CULTURE CONFORMED CHRISTIANS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
An insurance adjuster tells of a life policy taken out in the name of Abraham Brown in a small southern town. For five years the insurance company received the premiums when they were due. Then all of a sudden they stopped without warning. The company sent several notices and then finally there came this reply: "Dear Sirs: Hope you will excuse us. We can't pay no more insurance on Abe because he died last Sept. Yours truly, Mrs. A. L. Brown."
Here was a wife more ignorant than most about insurance, but the fact is we live in a world when all of us are ignorant about so many things and the result is their are con people everywhere seeking to profit from our ignorance. Like the salesman who was bragging about selling a widow a new suit for her husband to be buried in. He was bragging because he sold her a suit with an extra pair of pants.
The desire to profit from others ignorance and gullibility was a problem in Paul's day even in the church where he says in v.11 that eloquent con artists were teaching false doctrine for the sake of dishonest gain. It is a universal trait of human nature, and so even on this island of lazy people some were working hard to deceive and rip off the people.
A father have his little boy a dollar for his birthday and the boy spent all afternoon going from store to store asking the clerk to change the dollar into silver, and then he would go and get it changed back to a dollar bill. When his father heard of it he asked the reason. Little Sanday replied, "Sooner or later somebody is goin to make a mistake and it ain't going to be me." Here was a small lad illustrating the universal desire to make a profit off of other people's mistakes. Unfortunately, such crime does pay, and that is why Paul is so strong in his determination to silence the con artists in the church. . They were making a profit and their victims were suffering great loss.
Paul is giving witness to the great power of words to both defend the faith and to destroy it. ?Words can ruin lives or redeem them. When Paul says they are mere talkers he does not mean they are no threat because of their empty words. He says they are a great threat, for words are weapons that can do what bullets and bombs cannot do. Words have awesome power for good or evil, and it is a never ending battle to keep them from being destructive. James says in his letter in 3:5-6, "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and it itself set on fire by hell."
The tragic truth is, both Paul and James are writing about Christians when they describe the destructive power of the tongue. Christians destroy the lives of other Christians by gossip and slander, as well as by false teaching. This has not change since the days of Paul. Good people still start fires that do great damage. I read about the greatest prairie fire to ever take place in Kansas. It was set by an officer of the U. S. government. He and a party of officers from Fort Hayes were returning from a wild turkey hunt. This officer just wanted to shock and surprise the others. It was a practical joke he had in mind when he touched a match to the dry grass. He had no idea of the power he was dealing with. The fire took off like a frightened deer and swept across the prairie. Nothing could stop it. It swept all the way across Kansas into Oklahoma and burned out thousands of settlers. They not only lost their homes but their horses and cattle as well.
The deep remorse of the officer could not take back the damage his careless act had caused. He did not intend it to get out of hand, but he had no control once it was set loose. So it is with words. Once you let the fire of words get started you no longer have control over them. They can go about doing damage you never intended. That is why Paul says to Titus that the only way to go is to prevent the words from being uttered. Silence the false teachers and don't let their flame throwers be turned on. This is easier said than done, and in our culture it is nearly impossible.
Paul says that Christian leaders have a two fold responsibility. One is to promote sound doctrine and the second is to prevent false doctrine from being taught. Tolerance is a great virtue, but it has its limitations. When teaching is false, and it harms people's lives and faith, it is to be no longer tolerated. Christians are to be open minded and let a variety of perspectives be shared, for great and godly leaders have different insights into God's Word. The variety must always have its unity in Christ, however, and be consistent with God's Word.
When teaching departs from this standard it is no longer to be tolerated as a Christian option, but it is to be labeled for what it is, and that is heresy. Those holding to it, or teaching it, are to be rebuked says Paul so that they will reexamine their ideas in the light of the Word, and return to a sound faith based on its truth. This puts Christians into a paradoxical situation in our land of freedom. It is a right in our land to hold to any religious conviction you choose. If you desire to worship cardboard and have a chapel of cardboard in your back yard, and save cardboard as if it was the most valuable possession in the universe, and write prayers on your cardboard, and try to win others in your community to join you in your cardboard religion, that is your right, and Christians have to support that right. It is a duty of American Christians to honor that right and tolerate it.
But here is where the separation of church and state comes in. A Christian is not to tolerate such religious nonsense in the church. If a church member begins to exult cardboard to the level of worship, and starts encouraging others to do so, that is not to be tolerated, but to the rebuked. What is right for a Christian to tolerate as a citizen of the United States is not to be tolerated as a citizen of the kingdom of God. The two kingdoms are intertwined in many ways, but they are radically different also, and when they are linked together as one there is inevitable tragedy.
