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10 - The Global War on Error in Doctrine and Conduct Within the Church

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The Global War on Error in Doctrine and Conduct within the Church (Titus 1:10-14)

Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on June 29, 2008

The following is how someone has described what the model minister or elder should be like:

-It is guaranteed that he will please all the people in any church.

-His sermons are very short, but very deep, thorough, life-changing

-He preaches the whole counsel of God but is never controversial   

-He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings.

-He works from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., doing every type of work.

-His family is completely model in deportment, dress, and attitude.

-He is 36 years old and has been preaching for 40 years.

-He is not too tall, short, thin, heavyset, has one brown eye and one blue, hair parted in the middle, left side dark and straight, right side blond, wavy. Always with people but 100% devoted to his family.

-He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spend all his time with the older people. He’s devoted to prayer and study, but always available and constantly visiting people the whole week     

-He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.

-He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is never out of the office.

-On top of all news and hobbies but spends all his time in the Word

-His teaching is perfectly balanced, but never offends or confronts[1]

People have all kinds of ideas in their head as to what should be true of the overseers or elders or pastors who lead the local church, what they should be like and where they should spend their time and energies, but of course what we want to do today is look at what God’s Word actually says, so let’s do that in Titus chapter 1.


7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled,



9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.



10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.

The elders that Paul has told Titus to appoint in every church were definitely not guaranteed to please every person in every church. In fact, what is guaranteed is a clash in these verses, between the biblically faithful elder described in verse 9 and those who have different agendas, as described in our text, verses 10-14. The ideal elder is not someone who never offends or confronts, according to God’s Word, an elder must be willing to lovingly offend, confront, rebuke sharply false teaching, and silence those who lead others astray. The man of God is also a soldier who protects and serves.

You are well aware that since September of 2001, America has been engaged in a war on terrorism from militant Muslims, which is sometimes more broadly called “the global war on terror.”  The terrorist bombings a the Trade Center brought us greater terror and a new kind of enemy that had been previously underestimated by our country – an enemy not sending a fleet of planes across the ocean like at Pearl Harbor, but people who lived among us in our midst, posing as Americans, then taking our own planes and crashing them into buildings, killing thousands. The false religion of Islam has showed just how dangerous bad theology can be, and the devilish and devastating result continues to be seen on the news around the world, where young people caught up in radical religious suicide destroy not only themselves but as many other innocent people as they can with them in the process.

It’s not hard to see the parallels between our nation’s war on terror, and the church’s far-longer spiritual war on ERROR. This conflict also seems never-ending and hard to win, and the spiritual enemy is also undercover in the church. Error often originates in our midst inside the church, from those who live among us, who pose as us, but who want to use the church as a vehicle for their error. The destruction may not be physical and final, but it’s just as saddening to witness the spiritual destruction caused by false teachers and innocent young believers carried along to spiritual devastation.

I requested we sing hymn #499 again this week, because the words of Isaac Watts about us “Soldiers of the Cross” are very fitting for this message. It is not only church leaders that God calls to be soldiers in this War on Error, all of us to be in the fight or else we are dishonoring our Commander and worthy of discharge.

Our actual enemy is not people who are caught up in error, because our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but it’s against the invisible spiritual source of error - Satan. Our motive in dealing with people in our midst who are ensnared in sin or sinful teaching is the words of the song we’ll sing at the end of this service:

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Now the Bible does differentiate between those who are deceived and those who are being deceived. Either way, the soldier of Christ must be prepared to either exhort positively in sound doctrine or to refute those who contradict biblical truth.

9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

In verse 10, the focus is on the false teachers themselves.

 10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,

The “for” in the grammar at the beginning of the verse connects this to verse 9 and continues the thought as to why it’s so important we hold fast to the faithful word and exhort in sound doctrine and refute error … “FOR there are many rebellious men”

How do you look out for and recognize a false teacher?

