A man I am acquainted with is a professional Bible teacher. He was preaching through Paul’s NT letter to Titus, and taught his church something awful about Paul on the island of Crete.
He’s a smart man. He should’ve known better.
Thankfully, he did teach that some Cretans, as Acts 2:11 shows, became Christians at Pentecost. Well done, for most neglect that. Which means that 30 years before Titus was written God prepared Christians to take the gospel to Crete.
But then he dropped the Cretan Christians off into oblivion. He never mentioned them again, and instead taught that Paul came along 30 years after Pentecost and planted all the churches on Crete.
Doesn’t sound so big to you? Well, if that were the case, then not only did genuine converts from Pentecost fail to spread their faith back at all, but Paul was responsible for all the sins in the churches he was commanding Titus to fix.
For this paid teacher of the Bible, the men saved on Pentecost from Crete were fruitless. They never passed on their faith or started churches back on Crete. That’s heretical, from a salvation point of view.
But it’s a worse problem from a ‘church’ (ecclesiastical) point of view. He was claiming Paul had planted the churches on Crete. If true, then Paul’s activities there were criminal. As the apostle on Crete, he was responsible then for the “many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers” in charge of the churches just planted (Tit. 1:10). And here was Paul demanding someone else (Titus) fix the church problems he himself was responsible for: “appoint elders in every city, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (Tit. 1:5-6).
Unbelievably, it got even worse. He claimed that when Paul commanded Titus to appoint elders in every city, he was forced to appoint elders who were new converts to the faith. After all, he just started the churches, so according to this teacher, all the Christians were brand new.
But doing that would have disobeyed Jesus Christ since Christ had already restricted the elder office only for those who “are not recent converts” (1 Tim. 3:6). And Paul is the one whom the Holy Spirit to write that qualification!! Thus Paul’s alleged command to Titus would have forced Titus to decide who to obey, Paul or Christ. Either way, by this professional Bible teacher’s words, Paul the apostle was Satan’s agent of disobedience and schism on Crete.
Consider the implications. From then on, Paul would have been disqualified for Christian ministry for commanding disobedience to the Holy Spirit and claiming Christ led him to do it (Titus 1:4). And had Titus appointed new converts as elders, he too would have disobeyed Christ, and he too would have been disqualified. What horrible role models for the Cretan Christians.
By claiming Paul wanted new converts to be elders, this professional Bible teacher – probably without thinking, and certainly without cause – claimed Paul sinned on Crete against both God and man.
And then he defended his teaching that the churches were new. He taught that since Paul didn’t greet or encourage anyone in Crete’s churches in the letter, it showed that Crete’s churches were new. What?
Just the opposite. Read 1 Thessalonians. Colossians. Philippians. Paul always greeted the people he knew. Paul loved to greet the churches he had been involved with. In fact, it was rude not to greet people. How do you feel when you are ignored?
Actually, the lack of greeting lists in Titus show Paul didn’t spend time in ministry on Crete, but was having Titus do it instead.
Sadly, the book of Titus gets this lousy treatment treatment all the time.
Mountain Thou Molehill?
Does this seem like small matter? A mountain out of a mole hill?
If we misunderstand Titus and the churches on Crete we sit in the shadow of ecclesiastical death. Without it we can’t biblically interpret how to relate to the schismed churches of Christianity where we live. In a deft act of conscious blindness we instantly dismiss the full power of Paul’s apostolic authority over churches. Paul commanded existed churches to be completely reformed. They had to come under qualified elders.
If we don’t see the schism on Crete we’ll never apply Paul’s solution to it, but remain in disobedience and suffer it’s judgment. If you haven’t yet read Paul Did Not Sin on Crete! I encourage you to do so before reading this rejoinder, since that article deals extensively with the background of Crete and Titus.
Then come back here. I’d like to add a few more arguments to support the proper reconstruction of the background of the book Titus.
