Two weeks ago I introduced the topic, “How to Approach a Wolf,” having come right off the Strange Fire Conference. One of the main criticisms was that these kinds of conferences are unhealthy for the church and only sow disunity. I argued that I disagreed, but more than just disagreeing, I think there’s actually a biblical mandate for the pastor to confront error. If you missed that post, go back and read it, because it will be difficult to understand the context of this post without it. In fact, Tim Challies, a friend of Grace Church, and an established blogger, took the time to compile the most common criticisms of the Conference, and allowed Pastor John to respond to them in a Q&A type format. In Part 2 of the “interview,” Tim Challies asked this very question. It would be worth your while to read it as well.
But what I want to address in this post, you might have guessed, is what a pastor is supposed to do once the false shepherd (the wolf) is identified. Too many in the church either don’t know how the pastor should treat them, or they think the pastor should just ignore them. “Take the higher road” kind of attitude. The problem is in this case, the higher road is the easy one, and when it comes to handling the wolf, the pastor is called to dig in his heels and stand his ground. It’s the wolf that’s to be driven to the hills AND, only after the dog is muzzled. Those are the two responsibilities of a pastor in handling a wolf. He must muzzle him, and then he must drive him off. The pastor who doesn’t isn’t as concerned about his flock as his flock might think. The passage I get this from is Titus 1:10-16.
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. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
So, this text shows us these two responsibilities of the pastor.
The pastor has to muzzle the wolf. That’s the first thing he’s gotta do. He must be silenced. That’s verse 11. He must be made mute. Both Proverbs 10 and 12 say his tongue should be “cut out.” That’s pretty graphic imagery, but verse 10 tells us why! Who are these men? These wolves?
First, they’re rebellious. They’re undisciplined. They refuse to submit to authority. They’re disobedient, and it’s interesting that this is the word that would be used for flagrant lawbreakers and spoiled children.
Second, they’re empty talkers. They’re “idle-talkers,” and they’re conversation really contributes nothing to the church. Sure, there would be some truth to what they say. There has to be or their lies wouldn’t be believable. But in general, their words are “empty,” “fruitless,” “powerless,” “useless,” and “lacks truth.”
Third, they’re deceivers. The implication is obviously then that their followers are DECEIVED!!! This again shows why they are so dangerous. Their followers genuinely believe that they are Christians and are even zealous for the “gospel.” Like their leaders though, you will know them by their fruit (cf. Matt. 7:15-21). In fact, one of the easiest ways to identify these people is by their unwillingness to test the validity of their salvation, which all true believers are called to do (Phil. 2:12). Furthermore, they refuse to search the Scriptures to test what they practice and believe – which is an indication of pride. They don’t understand the deceptive nature of their hearts (Jer. 17:9).
But people still wonder, “Can’t you just find the good in what he says? Isn’t there some value?” Verse 16 is pretty clear. They are “worthless for any good deed.”
Others protest, but look how many people he influences! How could God not be in this? The problem is, I don’t know when the number of people you influence became the measure of your effectiveness in ministry. In fact, since Jesus Himself said there would be very few on the road to righteousness, I tend to think that the numerical argument does the opposite of it’s intention.
So, the wolves are to be muzzled. They’re to be silenced, but that’s not all.
Paul says these wolves are like the Cretans, always “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Now, that’s a condemning verdict! Such a broad brush! But it was categorically true! Their own philosopher Epimenides from the 6th century BC said that. So, in other words, these pastors looked and talked like the world, but pastors were to be set apart and above reproach, standing in stark contrast to the world, and pastors who compromised their integrity were to be “rebuked severely.”
That means “expose them,” make it known who they are – rigorously! It’s severe exposure. But remember, this is somewhat of a paradox… it’s harsh, but it’s gentle in that it has an objective. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says this word means to “scorn,” and in the context of public ministry, it’s to be done publicly. It’s important though, that the word “rebuke” also means “convince” at the same time, or even “set right.” It has a goal, an objective. It’s not mud-slinging or self-promotion. It’s all to bring people back to the faith.
But where do I get “drive them off” from? It’s the combination of the idea of “rebuke” and, verse 14, “not paying attention to.” Now, before you point to that phrase and say, “Yeah, see? Just leave ’em alone and let God be their judge,” I need to point out that that’s not what this is saying. That would contradict what Paul just told Titus to do. Instead, the word is actually an affirmation of the rebuke. It means, “don’t associate with them,” or “don’t affirm them.” In other words, treat them as unbelievers. It’s NOT saying that the false teachers are just to be ignored. Too much is at stake. They are leading people away from the Truth.
To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.
Paul is drawing a contrast, a line in the sand. Pure men will have pure actions because they’re pure inwardly. Impure men, who claim to be pure, will have impure actions because their impure inwardly. That’s what Paul is saying here. They profess to know God, but their actions contradict their profession. Their actions show their inward rottenness.
They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
This is no easy thing for the pastor. It brings a LOT of ridicule. It brings a lot of scorn, but it’s imperative nonetheless.
So, how is a pastor supposed to handle a wolf? He’s got to muzzle him, and then he’s got to drive him off. And as for him, for the good shepherd, Titus 2:1 states, he is to “speak the things that are fitting for sound doctrine.” In other words, he muzzles the wolf, he drives off the wolf, and then he exhorts his flock in righteous living – modeled by his own character. And his character will silence the critics.