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When church and culture clash . . . real leaders emerge
Scripture: Titus 1:5-16
Track 3 of 9 in the Living as disciples in the "here and now" series
Running time: 32 minutes, 01 seconds.
Inevitable clash of church and culture

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, January 18, 2004
"When Church and Culture Clash. . .Real Leaders Emerge"
Living as Disciples in the "here and now"
(Titus 1:5-16 )
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

The word is plausible. It seems like it has become newly popular in a lot of literature. It carries with it the meaning of something that is seemingly or apparently valid. It's likely. It's acceptable. It's credible. In a world that has basically given up on being able to prove anything, the question has become, is it a plausible thing. Is it something that you could find reasonably likely to be true.

A number of years ago, a Jesuit by the name of Karl Rahner made this comment.

Now I don't know if he's correct, I'm just troubled by the comment. "The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable." Were he writing in 2004 he might have said what the unbelieving world finds totally implausible highly unlikely.

I remember a number of years ago I was over at a conference in Lincoln. I was doing some kind of special lecture for the guests on campus. After the whole thing was over, some fellow came up to me and just kind of blind-sided me out of the blue with this strong condemnation of the kind of vocabulary that the preachers that Lincoln was producing were using. He kept talking about all of the Greek and Hebrew that showed up in the sermons and these great big theological words that were thrown around and I found myself throwing my hands up and saying, wait a minute, I teach in the college, not the seminary. That is a seminary problem. I now teach in the seminary, it's become my problem. But I remember my response being, don't blame me. I didn't choose to use those words. They did. Sometimes I wonder if there are not times in heaven when God throws up his hands and says, don't blame me, I didn't decide to behave that way. Do you ever think that God may have an absolutely helpless feeling? Like there's nothing he can do to protect his own reputation in the world. I mean, after all, he did a pretty decent job of creating the place. He left as good a evidence as he could in the natural creation and then he comes along and he has people like me who are his representatives and I wonder if some days he doesn't just say, wait a minute, I don't know if I want you representing me after all.

My question is really this. Does Madison Park Christian Church present a plausible belief system? Are we credible as God's representatives in this world? When people take a look at who we are becoming, does it help them come to grips with a believable God? Would it convince them that the Christian faith is worth consideration? See, I think we live in an age when church and culture should clash. I don't know if we always do.

Look at the book of Titus with me one more time, will you? Titus 1. It seems to me that, inherent in this opening section about the selection of leadership for the church on the island of Crete, there is this clear implication that church and culture are in conflict. Start with verse 5. Paul says, 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. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must 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.

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Here's what I think Paul is trying to communicate to a twenty-first century church and that is, that credibility depends upon respectability. In other words, the church is supposed to be different enough from its culture to stand out. But different in the sense of being respectable, of having a character quality worth emulating. And it seems to me that in these first few verses, verses 5 to 9 particularly, what he offers is this. That a credible church affirms only respectable leaders.

I need to take just a side journey here for a moment just needs to happen. Did you notice that there are two key terms in this text for leader? You'll find them in verse 5 and verse 7. In verse 5 he identifies them as elders. They are those men in the community of faith who have some age to them, some wisdom. They have lived long enough to have some sense of understanding about life. They have some maturity. He turns right around in reference to the very same people and calls them well, in some translations the one I just read he calls them overseers. The old King James called them bishops. Neither of which is a particularly healthy translation of the term, but it gets at the idea of somebody who has responsibility for other people. Literally the word means to see over somebody. To watch out for them. To literally give them care. You might just as well translate this term "care givers". The interesting thing is that this set of combinations this combination of terms, elder and overseer occur in two other places where they are aligned side-by-side. 1Peter 5 and Acts 20. In both places there is a third term added and that is the term shepherd. It's the term we usually use, pastor.

