by Kevin V. Rutherford


The rudder of a ship is very small in comparison to the rest of the boat, and yet that small rudder can control the direction of that vessel.  A horse is a large, powerful animal and yet the small bit in the horse’s mouth can control the direction of that mighty beast.  These are illustrations used by James to illustrate the power of the tongue (James 3:1-5).  The tongue is a small part of our bodies and yet with, it we can do so much damage.  The power of the tongue can be used for good or ill.  Too often it is used for evil.

The tongue can do a great deal of damage within the church of Christ. One example of such is when members of the church teach false doctrine.  When error is taught it can spread like a horrifying cancer.  False teaching is a cancer that may cause much of the body to deteriorate and die.  Paul spoke of such a cancer when he wrote to Titus.

Titus was to appoint elders in the congregations on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).  To aid Titus in appointing the right kind of man, Paul tells Titus what God’s requirements for elders are (Titus 1:5-9).  After Paul lists the qualifications of elders he then makes specific application of the last qualification to the task of dealing with false doctrine within the church.

The last qualification listed is that elders must hold “fast the faithful word (Titus 1:9).”  A man who is qualified to be an elder must know the truth, be willing and able to teach the truth, and be willing and able to confront anyone within the congregation who opposes the truth.  Titus was told that elders must exhort and convict those who teach error.  This exhorting must be done with sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).

Further in the text Paul speaks of those who were teaching the early church that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to become Christians (Titus 1:10-13).  These are men who have been using the tongue to spread error in the church.  Through their error they had deceived whole households and had found some way of making some money from gullible Christians in the process.  What should be done with men like this?  They should be confronted, rebuked, encouraged to repent, and their mouths should be stopped (Titus 1:9-11).  Who is to confront the false teachers?  Paul doesn’t say the evangelist is to do it.  Paul doesn’t say the deacons are to do it.  Paul doesn’t say the teachers are to do it. Paul says the elders must do this!

When elders recognize that someone within the congregation is teaching error they must immediately take action.  They should confront the one teaching the error, address those who have been taught the error, encourage repentance on the part of all who have taught or accepted the error, then withdraw from those who refuse to repent (Romans 16:17, 18).

Elders will give account of themselves to God for any failure in this matter. Elders who fail to take action when false doctrine is taught within the congregation will be held responsible for any who are lead astray.  Those men who do not know the truth well enough to recognize error must not be appointed as elders.  Those men who know the truth and yet do not have the courage to confront error should not be appointed as elders.  Those elders who do not know the truth well enough to recognize error should be removed from the eldership. Those elders who do not have the courage to fight against any error that creeps within the congregation should be removed from the eldership.

Any congregation that has godly, qualified, active, and courageous elders ought to be thankful.