But if you are ready, here’s nine further evidences of schism in Crete’s churches:
Paul commands Titus to “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” Tit. 3:10-11. A factious person is one who sows division and schism.
But this command only makes sense in the ministry Titus had in merging Crete’s churches and makes no sense today. It violates the Lord’s words in Mat. 18:17.
There our Lord commands us to “tell it to the church” before removing a man from the church. But Titus 3:10-11 only requires two warnings from one man, Titus, and boom, the factious man is gone.
In other words, Paul is telling Titus, don’t tell it to the church, contra Mat. 18:17. But if you or I do that in dealing with divisive person, we sin against Christ.
The only way Titus could obey Paul’s command to remove divisive men after two warnings from the church, and not disobey Christ’s command to “tell it to the church,” was the ministry of merging churches together, a scenario described in detail here.
A lot of folks read Titus 1:5 and conclude, “what Paul is saying is, ‘appoint elders in every church.'” Only. He’s. Not.
Apart from recognizing Titus’ ministry of merging churches there is no sensible reconstruction of what Paul actually did write, which was “appoint elders in every city.” Despite what our experience 20 centuries later tells us, Paul does not want tons and tons of churches in every place, each with just one elder, or each with many elders.
How do we know this? The Greek won’t allow it, and it misreads every English translation, too.
First, Paul wants a plurality of elders appointed: the word is elders (plural), not elder, (singular).
Second, Paul wants that plurality in every city on Crete. The phrase hangs on a Greek preposition, κατὰ, which carries here a distributive sense: “Distribute a plurality of elders in every city.“
Third, the place where the elders are to be in plurality is in every polis (city), not every ecclesia (church).
Some Christians whose heads and hands are bound to tradition twist Titus 1:5 to teach their preferred form of church polity. Some of them are even deeply offended at what Paul commands here – a plurality of elders in a single church in a city possessing full-charge authority. So they change the meaning to support their preference.
Others say Titus was a bishop over all the churches on Crete. Not at all – he appointed elders and left them in authority while he moved off the island to Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Yet others say Titus did to the churches of Crete what they themselves do in their modern-day churches, which is, vote for their church leadership. Again though, they have to run away from the fact that Paul wants Titus (and Titus alone) to appoint elders in every city, not every church. A city and a church are not equivalent in real life, nor in Pauline theology.
Thus Titus 1:5 is against Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational polity. The idea that Titus was a bishop, or that he appointed men whom others approved by vote is a rejection of Paul’s words in Titus 1:5. Titus did all the appointing and moved off the island.
Someone argued with me, “But Paul never uses the word “division” in the letter. Therefore, the churches on Crete were not schismed.”
But that assumes two things.
First, it assumes every city on Crete had divided churches since Paul’s words, “appoint elders in every city” applied to the entire island. But if even one city on Crete did not have schismed churches, then it would have been inappropriate for Paul to say every city had divided churches. Some churches were so disobedient to the gospel they were heretical.
Second, it assumes that Paul considered every group calling itself a church had a measure of legitimacy, that is, was a schism, and not a heresy. But that is directly disproven in the letter.
A schism is a group of professing Christians who are to be regarded as regenerate, for the word schism describes Christians within the same church in 1 Cor. 1:10 and 1 Cor. 11:18. These divided groups on Crete needed to be merged together.
But heretics are those who follow a self-condemned man and ministry, such as mentioned in point 1 above. In Titus 3:10-11 Paul wrote, “Reject a factious man (a heretical man, αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον) after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” The kind of people who follow a self-condemned man need to be kept from being merged into the church Titus is creating.
Had Paul called all the many churches on Crete “divided,” his words would have projected that he believed all started in unity in every city. He would have inferred that any and all Christian gatherings in every city were in some sense equally valid and that such groups ought to be respected and each regarded as a part of Christ’s people. Such a statement by Paul would have been dangerous because it would neglect each group’s individual history (i.e., how they divided) and have potentially overlooked past sins in that group that made them heretical.