Phil Newton points out 4 areas where false teachers are evident:

  1. Evident in their talk (v. 10)
  2. Evident in their tactics (v. 11)
  3. Evident in their testimony (v. 12-13)
  4. Evident in their teaching (v. 14)

#1 – Their talk: rebellious, empty, and deceptive (v. 10)

Notice first of all their number – there are MANY of these talkers

They multiply like rabbits – like locusts – and keeping an eye on each flock was certainly not a task one man like Titus could keep up with, that’s why he needed to appoint multiple elders in every church (v. 5) because v. 9 calls each of them to deal with the many men in v. 10 so they won’t multiply further or reproduce.

Paul had predicted that there would be men who would come in among the church (“from among you” an "inside job") and would not spare the flock (Acts 20:29), a proverbial sheep-lookalike wolf

Notice also their nature – REBELLIOUS. These guys are rebels with a cause, but it’s their own cause, not the cause of Christ.

The way they talk and walk reveals rebellion or insubordination to the truth. These types are un-teachable and will not submit to church leadership. They’re often unruly or refusing to be governed.

Even when their erroneous doctrine or immoral living is exposed, they are inclined to defy correction and discipline by the true church. Beware of ministries / ministers who won’t put themselves under authority. Jude v8 describes rebellious men and the mark of false teachers: they “reject authority.” A mark of false teachers in every age is their unwillingness to be under discipline. They are fiercely unaccountable. In the case of false teachers with large media ministries, invariably they do not allow disclosure of their earnings or financial dealings or account for their spending and they will not submit themselves to scrutiny over their practices or teaching by a church (that’s parachurch gone bad).

When discerning Christians question some of the doctrine of TV preachers of health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, the response is often “touch not God’s anointed” or “you’re judgmental.” Or as one VERY famous televangelist with a supposed healing ministry said of those who question his theology, he said he wanted a machine gun to shoot them all.  That’s a little different than the attitude of the Apostle Paul who found the Bereans to be the most noble of all in Acts 17:11 because they actually examined his teaching and compared it to Scripture to make sure it was so.

Verse 10 says they are not only rebellious but “empty talkers.”

They may have large followings on TV and in book bestsellers and not everything they teach is false, but it’s fluff, it’s empty of any real value or depth, they say a whole lot of nothing, they chatter and spout all kinds of nonsense that has no substance. Other translations describe their talk as vain, idle, useless or futile, “swelling words of emptiness or nothingness” – that’s what these guys do.

Verse 10 goes on to describe their intent as more sinister than mere superficiality, many are actually deceivers. These are religious distorters as the end of the verse says, referencing the Jewish circumcision sect which may have been similar to the Judaizer cult that Paul battled against in the book of Galatians.

The Greek compound word for “deceiver” literally refers to "a mind deceiver" or one who leads one's mind astray! Instead of leading men to the truth they led them away from it. Some even deliberately cause others to believe what they know isn’t true.

So false teachers are evident first of all in their talk, now verse 11 shows us secondly, #2 They are evident in the TACTICS

11 … they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.

There’s always a desire for gain for false teachers, especially improper or dishonest financial gain. Crete was legendary for this. The ancient writer Polybius wrote:

Money is so highly valued among them, that its possession is not only thought to be necessary, but highly creditable; and in fact greed and avarice are so native to the soil in Crete, that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma attaches to any sort of gain whatever.[2]

But there can also be a desire for gain in other ways; power over others, influence, possessions, control, sadly even using their position to seduce immorally.

In the NKJV it says they “subvert whole households” – churches were primarily hosted in houses in NT times, and so there may have been smaller house churches or what we might call home Bible studies taking place around the island of Crete. These false teachers love to get into smaller interactive groups where they can spout their theology to try and lead families or house groups astray.