In the New Testament, elders, overseers and pastors are all the same group of people. They are the ones selected, affirmed by a congregation to give oversight and leadership and direction and shepherding care to the body of Christ. It's why in this place, the staff are not called pastors, because we're not. We're not elders, we're staff. We do pastoral work. We lead, we teach, we assist the elders in their role but you won't find us affirming that title because that's an elder title. Elders, shepherds, overseers care givers and these people, he says, are to be blameless.

Now, any thinking man whoever considered leadership in a church reads a text like this one or the parallel passage in 1Timothy 3 says, blameless - huh - obviously that's not me! Yes it is! For many of our men in this congregation, in fact, frankly, for many of our women in this congregation there are people here who are literally blameless people. It doesn't mean perfect people. There's a word for that in the New Testament. It's called without blemish. It's that term which is used to describe the lamb taken to the slaughter that had absolutely no fault. You could translate it, perfect. That's not this term. This is a term that has to do with reputation and character that you would not blame them. You would not accuse them. You would not automatically think of them. In fact, if somebody brought an accusation against them, your first kind of gut response would be. That's not true. I know this person. They're not like that.

Blameless doesn't describe a sinless, perfect person. Blameless describes the person of great character who has grown into maturity as a disciple to the place that you trust them. You see in them levels of integrity that you may not see elsewhere.

In fact this text goes on to describe what that blameless character actually looks like. Twice, he says, in this text they have to be blameless and then I think you can summarize what happens after this in this way.

Elders give the right response. They are never reactionary and you never have to fear the kind of reaction you will get from them. The language of the text says things like this. They are not quarrelsome. They are people who are self-controlled. They're not violent people. They're people who know how to respond to situations. They have developed a maturity to be able to look at life in a way that allows them to see it clearly and to handle it well.

Church leaders, elders form the right relationships. They are never partisan. They know how to relate to each one of us equally. One of the terms that's in here says that they are the husband of but one wife. That's a way of translating this text. Literally the text says, they are a one woman man. It means faithful. It means that their eye or their heart or their mind does not stray. It means that they are faithful to their spouse. In fact, for those who are single, it means that they are faithful to any future spouse that they may have. It's a quality of single-mindedness. These are men who are good care givers at home. They have loved their families and they have demonstrated the faith in the home in such a way that the children that have been surrounded by them are now carrying on that faith. Titus makes it clear that they have believing children who are not wild. They're hospitable. In other words they're warm and people respond well to them.

Elders also build the right reputation. They are above reproach. They're not drunken. They're not lovers of money. They have a good reputation. Timothy would even tell us they have a good reputation among those outside the church as well as those in the church.

I don't know if you know this about this place. We are one of the few churches, in fact, maybe the only church I know of specifically that actually has the elder-to-be give us names of people outside the congregation that we call for references and ask them what would you think of our church if, in fact, this person was an elder, a leader in our body.

These are people who communicate the right revelation. They are able to teach. They are not recent converts Paul tells Timothy. They are able to refute false teachers. These are people who are credible. The folk that we affirm as leaders in our body are people who have developed a level of credibility that we can trust them to make wise decisions to offer over us the kind of godly council that will help us become the kinds of disciples that we're supposed to be. Which leads me to this slight little second side note.

Are you aware of all qualities in this list for elders are repeated elsewhere in the New Testament for people like you and me? The same set of expectations exist for everybody in this church. That we will be blameless people. That we will be teachers. That we will be godly. That we will be good care givers. That we will not be violent. That we will be one women men and one man women. The difference in this text is the word "must". An elder "must" be these thing. In other words, discipleship has to have occurred up to a certain point already for them to be credible leaders. Because what Paul would remind Titus is that in every congregation on that island of Crete, there needed to be multiple leaders who were credible, who could give the congregation credibility in its community. Nothing of any more significance occurs in a congregations life than the affirmation of good leaders. A church has credibility when a church has that kind of leadership. We become plausible in a community.