Instead, Paul left it to Titus to determine which groups were schisms and which were heretics. The determinative test was Titus 3:10.
Apart from schism on Crete there is no reasonable explanation for how there are “many” churches led by rebellious men on Crete (Titus 1:10).
I want the word “many” of Titus 1:10 to flash before your eyes since it is the first adjective Paul uses to describe the leaders of the Crete’s churches (and hence emphatic), i.e., –> “not a few.”
The picture Titus 1:10-16 draws, due to its length and position after Titus 1:6-9, is that there were far, far more of these kind of men leading churches than saved men. And likely, many of the few saved men leading churches were not even elder qualified. Just like the condition of churches today.
In Titus 1:10 Paul’s second adjective for the many leaders of Crete’s churches is “rebellious.” The question is, to whom are they rebellious?
Choice 1: God. Yes, they were rebellious to God, but that’s not Paul’s point he needed to make to Titus. So were all the other non-Christians on Crete.
Choice 2: These men were rebellious to their own church leadership. If so, it’s nowhere said, and if true, Paul would have called on those present leaders in the churches on Crete to handle the rebels in their own churches, not Titus.
Choice 3: They are rebellious to Paul, Christ’s earthly human authority in true apostolic form. Thus they would have been rebellious to Titus too, as Paul’s emissary, and would have rebelled against his appointing of elders in each city.
And why wouldn’t they despise Paul and Titus? The rebels were about to be exposed by Titus’ work of appointing only qualified elders in every city (Titus 1:6-9). Titus wouldn’t appoint them in the newly merged single church in their city. They would in fact, rebel, and by Titus 3:10-11 have been put out of Christ’s church entirely. Hence Paul’s words to Titus take on ecclesiastical force: “let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).
These many rebellious men, and their followers, become the “opponent” who will want to speak badly of the Christians in the one merged church in every city (Tit. 2:8). Apart from them, this word has no meaning, for who exactly is the opponent Titus is to be concerned about in every city? In distinction, the Christians are to malign no one (Titus 3:1-2).
If Titus were only putting in place elders who were to be elected by the people of each church because the churches were new, then there would be no need for Titus to be helped by others. But yet Paul promises Titus he will soon be helped and even replaced by Artemis or Tychicus (Titus 3:12-13).
Representative polity (i.e., Protestantism) assumes Titus’ appointing of elders was a ceremonial role since he only appointing those whom others voted into office, a role that requires a minimum amount of time and could be finished quickly. But merging and appointing only the qualified into eldership will take time. Titus likely merged the most difficult schisms before the other men arrived.
Paul mentions “whole families,” not “whole churches,” being led astray by the rebellious leaders (Titus 1:11).
This requires that other Christians in the city where that rebellious leader was teaching were not under his teaching and therefore were not being led astray. They must, therefore, have been a part of another Christian group in the same city.
Paul is sending to Crete two other men, one a lawyer, and the other the inestimable Apollos (Titus 3:13). In a proper reconstruction these men each have a role that might be estimated.
The lawyer can deal with the court cases the schismed-out rebels may take to Roman court, and Apollos, the eloquent men, can encourage and strengthen the newly-merged churches and elder-boards. Apart from that reconstruction, Titus 3:13 is merely historic curiosity, bereft of ecclesiastical meaning.
And those are just a few of the reasons why schism should be defended. On Crete. What will you do with it?
Lots of folks, and even professional Bible teachers, should soak in Titus 1:5 for a while. Anyone who cares about local churches knows that you can’t appoint unqualified men, such as new converts, into eldership without disobeying God (1 Tim. 3:6). And if they are voted in it just spreads the sin around to all who voted for the new convert to become an elder (1 Tim. 5:22).
Yet here was a paid professional, teaching Paul wanted Titus to appoint recent converts into eldership. In every city on Crete, mind you. Yet he knows that violates God’s word and creates massive spiritual problems.
I wish he had read my article Paul Did Not Sin on Crete!