Wrong Reason (4)
One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Titus 1.12, 13
Can you believe it?
When Paul said, “This testimony is true” he was not confirming the ludicrous assertion of the Cretan philosopher Epimenides. He was saying something more like, “I know, that’s completely ridiculous, but I’m not kidding, some people are teaching this, and many are lapping it up. No joke.”
The teaching of Epimenides was only one of many wrong-believing notions that were finding a home in the churches on Crete (v. 10). Why was Paul so astounded that such views should receive a hearing within the household of faith, in the house churches on the island of Crete? First, because they were creating upheaval and division. And second, as we will see in the view of Epimenides, because they were nonsensical. These false ideas came from the pens of philosophers and pop culture mavens, doused with the aroma of rationality. They had been embraced and celebrated by bright young people and were the talk of the town throughout Crete and beyond. So, just as in our day, when church leaders seem to pant after every new idea or cultural form, it was perhaps inevitable that such nonsense should find some receptivity within the churches.
But the view of Epimenides – typical of them all – was mistaken, and the reasoning supporting it was wrong. It could provide no meaningful guidance for how we ought to live; indeed, it could not even be made to make sense within itself.
It sounded cool, sophisticated, and maybe even persuasive, but it was dead wrong. And Paul was determined to expose and expunge it before it wrought havoc and division in the churches of Crete.
Wrong reason in the churches
In the churches today many are listening to reasoned and persuasive arguments which are, in the end, simply wrong. Some Christian pastors are making a reasoned and persuasive case for the idea that the Gospel is mainly about finding happiness and prosperity here and now. Yes, we’ll go to heaven when we die; but God’s main concern is that we should be healthy and wealthy in this life. If we’re not, it can only be because we have a faith too small.
That’s very appealing, but it’s just wrong. No attempt to sanctify the rampant materialism of our wrong-believing age can measure up to the promise and hope of the Gospel.
Other pastors make a case for a kind of Christianity without doctrine. Christianity is about feelings and relationships, not doctrines. It’s about accepting one another, making room for lots of different interpretations of what it means to be a Christian, and not judging one another just because our views of this, that, or something else are not the same. Christians should be understanding and tolerant, not judgmental and exclusive. Isn’t this what we hear everywhere in our postmodern world? Christianity, these preachers insist, is a life of loving like Jesus, and we have to accept all kinds of human foibles, follies, and differences in the process, being content to leave the sorting-out to God.
Now I know that preachers who make these arguments can sound very reasonable. This is why people flock to their churches, publishers sell their books by the millions, and their devotees defend them passionately. They may be very persuasive, but the premises of their teaching are informed more by the unbelieving spirit of the age than the unchanging Spirit of God. And because they have taken their misguided premise as an established fact, they select their teaching topics accordingly and keep arriving at the same conclusion week-in and week-out.
Only when someone points out the folly and irrationality of their positions are they – and their myriad followers – likely to wake up to the truth.
The folly of Epimenides
Like the people on Crete: Some believers there were actually beginning to accept the glib but absurd teachings of Epimenides, which were finding their way somehow into the teaching ministry of the churches and causing great upset.
Paul was astounded because even the barest analysis of such teaching reveals its folly. Since Epimenides, a Cretan himself, was saying that all Cretans are liars, then that must mean he was a liar, too. And if so, then that means he was lying about Cretans being liars, and all Cretans are, rather than liars, reliable truth-tellers. And if they are, if all Cretans, including Epimenides, are truth-tellers, then he cannot be mistaken about all Cretans being liars. That would be the truth. All Cretans are truth-telling liars. And all their lies are true.
Obviously, such a view is absurd, mistaken, and untrue. To embrace such a view would be to relegate all truth to the dust bin of thought and to elevate every lie to a place of honor. Any claims to a kind of truth which exposed and excluded lies would be out of place in such a system.
No wonder Paul was concerned about such a view seeping into the life of the churches on Crete.
The subsequent confusion which had arisen from this admixture of Christian teaching and secular philosophy (Tit 1.11) cast doubt on the authority of Cretan elders to govern the churches of that island or to insist on anything as final and unchanging truth. Which is why Paul’s solution to this confusing situation was to exhort the elders to stand on the facts of God’s truth and refute the wrong reason of those who were seeking to undermine their authority and their teaching.
And the same thing is happening today. Today’s false teachers blend Christian theology with secular worldviews – whether materialism or postmodern relativism – and, in the process, they undermine Scripture, confuse the faithful, cast doubt on the grand tradition of Christian doctrine, and rob multitudes of the genuine article of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Today’s false teachers sound very au courant, hip, and on top of things. They are very reasonable and persuasive in their arguments – not to mention oh so winsome, personable, and glib. But though their reasoning may be perfect, their premises are false, and their conclusions are wrong. They are mistaken about Christianity, and they are leading multitudes of like-blinded followers into the ditch of folly.
And as Paul would say, they must be confronted, exposed, and silenced (Tit. 1.11).
1. In what ways have secular worldviews invaded the teaching and ministries of today’s churches?
2. Why do you suppose, generation after generation, Christians continue to give in to the allure of wrong-believing worldviews, and try to patch them into their Christian faith?
3. How might Christians guard themselves against this tendency? How can they help one another?
Next steps – Conversation: Take a few minutes to jot down the “basics” of the Christian faith. Then, document each of those beliefs using Scripture alone.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.