Pastor Scott Andrews | September 5, 2021
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you are well-aware of the catastrophic events that have unfolded in Afghanistan over the past few weeks. After 20 years of fighting terrorists in the country, the US government made the unilateral decision to withdraw all American military forces from the country by August 31 – they did so at midnight on August 30 – last Monday. The idea, the hope, was the Afghan government and military was able to defend the country against such militants – namely, the Taliban. However, from the time the US withdrawal was announced, the Taliban seized control of the country in a few short weeks. The country’s capital fell on August 15 – with the Taliban declaring victory in the war. The debacle resulted in a massive airlift from the Kabul airport, which again lasted until Monday. It is estimated that over 120,000 people were airlifted, primarily US citizens, foreign nationals, and vulnerable Afghans – those who had helped the NATO forces during the 20-year war. Of course, during the evacuations, two suicide bombers in Kabul were responsible for the deaths of 13 American soldiers and over 90 Afghan citizens.
So now, the Taliban is back in control of the country. But, who is the Taliban? While they refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the word Taliban derives from the word talib, meaning student, and was formed as a radical Islamic military-political group in the Pashtun region of Afghanistan. They came to power in the mid-1990s, until they were forced out by US-led forces in the War on Terror in Afghanistan, begun at the end of 2001 following 9/11. I’m not going to get into all the geo-political issues of the Taliban – it’s beyond me. But it is the radical Islamic part that interests me.
You see, as a sect of Sunni Islam, the Taliban enforces a harsh and strict interpretation of Sharia Law. During their reign from 1996-2001, they committed massacres of Afghan citizens, denied UN food supplies, burned thousands of acres of fertile land, and tens of thousands of Afghan homes. Further, they prohibited any music using instruments, banned media using paintings and photographs, and any movies depicting people or living things. They prevented girls and young women from attending schools, women from working outside the home except for healthcare, and required women to wear burkas and always be accompanied in public by a male relative. Women who broke the rules were whipped publicly or executed. The list goes on – I think you get the idea. Interesting – as I was writing my sermon Friday, I glanced at the news, and a headline read, “Taliban spokesperson warns US not to interfere with their culture and treatment of women.”
Why do I bring this up today? Because the left-wing media and some in Hollywood are comparing conservative Christians to the Taliban. For example, MSNBC host Joy Reid said of the Taliban takeover, “This is the real-life Handmaid’s tale. A true cautionary tale for the US, which has our own far religious right dreaming of a theocracy that would impose a particular brand of Christianity, drive women from the workforce and solely into childbirth, and control all politics.”
Is that true? Well, I won’t pretend to speak for all conservative Christians, of which I am one, but is her statement, and others like it, true? By the way, Al Jazeera says the same thing. Is that what true Christianity seeks? Should conservative Christians be compared to the Taliban? Asked more clearly, do we act like the Taliban? Further, what kind of governing authority do Christian churches espouse, and how do we, how should we, biblically, treat women? Are we part of and seeking to create a dystopian society? It’s a big issue in the country today – in the church today. To be sure, Christian churches have not always governed well, and Christian men have not always treated women well, to our shame. These are issues of contemporary significance which need attention. Fortunately, we are not left to wonder – the Scripture is clear on the character of church leaders – and frankly, how that character should govern mutual treatment of one another – men and women. I hope to address these sensitive issues over the next couple of weeks.
You see, we are studying the book of Titus – one of Paul’s last letters to his son in the faith, his apostolic protegee to the Island of Crete. In the letter, he addresses things like church governing structure, false teachers, men and women in the church, and how the church should act in society. Are we to be the Taliban of the West? I shudder to think.
Let me say at the outset – because we are people of the Book – that is, the Word of God – and because we believe in morality – a morality our culture has largely dismissed or denied – they say we are immoral for holding moral positions and we are therefore seen as a backwards, bigoted, prejudiced, inflammatory, controlling, chauvinistic, out-of-touch, unloving people. But I would suggest, rightly applied, we are the people of God, controlled by the fruit of the Spirit, who want to live lives pleasing to God, loving Him and our neighbors as ourselves, and want lost people to come to faith in Jesus Christ and worship the true and the living God.
