Dealing with Divisive People

“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…sinful; he is self-condemned.”

- Titus 3:10–11

Satan’s cunning is such that, “by impudent talkativeness of such men, he entangles good and faithful pastors, so as to draw them away from diligence in teaching,” John Calvin writes in his commentary on today’s passage. Much effort can be wasted in debating a person who has no desire for the truth, and it takes wisdom to know when it is proper to answer a fool according to his folly (Prov. 26:4–5). Too many churches are disrupted and harmed when Christian leaders put up with quarrelsome and divisive people longer than they should.

Apparently, Titus and the church he served on Crete were beset by divisive persons, and it may even be that the leaders were uncertain as to how long they should put up with the troublers, which would explain why Paul gives the instructions he does in Titus 3:10–11. In this case, the malcontents were false teachers who were promoting rank heresy of some kind (1:10–16), and division in the church plainly results whenever teachers deny cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Contrary to the notions of heretical leaders who control certain denominations, those who teach against biblical doctrine are divisive, not those orthodox congregations who wish to separate from them.

It is evident that the church cannot put up with those who unashamedly denounce doctrines like the Trinity, original sin, and other essential Christian beliefs. Less clear are those cases when we encounter people who are not blatant heretics, for we understand, Calvin writes, that “there are some matters on which Christians may differ from each other, without being divided into sects.” Leaders should, indeed they must, tolerate church members who might differ with them on issues that are less clear in Scripture and which orthodox Christians have disagreed upon in good faith (Rom. 14:1–9). Such toleration, of course, endures only as long as the peace of the church is not disrupted. Christian liberty allows for a variety of views on things like the millennium, the age of the earth, and Sabbath observance, but when members try to impose their views as orthodoxy on these and similar matters, they must first be warned and then disciplined if they are producing turmoil in the body.

Coram Deo

John Calvin writes, “Neither shall we have a right to pronounce a man to be a heretic, nor shall we be at liberty to reject him, till we have first endeavored to bring him back to sound views.” The pronouncement of heresy must be slow in coming and only after we have tried to restore an errant brother or sister to the truth. Are you quick to call someone a heretic on even minor matters when they disagree with you? May we never compromise charity when we stand for truth.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 5:20
Proverbs 26:20
Matthew 18:15–20
Jude 18–19

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.