By Chris Hohnholz
Edited by Tony Miano
Perhaps the most terrible sin a Christian can commit today is that of being divisive. Just ask any person attending an American evangelical church what they think of someone who points out false teachers. Many may respond with the belief that the false teachers are Christians, so we should not judge them. Others may say that, while the teachers may be wrong, it is mean to call them out publicly. Therefore, we should either speak to them privately about our differences or, if we feel we must say something to the church, then we should only ever speak of them in generalities, never actually referring to them directly. However, such a stance is unbiblical. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that false teachers should be marked and avoided.
While there are some within the Christian community who certainly do take this matter to extremes – in fact, one of the more dreaded categories of internet bloggers are those who call themselves “discernment ministries” – not all who call out false teachers are sinning. In fact, based upon the scripture cited above, Paul makes it abundantly clear that preachers and pastors are to do exactly that. Paul begins his letter to Titus by stating he had left the preacher in Crete to establish soundly biblical elders to oversee the church. He establishes for Titus the criteria for those who would be elders: above reproach, husband of one wife, believing children, not open debauchery or insubordination, not arrogant, but hospitable, upright and holy. He then states they must hold firmly to the Word of God.
Paul makes it clear that elders must be informed by God’s revealed Word and give sound doctrinal instruction to the church based on the Word alone. This is in stark contrast from most false teachers. Quite often, these so-called preachers will either teach from their personal beliefs and experiences, or they will speak of having direct revelation from God. The former are dangerous for they speak from the same wicked, unregenerate heart as many of those in their congregations. However, the latter are even more dangerous, for how can anyone ever actually question them? They represent themselves as direct links to the divine, thus they speak with the voice of “god” and cannot be questioned. Yet, Paul established that the elder who preaches to the Bride of Christ must be held to God’s Word as revealed in Scripture alone. Such preaching is confined to the words God revealed to his prophets and apostles through the Holy Spirit. It can be tested and verified by any who would take the time to search the scriptures and see if these things be true.
When Paul established this standard, he was declaring that the Christian was to be taught through the doctrines God revealed in Scripture. Only through God’s Word does a person learn the truth of his sinful nature. Only in Scripture is it revealed that God sent His only begotten Son to take on human flesh, to be tempted in all ways human, to resist all temptation perfectly and yet to become sin on behalf of man. Only in Scripture do we learn that Christ became the perfect sacrifice for sin and, through repentance and faith, man can receive His righteousness and be forgiven. Paul calls Titus to establish elders who would teach sound doctrine so that souls might be saved and Christians may go out to fight in spiritual warfare.
Why should this passage of Scripture be important to the Christian layperson ? Most of us will never be called to step up into a pulpit to preach a sermon, so why is the standard for elders necessary for us to know? Understand this, the elder is called to shepherd the flock of Christ. In teaching sound doctrine, he is equipping the Christian layperson to obey God. Therefore, not only must the elder be grounded in the Word of God; so must the flock. When Paul commands elders to teach according to God’s Word, the expectation is that the Christian will learn what is being taught. Paul, by extension, is commanding Christians to be built up in sound doctrine and to identify those who teach contrary to the Word.
As followers of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to devote time and energy to understanding God’s Word. It is not only for the Sunday morning service when many Christians crack open their dusty bibles so they can follow along with the pastor. If his job is to equip us, it is our job to study, meditate and apply what has been taught. Additionally, if the standard for the elder is to teach only what God has revealed, how can he be held accountable if the congregation never seeks to see if what he says is true? How can we know if the pastor is a true or false teacher if we do not compare what he says with what is in the Word?
Do not misunderstand me, I am not calling for Christians to question every single thing the pastor says and does. This is not a command to suddenly doubt your pastor who has faithfully shepherded the flock for years, or to start wondering if he is a wolf ready to pounce. Yet, as a Christian, you are expected to know and understand the Word of God, rightly applying its teachings, even with your pastor.
This passage of Scripture is extremely important, especially in our modern day, post-modern, pluralistic culture. At the beginning of this article, I noted that one of the worst sins in American evangelicalism is to publicly call out a false teacher . That is an extension of the post-modern teaching that says all truth is valid truth, therefore, no one truth is more right than another. In that belief system is the command that we should never, ever tell someone they are wrong. It is lie straight from the pit of Hell. In the Garden of Eden, what did the serpent do? He questioned what God said and then redefined what it meant. And yet, in churches today, a great many professing Christians are simply unwilling to believe it is biblical to directly call out false teachers and teachings by name.
We as Christians, as light bearers and heralds of our King, Jesus Christ our Savior, must be obedient to the command of God. We must diligently study the word of God, learning its precious truths and proclaiming them to a lost and dying world.
All around us, everyday, thousands of people step off into eternity to be judged by God. All of them follow some sort of false religion: Hinduism, Islam, Atheism, Humanism, etc. All of them are worshipping the “god” of self, the false god who promises reward for human achievement. We are often willing to point out these beliefs as wrong and being part of the broad road that leads to Hell.
However, when it comes discerning the true faith of Christianity from the almost true teachings of those who call themselves Christian, we buckle at the knee. We swallow the lie that they sound Christian, so they must be Christian. We don’t want to look bad in front of others, so we abdicate our responsibility to apply God’s Word in discerning the true from false. We allow our friends and family to live comfortably in false churches that kinda, sorta, look Christian because we do not want to be seen as judgmental. This ought not to be so.
Christian, the elders appointed to shepherd you are called to a high standard – called to be obedient to God’s Word, alone. Your elders have been called to rebuke those who teach falsely and those who are willing to follow them. They have been called to equip you for spiritual warfare, not just in the battle of truth against teaching that is obviously false, but also in the battles between the true and the almost true. Therefore, take up the Sword of God, learn what He has revealed and go into battle, because many of those who sit under false teachers are souls on their way to Hell. Those “little things” you feel uncomfortable pointing out may be issues that are as far apart as truth and error . This article is not meant to be a guilt trip to obligate you to hunt for heretics , but a dire warning bell calling you to rescue those who are perishing. Yes, you will be called divisive by others, but it is this kind of division that God commands—to divide true from false and rescue those who are lost. Will you obey the call?
If you would like to comment on this article, email: Chris@TMiano.com.