Pastor Mason Beecroft, of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, preached this very fine sermon today, for St. Titus Day.
“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
St. Paul’s exhortation to Titus is clear: a pastor must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught. The pastor is tasked to instruct the people in the solid teachings of the apostolic Christian faith and to rebuke those who teach contrary to the faith, or reject it. Paul had offered a similar exhortation to the pastors in Ephesus, charging them to pay careful attention to themselves and Christ’s flock and to care for God’s Church, which had been purchased by the precious blood of Christ. This was important because there would be those who would speak twisted, deranged things and draw disciples after them and away from Christ. This is no insignificant matter. In Christ, there is life and salvation. Departure from Christ leads to death. Heresy is a choice to reject the teaching of Christ and leads to destruction.
As such, the central responsibility of the Church and its pastors is to remain steadfast and faithful to the truth of Christ as revealed by the Word of God. The pastor is to hold firm the trustworthy word as taught by Christ. The pastor is to hand over, proclaim, teach, deliver, guard, and keep the faith that has been “delivered once for all to the saints.” This faith, of course, is all about Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven for the salvation of sinners. The Word of God directs us always and everywhere to Christ. The Creeds teach us how to rightly read this Word of God. This trustworthy word has been revealed, handed over to us, taught to us by Christ, and preserved in the Word of God through the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Christ has given to us the very Word by which we give Him to the world for life and salvation. The pastor is to hold firm this trustworthy word. Christ opened up the Scriptures to the apostles and told them to “preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name.” So the faithful pastor gives only what Christ has given Him to give: the preaching of Law and Gospel. Christ commanded the apostles to baptize because “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” So the faithful pastor baptizes in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christ breathed His Holy Spirit on the apostles and gave them the keys of heaven, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” The faithful pastor then uses these keys. He opens up heaven itself to the repentant sinner, proclaiming forgiveness in Christ. Likewise, He locks up heaven itself to the self-righteous person who rejects Christ, and calls them to repent. He does this not on his own authority, but the authority of Christ. Christ commanded His apostles to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Christ gives His very body and blood in the Holy Communion. The faithful pastor gives Christ’s body and blood to Christ’s people, to nourish them with Christ Himself. The pastor only gives what he has received from Christ.
We celebrate St. Titus on this day because he was faithful to the word of Christ as the bishop of Crete until his death in A+D 96. He gave the Church what Christ gave him, the Gospel and the Sacraments. We are also mindful on this day of the need for faithful pastors. There are a great number of wolves out there who devour the flock of God with their heresies and their egos. Remember, if Christ is not proclaimed, then the gathering may be something, but it is not Christian. Yet such scoundrels get a hearing because sinful people want their ears tickled. They want to hear what they want to hear, and if someone says it then they will follow after them. The innovations and novelties in the faith of our own day are entirely destructive to Christian faith and the human person. There are so-called pastors who do not preach Christ, but preach generic, no-name gods that demand nothing and apparently exist only to dole out warm fuzzies or material blessings. There are so-called churches that can no longer tell the difference between boys and girls. There are plenty of false pastors and churches who have abandoned the “trustworthy word as taught” by Christ for all sorts of stupid, misguided and selfish reasons. It is necessary, then, that we pay careful attention to the teachings of our pastors and our churches.
It is also necessary for us to submit ourselves in humility to the Word of Christ. We cannot place our opinions, our intuitions, our feelings, our suspicions, or our politics above this trustworthy word. Here is something for our reflection. Are we able to be rebuked by the Word of Christ? If we contradict the Christian faith, then are we capable of submission? Or will we find a pastor or church that agrees with our already made-up mind? Remember, we are called to conform our minds and our lives to Christ’s Word. When the Law exposes our sins, our disordered desires, our weak foolishness, then we do not justify ourselves or make excuses. No. We repent. We turn from our sins to Christ for His forgiveness and strength. We turn in faith to what Christ has given us. We remember that we are baptized into Him. We listen to His words of absolution spoken through the Office of the Holy Ministry. We eat His body and drink His blood. Christ gives Himself to us in these things. So the faithful pastor only gives what Christ has given because in His words and water and bread and wine there is Christ. And where Christ is, there is forgiveness, life, salvation now and forever. +INJ+