Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

Because of the descriptions of the false teachers in the background of 1 Timothy and Titus, scholars often suggest the letters were written well into the second century. There is some similarity between the description in Titus to the followers of Marcion (explaining why Marcion would not have accepted the books as authentically Pauline) or an early form of Montanism. Montanism was a charismatic revival of the middle/late second century and the Pastorals Epistles do not mention the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit.

Other scholars suggest the description of the false teachers is “generic.” There is no specific threat to the churches overseen by Timothy and Titus, but this is the sort of generic anti-heretic language which could be applied to any number of churches. This is similar to modern political rhetoric, Republicans always accuse Democrats as favoring “tax and spend” and Democrats always accuse Republicans of being in the pocket of the NRA. Whether those things are true or not about a given politician, the accusation will almost always be made. In Titus, Paul could be laying out a laundry list of the typical things his opponents have said and done, whether he has a specific false teacher in mind.

Could the be a an early form of Gnosticism or Montanism? This is always possible, depending on the definition of “proto.” The mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish asceticism that becomes Gnosticism later in the second century may have its roots in the very churches planted by Paul. But the false teachings that the writer is dealing with is not at all close to the Gnostic teachings of the second century. To argue against “foolish myths and genealogies” as Paul does here is applicable in the first century as much as the second (or third or twenty-first!)

Regardless of the source of false teachers in Ephesus and Crete, Paul provides a three-step method for dealing with these troublemakers. The steps seem reasonably clear, but it is hard to know how to use them in a contemporary context. Paul is not describing a medieval excommunication or some sort of strange shunning-ritual. He wants his churches to be unified around a core yet also to preserve some diversity within the members of the church. How does this work?

The first step is to avoid teachings which create quarrels and dissensions. This cannot include the core elements of the Faith, the things Paul has already defined as “sound doctrine” in Titus 3. What things might be considered “divisive” our context? Paul is talking about drawing lines which include some and exclude others. to a large extent, the modern church has dealt with this by dividing up into a wide range of denominations. This would be intentionally divisive attitude designed to cause quarrels in the church. I have occasionally been asked to preach at conservative a church which used the King James Bible only; if I intentionally preached out of a NIV Bible, the congregation would be so angry they would never hear a single word I said. Imagine if I were asked to preach in a Christian Reformed church and did a classic dispenstionalist sermon on the Rapture!

Second, if there is a person who cannot set their divisiveness aside, then they are to be warned. The text says the false teacher “stirs up dissension,” indicating they are looking for an opportunity to argue over his special doctrine. This too becomes a difficult to apply in a modern context since people want to share their views in a welcoming and affirming environment. But the divisive person is not discussing an issue in order to gain a clearer understanding, they are pushing their agenda in order to make coverts to their fringe position. I understand what it is like to have a view out of step with the majority and I try not to be divisive on the issues I know will cause people to be upset.

Last, if the person continues to stir up dissension, then the church is to shun the person as a false teacher. This is very controversial since ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.” Paul seems very prejudiced and arrogant to force someone who believes differently out of the church! “Shun the heretic” has a positively medieval sound to it which most modern people would like to avoid. We want to have open and honest discussions about our differences and come to a respectful understanding whether we agree or not. But for Paul, the presence of someone teaching unhealthy doctrine or advocating impure practices in the church can only damage the church.

Most likely these steps will look different in different cultures (African churches vs. American churches, for example). I have been a university professor for many years, and every once in a while I have a student who seems to want to argue about everything I say. It is not that they want to learn anything new, they just like to debate and argue (and probably waste class time so the test gets postponed). In a few cases the student was not interested in an open discussion of new ideas, they wanted to shut down anything they disagreed with and force their ideas on the group. I can think of examples from the most Fundamentalist students ever to the hyper-Calvinist (and one really odd Arminian). Although I have yet to shun a student, I have asked them to realize they are not in debate club and other students want to learn.

How do we use this material to preserve the unity and promote diversity within a local church?

