Monday, July 13, 2015

Silencing Heresies – Titus 1:10-11

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach — and that for the sake of dishonest gain. (NIV)
Talkers and Deceivers
The previous blog in this series talked of rebellion but this now addresses rebels within the church (heretics), how to recognize them and deal with them.

Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18 RSV)

Some rebels do little more than talk. They aren’t the kind that will get their hands dirty. Instead, they have lofty words and ideas but don’t put them into practice by outright rebellion. With words, they are able to instigate others. They may claim to expound a loving way of life but their own deeds reveal that that they have different motives. Paul encountered the same kind of people often in his ministry. In Corinth, he called them, “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13 NASB). He warned the Ephesians that wolves would be among them speaking twisted things so that they would get their own disciples (Acts20:29-30).

Paul warned that they must be silenced because they were upsetting whole families and that their motive was monetary. It’s usually easy to find these if we’re willing to look at outward signs. The first thing to look for is empty talk. If they write books, preach in a church, or write blogs, then examine their teaching. One way of determining if their talk is empty is to see how often they quote the Bible. However, simply quoting the Bible isn’t enough because Satan quoted it out of context (Matt 4:1-11). Does it line up with the rest of the Scriptures? Empty talkers will pick a subject, determine what they believe is right, and then look for verses that back them up. It makes them sound good, but one who wants to correctly handle the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15) must go first to the Bible to find out what it says and then conform his thoughts to it. When they write or preach, do they affirm salvation through Jesus or do they neglect to mention the exclusive claim of Christianity that salvation comes only through Jesus (John 14:6)? Do they talk about Jesus but fail to mention His deity (Rev 22:3) and atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:1-2)? No wonder their talking upsets families when they distort the truth of Christ.

Certainly, writing books and being paid when millions of people buy them is not dishonest gain. Neither is being well paid for being the head of a large church, which is a huge spiritual and fiscal responsibility. However, another way of determining if a person is an empty talker is to look at their lifestyle. How do they use the money they get either from their books or from their preaching and teaching? Do they live in multimillion dollar mansions or do they give most of their money away? Of course, it is their money to do with what they want so I need to be careful not to judge them. After all, the Word doesn’t say Christians should give significant amounts of their income, but to give what they have decided and without compulsion (2 Cor 9:6-7). Who am I to say what they should do with their money? On the other hand, the love of money corrupts and helps us to forget the Lord (Prov 30:8-9, 1 Tim 6:6-10). A very convicting thought about money and love is the comparison between Jesus’ sacrifice for us and our use of our resources. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him” (1 John 3:16-18 NASB)? Personally, I would be very wary of any religious leader that lives an extravagant lifestyle.

Circumcision Group
For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. (Phil 3:3 ESV)

In direct opposition to the Jerusalem Council’s determination (Acts 15:1-35), some people were still teaching that a person cannot be saved unless he is circumcised (Acts 15:1). At this time, Christianity was seen as a Jewish sect that was welcoming Gentiles. In the Jewish custom and command of the Old Testament, a male must be circumcised to be accepted as a Jewish convert. It started with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:10), included converts (Ex 12:48), and was part of the Law of Moses (John 7:22-23). The Jerusalem Council decided that since the Holy Spirit had been given to Gentiles without any adherence to the Law of Moses, but only by hearing the gospel and believing (they were saved by grace), then no legalistic restrictions should be placed on them (Acts 15:6-11). Rather they were given instruction to live holy lives once saved (Acts 15:28-29).

Circumcision was not an isolated custom for Jews. Other ancient Near Eastern civilizations also had the practice. The implication of Jeremiah 9:25-26 is that Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, and Moab all followed the custom. God included Judah in the list because he said that they were all circumcised in the flesh but uncircumcised in their hearts. God also made it clear in Jeremiah 4:4 that circumcision was truly meant to be a sign of a heart attitude toward him. Paul had this good biblical background when he declared that anyone who believes in Jesus and is saved by His blood is a true worshiper of God and is truly circumcised but not physically (Col 2:11-13).