“False doctrine always uses a plausible gimmick to get its foot in the door – and it’s always the back door!” – Vance Havner

“Heresy is picking out what you want to believe and rejecting, or at least ignoring, the rest” – A.W. Tozer

“When Bible believers take a stand against false doctrine, they are accused of ‘rocking the boat.’ It is better that belief should rock the boat than that unbelief should wreck the boat” – Vance Havner

Havner: “Unless your vision of Christ is as large as it can possibly be, you will always be in danger of heresy”

Having a right view of Christ and a high view of Christ is the best safeguard against error, because it’s precisely in this area of Christology that cults and false religions “teach things they should not” as v.11 says, denying Christ’s deity or sufficiency of His work

The phrase in v. 11 can be translated, "teaching that which is unnecessary" – possibly emphasizing the tactics of false teachers who often teach "unnecessary" additions to the gospel. The verse mentions those of the circumcision, those who added to what Christ had done. Not being satisfied that Jesus' death was enough to effectively atone for and propitiate elect sinners from the just wrath of God. Acts 15 records how they tried to impose not just circumcision, but the Law of Moses into the gospel (both Paul and Titus were there, so well-equipped for this). Men teaching more than Christ was needed, as Colossians 2 says, might also add dietary laws, observing particular Jewish days, Sabbaths, etc.

I think Paul would agree with the quote “Unless your vision of Christ is as large as it can possibly be, you will always be in danger of heresy” – because in Colossians 1, the answer to such false teaching is to uplift Christ’s supremacy and sufficiency.

#3 way false teachers are evident is in their TESTIMONY

12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true.

Paul is quoting Epimenides, a religious teacher who lived on the island of Crete hundreds of years earlier and who was called a “prophet” by Aristotle and Cicero. Even unsaved men who are liars sometimes get it right, and Paul says this testimony is true in identifying the rebellious false teachers he’s been speaking of. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, and here a usually lying Cretan told truth.

In Greek culture, to call someone a “Cretan” was synonymous with calling that person a liar. Here, their own testimony indicts them.

Crete has been described as ‘a culture very much like our own in which you couldn’t really believe anything that anybody said. It was full of liars. So why should anybody believe the Christian preachers? Why should anyone believe the gospel in Crete, or in our world today? Well there is one irrefutable argument …  If this Good News actually transforms people’s lives—if “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons” (1:12) became self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined people (1:8)—then the credibility of the message will be secured. And that is the function of the Gospel of Grace as it is presented in Titus’[3]

Look back at the other phrases in v. 12. “Evil beasts” – sounds like Paul warning in Acts 20 of savage wolves among sheep

One writer adds these helpful comments to the phrases in v. 12:

Since there were no wild beasts on this island, that by this era had been stripped of its once lush forests, "evil beasts" implied [that] "in the absence of wild animals, [Cretans] assumed the role themselves" [Mounce, 398]. "Lazy gluttons" literally means "lazy belly," and describes the uncontrolled greed of the Cretans, and especially of these "rebellious men" … One writer cleverly expressed this in a poem.

Liars ever, men of Crete,

Nasty brutes that live to eat

[Quinn, quoted by Mounce, 397-398].

Just take a look at their lives, Paul recommends. See if the gospel has made a distinct difference in their behavior, in their conversation, in their desires, and in the way they treat others. The testimony of the gospel lives in those whom Christ has redeemed and set apart for leading the flock. "Rebellious men" are just that-rebellious against the gospel, rebellious against God's law as a standard and guide for Christian living, and rebellious against depending upon the grace of God in Christ alone for merit.''[4]

The 4th and final mark of heretics is their TEACHING

14 … Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.

We don’t know exactly what these Jewish myths were, but certainly they were extra-biblical. We aren’t to pay attention to things that aren’t in the Bible, because God has given us everything we need for spiritual life and godliness in this book. Scripture warns us not to go beyond what is written.

That’s the essence of legalism, which is also a classic mark of false teachers. Verse 14 mentions commandments of men, which of course was what Jesus addressed as a problem of the Pharisees, human rules and regulations to supplement scripture.

