Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.
One of the ‘spine-tingling’ moments of the Statement concerning the Nature, Faith and Order of the United Reformed Church, used in our services of ordination and induction, has always been, for me, the assertion that ‘In things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head.’
We stand in a long line of those who chose not to conform to the church established by law – including those who walked away (at immense personal costs) from their livings – to stand up for their belief in a Church that was free of state interference. Importantly, this wasn’t (and isn’t!) anti-government (or even anti-monarchy) but was a statement that obedience to God required freedom from the trappings of a state religion, recognising that it is the role of civil authorities to serve ‘God’s will of justice and peace for all humankind’.
Our obedience, then, is not towards the ‘rulers and authorities’ – although we are to be subject to them – but to follow the commands of God in our dealings with the world. In a letter of commands for faithful living, Titus gives us some things that would help us in our obedience to God, as we live out our lives as honest disciples in the civic society. We may believe that civil authorities are to serve God’s ‘justice and peace’, but Titus reminds us that justice, courtesy, gentleness and peace are also for us to observe.
Each time we think about making changes to our Church – not to step away from state interference, but to our local worship, synod policies, or denominational structures – we find ourselves in quarrels, disputes and conflicts, and yet we do so, apparently, to be in ever closer obedience to God. Is this a contradiction we can ever resolve?
In our obedience to you, help us to respond not with schism and quarrel but in gentleness and courtesy.
In our obedience to you, help us not to be blinkered by our own view but open to the richness of the world around.
In our obedience to you, help us as we seek to be renewed by your Spirit, to live out your commands, and to be transformed as faithful disciples, walking your way. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett, Minister, St Andrew’s URC, Monkseaton and Northern Synod.