Summary: Divisive people, like divisive doctrine, harms the people of God. Failure to address divisive people ensures that the church is hindered in her labours.
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
Harry Ironsides was quoted as saying, “The brightest light draws the most moths.” He was referring to cranks, those seemingly ubiquitous individuals who feel themselves compelled to be divisive within a congregation. These individuals are what some, speaking colloquially, have called “gainers”—they are “again” every advance by a congregation, treating every change within the assembly as a threat. Whenever these individuals are presented with a new opportunity or a new idea, without thinking, they reject the idea. They are thoroughly versed in the negative mode; and at every suggestion of change, they squawk out one raspy refrain: “We’ve never done it that way before.” If we are even remotely familiar with the writings of the Apostle to the Gentiles, we know that cranks have been a problem among the churches since the earliest days.
It is one thing to hold biblical convictions; it is quite another to cling to personal preferences as though such preferences enjoyed divine sanction. Tragically, it often appears that evangelical church leaders are ignorant of the Faith—they are incapable of stating what they believe. Whether bearing the name “deacon” or “elder,” they are “elected” to the positions they occupy because of popularity, notoriety or personal wealth. Consequently, they resist any return to biblical practise. For the most, political considerations, currying favour with the “electorate,” is of greater importance than is striving to please the Master who calls to service.
I note that in far too many instances, those elevated to leadership positions among the churches are selected by pastors primarily because they will not oppose the shepherd. The great tragedy of this situation is that after a time, these individuals assume a patina of venerability ensuring that the congregation is reluctant to remove them. Though the people of God recognise that something is wrong, they hesitate to disturb the status quo. As I have often stated, “status quo” is Latin for “the rut we are in.”
In other instances, aberrant church polity ensures poor leadership that will inevitably prove to be divisive. Modern evangelicals are convinced that the church is a democracy, and so congregations elect individuals, ignoring the clear instruction of the Word to seek out for appointment those whom God has prepared and equipped. We want to be equitable, so we strive for diversity to prove how tolerant we are. Tolerance, you will recall, is that wonderful virtue commanded in the Book of Accommodations. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we censure sound doctrine in favour of niceness.
Stirring up division among God’s people is not a new phenomenon—it is as old as sin itself. The Apostle to the Gentiles was forced to address the matter when he wrote to a hand-selected missionary serving on Crete. Titus faced a difficult situation in his service to the Cretans. Apparently, the difficulties of ministry were sufficiently severe that he weighed resigning his commission. Paul, however, would have none of that.
“I left you in Crete … so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town” [TITUS 1:5]. Some were advancing their own agenda, and Titus was weary of the fight. He faced “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” [TITUS 1:10] in the churches. He would need to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” [TITUS 2:1], reminding those coming into the Faith “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” [TITUS 3:1, 2].
Planting churches, extending the Kingdom of God, equipping the saints coming into the Faith from pagan backgrounds was a daunting task; and Titus had obviously grown weary. The task was made no easier by people that were determined to push their own agendas, proving divisive in the process. Paul’s instruction was pointed: warn such people no more than twice; then, have no more to do with them.
It is tempting to relegate these instructions to church leaders. However, we do a disservice to the Word of God if we make such an attempt. Clearly, the apostolic instruction is applicable to all professed believers coming into the congregation. Join me in exploring this neglected portion of the Word in order to learn to deal with cranks.
IDENTIFYING CRANKS — “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” I use the term “crank” to describe someone who stirs up division. The word “division” in our text is a strong word. In the original language, it is hairetikós—we obtain our English word “heretic” and “heresy” from this word. However, Paul’s focus is not on those introducing doctrinal deviation into the congregation—he is focused on people that are agents of division within the assembly.