I was so grateful that our pastor refused to give this guy a platform. He would regularly show up at different churches around town with a “word from the Lord.” Our pastor, however, refused to let him speak. He was welcome to say, but he could not address the whole congregation like he had wanted. Our pastor knew he had a responsibility to protect the church. He also knew, from previous conversations, that this man’s beliefs were not in-line with Scripture. Pastors have a responsibility to protect the church.
Paul instructs Titus that elders need to be prepared to silence false teachers. He states:
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.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
The health of the church requires that its leadership know how to identify false teaching and are prepared to silence it.
The text itself is pretty straightforward. Paul does not mince words about the wickedness of the false teachers and the responsibility of the elders. Verses 10- 16 outline the occasion that requires an elder to “rebuke those who contradict.” George Knight summarizes the passage, saying:
He indicates that the opponents are numerous and that their attitudes and actions are morally out of line (v. 10), their impact on families devastating (v. 11b), their teaching erroneous (v. 11c), and their motivation mercenary (v. 11d). (NIGTC: The Pastoral Epistles, 295)
The impact on the church as a whole requires a response from the leadership. He quotes the Cretan prophets to indicate that their own testimony about themselves is true in this case. The intent of the rebuke is stated in verse 14 as an attempt to make them “sound in the faith.” The goal of the rebuke is not just to silence them, but to see that they are taught truth. So, an elder is to rebuke false teachers both for the sake of the church as a whole, and for the sake of the false teacher.
Confronting and correcting are, of course, not easy. An elder can tend towards one of two extremes. On the one hand people who love confrontation, enjoy arguments, and who consider themselves passionate defenders of truth can be overly zealous. Paul has already warned us that an elder must not be “arrogant or quick-tempered.” So, this man will need to keep himself in check and gauge the seriousness of the error, the need for response, the timing and manner of his engagement, and the goal of his rebuke. It’s important to seek to understand people. Why does a person believe what they believe, why are they teaching what they teach, why are they arguing for that position, doctrine, or behavior. We want to be open to their perspective, even while we critique it by the Word of God. A harsh word given too quickly may result in more damage than good (Prov. 15:1), and may result in his own foolishness (Prov. 29:20).
Others, however, may tend to be more passive and fearful of confrontation. They are hesitant to engage in conflict, reluctant to point out error, and fearful of upsetting people. These men will need to be bold and take seriously the charge laid before them. The church needs shepherds who will drive out wolves. If you can’t fulfill this role you aren’t fit for ministry. We must confront, call to repentance, and protect the church. God holds us accountable to this task.
Elders must balance between harshness and passivity, between overreaction and no reaction. We must seek to both protect the church and love the false teacher. We must seek to both listen well to those we disagree with, and yet refuse to allow harm to come to the flock. It is not an easy thing to be called to protect the church. Thank God, He helps them in this endeavor.