We believe to do so will bring people greatest joy and purpose and meaning and fulfillment, and will bring God greatest glory. To this, we are unabashedly committed. Does this mean we are out of lockstep with culture? To be sure. Does this mean we are a Christian Taliban? Most assuredly not. So, let’s read the text today, Titus 1:5-9.
Crete is a large island south of the Aegean Sea, to the southeast of Greece. Paul first came into contact with the island on his way to Rome as a prisoner aboard a ship. On its way, the ship stopped in a harbor called Fair Havens on the south side of Crete, then set sail for Phoenix, another harbor on the island. But they got caught in a storm and were pushed westward, where they shipwrecked on the island of Malta off Italy. Shortly thereafter, they made it to Rome.
After his 2-year imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28), tradition tells us Paul was released, where he traveled to the far western reaches of the Roman Empire, to include Spain. He also apparently made his way back to Crete with Titus, where they evangelized some of the many cities of the island. Paul left Titus in Crete to set in order what remains – apparently, to organize the churches, which included appointing elders in every city. He then gives the qualifications for elders in this text. This is the kind of man to look for as you appoint elders. Before we get to the qualifications, let’s consider what we can discern about elders from this and other texts. It’s kind of like a job description – the job title and what that means, followed by qualifications and duties.
First, the word elder is from the Greek word presbuteros. The first mention of the term elder in relation to the church is found, as you might expect, in the book of Acts – chapter 11. Without explanation, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas were sent with a gift from the church in Antioch to the elders of the church in Judea. All of a sudden, these elders just appear. The next time we find them is in Acts 14 where Paul and Barnabas were traveling through the churches they founded on their first missionary journey – Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe – and they “appointed elders for them in every church.” Which is exactly what he tells Titus to do in the cities in Crete. So this was the process – found churches, appoint elders.
Later in Acts 15, at the Jerusalem Council, we see the apostles and elders met to discuss the salvation/law issue for Gentiles. Again, elders appear without explanation, but we see they had the responsibility to discuss and make decisions regarding truth and practice.
In Acts 20, Paul calls for the elders of the Ephesian church to give them some instructions. In these instructions, he infers some responsibilities or duties of elders, namely that of leading, teaching, caring for, and protecting the church…from wolves – against false teaching. There are other passages, but we get the idea that elders existed quite early in the development of the church. Again, plant churches, appoint elders. In fact, many suggest the NT identifies two offices – not spiritual giftings – but two offices in the church – elders and deacons.
Now the word elder originally referred to someone older, but that doesn’t suggest that elders must be of advanced physical age, but it does suggest they be spiritually mature. Again, reading Acts 20 and I Peter 5, we find a primary responsibility of elders is shepherding the flock, the church. And so, shepherding includes this idea of leading, feeding and protecting. Oh, and by the way, an old English word for shepherd is the word, pastor. So often, the word pastor is used of elders who shepherd the flock. That’s not to suggest that non-elders don’t shepherd – of course they do – but the word pastor came to be used interchangeably of elders.
Now, in addition to shepherds or pastors, in this text, Paul also refers to elders by two other titles: in verse 7 he calls them overseers and stewards. Paul also calls them overseers in I Timothy 3 and Acts 20. In Philippians 1, he writes, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” There you see those two offices – elders or overseers, and deacons.
The word overseer comes from the Greek work episcopos, from which we get our word episcopal. Now, the word overseer speaks of the specific function of elders to govern or oversee the ministry of the church. So while the word elder speaks of spiritual maturity, overseer speaks of their spiritual oversight responsibility.
But in verse 7, Paul also calls the elder, pastor, overseer a steward. The word steward indicates that elders manage the household called the church – and that household, by the way, belongs to God. In the ancient world, a steward was entrusted with the key to the master’s house, was responsible to manage the house, and was required to give an account of his stewardship to the master. We see this idea of stewardship in the qualifications of I Timothy 3 where Paul writes, “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”
So at this point, we see that an elder is a spiritually mature person responsible for overseeing the ministries of the church, managing or stewarding them, all the while shepherding or pastoring the people of the church. Big job.
