Rescuing Christians from Danger

An excerpt from Ted Bigelow's book, The Titus Mandate

Sheryl didn’t grow up in church, but became a Christian while in her thirties, married and busily raising two active children. Soon after being miraculously redeemed by Jesus Christ she found a church that promised to be a wonderful place for spiritual growth and for making connections with other Christians. But what happened at that church brought Sheryl great pain. It wounded not only her and her family, but many Christians throughout the region where she still lives. Her story of heartache illustrates why so many Christians find themselves in need of The Titus Mandate.

At first the church looked terrific. Sheryl enjoyed good Bible preaching and programs for her children. The people were friendly and relationships grew quickly. But then some cracks appeared. She witnessed disagreements and spats when she began attending church meetings, and watched people grow alienated and isolated. There was tension between those in leadership and the congregation that spilled over into Sunday worship. More and more people retreated to the back, singing quietly to themselves. Soon after worship was done, they bee-lined out to the parking lot. She didn’t really pay attention to it at the time, but her church was languishing. It was the result of living out a culture of worldliness that reared its head every time decisions had to be made.

Having lived apart from Christ all her years, Sheryl just assumed this was a normal part of church life. To some extent it felt normal but at the same time she also felt scared, and even powerless. Some in the church tried to calm her by telling her that spats and disagreements were a mark of a spiritually healthy church. But she now knows they were wrong because the church ended up breaking her heart. Without anybody saying exactly why, people grew distant from each other. They passed each other in the hallways with barely a nod, and sat apart on Sunday mornings. Many avoided the pastor. The church meetings released frustrations as people vented disappointments and differences. Then all too quickly, it seemed, people just began to “disappear.”

That’s when the inevitable came. The church held meetings to “clear the air,” but nothing really got cleared up. Instead, people got locked into sides on all kinds of issues. It all became too much and the flock scattered in every direction, disillusioned and deeply wounded. The church just fell apart, and Sheryl left it too—discouraged, feeling horribly empty, unimportant, and especially, unloved. For months she wandered from church to church, looking for a church that would provide genuine Christian love, stability and unity. Over time her heart grew distant from the Lord and other Christians. She even started to get cynical.

Eventually, she and her family attended another church in her home state with a different sense about it. Although she didn’t know it right away, this church was a safe place for believers in Jesus Christ. Sheryl and her family found true shepherds, congregational peace, and the calm authority of Scripture ruling in all things. In words that could only be expressed by one of Christ’s precious sheep, Sheryl wrote to me and said, “The rewards of living out the Word of God are glorious! I must remember, though, to pray often for my elders—they have an enormous responsibility to God and to their flock. Praise God for them!”

Her story vividly illustrates The Titus Mandate’s blessings for all Christians. The Good Shepherd showers His restorative love upon us when we live in a godly and healthy church led by godly men. He led Sheryl’s troubled heart to rest in green pastures, and to be restored beside quiet waters. Her words above reflect what many believers wish they felt about their church. If you are in Sheryl’s former predicament today, without a spiritually healthy church to call home, keep your hope in God and learn the marks of a great church. Take some time to acquaint yourself with The Titus Mandate. It will help you in so many ways.

Perhaps you already know this from personal experience, but a story like Sheryl’s is sadly commonplace. You might even have your own story that isn't even resolved yet. I’ve met people everywhere, from a Los Angeles factory where I worked during seminary, to a Louisville restaurant on a Sunday morning, who have told me their own stories of pain and sorrow in churches. I’ve met and ministered to believers in Germany, Asia, and Ukraine who likewise testify to a plight similar to Sheryl’s. You’ll meet some of them as you go further in this book and read their testimonies in the sidebars. The Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, has led them into great churches and they want to tell you about what they’ve learned. Like Sheryl, they love their churches today and the power of The Titus Mandate that made them safe and healthy places.

What are the Warning Signs?