What is so wrong with adding the need of circumcision to the requirement to believe in Jesus for salvation? Let’s first of all, make sure that we aren’t limiting this to the problem of Paul’s day. Circumcision isn’t the problem; it is adding this or any other human accomplishment to Christ’s death on the cross in order to be saved. The Galatians had the same problem. People were coming and telling them that they had to adhere to the Mosaic Law in order to be saved as well as believe in Jesus. Paul answered, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing" (Gal 2:21 NIV )! The point is that simple. If by being baptized, whether as an infant or an adult, saves me, then why did Christ have to die? If I give all I have to the poor, pray every day, go to church every week, and do every good deed possible in order to gain my salvation, then why did Jesus have to die? No one on this earth can legitimately claim that he has never sinned (Rom 3:23). In James 2:10, James clearly conveys the concepts that if anyone tries to win salvation by being perfect (keeping the law), he will eventually fail in at least one point. In God’s eyes, that is just as guilty as if he had failed at all points. Therefore, keeping a set of regulations or doing all sorts of good deeds can never make up for even one sin. Adding anything to believing in Jesus also means that Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to gain our salvation.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1:27-29 RSV)

What did God chose that shames wise, strong, influential people? All these have reasons to boast. They are the ones that sing songs like, “I did it my way.” They are the ones that are like the Pharisee who went to pray and thanked God that he wasn’t like other sinful people. He went on to list all the good things he did (Luke 18:10-12). He was boasting before God. Surely, he believed that he was justified by his moral goodness to stand in the presence of the perfect, holy, God. Jesus clearly condemned him (Luke 18:14). Getting back to Paul, he says that God chose what was foolish. Did that Pharisee realize that he was born at that time, place, and into the family that allowed him become a Pharisee or did he think all these circumstances of life were his choice or based on his merit? Anyone who depends on his own merits instead of Jesus Christ for his salvation is a member of the circumcision group.

How do you silence those who have different opinions about these things? Christians have not always been noble in their attempts to silence heretics and false prophets. In the earlier years, after the Apostles, excommunication was often used. However, it was ineffective as demonstrated by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Bishops from Antioch and Constantinople disagreed so much about the nature of Christ that they would not meet together and then excommunicated each other.[1] Later in church history, it became even worse; during the Inquisition heretics were murdered, property sized, or banished.[2] Later, Protestants were not any better in silencing heretics; John Calvin cooperated with the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553.[3] Fortunately, within Protestant Christianity, these methods of silencing heretics are not practiced anymore.

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. (Matt 22:34 NASU)

Jesus gave the best example of silencing those with heretical views. He silenced them with clear and precise explanations from the Word of God. The Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection among other things. Jesus used Exodus 3.6, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” in a way that we would not easily recognize. By stating that God used the present tense in reference to three long dead people, Jesus argued that they were still alive validating the resurrection. Throughout history, even during the bad times mentioned above, Christians used verbal apologetics to silence those who speak heresy. John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, just to name a few, were prolific writers and defenders of Christianity. Paul stated that our methods should not be the same as the world’s. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5 NIV).

How do you silence heresy, false teaching, or justification of immorality? Do you know the Bible well enough at least to recognize any of these if not refute them? Are you willing to stand up and be counted on the side of righteousness or does your silence empower those who are corrupting influences in society and even in our churches? Paul was clear that they must be silenced or they will ruin households, which leads to communities and then nations.

Silencing critics can’t be done if you are not knowledgeable in the areas of controversy. People opposed to the Gospel are well versed and are able to eat most of us alive in a debate. If you want to gain a better understanding of why we should believe in a young earth (about 6,000 years) versus evolution from a scientific perspective, then I recommend you get the book, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. (Click on the link.) Written by nine scientists with PH.D.s, they give scientific evidence for a worldview based on the presumption of the Bible rather than a universe without God.

[1] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 67.
[2] Alan Neely, “Conquest as Christian Evangelization,” Faith and Mission 10, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 62-75, accessed June 20, 2015,
[3] Noll, 182.

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