Sunday, August 26, 2007

Scripture on Factious Men and Unprofitable Discussions

The staff having issued bans on particular individuals, this is as good a time as any to discuss dealing with unprofitable persons and discussions according to Scripture's instructions. When a discussion becomes unprofitable, where does one draw the line and break it off? What sorts of people does Paul have in mind when he speaks of "factious men?" Please note, this is , per the previous post, not the place to comment for or against the decision that has been made regarding the three individuals named in that post.

The Rules of Engagement now explicitly state:

Remember that, in Scripture, most false teachers are professing believers. So merely calling yourself a Christian doesn't immunize you from judgmental language where appropriate. It is our Christian duty to analogize from Biblical cases to contemporary cases.

"By the same token, we reserve the right to use harsh, judgmental language where appropriate. Invective is context-dependent. The Bible employs harsh, judgmental language for apostates, false teachers, and other enemies of the faith. The Bible is full of taunt-songs."

We've been over the latter many times on this blog. Here, we would like to take the opportunity to look at the former rule in the light of Scripture.

Triablogue is a ministry, not a shooting-gallery. It is necessary that we preserve the pastoral character of the blog. We have to consider our readership. Too many articles here recently have had to deal with these characters and these same issues. Now, we would like to take the opportunity to address what Scripture says with regard to dealing with these sorts of unprofitable discussions, for, as the rules say, we are to analogize from biblical cases to contemporary cases. Dusman has given us permission to post his teaching on this subject .

Unprofitable Activities

NAU Titus 3:9-11

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

Believers in the isle of Crete had been exposed to a large number of false teachers who presumed to speak for Jesus. These enemies of Christ and His church had caused so much confusion that Paul had instructed Titus to “set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city . . [who would] hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching they [they] may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict [it]”, namely, “many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain” (1:5, 9-11). Titus faced a large (“many,” 1:10) and strong group of false teachers in the Cretan churches who were deceiving believers about central truths of the gospel. The most influential and dangerous were Jewish legalists, “those of the circumcision” (v. 10), who promoted “Jewish myths and commandments of men” (v. 14). They were not even honest false teachers, because their primary goal was not to instruct in their false doctrines, but rather to earn “sordid [dishonest] gain” because they, like all modern false teachers, want to peddle the word of God for profit (1 Tim. 6:5).

Nevertheless, they were causing great damage to Christ’s church and the gospel and as such, they were to be refuted (v. 9), silenced (v. 11), and reproved (v. 13). They professed “to know God,” Paul explained, “but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (v. 16). Like those about whom the apostle warned Timothy, these false teachers held “to a form of godliness, although [they] had denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). They were not disobedient believers; they were not believers at all! This is shown by the fact that they espoused ungodly doctrines, lived ungodly lives, and tried to justify it all in the name of love for Jesus. They were to be ejected from the churches immediately because they were corrupting the faith once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).

Paul was well acquainted with these fools, for he had been both dogged by their persistence in proclaiming their error over and against the true gospel. One of his encounters with them involved Titus, when some years earlier, Barnabas, Titus, and Paul had gone to Jerusalem to explain their ministry to the Gentiles. He explains in Galatians, that when they arrived in Jerusalem, contrary to the demands of the Judaizers, “not even Titus who was with me, thought he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” (Gal. 2:3-5). At the end of that epistle, he comments further about “those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh [and] try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (6:12).

1. The command “avoid” translates a verb (periistemi) that means “to turn oneself around, to purposefully turn away from something or someone”. Titus, the elders in the churches, and the congregations on Crete were to turn the other way from morally and spiritually destructive false teachers, who not only corrupted the churches but, by their sinful and sordid lifestyles, were a great hindrance to the credibility of the gospel. The effect of false teaching is explained in several New Testament passages. It unsettles the soul (Acts 15:24), shipwrecks faith (1 Tim. 1:19), leads to blasphemy (v. 20), and to the ruin of the hearers (2 Tim. 2:14), produces ungodliness (v. 16), and spreads “like cancer” (v. 17).

2. In this single verse, Paul mentions four specific categories of errors these false teachers were espousing: "foolish controversies and geneologies and strife and disputes about the Law."