If Christians, for example, get political power and say that the state must deal with heresy just as the church does, then you lose the very foundation of religious freedom that we love in America. If Christians in government say that we will no longer tolerate the worship of cardboard, and they ban all the cardboard religion, they have broken down the wall of separation between the church and state. Once that happens they can say that now we will no longer tolerate any religious idea that is not sanctioned by the church. Now you have the basis for the Inquisition where people who did not conform to the convictions of the church were killed, and all their property was confiscated by the church.
Baptists are famous for their centuries of fighting for the separation of church and state. It is because every time the two become one there is great evil. Thank God everyday that the President and Congress cannot tell any American how they are to worship, and what they are to believe. This is one of the greatest freedoms of life, and most people in history have never enjoyed it.
In the state we have to tolerate freedom of religion, for that is the freedom we demand and expect. But in the church we are not to tolerate freedom to believe and teach whatever people choose. We are to be intolerant of all but what is taught in God's revelation. There are different perspectives, and so we have to allow for variety, but nothing that is clearly contrary to Scripture is to be tolerated. The Christian lives in two kingdoms. In one he is to be opened minded and tolerant even of heresy. In the other he is to be closed minded and totally intolerant of heresy. If you switch these two perspectives, and you become intolerant as a citizen you are a bad American. If you become tolerant as a church leader, you are a bad Christian.
Paul is only dealing with the church here, and he does not tell Titus to go out and rebuke the Cretans outside of the church for being liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons. The people he is to rebuke are the Christians who are following their culture rather than Christ. Christians need to be rebuked when they conform to their culture and fail to give the world an alternative life-style. The Cretan Christians were strongly influenced by their culture. They were using the church to do what they did in their culture, and that was to rip off the gullible for the sake of gain.
Polybius wrote of them, "So much in fact do sorted love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful." If a fellow Christian leaves the church and loses his faith, that is no big deal if I make a profit in the deal. There were serious problems in this church, and probably more than most, for Paul admits that the insults heaped upon the Cretans is not slander at all, but it is a valid judgment.
In verse 12 he quotes one of their own prophets. We know Paul was quite a reader of pagan authors, for he quotes from them three times in the New Testament. He prophet he quotes here is Epimenedes of Crete. He lived back in the 5th century B. C. He was called the 7th wise man of Greece, and Cicero, the ancient Latin author who lived 106-43 B. C., wrote of him, "He knew future events and prophesied under a divine influence." In Acts 17:28 Paul quotes the pagan poet Aratus, and in I Cor. 15:33 he quotes Menander. It may be shocking that part of the New Testament was written by pagans, for Paul is quoting them favorably, but this is in important issue to consider.
If it is valid to quote a non-Christian because what they say is true, then this means a Christian needs to be a student of the best of his culture. This is what a liberal arts education is all about. You study the history of man, his acts, literature, and music, and not just the Bible and Christian history. They are the foundation of our faith, but they are not the soul source of knowledge and wisdom. Calvin wrote, "All truth is from God, and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it for it has come from God." Luther wrote, "Truth comes from the Holy Spirit regardless of who says it, especially the true saying of the poets, when they show us our sins."
I quote pagan authors every once in awhile because they are found in all quotation books, and they say some things in a concise and brilliant way that is biblically valid. A Christian who says something which is not true should not be quoted, but a pagan who says what is true should be quoted. The New Testament, and especially Paul, promotes a liberal arts education in which a Christian reads and learns all they can from the secular world, and then seek to see how it fits into the biblical world view. Calvin said, "From this passage we may infer that those persons are superstitious, who do not venture to borrow anything from heathen authors." The point is, Paul is fighting heresy in the church and not truth outside the church. False doctrines taught by Christians is what damages the body of Christ, and not truth taught by pagans.
What people often do not realize is that the classical pagan literature of the ancient world was preserved in the Christian monasteries. It has always been a Christian conviction that you cannot study history and man if you do not read the literature of men. There is a ton of trash nobody needs to read, but all Christians should read some secular literature, for it is part of wisdom to know the value system of those who oppose the Christian value system.
But lets get back to Paul's insult of the Cretans. It seems out of character for Paul to say Epimenedes knew his subject well when he called them liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons. Whatever happened to, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all?" This little proverb is not in the Bible, and there are just times when there is a need to say the bad thing. For Paul it was here in dealing with the Cretans. They were just to conformed to their culture. They needed to be treated roughly because that was the only language they understood.
