I was horrified. The text of the morning’s message was Titus 3:9-11: “But avoid foolish controversies…as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”
Neatly removing these verses from their context, the speaker in the pulpit moved on to apply them to persons who refuse to let go of difficult issues and so affect the unity of our churches and seminaries.
Who are these ‘difficult people’ with ‘bad attitudes’ that ‘stand up for the Word of God’ while displaying ‘spiritual immaturity’ by their intolerance of sin in the church?
--People like me, evidently.
What’s to be done with the likes of these?
--“We need to move them out of our communities because they affect unity.”
Ok… slow down. What are these ‘difficult issues’ again? We’re not talking ‘food sacrificed to idols’ or whether or not a Christian should be circumcised. We’re not talking arbitrary peripherals that aren’t clearly defined in the Word of God. And no, I don’t believe Paul would have agreed with the speaker and called these non-essentials of the faith—since after all ‘we all love God’.
The issues she spoke of are ‘hot button’ issues because they run counter to culture. They affect people we know and love. Our compassion-ometers want to make exceptions and decide right and wrong on a person- by-person basis depending on how things seem to be working out for the individuals concerned. The way that ‘seems right to a man’ is hard to deny without getting labeled ‘intolerant’.
The talk from the pulpit proceeded with an uncanny repetition of the word ‘conversations’: We need to be having them—‘authentic conversations’, ‘genuine’ conversations, but not ‘fierce conversations’…We need to show empathy, to care unconditionally, to enter deeply into another’s understanding, and to seek ‘new insights on Scripture’ so we can learn to see things differently and ultimately ‘make space’ for those of differing opinions and lifestyles.
It was all about reaching consensus and exhibiting ‘caring community’. It all sounded so warm and wonderful, except that though the talk began with reference to Scripture it was soon revolving around man’s opinions rather than God’s: If we truly understand where people are coming from we will be more inclusive, more welcoming, less ‘judgmental’, more ‘loving’…we will stop majoring on ‘minor issues’. We will stop being ‘difficult people’ who can’t let go of ‘difficult issues’.
But really there was no warm and wonderful in it. The issues at stake are not minor issues. They are destroying the North American church! True, our churches are scrambling to de-classify them from major to minor status, (anything to make our churches more relevant, less offensive) Church boards meet. Denominations re-write statements of doctrine. And the folks in the pew are led like sheep down the slippery slide which ends in ‘the love of many growing cold’.
First it was divorce and remarriage, then women in leadership, next up are the ‘gender identity’ issues that have resulted from the hosts of broken homes that have engendered them! We can pretend these are minor issues that disrupt ‘unity’. After all, everyone claims to love God, surely we should get along, but God says the one who loves Him will find the keeping of His commands a delight. (I Jn.5:3) And these issues we are divided on are issues God has spoken clearly on. He describes them with words like: ‘abomination’, unnatural, debased, and ‘worthy of death’. The morning’s speaker, who incidentally (or not?) was a woman, steered us from such considerations by suggesting we just need ‘fresh insight’, a new way of reading those Words, and a more agreeable outlook…Then we will have caring unified communities.
There is a great longing for close-knit community in the church at large. Most believers I know feel the want of it. We long to be of one mind and one heart with other believers, to enjoy deep and meaningful fellowship, not just Sunday morning services. And we long to have an effect on our communities, to help the hurting and welcome the fallen. These desires set us up for great deception if we waffle in our commitment to God’s revealed truth in order to fulfill them.
We cannot merely turn a blind eye to bad doctrine and blatant sin in order to enhance unity. We fail to truly love when we fail to address sin with the loving intent of restoring the sinner to God’s intended design for him/her. After all, the unity we share as believers is the unity created by the HOLY Spirit. Ours is a holy calling. To stop short of this calling in our interactions with others is not love at all. It is a short-sighted sort of compassion, a sort of warmed petri dish of lamb’s blood bound to incubate sin rather than treat it. And that sin is what kills fellowship. When we walk in the light, fellowship is restored. When we truly love, truth is not left out of our conversations. Yes, we need authentic conversations but they cannot end with our own thoughts and opinions on issues of importance. They must be grounded in what God has to say in His eternal Word.
The ‘difficult issues’ will only be made more difficult when we prioritize making people feel comfortable over honoring God’s heart on our ‘hot button’ issues. When compassions and convictions clash the authority of God’s Word must rule the day. We don’t need to re-write the Words of God to fit the times we live in. We don’t need a new lens created in the upper echelons of academia to help us sort out relevant truth. We need to read the Word of God in humble dependence on the Spirit of God to illumine truth and shed light on our confusions.
The Word that sets up such stumbling blocks to our modern mindset of tolerance, is the very Word that will give us traction on the black ice of sin’s deceitfulness.
Ironically, the book of Titus which was cited in the message that day was actually written not to silence ‘difficult people’ but “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 1:1,2) Sadly, that was the very knowledge left out of the conversation!
Let’s not let it be left out of ours.
If you get a chance, have a look at Titus this week and consider the context for those instructions about contentious people. What would you say is the theme of Titus?
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:11-15 ESV
“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus1:9)
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim.3:17)
“…preach the word…for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (II Tim.4:2-4)