“They didn’t teach that in seminary.” I had a wonderful seminary experience, and I would recommend my seminary to anyone. But there are some aspects of pastoral ministry that you just have to experience, and it is about those that pastors can say, “they didn’t teach that in seminary.” Dealing with funerals. The emotional toll. How it can feel being on call. But for sure one of the most difficult is dealing with church discipline. I’ve never met a church discipline situation that I liked, and we’ve had a number of them over the years. Each is unique. Each is emotional and taxing. But each one is important.
I became senior pastor in July 2008, and by the first week of August we were embroiled in a really thorny situation. I’ll never forget the day in the office as the phone rang, and who was on the other end, but my bishop at the time. In my denomination the bishop is leader of the whole denomination. In that era, there were actually mid-level conference ministers who were my direct “bosses.” The bishop was their boss. So I was getting a call from my boss’s boss. Maybe you’ve experienced that too. I answered and said, “Hey Bishop Kevin, how can I help you?” Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he was calling me because some of the people in the difficult situation in my church had called him to tattle on me! I will admit that I had not handled that difficult situation perfectly, and as I talked with the Bishop, I conceded that there were some things I would have done differently.
The larger context, though, was that there was sin in the church family, and not just me alone, but our Leadership Team had confronted the sin, and the disgruntled people ended up leaving the church. We tried very hard to handle the situation in a faithful manner, and the result was very hurtful. Just about every church discipline situation I’ve encountered has been like that. I’ve learned that when our Leadership Team has confronted people, they usually don’t say, “Thank you, I needed that.”
As we continue reading other people’s mail, we come to Titus 1:10-16, where Paul talks about confronting sin in the church. What Paul says relates to church discipline for any reason, but what Titus needs to deal with in Crete is a very specific situation.
When we studied Titus 1:5-9, we learned that Paul gave Titus his primary mission, which was to select leaders for the churches in Crete. Now in this series of posts we learn why Paul had such specific guidelines for who Titus should appoint as leaders.
Remember the one word that Paul used to describe the leaders? It’s like bookends to verses 6 and 7: blameless. There Paul gave Titus a variety of lists, so Titus had an unmistakable idea of what blameless leaders are all about.
Why? Because those blameless leaders had a job to do in Crete. Look at verse 9. Those leaders were going to hold firmly to the message as it had been taught, so that they could encourage others by sound doctrine, and refute those who oppose it.
There were people in the church in Crete, Paul is saying, who opposed sound doctrine. Now in verses 10-16, Paul teaches Titus who these people are and how to refute them. Go ahead and read Titus 1:10-16, and see if you can discover why Paul is so concerned.
Verse 10 presents a very negative view of a certain group of people in the church. Who were they? He calls them, “rebellious, mere talkers, and deceivers.” Paul’s mention of rebellious people needs to be seen in the context of what he has just talked about in verse 9, sound doctrine, which is the true faith. The rebellious ones are rebelling against that true teaching, as Paul will go on to describe in the verses that follow.
Paul describes them as mere talkers which conveys the idea of idle talk, empty talk, that they are foolish babblers. They talk a good game, and likely talk a lot, but it is empty, and it is not in line with the true faith. Think about babbling. It is what infants do when they are learning to talk. They love to hear themselves make sounds. But their noises have no meaningful content. Paul says those rebellious people in the churches in Crete are teaching something that has the doctrinal equivalency of baby talk.
Finally, he says they are deceivers. That flows from the rebellious description and from the mere talking. By being rebellious and by their empty talk, they are deceiving the church.
Next he points out a subset of the larger rebellious group. Paul has a special name for them: the “circumcision group”. That’s a pretty focused word, and it is not coded at all. Paul is talking about Jews. They were Jews who said that they believed in Jesus, but also the believed that Christians must still follow the Old Testament Law. Do you know the outward sign that indicated that a person was a Jew who followed the Law? Circumcision. All male babies in Jewish families would be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth, showing that they were a part of the covenant God made with Israel. It was a special mark that distinguished Jews from others.
There on the island of Crete where Titus was going to appoint leaders in the churches, many people were not Jews, and thus were likely not circumcised. Paul is saying that the circumcision group, the Jewish Christians were especially the problem in the church. We’re going to see why in the next post.