Matthew 15:6-9 (NKJV)

6 … Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

Phil Newton reminds us of the danger of legalistic false teachers:

… the adversary assaults us from within the ranks of professing Christians. No knives, guns, or bombs in this case, instead subtle words twisting the gospel, clever substitutes for dependence upon Christ alone, deceitful embrace of legalism, emotional or programmatic substitutes for faith and obedience, stripping the cross from the gospel, redefining the character of the Christian, embellishing the church with trappings of the world. All of these things and more cleverly seep their way into the church. Churches founded upon good principles and sound doctrine, lulled to a daze by success and presumption, soon crash upon the hidden reefs. Some are shipwrecked and don't even know it because their understanding of the gospel and the church have been shaped by everything but the Word of God. How does it happen? How can those that have known the joys of gospel proclamation and Christian practice sink beneath the waves of deceitful, satanic opposition? A church shipwrecks if its leaders and members neglect vigilance in the faith.[5]


Paul gives 2 simple answers:

#1 - “Silence them” (v. 11) – literally muzzle them like you might an animal, which is what verse 12 said they are acting like (“beasts”). The noun form of this word was used of stopping a water pipe. Don’t let false teaching run in the church, it must be stopped. With the “fool’s gold” of false teaching, silence is golden. They are not to have a public platform to present their side, we do not “dialogue” with error, heresy is not up for debate in the church. False teaching will not be discussed by them in church venues, but the elder should privately refute the man’s error as v. 9 says.

#2 – Paul says “Rebuke / reprove them sharply” (v. 13). This is the same verb as “refute” used in verse 9. An elder must be capable of refuting error with Scripture, which 2 Timothy 3 says is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training.” The weapon in our global war on error is none other than the Sword of God’s Word, and the soldier of Christ must be ready and willing to use both edges of the sword.

What do you do with rebellious divisive or factious or controversial people who stubbornly won’t listen and want to lead you down endless disputes about the Law or their weird views?

Titus 3:9-11 (NASB95) 9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

The shepherd of God’s flock can’t waste all his time trying to teach the un-teachable when he has a whole flock of people who want to be taught and need to be led and fed. After a second warning, the man must be rejected and is not welcome until he repents of his disruptive, divisive, factious actions or heresy.


This past Wednesday Pastor Jerry and I were at a meeting with several area pastors where this actually took place. The meeting was a live national prayer gathering with conservative Christian leaders regarding California’s same-sex marriages, and the impact of the homosexual issue on churches and Christian organizations. Jerry and I left early so missed some of the drama, but a guy in our community sitting across from me stood up at the end and began spouting hateful rhetoric and he was warned, then taken out.


Romans 16:17 (NASB95) 17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.

Church discipline in this manner is not only for those who are members, we are to watch for any in our midst who have agendas and bring false doctrine or dissensions or are contrary to biblical teaching, and we are to turn away from them until they repent.


The principle of church discipline covers both bad teaching and bad living, in fact the two are often related, because sinful thinking is what leads to sinful living and both can contaminate the church.

1 Corinthians 5 (NASB95)
1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

There are clear categories of sin in verse 11 that corrupt the body of Christ and where unrepentant cannot be allowed to remain or it will leaven the whole lump. Those who are hardened in their sin are probably not saved and v. 5 says disciplining such a one publicly (v. 4 says when church is assembled) is done in the hopes that their soul will be saved, that they’ll repent and be restored.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NASB95) 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed [i.e., saved from that lifestyle], but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

If you are living in the sins mentioned in verses 9-10, God says at the end of verse 10 “you will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

But the good news is the next verse says you can be washed, you can me made clean and holy, you can be declared righteous in Christ if you repent, trust in Christ alone for salvation, renounce your works, and by His grace seek to turn from your sins.


What about professing Christians in the church who won’t repent?

