Author’s note: My faith is in Jesus Christ; therefore, I must rest in the Scriptures, which are inspired by God, inerrant, absolutely authoritative, and utterly sufficient. I am convinced the issues churches and individual Christians are facing today, including the controversies, could been null and void if we would only submit to the word. For that reason, I am blogging through Paul’s letter to Titus. You can find all of the posts in this series here.
The first post served as an introduction to this series and began to address the opening section of the letter, Paul’s introduction and greeting in Titus 1:1–4. Specifically, I wrote about Paul’s authorship, his statement of being a slave of God, and his affirmation of his own status as an apostle of Jesus Christ. As we continue, here is that text again, Titus 1:1–4 (NASB):
1 Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3 but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior,
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
Ask your average attender of a modern evangelical church what the purpose of the church is and you might get as many answers as there are people whom you ask. Hopefully part of the answer includes something about the propagation of the gospel, the only means by which sinners are saved.
The content of the gospel of Jesus Christ – what it is and is not – will be the subject of one or more future posts in this series; however, in looking at Titus 1:1 we see the purpose of the church boiled down to rudimentary basics.
Paul introduces his letter by calling himself God’s slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Implied in that is obedience to what God desires and has decreed, and the reality that as those who have been freed from sin to become slaves of righteousness, we are His ambassadors, the plenipotentiaries of the Lord, to carry His message to the world. Yet, how is that accomplished?
“Evangelism” is the answer, right? But what constitutes evangelism is a matter of far too much debate nowadays. Some believe the church’s goal, or at least one of them, is to redeem the culture, such that those outside the church will come to see how much greater Jesus is and come to Him. That is a laudable aspiration, but misguided.
If you really want to get down to the brass tacks, the objective of the church’s mission is laid out very succinctly in verse one. It is “the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is in accordance with godliness.” Sadly, as I see it, this runs very much against the grain of modern evangelical churches – even a great many which would identify as conservative and with an inerrantist position on Scripture.
Pragmatism is an idol in churches. This is no secret, nor is it a problem that just crept upon us. It perhaps became more evident beginning in the 1980s with church growth movements. Churches poured money into facilities, programs, special events, special speakers, music, video, lights, drama. You name it. Churches looked at what people were being entertaining by and spending their money on and, in an effort to keep people coming and (with good intentions) get more people coming and exposed to the gospel, they found things that “worked,” copied them, and expanded upon them.
The church growth movement never really went away, but it did evolve in the 1990s and into the 2000s. As entertainment decentralized with the advent of mobile phones and other forms of technology, the meeting of the body of Christ at a specified location became increasingly decentralized. Sunday evening services began to sharply decline. Wednesday night Bible studies were replaced with other programs. An emphasis on small groups, most of the time based on age brackets and/or marriage status, took hold. And it much be noted, many bigger churches in America in particular began developing satellite locations, the idea being one church in several locations, and often one senior pastor in charge of them all.
What began to happen even before this, but was certainly exacerbated by the elevation of pragmatic church, was the deemphasis of the word of God. This was never stated, of course, but became the inevitable byproduct of man-made strategies (i.e., human wisdom) taking root and blossoming all over the evangelical spectrum.
In other words, people for the most part do not know the word of God. Nor do they read it regularly. Nor do they study it regularly. Nor do they yearn for it. And because they do not yearn for it, their pastors lace references to the word of God around self-help speeches often filled with humorous anecdotes and tear-jerking, emotional set pieces toward the end of a sermon geared toward getting a response.
The response is a day and age in which far too many professing Christians equate liking, sharing, or typing “Amen” to some Facebook post to standing firm in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We got to this point because many who say they trust in Jesus stopped taking Him at His word. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they saw the world and that it was desirable to make one palatable, and became dissatisfied with that which God has spoken.
Paul, though, was a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is in accordance with godliness.
The human priority of the church is the faith of those who make up the church. It is the faith of those chosen of God. It is the building up of the most holy faith of those who are now slaves of righteousness, who are the living stones being built up as a spiritual house (Rom 6:17–18; 1 Pet 2:4–5; Jude 20).
Don’t read what I’m not writing. I am not suggesting the church is supposed to be an enclave unto itself. On the contrary, when Jesus gave the Great Commission, the “Go” in “Go and make disciples” is best understood “as you are going.” That is to say, the Christian is to be in disciple-making mode as they are going about their lives all the time, so this is not a call toward an inward focus of the church at the expense of the world.
However, the job of pastors in particular is “the equipping of the saints [those chosen of God] for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). To use an analogy from nature, if the trunk of the tree isn’t strong and healthy the tree doesn’t stand much of a chance of branching out to bear good fruit. Peter wrote that judgment starts with the house of God, and Paul understood that he had to be about proclaiming the word of God so the people of God would be zealous for God and propagating the gospel of God.
To that end, the church needs a revival today when it comes to how we treat the word of God.
Can we truly say we view God the way the psalmist, probably David, did when he wrote, “My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word” (Ps 119:81)? Do we long for the word like this: “Oh how I love Your law! It is my mediation all the day” (Ps 119:97)? Many Christians know the tune “Thy Word” by Amy Grant. But do we really consider God’s word the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path (Ps 119:105)?
It was YHWH, the LORD, God Himself who said to Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).
Tragically, too many churches in America seem much more concerned with what is being taught in government-funded schools than what is being taught from their churches own pulpits – if the church even has a pulpit anymore. Thus, when the ravenous wolves creep within the church, disguised as angels of light, they are not recognized for what they are: instruments of Satan and the judgment of God. And if the pastor dares to speak against some sins, some sacred cows, or some popular false teacher or teaching… well, that pastor should start preparing his resume, because how dare he, and that’s unloving, and that’s not the way to grow a church.
On the contrary, Paul says in these few words that godliness is inextricably bound to the knowledge of the truth. So if you profess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, if you claim He has saved you from the penalty of your sins, and if you call God “Father” as an adopted son or daughter, then you better be all about the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient word.
Allegations of bibliolatry (turning the Bible into an idol) sometimes come from religious camps that have already turned or are turning away from Scripture. However, it is impossible to turn the Bible into an idol. It is impossible to take God’s word too seriously. After all, God Himself has magnified His word “according to all [His] name” (Ps 138:2); that is, how you treat God’s word is how you are treating Him.
So are you for the faith of those chosen of God? How high a value do you place on the knowledge of the truth which is in accordance with godliness?
Churches must be focused on equipping believers to go and make disciples, and that cannot happen with a bedrock commitment to the Bible.
It is my aspiration to please God by being thoroughly biblical, thoroughly obedient to His revelation, in all I do. That means for the rest of this series through Paul’s letter to Titus I may (will) write some things which are antithetical not only to the way the world views things, but the way many professing Christians and churches are going about things. I hope that you will continue reading and, when those times come, you will be a Berean and search the Scriptures to see if the things I’m writing are true (Acts 17:11).
In the next post I will take a half-step back to think through what it means to be “chosen of God.”