(A) The word "foolish" (moros) comes from the word that we get the English word "moron" from. The word "controversies" is a word (zetesis) that was used to describe debate and discussion that was both contentious and controversial. This word is always used in Paul's writings in a negative sense and is used to warn Christians to avoid engaging in silly arguments about vain philosophy and empty and deceptive theology – things that are is based upon human rationalism and imagination rather than the Bible.

Paul told Timothy to "instruct certain people not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God" and which inevitably results in "fruitless discussion" (1 Tim. 1:3-6). Paul repeats a similar warning to Timothy, "If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain." (1 Tim. 6:3-5) In his second letter, Paul again instructs Timothy: "But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels." (2 Tim. 2:23)

False teachers replace sound teaching with newfangled ideas and unbiblical philosophies which end up confusing God's people. False doctrine is dangerous because it appeals to the natural man, is acceptable to unbelievers and worse yet, it appeals to the flesh of worldly Christians that are poorly taught in the word of God. This is why Paul instructed Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus . . ." (2 Tim. 2:15-17). Once a false teacher is exposed in the church, he is to be rejected by the church, given no platform to spread his doctrinal cancer; he is not to be debated, but rebuked, and quickly expelled from the assembly if he doesn't repent.

What's the point? The point is this: Do not waste hours and hours debating with heretics who espouse "foolish controversies" but instead disciple your family, your church, and your community. Wasting time debating and quarreling with apostates is "foolish" behavior because (a) it is a time and energy waster for God's people and (b) if you engage in continually answering and contending with a fool, you'll end up showing that you're just as stupid as he is (Prov. 26:4-5).

(B) Paul's warning against "genealogies" is not against the biblical genealogies found in Scripture which are ultimately designed to point to the God-man Jesus (Matt 1:1. cf. 2:1-7). Instead, Paul is speaking against the practice of making fanciful Jewish interpretations of genealogies and physical lineages found in the Scriptures, activities that were supposed to automatically place some Jews in a special spiritual status over and above other men, especially the Gentiles. This kind of practice was associated with the Judaizers when they were engaging in general controversies surrounding the relationship of the Law of Moses to the gospel. Paul said this was a waste of time, a practice only reserved for morons. This is why he told Timothy not to "pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith." (1 Tim. 1:4)

(C) The third error that Christians on Crete may have engaged in was "strife", which always accompanies self-centered behavior and leads to a fourth thing faced by the Christians on Crete

(D), which were continual "disputes about the [Mosaic] Law". These two words, "strife" and "disputes" (eris and mache) are combat terms that indicate the intensity of the spiritual battle faced by these Christians. These "strife and disputes" about the Mosaic Law probably included mythical legends added to Old Testament history, false ideas of the Judaizers that were leading to Gnosticism, and the tradition of the elders, which at the time of Jesus, was believed to have equal authority with the Old Testament Scriptures. This tradition of the elders, known as the Mishna and the Gemara, eventually became what is known today as the Talmud. Essentially, Paul and the apostles were battling the false teachings of the Jewish rabbinic schools that were creeping into the churches, and subsequently causing strife by creating a division and barrier between the Jewish and Gentile Christians (Eph. 2:11-16), something that Christ came to break down (Eph. 2:11-16) and something that the apostles fought against in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:5, 10-11; 12:17; 21:18-19). The same assimilating of false ideas into the church occurs today and destroys the unity of the body. So it was with the Cretan churches, so it goes now with our American churches! This is thy Paul says that such things "are unprofitable and worthless."

Discussing and debating theology with false teachers who disregard and distort God’s word is an absolutely fruitless task. You are smarter by finding people who will listen to the truth rather than wasting your time quarreling with those who have no desire to receive divine truth. This is because such people are self deceived by “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). However, those who follow false teachers are many, and according to 2 Peter 2:2, “Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned” and they will “not endure sound doctrine” because “wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and . . . turn away their ears from the truth, and . . . turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

3. Reject Factious People – “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11) Just as we are to “avoid” the ungodly, fruitless, and corrupting activities mentioned in verse 9, we are also to reject “factious” people. The word “reject” (paraiteomi) is also translated “have nothing to do with” in 1 Tim. 4:7 and “refuse” in 2 Tim. 2:23. In the second use of this word by Paul, he is speaking of refusing “foolish and ignorant speculations that . . . produce quarrels.” The word “factious” is from the Greek word hairetikos, from which we get our English word “heretic”. A heretic is one who places his own theories, false doctrine, and self-willed opinions above the truth. Let me give you an example from the writings of a popular infidel, the Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong,

