Tag Archives: circumcision

What is sound doctrine? Titus 1:10-16, Part 3

3 Jul
Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash

In this series of posts on Titus 1:10-16, Paul has been talking about redemptive church discipline. He has described how to practice faithful confrontation that seeks to encourage people away from divisiveness toward sound doctrine. But what is sound doctrine? What is going on with these people?  In today’s post, we’re going to focus on verses 15-16, where Paul gets to the heart of the church discipline issue that needs to be addressed in the churches in Crete.

If you haven’t already, turn to Titus 1:15. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase.  First Paul says, “to the pure, all things are pure.”  What does that mean?  The people in the churches in Crete who Paul points out as divisive were Jews who said they were Christians, and they also said that all Christians should follow the stipulations of the Old Covenant that God made with the ancient nation of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Bible.

Paul taught something very different, however, when he and Titus had spent time ministering on the island of Crete.  Paul taught the good news of Jesus, that anyone who believes in and follows the way of Jesus is no longer under the Old Covenant. Even Jews.  Paul’s way of describing this is to say, “Those followers of Jesus are pure.” They are not to categorize foods, for example, as clean or unclean, which was something that God told the Jews to do, as described in many texts in the Old Testament.  Instead, to the pure, who are the followers of Jesus, all things are pure. 

That is so different from what the Jews were used to. You might remember in our Deuteronomy series that we covered texts like Deuteronomy chapter 14 where God listed clean and unclean animals, and the people of Israel were only allowed to eat the clean animals.  There were rules about cleanliness and ritual purity and washing.  But fast-forward a thousand years or so to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and it was a new day.  Paul taught that in Christ we are free from the law, and all things are pure.  

For many Jews who became Christians this freedom in Christ was scandalous.  Paul, therefore, had to respond to Christians around the Roman Empire, as the Jews followed Paul, disagreeing with him, saying that Christians needed to follow the OT Law. 

Paul wrote about this numerous places in his letters. Here are a few examples :

  • In 1 Timothy 4:4 he says that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 
  • In 1 Corinthians 8:8 he says that food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 
  • In Romans 14:14, he says “no food is unclean in itself.” 

In other words, we Christians are free from the OT Law.  Or as Paul describes in Titus, “To the pure all things are pure.”

But there remains a problem.  Not everyone thinks this way.  Look at the next phrase in Titus 1:15, “to those who are corrupted, and do not believe, nothing is pure.” 

Paul is saying that the people in the church, who were teaching that Christians must follow the OT Law, were actually corrupted.  They did not believe in Jesus.  They are still thinking about life through the lens of the Old Covenant.  Paul even goes on to describe them, at the end of verse 15, as having minds and consciences that are contaminated!  This is his way of saying that they do not believe in the sound doctrine or the true message of Jesus.  Instead they believe in a false message.

Notice how Paul concludes in verse 16.  Scholars tell us this verse is critical for understanding the whole letter: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Strong language from Paul, isn’t it?

Even though they were in the church, even though they might have called themselves Christians, Paul reveals how they were not so.  His words couldn’t be clearer.  By their actions they deny God.  They show they that are not Christians by what they teach and by how they are living.

This correlates with what he says over in chapter 3:11, “You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

In other words, the “circumcision group” (see verse 10 where Paul gives them this name) has not made the jump from an Old Covenant way of thinking to true faith in Jesus.  They are wrapped up in the rules and regulations of the OT Law.  They are teaching the people in the churches in Crete to follow the OT Law, and that is a major threat to the teaching of sound doctrine, which is the good news of new life through Jesus, life, death and resurrection.  Paul’s conclusion?  Muzzle it.  Give them a chance to repent, and even give them a second chance, but after that, move on.  The true teaching of the Gospel must be preserved and undiluted in the church.

Check back in to the next post as we search for ways the church in 2019 might be like the “circumcision group.”

Spotting deceivers in the church – Titus 1:10-16, Part 1

1 Jul

“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.