Church Discipline:

1.         The threefold purpose of church discipline is to glorify God by maintaining purity in the local church (1 Corinthians 5:6, 9-12), to edify believers by deterring sin (1 Tim 5:20), and to restore the offending believer by calling him or her to return to a biblical standard of doctrine and conduct (Galatians 6:1).

2.         Members of this church and all other professing Christians who regularly attend or fellowship with this church who err in doctrine, or who engage in conduct that violates Scripture, shall be subject to church discipline, including dismissal according to Matthew 18:15-18. Before such dismissal, however:

a.         it shall be the duty of any member of this church who has knowledge of the erring individual’s heresy or misconduct to warn and correct such erring individual in private, seeking his or her repentance and restoration (Matthew 18:12-15; Galatians 6:1). If the erring individual does not heed this warning, then;

b.         the warning member shall again go to the erring individual, seeking his or her repentance, but accompanied by one or two individuals who shall confirm that the sin has occurred or is continuing to occur, and/or that the erring individual has been appropriately confronted and has refused to repent (Matthew 18:16). The first and second warnings may occur with no specified time interval. If the erring individual still refuses to heed this warning, then;

c.         it shall be brought to the attention of the Board of Elders (Matthew 18:17a). If the Board of Elders determines—after thorough investigation in accord with the procedures prescribed by pertinent Scripture, including Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Timothy 5:19—that there is corroborating evidence that the erring individual has sinned or is continuing to sin, that he or she has been appropriately confronted, and that he or she has refused to repent, then the Elders shall inform the church and the congregation thereof at a regularly scheduled worship service in order that the church may call the erring individual to repentance. If the erring individual demonstrates repentance, then notice to that effect may be given at a regularly scheduled worship service. If, however, the erring individual does not repent in response to the church in its collective call to repentance, then;

d.         he or she shall be publicly dismissed from the fellowship and/or membership of the church and the congregation thereof at a regularly scheduled worship service (Matthew 18:17b). If the erring individual, after such dismissal, heeds the warning, demonstrates repentance, and requests reinstatement before the Board of Elders, then he or she shall be publicly restored to all the rights, duties, privileges, and responsibilities of fellowship and/or membership.

3.         At the discretion of the Elders, any situation involving false doctrine or divisive or egregious behavior of a member or attendee which may compromise the physical or spiritual safety and well-being of the congregation (Romans 16:17; Titus 1:10-11, 3:10-11; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 9-12), the Elders reserve the right to notify any persons not to be present on church premises and/or church functions until such a period of time that is deemed necessary by the Elders, and /or proceed directly to the 3rd or 4th stage of church discipline as defined by the previous 2 paragraphs

4.         The members of this church, and all other professing Christians who regularly attend or fellowship with this church, agree that there shall be no appeal to any court because of the dismissal or because of public statements to the congregation at the third or fourth stages of church discipline.  Members who are under discipline by the church as defined in the previous paragraphs, forfeit and waive the right to resign from this church.

I refer you to our website for fuller message on Matt. 18 (8-2007) for fuller discussion. The goal of this is restoration. Sin is such a hardening thing that my preaching and your prayers for a straying sheep in our flock are not always enough. God calls you to love your brother and sister enough to privately share your concern about this sin with them, lovingly confront error in doctrine or living because you care for their spiritual state more than your own comfort. If you refuse to do this, you show you love yourself more than them. Leviticus 19:17 commands us to “reprove your neighbor … you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 18).   

If they’re a believer, you pray they repent. If they’re an unbeliever, this process may bring them to the point or repentant faith in Christ

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Refrain: Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

Refrain: Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.


[1]Adapted from Darrell W. Robinson, Total Church Life, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville; 1997), p. 64. Cited online at

[2] As cited by

[3]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook : 2004 Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004), 24.

[4] Phil Newton, “Empty Professions; or How to Wreck a Church”

[5] Newton, Ibid. 

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