What comes to your mind when you think of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus? Fifty years ago as a college preacher student, I had somehow picked up the idea that those writings were primarily about “church organization” and “church office” (some people use the terms “polity” and “order”). My memory might be messing with me, but it seems like every time one of “our” preachers cited Timothy or Titus, he was explaining how the church should be organized, or defining the “scriptural qualifications” for holding “office” in the church.
For the benefit of those who didn’t grow up in the same Christian tribe I did, a little side-trip here to put things in context might be very helpful. I had my origins in the non-instrument Churches of Christ–in north Alabama, I might add, although the considerable significance of the geography will have to remain unexplained in this article. I am not bashing the Churches of Christ–neither today’s, nor all the folks who composed those congregations back then–among whom were found some of God’s finest saints.
I had a wonderful Christian upbringing by godly parents, some outstanding teachers, and devout, Christ-like fellow-disciples who didn’t fit the legalistic and sectarian stereotypes based on the unmistakable attitudes of so many others. For the past 30 years, we have been active participants in the Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. Because this congregation actually does what our tribe has always advocated and tried very hard to follow the Bible wherever it leads, several other Churches of Christ have invited us to call ourselves something else. We think those churches should just practice what they preach, even when they reach conclusions different from ours.
I like to think that most of the folks in today’s Churches of Christ have met the Savior; that their various congregations have abandoned our old legalism and sectarianism to become the kind of Jesus-focused folks we wrongly but regularly condemned fifty years ago. The truth is that most if not all other Christian tribes have shared many of these same wrong attitudes and ideas. So instead of my group getting to heaven and being surprised to find anyone else there, almost everybody there turns out to be surprised to see all the others.
Now I am ready to tell you why church “offices,” “order,” or “polity” was so important to me. You see, “scriptural organization” was one of several “marks” that proved that unlike “the denominations,” ours was “the true church.” (We spent a lot of time proving to other believers that our church was not a “denomination,” which nobody else thought made a lick of sense but it was very comforting to us.) Generally speaking, with some exceptions, we honestly believed that everybody in the whole wide world should join our church as soon as possible if they seriously wanted to go to heaven.
Even then, we had to explain that it really was Jesus’ church (his only one, by the way), not ours–which also meant that technically speaking no one could really “join” it after all, but had to be “added” to it by God, because the King James Version twice said that God “added” people to the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:41,46). If this is a bit confusing, I understand. It’s not easy to get everything exactly right. In fact, I am going to stop for now and save the rest for later.