17 thoughts on “Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

  1. This seems like a very nice and – on paper, at least – an easy process for dealing with conflict in the church. What I gather is that we shouldn’t be too dogmatic on lesser issues of the Christian faith so that we don’t cause unnecessary conflict. I see Dr. Loverin demonstrating this in the Biblical Christian Thought class. He’ll tell us his viewpoint and that of the school, but he won’t say that there aren’t other possible thoughts and explanations. He lets people have views differing from his own.

    But if you do have people in your church who cause conflicts and arguments, you need to warn them to stop. I’ll admit, I could have been this person. I don’t think I ever completely was, but I could have been. I would debate with the people at my church, either in person or online on the church forum about end times and other things. To some people, I’m sure I could have seemed divisive – and I wouldn’t doubt that being the case. So if such a person as me, perhaps to a more extreme degree, kept up this divisive behavior, perhaps not presenting their opinion with gentleness and respect, then they ought to be warned and eventually kicked out if they /still/ prolong their divisiveness.

    Now, would such a person as this be a “false teacher,” per say? I don’t think so. Maybe their views are wrong, but it seems the divisive spirit that they have is more the issue here. They can’t live in a kind, Christian way, so you send them out into the world to get some sense knocked into them, a bit like 1 Corinthians 5:5.

    Like

  2. It is ironic that this process that promotes unity can cause controversy and division in the church. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to have these principles set. The first step is very important. The core elements of the Christian faith need to be set in stone. One who disagrees with something like Christ’s death and resurrection does not help the church in any way. In Titus 3:9, Paul mentions some of the topics that were foolish controversies. The verse says: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” Genealogies and the Law are specifically mentioned here. It is interesting that people still seem to argue about the Law. There is nothing wrong with talking about the Law. In fact, it is profitable to stretch your mind sometimes and study the Scriptures. Polhill says, “What concerned Paul most was not the actual content of the teaching but their divisiveness” (420). However, when talking and discussing becomes quarreling it is unprofitable. Some topics that are potentially divisive in our context are eschatology, the church, baptism, and the Law. From my experience, I have seen churches split because of disagreeing views on missionary work (how much the church gives to reach out to people). Another one is expansion (whether or not the church tries to bring in more people). I think that local churches need to have their beliefs clearly spelled out for everyone to be able to access. But it is not just about theology, it is about promoting unity in the church. So churches need to put their focus on unity, not tolerating anyone who begins to quarrel. Church leaders should be active in keeping unity through accountability. Simply, unity needs to be a bigger emphasis in churches.

    Like

    • I found your last statement to be essential to how to apply this passage today. “Simply, unity needs to be a bigger emphasis in churches.” This three step process that Paul is advocating seems quite simple and quite effective in maintaining unity, but as P. Long said “ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.”” So in our culture this process may seem negative and cause many problems among members who do not fully understand the importance of unity. As far as how would it “work”? It seems pretty self explanatory. This system seems like it would work quite well. Other passages such as Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 also seem to advocate for a similar process to maintain unity. It is something that is difficult to do in Churches today because most churches are very much about acceptance, but it is important to remember when to draw the line on tolerance. Unity of the church should not be sacrificed for tolerance of people with a divisive spirit. Like Ryan, I had a time in my life where I had a divisive spirit. Towards the end of my time in the high-school youth group at my church, I began to argue often and at times tenaciously with the youth leader over trivial theological issues. I was confronted by both the pastor and my mentor to stop arguing for the sake of unity. This was an eye opening experience for me then, but overall it was best for the group.

      Like

  3. There is such a fine line between discussing controversial topics and bringing division between members. One can sit down with a brother or sister in Christ and share their views on a subject that they may not agree on and not cause any disunity in the body. When your opinions become walls that begin to harm the relationships that you have with other believers, that is when disunity comes into play. Each church needs a health dose of diversity, but there should be an atmosphere of unity found in a bond of love that only we, as Christians, should posses. But if we find ourselves in a situation where there are dissenters causing trouble, we need to have the courage to follow the guidelines that scripture sets out for us. In our culture, it would be awkward to warn people that they’re causing too much disunity within the church, but if that is what is best for the Body, then who are we to aid that disunity by ignoring it? 1 Peter 3:8 exhorts us in this, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” If we approach every controversial situation with all of these qualities then Christ will be most glorified in our words and actions.

