January 26, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
[Biography of St. Titus from Treasury of Daily Prayer]
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Paul enjoys high regard among Lutherans—and rightly so—because of his clear teaching of the chief article of the Christian faith, justification by faith alone, as well as his particular mission to the Gentiles (which is us). But it wasn’t so in his day. Paul is constantly appealing to his credentials—first to the original twelve apostles, and then to the various churches he visits. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, he opens with an appeal to his credentials: Paul, a slave of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ for the purpose of faith for God’s elect and a knowledge of truth that is according to godliness upon a hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before time began, and manifested at His own appointed time His Word in preaching, with which I have been entrusted according to the command of God, our Savior (vv 1-3).
The first credential that St. Paul refers to is his conversion. He calls himself a slave of Christ. Sometimes this word is translated simply as a “servant,” but the word carries a little more weight than simply a servant. Paul didn’t just one day decide that it might be fun to serve God as a Christian missionary. Remember that he was a Pharisee of Pharisees and a persecutor of the Christian Church—even presiding at the murder of the first Christian martyr, Stephan. It was a miraculous conversion from one end of the spectrum to the other. Remember the story: Jesus appears to Saul in person, blinds him with the light of his glory, and causes him to go blind until after some days of prayer and fasting, Ananias came to him and prayed for him and laid his hands on him. The scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he was baptized. This conversion and baptism was Saul’s redemption. Where he was previously bound to his own sinful nature and the false doctrine of the Jews, by virtue of his baptism, he was bound to Christ—a dou/loj of Christ, a slave of Christ, a bondservant of Christ.
But that was not his only appeal. In addition to his conversion, he was also an apostle of Christ Jesus. Apostle means “one who is sent.” St. Paul, along with the other twelve, were sent personally and immediately by God to preach the Gospel. There were no Christian congregations before Pentecost—only the temple and local synagogues—and therefore, there was no call from a congregation for these 13 men. They were called immediately by Christ, that is, without the means of a congregational call. Their preaching, therefore, was confirmed by accompanying signs such as healing and raising the dead. These signs were promised by Christ Himself in Mark’s last chapter and described in the book of Acts.
This sending, or apostleship, according to St. Paul is for a particular purpose—for faith for God’s elect, for knowledge of the truth, for hope of eternal life. These come through the preaching of His Word, which has been preserved also for us in Holy Scriptures. Because these 13 apostles were called immediately by Christ they had the Holy Spirit in a unique way, which meant that the Lord preserved both their preaching and their writing from error—hence the Holy Scriptures, which were authored by them are inspired and truly God’s Word, and are the means by which faith comes. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17 NKJV).
Though the Holy Apostles had this great promise of Christ, they were still limited by time and space and the constraints of the flesh; they couldn’t be everywhere at once, and they didn’t live forever in the flesh. St. Paul had many companions and assistants including, among others, John Mark, Barnabas, Luke, Tertius, Timothy, and Titus, who assisted his apostolic ministry. When St. Paul writes to Titus, he is doing so according to his own apostolic credentials, but he also refers to Titus’s credentials.
To Titus, my true child according to a common faith, grace and peace from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Savior. For this reason I left you behind in Crete, so that you would set in order that which remained, and appoint pastors according to a town, as I gave orders to you (vv 4-5). First, Paul calls Titus his true child according to a common faith. St. Paul appeals to the first and common credential—faith in Jesus Christ. Titus is baptized just as St. Paul was and bound to Christ by virtual of the name that was put on him with water and the Word of God.
But Titus did not have the immediate call from Christ. Titus was not sent by Christ’s own command, neither did he have a call from a congregation. His credential is his appointment by an apostle. Paul the apostle appointed Titus to a specific task—to appoint other pastors in the towns around Crete. These, St. Paul says, are orders. In other words, Titus was ordained to a holy task—to ensure that the preaching of the Gospel would continue in the absence of an apostle.
These pastors appointed by Titus are not named, but there is also an appeal to their credentials. St. Titus was given orders to appoint pastors according to each town. This is a reference to the established congregations of that town. Thus, Titus’ appointment was in conjunction with the call of the local congregation. The pastors that followed St. Titus had no appeal to Christ’s immediate call, nor to the apostolic appointment. Instead, their appeal is to the call of the Christian congregation. And so today, pastors are ordained—that is, given holy orders to preach the Gospel—but their credentials and authority to preach come from the public call of the Christian congregation and the written, apostolic Word.
In the confessions of the Lutheran Church, there is no distinction made between the various orders of ministry. In Scripture, deacons, ministers, bishops, overseers, presbyters, priests, pastors, teachers, elders, or whatever you are pleased to call them, they all refer to one Office of the Holy Ministry, which does not belong to a set of individuals, but to the whole Christian Church in general, and the local Christian congregation in particular. So when St. Paul lays out the qualifications for an overseer, or a bishop, he’s laying out the qualifications for every pastor, no matter what his task are by human arrangement.
If anyone is above reproach, a husband of one wife, having children of faith, not among accusations of incorrigibility or rebelliousness. For it is necessary for a bishop to be above reproach, being a house steward of God, not arrogant, not habitually quick to anger, not given to drunkenness, not given to violence, not greedy for shameful gain, but, a lover of strangers, a lover of what is good, prudent, righteous, pious, and self-controlled, holding on to that which is according to the trustworthy teaching of the Word, so that he is able to both comfort in sound teaching, and to reprove those who object to it. (vv 5-9).
When compared to the high expectations of the Holy Scriptures, no pastor, no bishop, no priest, no elder, no minister can expect to live up to them. Just try to find a minister who isn’t arrogant. These qualifications should make every pastor (as well as anyone who has a pastor) stand before God with fear and trembling. For no preacher can hope to live up to God’s strict demands by his own reason or strength; likewise, neither can you hope to live up to God’s strict demands in your various callings by your own reason or strength.
The fact is there has only ever been one who has filled these qualifications perfectly from the start. Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet 2:21b-25 NKJV). Jesus Christ is the true Shepherd and Overseer of your soul; He is the one who tends to you, who looks out for you.
There is a false and misleading notion especially among the pope’s followers, but also among other Christians, that becoming a minister makes you more pious, that there’s some new quality that’s bestowed upon preachers that the rank-and-file Christian doesn’t have. In addition to the many proofs from Scripture and our Lutheran confessions that say otherwise, I can tell you from my own personal experience that this is not the case. Neither Paul, nor Titus, nor any of Titus’s appointees, nor any pastor that has ever been called since then has been justified by the orders given to him. Works never justify, even when those works are preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. And this is true not only for preachers, but also for you in your various callings. You cannot live up to the expectations and qualifications demanded by God’s holy Word.
Justification for preachers and for hearers is the same—that which the Office of the Holy Ministry offers. The trustworthy teaching of the Word, and the comfort that comes with sound teaching. So be comforted. Your true Shepherd and Overseer has borne your sins to the cross. By His stripes you are healed. He has judged you righteously; trust that judgment, and know it to be the truth. Do not put your hope in your own abilities, in your own actions, in your own vocations, and for heaven’s sake, please don’t place your hope in your pastor. He did not die for you. Let your hope rest on the promise of eternal life that is in Christ Jesus, that is promised in your Baptism and the trustworthy Word. There in eternity is where both you and your pastor will finally be perfected.
St. Titus’s holy orders teach us that the Office of the Holy Ministry is not for the ministers, but
The Office of the Holy Ministry Is for Your Comfort in the Teaching of the Trustworthy Word of God
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard