Even though the word is never used in the letter, Titus is all about the church. Paul left Titus on the island of Crete for the purpose of organizing and establishing each city’s church, and his letter to Titus is an encouragement and guide for how that is to be done. Therefore, if we want to truly understand the importance and nature of Titus, we must first understand the value of the church.
In discussing the church, we must first establish a clarification of terminology. Throughout the New Testament, there are two ideas expressed by the word “church.” The first meaning is the universal church (other names used are the catholic church, the invisible church, or simply the Church). The universal church refers to all followers of Christ throughout the world, which is exemplified whenever the church is called the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). Christians from the United States, Russia, and Botswana are all members of the universal church. Anyone of any country or any denomination is a part of the Church, the body of Christ, simply by becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The second usage of church is the local church. A local church is a particular group of Christians who gather together. Examples of local churches in the New Testament are multitude, such as Thessalonica (Thessalonians 1:1) and the seven churches of Revelation (Revelation 2-3). Local churches provide practical organization to the universal church, allowing Christians to engage in meaning discipleship, prayer, teaching, and evangelism with one another.
As the body of Christ, the church is important. God loves both the local and universal church since they are intrinsically bound to one another. Followers of Christ who reject the church altogether find themselves rejecting Jesus’ bride. Yes, the church is broken because it is composed of broken people, but Jesus loves us broken people. Even if we were to find a perfect church, we would ruin it by attending. Yet the point is not about a church’s effectiveness or spotlessness; rather, a church should simply strive for good works to the glory of Christ, though many stumblings may still occur.
The church is important because people are important, so it is also important then that we consider how to best function as a church. As stated, this is the message of Titus. Paul gives little time to the pragmatics of organizational method, and instead devotes most of the letter to addressing the theology and actions of the church members. At first glance, this may appear to be a misstep for Paul; however, quite the opposite is true. The apostle understood what many church leaders too often forget—that methods and organization mean nothing without the proper motivation of the heart behind them. More than anything else, Paul wants for the churches in Crete to be filled with Christians who are sound in doctrine and rich in good works.
This tango between theology and action is scattered throughout the New Testament, but Paul makes it his goal in Titus. Because humans tend to gravitate toward extremes, many Christians find themselves either fixated upon theology (to the detriment of good works) or upon good works (while lacking in theology), but the Bible is clear that Christians must have both. Sound doctrine must always lead to good works. In fact, godly living is the proper expression of a true understanding theology.
Thus, in our study of Titus, we will seek to better know and apply the marriage of doctrine and deeds for the benefit of better serving the church to the glory of God.