A savior who restores us to our prefallen status is therefore pre-Darwinian superstition and post-Darwinian nonsense. A supernatural redeemer who enters our fallen world to restore creation is a theistic myth. So we must free Jesus from the rescuer role. Yet so totally has he been captured by this understanding that most of us know of no other way to speak of him except to reduce him to a good teacher or a good example. Had the Christ experience been more than that, I doubt seriously if it would have survived. Yet the Jesus portrayed in the creedal statement ‘as one who, for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven’ simply no longer communicates to our world. Those concepts must be uprooted and dismissed. If the Christ experience is real, then we must find a new way to talk about it.

Or how about this one?

The Kingdom of God, which was once thought to be destined to descend out of the skies, is now assumed to be present in the midst of the people. The transition toward a worship pattern appropriate to the exile has begun. A second symbol of change is found in the fact that people engaged in worship are beginning to rise from their knees. The posture of kneeling thought to be appropriate for a worshipper approaching an external deity came originally out of the relationship of a subject to a king. . . . Increasingly, worshippers stand to pray, stand to receive the bread and wine of communion, and stand to acknowledge and even to confess their sins. Most of these worshippers are not conscious of what impels this change. They only know it feels right. I suggest that this is simply one more dawning response to the realization that there is no God out there and that we must thus begin to look for God within ourselves. Does it not quickly become inappropriate behavior to kneel before something that is part of each of us? So kneeling is declining in liturgical churches everywhere.

Spong is the classic example of a heretic. A person like Spong refuses to listen to contrary views and so rejects the faith once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3). Galatians 5:19-21 says that such people are associated with the following “deeds of the flesh” – “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing”. And so, a “factious” person refuses to submit to the law of Christ, refuses to submit to godly leaders in the church, and is not concerned with spiritual unity or truth. He is the epitome of what it means to be autonomos, or a “law unto oneself”, and such a person is to be rejected because quarreling with such a one takes time away from family, ministry, and other necessary things. It is certain that Satan will always raise up a heretic to steal your time away from what really matters, thus we all would do well to heed Paul’s instruction to Titus in verse 10.

It is important to note that Paul is not dealing with false teachers only, but is including in his warning anyone in the broader church community that is divisive, disruptive, and breeds dissension. Because the consequences of insubordination, nonsubmission, and bickering can be so destructive of unity among the Lord’s people, the apostle commands that “factious” person be rejected by the church if they do not listen to “a first and second warning”. The reason they are to be rejected is because the issues they are debating may be silly, but their constant arguing and dissension is not! This is why Paul said in Romans 16:17-18, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting . . .” and also in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” This is why church discipline must be done in a way that is loving, with a view toward the restoration of the sinning believer, for Paul says that we are to confront sinning people, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth . . .” (2 Tim. 2:25).

Unity and love grounded in God’s divine truth as seen in Christian fellowship is imperative for effective evangelism. It is testimony to the world, for Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” He also said that the purpose of church leaders was to equip Christians for the work of the ministry, for “the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” and he shows that his goal for all Christians was that we would all strive to be “made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11).


For Christians that are well grounded in the Scriptures, the errors and sinfulness of factious and divisive people in the church should be obvious, “knowing that” a person who persists in fighting for foolish and heretical ideas “is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” This word “perverted” (ekstrepho) has the meaning of “turning inside out, or twisting”; and indicates that the factious person is twisted by his constant “sinning”. These types of people always continually manifest their wicked condition by their words and actions and like Bishop Spong, are “self-condemned.” Those people who teach ideas that are completely foreign to Scripture are usually never disciplined in modern evangelical churches and what is the result? They are given further opportunity and even praised for their doctrinal weirdness. May we turn to the profitable activities of verse 8, activities that strengthen the church, edify individual believers, and provide a strong testimony to our communities versus turning to the unprofitable and time-wasting quarreling associated with the likes of obvious heretics, infidels, and schismatics. May God have mercy on us all.


(1) John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, (San Franciso, CA: Harper Collins, 1998), 99.

(2) Ibid., 176-177.

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