What does it say about our nature that so many tend to find the doctrine of separation totally reprehensible and will do anything to avoid it when the Scripture speaks so directly and extensively about it? Surely, it does not reveal how loving we are—as many would like to have us believe. Rather, it shows how far removed we are—even many real believers—from a holy God and His righteous requirements. Though requiring some definitions, the text for today is clear, succinct, and unequivocal. And as believers, we will be measured in part according to our faithfulness to this clear injunction: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Tit. 3:10, 11). We will try to avoid the modern tendency to dilute any of the major points this text makes by answering four questions.
What is “an heretick”? In casual speech, we may use the term heretic to describe an atheist or someone who aggressively challenges religious faith. Paul has something seemingly less nefarious in mind, for his “heretic” was not a wholesale infidel. On the contrary, he was a religious person who promoted teachings contrary to what Paul had taught, i.e., contrary to the Word of God. The word translated in the AV as heretic comes from a root meaning “choice” and suggests a person who chooses for himself doctrines contrary to the Word of God, a creator of sects, or a person who causes doctrinal divisions. Paul, then, does not have in mind especially the blasphemous atheist or the ranting agnostic when he warns about “an heretick.” Rather, he so identifies any advocate for a doctrine or practice that runs counter to the Scriptures.
How is “an heretick” to be treated? Paul offers no handwringing, wishy-washy method of dealing with individuals who have been identified as teaching things contrary to Scripture. The procedure is simple. They are to be given a first warning (“admonition”); then they are to be given a second warning. Paul does not say give two warnings, but he designates both a first and second warning. In so doing, he seems to be laying emphasis on a very precise and finite procedure. One warning is too few, but three are too many. The offender must be given ample opportunity to repent of his error, but the effects of promoting false doctrine are so destructive to the welfare of the local assembly that the process of remediation must be brief. If the offender does not repent after two warnings, then he is to be rejected. Locke observes in his commentary that this is “a favourite word” in the pastoral epistles. The word is wonderfully simple, clear, and powerful; it means just what we think it means: “shun.” There is no place in a sound body for divisive doctrines and practices (i.e., those contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture), and purveyors of such error must not be tolerated.
Why must “an heretick” be rejected? Paul offers three forceful reasons that he suggests should be self-evident in such a circumstance. First, one who insists on promoting doctrine contrary to Scripture, having received two specific warnings that point out his departure from the truth, is “subverted.” The term we would use today is both powerful and deliberately offensive: “perverted.” He is hopelessly “turned aside” from the truth, and the church no longer has any direct ministerial duty toward him; prolonging the process would only expose the church as a whole to harm. Second, the nature of this perversion is not merely some sociological weakness or psychological aberration. Anyone may become temporarily confused or deceived, but twice having rejected biblical warning, this man should be recognized as blatantly sinning against God. And third, he is “condemned of himself.” Having been the recipient of gracious biblical warning about his divisive teachings, the divider is without excuse. His rejection of the truth leaves him condemned of himself. And anyone who would defend or even excuse his behavior, anyone who does not reject him, is himself disobeying the Word of God.
What particular doctrines or practices does Paul have in mind? The list would be too long to enumerate. The key to identifying and dealing biblically with these individuals and their error sometimes lies in identifying the problem from a biblical list of doctrinal heresies but sometimes in recognizing its unbiblical fruit. Does the idea being promoted result in division among those who wish to be faithful to the Word of God? Then the proponent of that idea should be recognized as “an heretick” and treated according to the biblical mandate.
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