    Like

  4. I believe there is a fine line between completely excommunicating someone from the church and just hardening a heart towards them. I completely agree with verse 10, in the second half of it when it says after you warn him again then you need to be sure to have nothing to do with him. When it comes to our faith and our walk with Christ, if we keep people around who obviously have no interest in helping us grow and/or completely bring us down spiritual and physical and whatever else…then we should have nothing to do with them. I see how sometimes people will avoid quarrels and things that they do not agree with, and that just ultimately leads to disaster. These three steps are quite extreme but very necessary to promote unity within a church. There is also a huge difference between being diverse for the sake of the cross and being diverse just to say that you are. If there are people within the community who just refuse to live up to a certain standard of Christ-likeness, then why should they even be allowed to stay within the group?

    Like

  5. How do you avoid things that cause quarrels as in Titus 3:9? I don’t think we have to worry about arguments over genealogies like it was a problem when Titus was written. But there are plenty of foolish controversies that plague the churches. How do we avoid controversies over carpets, buildings and pulpits? Do we tear down our Churches and meet in houses again? I have heard of churches that are so ethnically diverse that nobody actually expects to get their way. This fact causes the congregation to not get ticked of when they don’t get what they want. I think that is one reason why diversity is healthy. It just seems so weird that we can hold on to unity but, still promote diversity. One of the major things that hampers the efforts to promote unity is the American sense of individualism. People try to be non-conformists and therefore try to make themselves look as different as possible. In doing this some stray to strange doctrines or even different faiths. If the church is going to promote unity it needs to get around individualism.

    Like

    • I really agree with JT on this one. In america, our culture promotes a, “all about my way” mentality that can sometimes work its way into the church. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, it all comes done to how we handle it. It still amazes me how immature the people of the church can be at times. In my personal opinion, drums are a perfectly acceptable form of bringing praise to God, but others may not think so. When not handled in a mature manor, this little difference of opinion can some how turn into a split church! Sometimes people meet in the middle and other times they find a different church. These are not always bad things, but they are not always good things either. Conflict in the church can have a sort of snow ball effect that just gets bigger as it roles along, and this is why we should take careful steps when dealing with conflict.

      Like

  6. I do not think it is necessarily unhealthy to hav conflict within the church just as long as it is a healthy kind of conflict. It becomes unhealthy when that conflict serves as a wall for the believers in the body of Christ and ultimately results in a division of the church. In Response to how how we are to respond to those who are constantly bringing us down, I think Paul exhorts us in that in Romans 16:17, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” I agree with Tuttle. It is really so weird that we can hold on to the concept of unity and promote diversity. THere are so many people who have their own set of ideas and do not want to argue over certain things because they are set in their ways. I think that is unhealthy in the sense that it will cause divisions in the church body. People even resort to wacky theology and a set of beliefs just for the sake of being an individual. In Philippians 2:1-2 Paul writes If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. We are all suppose to be one body and have the same love for Jesus Christ

    Like

  7. I believe that the difference between a disagreement between believers in a church and foolish controversies that cause division (Titus 3:9), all depend on the heart of the individuals involved. Whenever people come together they are going to disagree. Whether it is church, school, or home life everyone has a different set of preferences and norms that they believe to be best. The church setting is not different. Actually, the potential for harsh disagreements is even more likely due to the fact that spiritual matters are involved. I think of the argument for and against baptism for an example. Their are Christians who take both sides and, because it is such a spiritually motivated debate, tempers often get the best of people. The Christian response to this and other debates should be our emphasis on unity. The unifying love that believers are called to have for one another (John 13:34) should trump all disagreements in the way that only the love of Christ can. I think the biggest problem we see in our churches is when people act out of selfishness with no desire to put others before themselves (Romans 12:16).

    Like

  8. I agree with Scott. It all comes back to where your heart is. There will more than likely always be disagreement. People come from all over to form a church body. The body is suppose to be one but this doesn’t always happen. It is key for someone to search there heart and see where the truly lie when it comes to a disagreement. Are they disagreeing simply to cause an issue or out of hatred or do they truly disagree and there needs to be a resolution. Avoiding conflict is never easy but there are certain things that can be avoided like stated in the first part.