Maybe the simple truth has been there all along but we have ignored it because we only wanted a comfortable church, not a holy one. Or, it could be that we have a hard time sensing spiritual danger when we get used to it week after week. Some of us aren’t the brightest sheep in the fold. Often, it seems, it is only after we are hurt deeply that we stop to ask the right questions and really pay attention to what God says in Scripture.

 Like Sheryl in her earlier days, we may be ignoring the warning signs: unresolved conflict, imitating the world’s politics, and especially unqualified leaders. Even with our eyes wide open we find ourselves unable to resolve church tensions. Or worse, we feel powerless to do anything constructive about it. Sometime we are told that conflicts are an important and even necessary part of church life. But in fact they are disturbing warning signs that expose the enemy’s foothold. Worse, they directly violate God’s Word. To counteract these problems, Christians all over the world are going back to Scripture and implementing The Titus Mandate in their churches.

Many Christians, and many churches have been rescued from danger by The Titus Mandate in our own day, and thousands more are testing the waters right now. You may be a part of a church that is in the process of discovering what the Bible teaches about elders. Hopefully, this book will help you see that God’s plan for your church is really all about your spiritual health. At the same time, His plan is also holy, wise, and incredibly simple to understand. Best of all, you’ll see how and why The Titus Mandate removes conflict and compromise with God, thus ensuring a safe and godly place for you to serve Christ, worship in Spirit and truth, and grow in Christlikeness. And once you understand the wisdom and protection behind The Titus Mandate, you’ll help your church resolve its conflicts and help your leaders fulfill their call.

What is The Titus Mandate?

The Titus Mandateis a rescue plan for Christians and their churches that is brief and to the point. It is taught in Titus 1:5:

“This is why I left you in Crete,

so that you might put what remained into order,

and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”

This verse of Scripture and its implications are what this book is all about. By it Titus was granted complete sovereignty over every church on the Mediterranean island of Crete, and given full authority to rescue Christians from dangerous churches while simultaneously setting up a safe church around them. So be on the alert. Titus 1:5 was not a suggestion for better church, nor was it a recommendation up for vote. It was an apostolic mandate from Paul. It may strike us as overkill, but I assure you it was not. The Titus Mandate was a matter of spiritual life and death for the Christians on Crete, even as it is for us today.

Now at first it may not be apparent why this mandate was so important, or how it is still rescuing and protecting Christians from danger today. But isn't that the way God’s Word often is? At first it seems a bit shallow, but after thinking about it a while, you realize it is so much more profound and far reaching than you first thought.

The Titus Mandate Is for You

Even though Paul wrote the letter Titus, Titus didn’t need to read The Titus Mandate. Paul had already told him all about it in a prior face-to-face conversation, reflected in the last words of Titus 1:5, “as I directed you.”Titus already knew how Paul wanted him to rescue the Christians and their churches. You see, Paul wrote Titus 1:5 so the people who needed rescuing would have it written down in God-breathed Scripture.

The last verse of Titus addresses all Christians: “Grace be with you all” (Titus 3:15). By these words we are assured that the whole letter was written with the purest of motives to all who have been saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s exactly the way that the Lord Jesus wants you to think of this whole letter, including The Titus Mandate. It was written from Him to you, with wonderful truth to bless you. That’s what every Christian needs, but on Crete, they were vulnerable and defenseless.

Here’s a surprise to many: Crete was an incredibly dangerous place to go to church on Sunday morning. Practically every church was corrupt. Most churches had rebel leaders and false teachers leading the flock. They were greedy, too, according to Titus 1:10-11. How would you like to go to church knowing your offering was filling the pockets of false teachers, who in turn were filling you and your family with false doctrine? In Crete the wolves ruled the pulpits. What few “good” churches there were likewise needed a total makeover.

The situation was indeed bizarre, but it exactly resembles our own day. Churches without godly leaders exist in virtually every town, and as a result, the Christians in them have no one who will fight for their spiritual health. Even those few who see the evil are often cowed into silence by the intimidating words of such pulpit wolves.