Ah, let me give you a second thing I think occurs in this text and that is that a credible church confronts all disrespectful behavior. I am amazed at the strength of the language in this particular text about the discipleship that occurs in a congregation. The reason, Paul says put in order these leaders in every congregation, every house church, is because there are other people in the community who are teaching falsely and the elders have to have the ability to confront that kind of disrespectful behavior.

I read these statements this week. I cannot verify it for you that they are 100% accurate, but I have no reason to think that there not the case. The quotation from Mahatma Gandhi "If it weren't for Christians, I'd be a Christian." His experience as a student in the United States did not go well in his confrontation with Christian people." Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho and Oregon was quoted as having said. "We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God, like the Catholics and the Protestants do."

Or Frederick Niche said, "It would be a whole lot easier to believe in Christ if it weren't for Christians."

Do those trouble you? What I think they're saying is that the question of credibility, the question of plausibility, the question as to whether or not Christianity makes sense in a community is largely conditions, not by the truthfulness of the message, nor the God who created it, but by the life of those who live it. And that's frightening, because what that means is, God has no one else to depend upon but us. Therefore, a credible church has leaders who always confront all disrespectful behavior because they understand the implication of that behavior. That if in the church there are things happening in the lives of Christian people, that are not where they're supposed to be as disciples, it is the responsibility of the leadership to be able to say, We have to do something about that. We have to deal with that because there is so much at stake here.

The church should look different from the rest of the culture and it's the leadership's job to help get us there.

Every New Testament letter is an occasional letter. In other words, it was written to a specific occasion, to a specific situation. On the island of Crete, there was a particular culture that the church was in confrontation with. That culture is variously described as being legalistic. They had a certain set of rules and regulations, primarily created by the Judaizers. They were false teachers and those false teachers primarily used their religious heritage as a way of trying to hem in and shape what Christian people were supposed to look like. They had their set of rules and regulations. Certain people were following myths, particularly Jewish mythology. They were greedy. They were insisting that in order for you to become a Christian you must first become Jewish by going through the rite of circumcision. They were hypocritical. Their behavior was not matching their claims and it's interesting to note that there's a difference in the way Paul, as a leader, responded to different cultural situations. When it came to Timothy, Timothy, this young lad who became a believer, was in fact, circumcised because he was going to minister in a Jewish context and it appeared that, that kind of adaptation to the context would be helpful.

But you read in Galatians that Paul absolutely refused to. . . . . . . be circumcised because he was not going to bend to that cultural demand. Every church has to decide what the culture it's working in looks like and what needs to be confronted and what needs to be adapted to.

So I asked myself, in American culture in western Illinois, what is it that you and I have to face? What are the cultural issues that you. . . .that I have to deal with if I'm gonna stand out in the culture? Well, there are multiplicity of them. We live in a pluralistic culture where every road goes the same direction. It's just as right for you to believe this as it is for me to believe something else.

We live in a world that is full of tradition. It is an amazing thing to me to understand that in the heart of a church like this one, that worship in a Jacks building, which is highly non-traditional, that we still have our traditions because those are easily formed. Just do it twice and that basically sets the pattern for ever. The interesting words sometimes used around churches (I don't know if we would use it here or not) but the interesting word used around churches is we've always done it that way or we've never done it that way. The nice thing about being here is that can't, hardly ever, be said.

We face the issue of relativism where moral values are determined by whatever the certain situation is. It's a very situational kind of thing. What's right for you is right for you and what's right for me is right for me but the situation may change that tomorrow.

We live in a world of immaturity. Quite honestly, discipleship has to improve in the life of God's people if we're really gonna have an impact in our world. We live in a world where, frankly, sin is too easy, too available.

Have you read the Quincy paper from yesterday? Steve's editorial about Brittany Spears and David Letterman with all of the hype over Letterman becoming a father and nobody mentioning the fact that he's not married. Because, see, sin has become easy.

We live in a world that has become materialistic, where we have just too much of everything.

We live in a consumer world where we pick and choose what we like best including churches.