A couple other observations we can make about elders before we get to their qualifications in verses 6-9. The first is what is called a plurality of elders in every church. Notice, Titus was to appoint elders, plural, in every city, singular. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church. Paul called for the elders of Ephesus to come see him. Paul wrote to the overseers, plural, of Philippi. Over and over again, we see a plurality of elders in every church. Because, I believe with a plurality of perspectives and wisdom comes godly and wise decisions and oversight.
I’ve seen this happen over and over with our elders. We have 19 elders at this church. Yes, that’s a lot, but as they are tasked with spiritual oversight and shepherding this large church, many are needed. And so, we meet together regularly, and I have watched as God has given wisdom to this group, and godly decisions are reached.
By the way – it’s important you know this – elders are distinct in function, but equal in authority. What do I mean by that? Well, we each have an equal voice when it comes to our elder meetings, for example. It’s not like I, as the Senior Pastor, have more authority than the other elders – I don’t. My function happens to be the lead pastor and the primary – not exclusive – but primary teacher on Sundays. But I have no more authority than any other elder. (Charlotte)
One author writes, “Given the ongoing reality of human sin, together with the limited wisdom that any one person can possess, the church is committed to a plural body of elders to rule in Christ’s name.” (2 Timothy & Titus, Reformed Expository Commentary)
Which leads to another related thought – there are different kinds of church government which exist in various churches and denominations today. It is true that churches choose different forms of church government. At Alliance we have people from many different church backgrounds. If you boil them all down, you’d find that there are basically three or four kinds of church governing structures – they sound like denominations, but they’re not limited to those particular groups:
- First is the Episcopal form of government, which comes from that Greek word, “episkopos.” While the word means overseer, it can be translated bishop. This kind of government recognizes a bishop as the highest ruling authority over a local church or a group of churches. The most obvious example is the bishop of Rome, known as the pope of the Roman Catholic Church. On the local church level, the priest or rector is the final authority – but the bishop is the overseer. So this form of government is hierarchical.
- Second, on the opposite end of that, is the congregational form of government, which is very popular in U.S. evangelical churches, because this form is most democratic – it most closely resembles our US Constitution. We like it because it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It gives us a say, a voice in church decisions. The question I would have you ponder is, while this form is most American, is it most biblical?
Incidentally, this congregational form often finds itself held hostage at the hands of a powerful few in the church – usually those who give the most money or who’ve been around the longest. Or, it is held hostage by a domineering pastor. He’s a dictator under the guise of democracy.
- Which leads to the third form of government in many churches – it’s called the CEO or the Senior Pastor model – where the Senior Pastor is the highest authority at the local church level – what he says goes. Actually, that kind of structure carries little accountability, and no biblical support. And it’s dangerous at it lends itself to much abuse.
- The fourth kind of government is the elder or presbyterian form of government, which comes from the Greek word, “presbuteros.” In this structure, the spiritual authority in the local church is a group of elders. Not one elder per church – that would be a bishop or pastor/dictator – but a plurality of elders in each church. Who those elders are, how they are appointed, and how long they serve varies from church to church, but the bottom line is, the elders are the governing authority. By the way, notice Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every church in every city, then gives qualifications for elders. It’s unlikely Titus knew everyone in every church, so he undoubtedly relied on the affirmation of a man’s character by the church in order to appoint him.
So, we have the fourth form of church government here at Alliance. We believe it to be most biblical, as seen in this text, and others like it. Again, found churches, appoint elders. So that’s the first principle – a plurality of elders in very church. Not one guy, not the whole group, but a godly, appointed few.
A second principle, which seems rather obvious, is that elders are to be local. While obvious, it is interesting to note the number of church governing structures that allow for leaders to live a long way away. How can effective shepherding be accomplished? How can the specific needs of the church be met? How can the church be effectively protected? Further, how does accountability happen – either of the church body, or of the church leaders? So our elders are local – they don’t live in Charlotte or another state.
