The Threat of Factionalism (2)

By Mike Willis

A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject (Tit. 3:10, KJV).

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him (Tit. 3:10, NIV).

After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions (Tit. 3:10, NRSV).

Titus 3:10 contains Paul’s instructions to the preacher Titus about the dangers that a factious man poses to a local church. We will do well to study this passage in detail and pay careful attention to its instructions.

The word “heretic” is used in English to describe “one who holds heretical opinions; one who holds to a doctrine or opinion contrary to that which is generally accepted or established.” In theology it means “one who holds to a doctrine or opinion that is contrary to the fundamental doctrine or creed of one’s church” (Webster).

What does the word “heretic” mean in Titus 3:10. The NIV translates the word hairetikos as “a divisive person” and the NRSV as “anyone who causes division. “Whether or not the idea of “false doctrine” is a part of the context of Titus 3:10, we are well aware that the Scriptures condemn an on-going fellowship with those who teach doctrines contrary to God’s divinely revealed will (see 2 John 9-11; Rom. 16:17-18; etc.). Also, we are aware that the word hairesis is used in Galatians 5:20 in a context that clearly describes the divisive conduct of the person rather than his false teaching. Perhaps, we will not misuse the text in this article to concentrate on the aspects of divisiveness in the context of Titus 3:10 in this study of factionalism. (For a consideration of the aspect of teaching false doctrine that can be included in the definition of the word, see my article entitled “Hairesis and Hairetikos,” Truth Magazine XIX:4 [November 28, 1974].)

J.J. Van Oosterzee wrote, “In regard to the question frequently mooted, whether, by the heretics spoken of in the New Testament, we are to understand men who swerve from sound doctrine, and wrest the truth; or rather those who, by ecclesiastical dissensions, destroy the unity of the body of Christ, and thus do violence to love, the answer is simply this: This whole distinction rests upon an arbitrary antithesis between truth and love, faith and life. In swerving from the purity of the Apostolic teaching, the heretics became also schismatics. And the schismatics, so far as they aimed to be such, and to establish a separate church, must inevitably adopt peculiar doctrines, and thereby come more and more into collision with the teachings of the Apostles” (Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Titus 22). Oosterzee may be correct in his statement that the discussion about whether the word heretic describes one who clings to a false doctrine or one who is schismatic may be a mistaken antithesis.

William Hendriksen wrote, “Accordingly, a factious person is here a person who without justification creates division. In the light of the context it is probable that the rendering ‘a heretic’ is not far off. At any rate, the word is moving in that direction. The factious person of whom the apostle is thinking has accepted the sinister philosophy of the Cretan errorists who specialized in foolish inquiries and law-skirmishes (see on verse 9). As has become clear, their error touched both doctrine and life, as is usually the case. It is true, of course, that the term as here used need not be restricted to a particular type of fanatic. Every factious person stands condemned here” (New Testament Commentary: I-II Timothy, Titus 395).

Having looked at these comments, let us make some observations about the text in its context.

Needless Contentions

The context of Titus 3:10 describes a group who became caught up in disagreements regarding foolish questions, genealogies, and contentions. What are these disagreements? Certainly they are not the kinds of things under discussion by the Judaizers who were preaching that salvation was conditioned upon circumcision and observing the law of Moses, for Paul warned churches that these doctrines were destructive to the faith and worked like leaven to eat the heart out of salvation by grace through faith (see Romans and Galatians). They are not like the Gnostic controversy that denied the humanity of Christ and taught that sin did not interfere with one’s relationship to God (see 1-3 John). These are questions about matters that did not attack the content of the faith.

They are described as “foolish questions.” The word “foolish” is from moras which is used in this context to mean “imprudent, without forethought or wisdom. . . . empty, useless, 2 Tim. ii. 23; Tit. iii.9” (Thayer 420). The word “question” is from zetesis which means “a subject of questioning or debate, matter of controversy” (Thayer

272). The questions were “empty” and “useless” controversies, or as we might say today, “making mountains out of molehills.” Sometimes churches get in the most heated kinds of controversies over matters that have no appreciable difference in application, challenge no Bible doctrine, or otherwise make a “hill of beans” worth of difference. Nevertheless, brethren can press their opinions about such matters until brotherly love is destroyed and alienation sets in.

The second word to describe what these brethren were to avoid was “genealogies.” The word genealogia means “a genealogy, a record of descent or lineage. ”Thayer also recognizes that the word is used in the plural “of the orders of aeons, according to the doctrine of the Gnostics” (Thayer 112). The phrase calls to mind 1 Timothy 1:4 — “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.” The context seems to favor a syncretistic Jewish/Gnostic movement. Buchsel said, “it is probable that the expression denotes the biblical history enriched by interpretations and additions” (TDNT I:664). Such speculations were not only foolish, but also those over which brethren disagreed and divided.

The third word to describe the factional controversies of Titus 3:10 is “contentions.” The word eris means “contention, strife, wrangling” ( Thayer 249). He adds also “strivings about the law” or “quarrels about the law” (NIV, NRSV ). The word “striving” is from mache, “a fight, combat. . . of persons at variance, disputations, etc., strife, contention” (Thayer 394). “About the law” is from nomikos, “pertaining to (the) law” (Thayer 427). Arguments with reference to the law sometime drive wedges between loving brethren, rather than promoting unity, fellowship, godly living, and harmony. Such discussions are unhealthy and divisive.

From this studies, we see that Titus 3:10 is not limited in application to a person who is teaching false doctrine, but can also apply to a factious person who creates schism and division in a local church over matters of no real consequence. Any man who creates division in the local church is a threat to that church, even if he believes the truth! His schismatic and divisive conduct is as destructive to the church as any false doctrine is. Satan uses factional brethren as effectively as he uses false teachers to plague churches with friction, heartache, and upheaval. Such brethren “sanctify” their divisiveness under the banner of “standing for the truth.” They disrupt or destroy one church after another. When one group wises up to their ways and calls them to account, they pack their bags and move to another church charging that the church where they had been worshiping has gone “liberal.” The scene is repeated every two or three years. Lying in their wake is their bitter fruits — one disrupted or divided church after another!

Disciplining the Factional Brother

Paul’s instructions for how the church is to handle the factional brother is this: “After the first and second ad- monition, reject” (Tit. 3:10). The NIV says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him” (Tit. 3:10).

Anyone who pays attention to what has occurred among brethren can testify that all over this country local churches have been subjected to divisive, factional brethren. Yet, how many times can you name when those factional brethren were handled according to the pattern Paul commanded? The usual pattern is that enough brethren express their discontentment with their conduct that they move away to another church. The church that receives them, listens to their pathetic story and sometimes receives them without investigation or by a one-sided investigation (that is, by asking only those who agreed with the factious brother in the church which he left). On other occasions, the receiving church calls the elders from the church from which they left and those elders, fearing that accurate information and timely warnings may somehow constitute slander or gossip, say little about the trouble the factional brethren have caused. The consequence is that two or three years down the road, the second church has the same problem with those brethren as did the first church.

How much better would the situation be if the first church had followed Paul’s instructions! Give the factional brother a first and second admonition, and then if he does not repent, “reject” him or “have nothing to do with him.” Such a man should be marked. Then any church that received him would know of the problems he had caused at the previous church. If they received him in spite of the discipline, at least they would be responsible for their own problems inasmuch as they received one who was the subject of church discipline.

Brethren, the problem of factionalism cannot be solved by ignoring it. Just like every other area of Bible.