Surgery for Defective Churches

That’s how it was on Crete, too. Who there had the courage to expose many of the church leaders as money-hungry phonies? Who could see past the church façade and rescue the Christians from the false teachers? Our beloved apostle Paul did. And because he saw past the artificiality and hypocrisy, he authorized Titus to reform Crete’s churches into wonderfully healthy and holy places for all who loved the Lord.

Now, this spiritual danger in Crete’s churches might not come through clearly in some English translations. When Paul writes “put what remains into order” (Titus 1:5) it could sound to us like Paul was only asking Titus to put some finishing touches on Crete’s churches. But Paul’s original words in the Greek reveal a more sinister story. It is the Revised Standard Version that gives a closer translation: “amend what was defective.”

In other words, the churches were defective. This original word is even stronger, referring to something that is sick, broken, and dangerous. The Old Testament used this word to describe disasters like a locust plague (Exodus 10:5), or a forest fire(Isaiah 10:19). Jesus told the rich young ruler that his soul was in eternal danger with this word in Luke 18:22. This is why the King James Version translates Titus 1:5 with the words “set in order the things that are wanting.” Sadly, the Christians in Crete were living in spiritually wanting and defective churches, and Paul couldn’t just hang his head and say, “well, that’s just the way it goes.” He had to rescue them, and The Titus Mandate was his brilliant apostolic plan.

Paul’s compassion for the Christians explains why Titus was told to “amend” every church (Titus 1:5, RSV). “Amend” translates a medical word we are all familiar with – ortho, from which we get orthotics, orthopedists, and orthodontists. These are medical arts that surgically repair broken bodies so that they are straight and healthy. We use this word for other purposes, too. For example, we call correct doctrines “orthodox” because they are true, upright, and give spiritual health when embraced. So when Paul wrote “amend what was defective,”he expected Titus to perform surgery because the churches on Crete were broken, unable to stand straight, and spiritually diseased. By apostolic order every church had to go under the knife for emergency surgery if they would ever be healed.

Looking at the surrounding verses, we see that the disease lay in their leaders. Whole families were being overturned in their faith by the leaders of these churches (Titus 1:11). The problem was so widespread that it was impossible for most Christians to know who was true and who was false since many leaders were not even saved (Titus 1:16).

Nor does it appear the Christians even knew they were in churches whose teachings and culture were sinful (Titus 1:12). That’s still a familiar problem in our churches, isn't it? It’s hypocrisy to say we’re salt and light when we taste and look like the world. So when The Titus Mandate meant serious surgery for every church, it had to guarantee healthy results.

It also explains why Titus was told to teach “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), Paul’s words here literally mean “health-giving teaching.” He used yet another word from the medical profession—the word from which we get “hygiene.” Healthy teaching fixes our broken souls and sick hearts with the great truths of our faith set aflame in our hearts.

This tells us that few Christians on Crete were experiencing the kind of spiritual health that good teaching brings. As a result they lived frustrated, broken, and guilty lives. Imagine being told to walk with Christ on broken legs, or to sing praises with ruptured vocal chords. Such teaching is often harmful because it inflicts pain and does more damage than good. Without the healing that sound teaching brings, Crete’s Christians would remain in sorrow and defeat for the rest of their natural lives. And their churches? Well, without The Titus Mandate, they would all die from disease.

This is why the rest of the letter reads like a life and death prescription for spiritually sick Christians. Every type of Christian, male and female, young and old, receives critical rehabilitation. It’s do or die on Crete. Without spiritual health, there will be a twisted witness for Christ. And without a true witness for Christ, the churches were doomed to cultural insignificance. My old pastor, John MacArthur, hit the nail on the head when he wrote that Titus “is an evangelistic letter whose ultimate purpose was to prepare the church for more effective witness to unbelievers on Crete.”The only way the Christians could bear effective witness for the gospel was for their lives to be healed in the context of a great church.

Without The Titus Mandate surgically repairing and healing churches, health is only skin deep at best. We Christians need truth that penetrates our very souls, and we need each other helping us live it out. In other words, we need church. And for your church to be healthy, it needs godly leaders.

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