A third principle is this – elders are to be godly men. This is where accusations of patriarchy and chauvinism are often leveled. You know, conservative Christians are the Taliban of the West. No. But the Bible teaches male leadership – in the home, and in the church. We could go to a number of texts that talk about how husbands are to lovingly, spiritually and graciously lead their homes, and how wives are submit to and respect their husband’s leadership. This, by the way, has little in common with what we see in Afghanistan, today. But…that’s not what we are talking about this morning – but let me just say this: I believe God puts in the heart of a godly wife to follow the godly leadership of a godly husband.
But we are talking about elders, and the elders in the NT are exclusively men. You see, in the qualifications given, in Titus and Timothy, the indication is clearly male leadership – male elders. God calls men to faithfully lead the church. We see that, for example, in the qualification in both Titus and Timothy that an elder is to be the husband of one wife. I’m going to talk about this later, but in I Timothy 2, right before I Timothy 3, Paul says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” I know, you’re thinking that is an outdated model in a patriarchal society. This is what I plan to address in the next couple of weeks. But you should know we are complementarian at Alliance. What does that mean? It means we believe, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, God has equally created men and women in His image, with equal dignity and honor and worth and value, but with complementary roles and responsibilities. Again, I’ll talk about that later.
The challenge, as I said at the beginning, is that Christian churches and Christian men have not always treated women – as our complements – well. To our shame. But we will together seek an faithful understanding of Scripture, believing God intends it for our good and joy. Just know, based on this text, God calls godly men to serve as godly leaders called elders in His church.
Which brings us, finally, to the qualifications. Yes, I have thus far covered one verse. We see the qualifications in verses 6-9. I’ll just cover the first qualification found in verse 6 today, so hang in there. If you compare Titus with Timothy, you can group the qualifications as follows:
- In Relation to Self
- Above Reproach
- Temperate, not self-willed
- Prudent, sensible
- Just, devout
- Not addicted to wine
- Free from the love of money
- In Relation to Family
- Husband of one wife
- Manages his family household well
- Children obey him
- In Relation to Others
- Not pugnacious, rebellious or quick-tempered
- Gentle, self-controlled
- Good reputation
- In Relation to the Faith
- Love what is good
- Not a new convert
- Able to teach and defend the faith
- A man who desires the office – that’s in Timothy
In both passages, emphasis is placed on the man’s character and proven track record of conducting himself in public and private, personally and with his family, and with those inside and outside the church. By the way, doctrinal orthodoxy is also of utmost importance.
Now, while there is much similarity between Titus and I Timothy, some qualifications are only mentioned in their respective letters. We’ll focus on Paul’s letter to Titus. Starting with verse 6 which gives an overall qualification, followed by those related to his family. Notice Paul says, I left you in Crete to appoint elders…what are you to look for? Verse 6, if any man is above reproach. He started the same way in his letter to Timothy, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach.” He uses different words, but they are synonyms and therefore translated, above reproach. Not open to accusation is the idea.
Said simply, any man to be considered for the office of elder must be a man of integrity. Integrity means that all the components of his life touch – he is consistent. Who he is here, he is at home and at work and in the community. Now, above reproach doesn’t mean that he must be sinless, otherwise no one would qualify, but rather, he has earned a godly reputation in his conduct, everywhere. He is a man of faithfulness and purity, of godliness and integrity. He can be trusted. He is not open to attack or criticism in his Christian life. Godliness, integrity, even blamelessness mark the character of his life.
I’m out of time, but I finish with this thought: it doesn’t matter who you are – church leader, ministry leader, believer, follower of Jesus – if you profess Christ and live an immoral, ungodly life, the testimony of the church suffers. If people you work with, go to school with, live with – know you go to church – punch the Sunday time clock – but live like the devil the rest of the week – the church and its testimony suffers. What do people know about Christ – your friends, your family, your co-workers, your classmates – what do they know about Jesus from your lifestyle? This is what Paul is getting at. Christians, certainly church leaders, are to be above reproach – for the glory of God and the cause of Christ.