publicly unimpeachable lives.  If someone does not exhibit such characteristics, Titus is told not to even consider them as church leaders.  Without these qualities they are not even eligible for consideration.

Because the lives of our church leaders must not contradict their teaching.  We're not to be like dishonest politicians, extolling openness and family values in public while destroying such things with our actions.  What we say to kids or to others about living godly lives in response to God's grace must chime in perfectly with how we ourselves do actually live.  And that's an especially important characteristic for a church leader.  Christian leaders at every level need to avoid the charge of hypocrisy.

So we've looked at the consistent lifestyle of the church leader.  Now let's look at the teaching role of the church leader.  The teaching role of the church leader.  Let's read verse 9 again:

He 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 is how a church leader leads.  And the first requirement is that he must believe the gospel as it has been handed on.

It's the trustworthy message that Paul and Titus preached, which is the touchstone of faith.  In the gospel, God reveals what he is like.  He reveals who he is and what he has done for us in Christ.  So the first requirement for any church leader at any level whether in Children's Church or Lambeth Palace is that they should know the gospel and be able to explain it to others.  They should believe and hold firmly to the gospel as it has been taught.

That's not as simple as it sounds.  Because Paul doesn't just say they must have “a gospel”.  No, they must know the gospel – the one that was handed down from Jesus to Paul to Titus and then preached to us.

The gospel we have written down for us in Scripture.  The gospel which tells us (according to Titus 3:4) of how out of kindness God saves us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy.

It's not a gospel we're at liberty to change whenever the circumstances seem to demand it.  We are not free to water down the unpalatable truths of Scripture whenever we feel like it, especially if we want to be church leaders.  No, we don't invent our own ways of looking at God.  We must hold firmly to the gospel as it has been handed down to us in the Bible.

Why is that?  Well, for a start it's because only knowing the authentic biblical gospel will produce the upright consistent lifestyle of verse 6-8.  The gospel changes us, not the other way around.

But also, church leaders must hold firmly to the gospel because that's their job.  They must, according to verse 9 encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.  Church leaders encourage their congregations by teaching them sound doctrine – that is, teaching what is healthy and good and life-giving.

If we don't actually believe the gospel as it has been handed down to us in the Bible, then how are we going to teach it to others?  And what if we know it and can state it but don't actually believe it ourselves?  Well, then we won't be willing or able to refute or answer people who oppose it.

And this is where this passage really bites today.  Because the powers that be have just appointed a new Archbishop of Canterbury.  By all accounts he's a very nice man, a very clever man.

But I am very sad to say that he is not a man who believes the gospel as it has been handed down.  And Titus 1 doesn't say, “appoint a nice clever man”.  It says “appoint someone who knows the gospel, believes the gospel, teaches the gospel, and refutes those who oppose the gospel.”

Rowan Williams is like John Major.  Not that he's had an affair with Edwina Currie!  No, they are similar in that they both say one thing but mean another.  Let me explain what I mean.

Rowan Williams does not believe that God has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ, or in the Bible.  He says in one of his books that God cannot communicate to us at all because God is like a screaming baby or “a spastic child who can communicate nothing but his presence.” (Open To Judgment page 145).  Those are his words.  In the same book he says that the people who wrote the Bible misunderstood and misread what God was trying to say.

So it's no wonder he feels free to pick and choose which bits he likes.  In the evenings here we're preaching through the last book in the Bible.  But the Archbishop says this contains “page after page of paranoid fantasy and malice,”  “ugly and diseased elements”, “disorder,” “madness,” and “rantings.” He even says that as Christians we don't have to believe or endorse what this book says (Open To Judgment pages 112-116).

So it's no wonder that Rowan Williams can dismiss the ethical and moral teaching of the Bible whenever he doesn't like it, or whenever it does not chime in with what he feels people today would like.  It's no wonder he teaches in his lecture published with the title The Body's Grace that sex before marriage can be a good thing, or that sex between two men or two women is not always wrong.

That sex before marriage and homosexual practice are inherently sinful is clearly taught in the Old and New Testaments.  It has always been gently but firmly taught by the Christian Church in all ages.  But Dr. Williams is a clever man, and a nice man, who doesn't agree with the Bible.

Why is Rowan Williams like John Major?  John Major says here that he believes in openness, but he didn't really mean it when it applied to him.  Well, in the service where he is made Archbishop, Rowan Williams will say (I've got the service book here), “I declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the holy Scriptures.”  He will affirm that the Scriptures reveal the way of salvation, that he believes the doctrine of the Christian faith and that he will expound and teach it.

But, he has already declared time and time again that he does not hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, and that in fact he believes the Bible is wrong on many points.  So, regretfully, we have to ask, how can he make such promises and declarations with the integrity required of a Christian leader?

He believes that a homosexual lifestyle is a valid Christian option for some people.  He has said so many times, and he has even ordained a practicing homosexual to be a vicar.  So how can he also tell the other Anglican Archbishops around the world that he will uphold the decision of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops 4 years ago not to do or teach such things?  How can he claim that his views on this matter are just private opinions that will not interfere with his public duties?

Does it sound to you like he is saying one thing and doing another?  It does to me too.

So the next Archbishop of Canterbury is very much like the former Prime Minister.  They make this clear divide between private views and public duties.  They both appear to say one thing but mean another.

How different from the Bible's picture of the church leader here in Titus 1:5-9.  He's not perfect, but he's consistent.  He believes the gospel, teaches the gospel, lives the gospel, and refutes those who oppose the gospel as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures.

If you're wondering why I feel it necessary to speak about Rowan Williams this morning then that's because this passage I have been given to preach on forces me to do it.  If I am to be a good overseer, I too must refute those who oppose the gospel.  It is my duty to warn you about these things.

I have tried to do that as carefully, clearly, and courteously as possible.  When I was ordained I promised to give due respect to Church of England authorities.  But my duty to you as a pastor and my duty to God as a preacher must come first.

Perhaps I could lose my job for saying such things about the man who wants to be Archbishop of Canterbury.  But every week I stand here and encourage you to put God first at home and at work no matter how difficult or painful or inconvenient it might be.  If I said nothing about Rowan Williams just because I was worried about my job or my future, then why should you listen to me anymore?

“If I said nothing about Rowan Williams just because I was worried about my job or my future, then why should you listen to me anymore?”

The error is public, so it must be addressed in public.  Rowan Williams has led people to believe that the Church has changed its mind about the Bible as God's word.

And people now think that Jesus says it's OK to live a gay lifestyle or to sleep with someone before marriage, because “well, that's what the new Archbishop of Canterbury says, isn't it?”

But it's not OK.  The truth is that Jesus died on a cross so that we could be forgiven for those things.  He took the punishment we deserve from God for all such rebellion against him.  He died so that we could be truly free, truly clean, and truly different from the world.

He died so that we can live a new life, saying “no” to ungodliness and a life controlled by our own selfish passions and desires, and “yes” to God while we wait for his Son to return and take us to be with him in Paradise forever.

That's the gospel.  Let's not trade it in for a downgraded model, but hold to it firmly.


Let's pray…


Click Here to read more on Rowan Williams

Lee GatissAbout the Author

Lee Gatiss is the editor of The Theologian and Associate Minister at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate. When this sermon was preached he was a Curate in Northamptonshire and Rowan Williams had just been appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lee is also the author of The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection and Persecution of the Puritans (London: Latimer Trust, 2007).