    Like

  9. In todays society, often a way to tell if a church is growing in Christ often can be seen in the size of the church and whether or not it is growing in numbers. Lots of churches that are growing are non denominational. In a nnon denominational church one can find many different people with differetn denominational backgrounds. It is important that people within the chuch do not become nit picky about certain topics that really have nothing to do with the core values of Christianity. Unfortunitly, people do not always respect these rules that Paul has set. which in turn do, if not taken care of, destroy a church. Although the point of kicking someone out of a church seems anti Amarican or even un christian. One might say that we are called to love everyone. Sometimes people need to be lovingly kicked out to get a point through their thick skulls. Look at the man in the Collosians that was kicked out and who then repented and was allowed to return.
    Also we need to think of the damage that one person can do to many. A person that creates decenssion can cause others to stumble sometimes many. These people tend to turn to the weak and gain suport from them and then bring those people down with them while they fall.

    Like

  10. A lot of what I have been reading from the posts above really go back to what a friend of mine and I were talking about a week ago about the Church. It was funny and sad to us at the same times that things of little value can break up a church. Why do we allow people to raise issues such as carpet, or the color of the pew bibles, or as I had heard it once, the type of whip cream used on deserts, to tear churches apart? The disunity comes from people who want to get their own way. From the people who want what they think is best, instead of more important matters. I just think it is so sad that we have allowed the church to go as far as to break up over the stupid little things.

    Like

  11. Times were certainly different back in Paul’s time, and now-a-days, no one is as bold as Paul was when it comes to certain occurrences. In today’s society, calling someone “warped and sinful” (Titus 3:11), if they are divisive two times would be crazy, and people would act like you were a very perplexed, unforgiving person. This passage proves to be tough to link to promoting diversity, as it somewhat points to keeping diversity out of the church. The way to rid the harshness of division, and promote diversity, is to get rid of foolishness and arguments that really are not needed, and to focus on the Gospel and what is important. Titus 3:9 points to this conclusion as well: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” Avoiding arguments and quarrels that do not result in profitability overall in everyone’s understanding of God and walk with God are useless.

    Like

  12. I am glad that this is a topic we can post on, because as I read this passage last week, I had a few thoughts. Ultimately, I agree with Paul that if someone is continually causing dissension, they need to be asked to leave. I have witnessed this firsthand in my home church. But what Cory said is true for today; if we cast someone out after two offenses, we may be seen as unforgiving. This, in turn, may cause to disrupt church unity even more. When I first read this passage, I thought of the “seventy times seven” forgiveness principle that Jesus gives Peter in Matthew 18:22. Does this apply here? What do Jesus’ words mean for this situation? At what point do we stop “forgiving” a person and ask them to leave the church? Or, perhaps we forgive them and in love send them out. Any way you look at it it’s difficult.

    Like

  13. This reminds me of my own church. A few years ago, we went through a split. Seven families were under the opinion that our pastor at the time was not serving our congregation as well as a pastor should. From what I gathered from the conflict at the time, they felt him to be doctrinally weak, emotionally distant, and unfit for spiritual leadership. While I am not sure if their complaints were well-grounded, I do believe the seven families truly thought what they were doing was the appropriate, biblical way of going about their request. They wrote a letter to the board of Deacons listing their complaints, and asking the board to prayerfully consider asking the pastor to step down. They felt so strongly about this, that they were prepared to remove themselves from the church so as to not cause dissension within the Body. Unfortunately, one of the Deacon’s wives got a hold of the information, and all too soon the gossip got around the the rest of the church. This caused so many people to become angry that these seven families would have the audacity to attack their pastor like that, and a rift was torn.

    This conflict lasted for about a year, with the result of our pastor deciding to step down after all. So many people (from both sides of the argument) left the church. This is unfortunately a great example of what Paul warns Titus to avoid in dealing with the church in Crete. I think my church did all the appropriate steps to deal with this conflict, but they did it too late.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.