Church planting and ordering

Text Titus 1:5 Time 21/04/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have looked then at the opening verses of Titus (1-4) – Paul's introduction of himself and his greeting to Titus. This week we will look at verse 5 and Paul's statement
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.
This verse tells us where Titus was when Paul wrote to him and the two main things that Paul wanted him to do at this time. What we have here is descriptive rather than prescriptive – Paul is simply describing the situation and what needs to be done in it. However, if we read carefully there things here to learn about the conduct of church life – church life at its beginning first of all and then also as time moves on. Perhaps we can get at the message best by saying these two things.

1. Recognise the importance of evangelism and church planting
Titus, we learn, was in Crete. Crete is a large island in the Mediterranean. At this time it was a part of the Roman Empire and was populated by Greek speakers including Jews of the Diaspora. Paul visited Crete during his journey to stand trial in Rome, you may remember, and presumably revisited the island at some point to engage in evangelism and church planting work. We have no description of this work but this verse suggests it very strongly.
Paul's ambition was to preach Christ wherever he had not been preached before and although there were people from Crete present in Jerusalem when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost the Cretans as such, who had a reputation for godlessness (Paul quotes Epimenides in verse 12 Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons) were not evangelised until Paul came to the island (presumably with Titus and with others) and preached to them. Such a fact is a reminder of the need for evangelism and for church planting.
1. Evangelism
Behind this letter lies Paul's evangelism in Crete – his going regardless of the danger or difficulty and preaching to the see pagan people the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ. This is where the whole thing began. No doubt the work came, as always, in two stages
1 Seeing the need
Acts 27 tells us how Paul first came to Crete. It is part of the exciting story of his trip from Caesarea to Rome. Due to the winds being against the ship they had had to work their way along the south coast of the island, eventually anchoring at a place called Fair Havens near Lasea. Paul did warn against setting out from here with winter coming on but he was ignored as the pilot thought Fair Havens unsuitable to winter in and wanted to press on to Phoenix, further up the coast. However, the ship was soon caught in a fierce storm and they were eventually shipwrecked on another island, Malta.
No doubt it was at this time that Paul first met Cretans and saw the great need on the island. May be there were believers among them but if so probably not many. We can imagine Paul seeing these people and their idols and being distressed by that and longing to be able to bring them the gospel.
Here is a challenge for us. Do we look with similar eyes? Do we recognise people's need of the Lord? Are our eyes open to their spiritual need? How aware are we of the needs in this world? Do we know what the situation is in our own country? In London? Are we aware of the needs of our neighbours and family and friends? Even as a prisoner Paul saw the need.
2 Meeting the need
As we have said there is no record of the evangelisation of Crete but it seems pretty clear that when he had opportunity Paul came back and he preached the gospel to these people. He not only saw the need but he did something about it. He not only prayed but he came and preached.
Now we are not all called to preach, of course, but we ought to be doing what we can to let others know about the Lord Jesus Christ. This must not be allowed to slip down our agendas. What are we doing to let people know the good news – both in formal and in informal settings? Let's not neglect this. Pray to be a faithful personal witness. Pray for opportunities, take opportunities when they come.
2. Church planting
Paul's way of evangelism whenever possible was allied to church planting. There are examples of his just preaching and not really getting round to church planting, I suppose, but the norm was to plant an assembly of Christians in every town where he preached the gospel. Paul believed in the gathered church principle and he planted or founded churches wherever it was possible. I think it is important for us to think in these terms. Not only are we seeking to see individuals converted but also either for them to become involved in a local church or, where appropriate, for them to become part of newly formed churches.
There is perhaps quite a good awareness of the need to plant churches in our day. We are aware here especially of the work in Soho and Covent Garden and in Cranford. Some still seem not to see how important the local church is, however, and it is good to underline it once again.
This is what we should be seeking then and praying for – for the planting of more and more churches.
2. Recognise the importance of well ordered church life and the role of properly qualified and appointed elders
So here is Titus on the island of Crete. He and Paul have been evangelising, preaching the gospel, and people have been converted. Fledgling churches have been founded in most if not all of the towns on the island. However, there is still work to be done. Paul instructs Titus that there are things to be done – things in general and specific things too.
1. In general there are things left unfinished that need to be straightened out
The reason I left you in Crete says Paul was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished. For some reason Paul had had to leave before the initial work was complete. There was still more that needed to be done therefore. Things needed to be straightened out. The expression is an interesting one. It was used for setting a bone or straightening out a limb. When a church is formed it does not immediately fall into place very easily. Certain things need to be worked on and some order needs to be brought in – no doubt things like regular preaching, regular prayer meetings, financial matters, etc. It was Titus's task to see that these things were done. We talk often enough about church panting but there is church straightening out or church finishing too, getting churches into order – that is important too.
2. Specifically, he is to appoint elders everywhere
Paul adds and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. It is clear from Acts and from elsewhere in the New Testament that when churches were planted they were led at first by the church planter. However, they then soon had their own leaders appointed. These leaders are referred to in the New Testament either as elders (presbyters) or as overseers (bishops). The first term refers to their office, their dignity, the second to the actual work. The word for elder is firstly literal (the grey heads). It was usually the older men ho became leaders in their communities in Israel and elsewhere. It is that wider meaning that is in mind here. Early on in the history of the church people began to make a distinction between presbyters and bishops but in fact there is no such distinction. One can only argue for episcopacy – having a Bishop over a certain area with elders under him in each local church from tradition not just from the Bible. Presbyterians also have a more hierarchical system that involves a leadership over and above the local church, even after the time of the apostles, although they would say their system is biblical.
Congregationalists and Baptists have rather seen elders as being those appointed, as here, both in the time of the apostles and later on, over each local church. In most Baptist churches the pastor is considered to be an elder and the only other church officers are the deacons who deal with the practical matters. That is the situation that currently prevails here. I am the only elder in the church and there are three deacons. One argument against this is that the pastor is usually a single individual not a plurality, which seems to be the pattern, although this verse could be taken to mean one elder should be appointed in every town.
As you know, many other independent churches, including Baptists, have a system where the eldership is shared between the pastor and a number of others who may or may not be pastors or preachers. This was the case when I first came to the church here as Steve Mitchell had been appointed as an elder. He subsequently trained for pastoral work, however, and is no longer in the area. Since that time, we have often thought about appointing another elder but it has never happened. It strikes me that in another church our fine deacons may well be considered elders but as they carry out their diaconal work well I have always been slow to initiate a move in that direction.
The verse does not give us too much. It does not reveal how elders are to be appointed or how many were chosen for each congregation. The list of qualifications is fairly minimal though there is an expectation of consistency, hospitality and the need to (9) 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.
Having thought about it and studied it for many years it would seem to me that the pastor/deacons model is a biblical one. It would be an extreme position to say that this was an ill-ordered church because we lacked a plural eldership. However, the idea of a plurality is there in the New Testament and as a congregation we should think and pray in such terms. There are obvious errors to avoid
1. Hastiness – 1 Timothy 3:6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil. 5:22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.
2. Thinking of it as a panacea
3. Failing to distinguish pastors and elders – 1 Tim 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Seek the eldership, honour the eldership, pray for it.