I have already mentioned a time when we forgot our “church clothes” and had to attend services in jeans and flannel shirts—camp clothes--and the cold reception we received. Another time I was in a city far away from home for a scary surgery. We remembered our church clothes, but it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference. We walked in the front door, went down the middle aisle and sat two-thirds of the way down—Keith must be able to see faces in detail so he can lip-read. We were at least 10 minutes early. No one approached us, nor nodded, nor even looked our way. Finally the woman in front of us heard Keith say, “I can’t believe no one has even greeted us,” and turned around to introduce herself. After services we walked down the aisle surrounded shoulder to shoulder by the (still unwelcoming) crowd, stopped at a tract rack for a minute or two, and finally walked out the door before the preacher finally came out calling us to say hello. It wasn’t like we didn’t give him plenty of time. No one else even bothered.
Contrast that to the time we entered a building thinking that we probably didn’t agree entirely with this group because of a few notices hanging on the wall, but were greeted effusively by every single member the minute they saw us. We were even invited to lunch, while at the previous church I mentioned, living in a hotel between dangerous procedures, no one even asked if we needed any help.
So when our recent study of faith came upon a passage in Titus about being “sound in the faith,” I decided to check the entire context and see what that actually meant. Since I must be brief here, I hope you will get your Bible and work through it with me and see for yourself.
First, the phrase applies to individuals, not a corporate body. Titus 1:10-16 gives us a detailed and complete picture of someone who is not “sound.” They are the ones the elders in verses 5-9 are supposed to “reprove sharply” so they may be “sound in the faith” v 13. Look at those seven verses (10-16) and you will see a list that includes these, depending upon your version: unruly, vain talkers, deceivers, false teachers, men defiled in mind and conscience, unbelievers (who obviously claim otherwise), those who are abominable, disobedient, and deny God by their works, being unfit for good works.
The context does not end just because the next line says, “Chapter 2.” In that chapter Paul clearly defines what “sound in the faith” means, beginning unmistakably with “”Speak the things that befit sound doctrine, that the older men…” and going straight into the way people should live. Read through it. Everything he tells the older men and women, the younger men and women, and the servants to do and to be fit somewhere in that previous list (“un-sound”) as an opposite.
If people who are unruly are un-sound, then people who are temperate, sober-minded, and reverent in demeanor are sound. If people who are defiled in mind and conscience are not sound, then people who are chaste, not enslaved to wine (or anything else), and not thieves are sound. If people who deny God by their works and are even unfit for good works are not sound, then people who are kind, sound in love, and examples of good works are sound. Go all the way through that second chapter and you can find a (opposite) match for everything in the first.
Now let’s point out something important: if being a false teacher makes you unsound, then being a teacher of good and having uncorrupt doctrine does indeed make you sound, but why do we act like that is all there is to it? You can have a group of people who believe correctly right down the line but who are unkind, unloving, un-submissive, impatient, and who do nothing but sit on their pews on Sunday morning with no good works to their name and they are still not a “sound church!” Not according to Paul. Nine out of the ten things on that “un-sound” list have nothing to do with doctrine—they are about the way each individual lives his life.
I am reminded of Jesus’ scalding words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these you ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone. Yes, our doctrine must be sound, but doesn’t it mean anything to us that Paul spends far more time talking about how we live our lives every day?
If the church is made up of people, then a sound church must be made up of sound people who live sound lives. That is the weightier matter of the law of Christ.
For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified: Romans 2:13.