They were a crude people and had a bad reputation. Cicero, the ancient writer, said, "Moral principles are so divergent that the Cretans consider highway robbery to be honorable. The ancients called Crete the land of liars. Paul does not leap to the defense of these people, but instead he confirms the insult in verse 13, and says that this testimony is true. Paul knew these people lived up to their terrible reputation, and many of them were Christians who needed to be sharply rebuked. The goal is that they maybe sound in the faith. You cannot save a pagan and make them sound in the faith by rebuke, and so it is clear that it was the Cretan Christians who were still liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons. Talk about being conformed to the culture. These Christians were radically conformed.
When Christians are this far from Christ likeness there is no alternative but the way of rebuke. Paul knows the Cretan Christians have to be dealt with severely or they will never be what they ought to be. There is a place for being highly critical and judgmental as a Christian, and that is when you are dealing with Christians who are Cretan-like rather than Christ-like. If a Christian is no different from the culture in their life style, they need to be rebuked, or they will never be sound in the faith. But you will note that Paul did not say to Titus that he should pack up and get out of that God-forsaken island as fast as he could. Or that it is so corrupt and evil that it is no place for the church to try and make a difference.
There is no place so bad that the church should not be there. The worse the place is plagued by evil the more the need of the Word of God to change it. You do not forsake bad people. You labor to make them sanctified saints, for that is the point of the Gospel. It does not just save people for eternity. It saves people for time as well. The pagan that Paul quotes said those bad things about the Cretans almost 600 years before Paul's time, and Paul says nothing has changed in over half a millennium. There is nothing that can change it but the Word of God.
Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher, said, "Out of such crooked material as man is made of, nothing can be hammered quite straight." Paul disagreed with this. He was optimistic about the power of the Gospel. He was convinced that the worse people can become sound in the faith and be people who bring honor to Christ by their godly lives. It was not just theory but fact, for he was a terrible self-centered person who hated others who did not conform to his ideas. In Titus 3:3-5 he includes himself, and all the Christians he knew, as being quite godless in their pre-salvation state. He writes, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy."
Human nature is not basis for optimism, but God's mercy is, for the worst of people can become the best of people by the mercy of God. Paul was a prime example of this. The goal is to take these people with such a bad reputation and make them examples of the grace of God. In this sense the New Testament church was and is our ideal. It is a body of people far from what they ought to be, but moving in the right direction by the grace of God.
Howard Hendriks is one of the great Christian communicators of our time, but he may have never been so had he not been severely rebuked for his self-centeredness as a student. Here is his testimony: "A man in Wheaton, Ill., changed the whole course of my life when I was a student at Wheaton College. He called me into his office, sat me down, and every time I opened my mouth he said, "Keep your mouth shut and listen." I came out of that office so mad I could have spit nails. But today I call this man blessed because he's the only man who cared enough about me to face me with hard facts about my stubborn self-will. I made a 180-degree turn that I'm still following. "Open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy!" "(Prov. 27:5-6, LB).
Ungodly behavior in Christians who conform to their culture is to be rebuked so that they can get on the right track and become sound in the faith. Stuart Briscoe sees the need to apply this to Christians who bring their secular thinking into the church and try to make it conform to the secular culture. He writes, "Now, it's the easiest thing in the world for people to become totally secularized in their thinking. Then they bring their thinking into the community of believers, demonstrating their utter biblical illiteracy, but chattering on about secular concepts and ideas, trying to twist them into biblical or spiritual principles. The secular world does not take time to find out what God's Word says, but they bring all their secular thinking to bear on the affairs of the church and try to fit the church into the mold of basic secular thinking. When people do that, the Apostle Paul says, "Rebuke them sharply."
He goes on to give examples of people who get into the singles ministry because there are so many lovely single women who can be easily led. The problem is that they are easily led to bed, and the show of spiritually is just designed to engage in sensuality. His point is, Cretan Christians are still with us. People who are captives to the culture, and who seek to get the ways of the world to dominate the church are still active.
If Christians are not different from the world in the way they do business, and in the way they live and think, then they are cultural Christians, and not the product of the Word of God. The goal is not to be a New Testament Christian, for they were often terrible. The goal is to be a biblical Christian, which means to be of sound doctrine, and with behavior and life-style consistent with the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles.
The importance of seeing this is that we become aware that being saved is easy. We do nothing but trust in the finished work of Christ. All we do is receive the gift of eternal life by trusting him as our Savior. But there is a hard part that follows, and that is where we have to enter into the process and work like mad to be sanctified. We have to study the Word, pray, and seek forgiveness when we fail. We have to strive to grow and choose to conform to the image of Christ. It calls for commitment and discipline, and just plain hard work to become a good Christian. The only hope of success is to be aware that we are all under a lot of pressure to be molded by our culture. We need to make a conscious commitment to not become culture-conformed Christians.