We live in a divided religious world. Just out of curiosity I took the yellow pages. I don't know where else to go for a more definitive list so I counted the churches in the yellow pages. There are over 100 churches listed in our area nicely categorized into approximately 40 different church categories. Is it any wonder why the world is confused about the credibility of the truth when you and I can't even get along with brothers and sisters down the street who want to love and worship the same God.

And so Paul says to Titus, develop leaders in churches who have the ability to confront disrespectful behavior. But notice something very carefully. This I think is critical to what I think we're talking about. Verse 13 He says, Therefore, because of all this stuff that's going Therefore, rebuke them sharply, that sounds pretty pointed doesn't it? rebuke them sharply, notice the next phrase so that so that what? So that they will be sound in the faith and no longer fall into these traps. Do you understand that confrontation is always redemptive. Whenever a leader has to confront behavior that is disrespectful, that calls into question the credibility of the church, it should never be viewed as some kind of slap in the face. It's always to be viewed as redemptive, as an attempt to help us become better disciples so that we make the message of the gospel more credible, more plausible as it confronts the world.

Gordon McDonald probably has had as much influence in the latter part of the twentieth century as any church leader in the evangelical world, at least, especially in New England. Preached at the largest church in New England for a long time Grace Chapel. Went through a number of his own personal difficulties. Made some major mistakes in his life, but has emerged on the other side a disciplined man for God. Writes regularly for a leadership magazine and in one of those articles not long ago, told the story of when he was a seminary student. Apparently a fairly bright seminary student who was invited to present a paper at a major gathering of the seminary body and did what he was traditionally used to doing. Waiting until the very last minute to write his paper. And in order to come up with the time necessary to put the paper together he ditched all of his other classes for two days while he wrote the paper. The paper was, in fact, according to McDonald, pretty good, presented well and here's what one of his professors said. "Gordon, that was a good paper but it lacked the possibility of greatness. Do you want to know why?" McDonald said, (this was the professor's response) "You sacrificed your routine responsibilities to write it. Your ministry will never be successful if you make this sort of thing a habit." McDonald said, he was less interested in the content of my presentation than he was the character that formed it.

That's what leaders do. Leaders have the ability to bring redemptive counsel, not because necessarily something has been done terribly wrong, but because something could be better in your life.

The real issue is only how your going to respond to that kind of confrontation. We believe that we have a message that is credible about a faith that makes a difference. We also believe that in order for our congregation to present that kind of credible message in the world, we have to have affirmed in our body, good leaders who have the courage and the character to confront behavior that is not appropriate in any of our lives with the goal that all of us will become better disciples and make the message more plausible in our world. Because faith and culture are going to clash. The question is, are we going to be disciple enough to convince people that faith wins? See, the issue is, you've been called to be a follower. Oh, first of all, as a church member to follow the leadership of the leaders but ultimately to follow the leadership of Christ.

There is a fella who just recently told this true story. He and a buddy of his were on the Snake River in a brand new boat having a great time flying down the river at 35 mph only to hit one of the numerous sand bars that exist. They're standing in ankle deep water trying to figure out how to get their new boat into a channel so that they can get home when another boater comes along and offers them some help. It takes them quite a while to dig them out of the sand and get it back in the water and he says, "if you follow me I'll get you where your going" He was the seasoned river runner. Down the river they went. Back up about 35 mph. It was just a few minutes when the driver of the second boat decided he would just move over a little to the right to get out of a bit of the wake. He hit another sand bar. Broke out the windshield and did damage to his passenger. When the leader turned around and came back to see what was going on he said, (this was his only statement) "I told you to follow me."

Jesus knows where he's going and the invitation is follow me. Now if you find yourself on a sand bar somewhere, don't blame him. Look to see whether or not your still really following Him.

We're inviting you to follow. To follow him in your faith and to follow the leaders you have affirmed in the congregation that we might present a credible gospel to a world in need of Jesus.

Let's stand and sing.