Perhaps the most damaging type of person in the world is the one who claims to be a Christian but fails to live in any way that would reflect true Christianity.
Sadly, many people misunderstand the term “Christian,” feeling that it is merely a part of their cultural identity or something that they could inherit from their family. In this jaded view of Christianity, the name “Christian” is just another product label among many that they use to self-identify in a hyper-consumerist society. To them, Jesus is as crucial as Abercrombie, and either can be replaced or set aside if something more appealing or flashy comes along.
Having seen this danger, we must understand that perhaps the only way that this for-self-profit perspective of the church could be any more destructive to the name of Christianity is if those who are supposed to be serving in leadership begin to espouse it. When leaders treat the church coffers as their personal endowment fund, and seek to deepen their power by abusing the good grace of those they are supposed to serve, everyone outside the church and a few hurt and abused inside the church begin to equate “Christianity” with corruption. This ought not be. In any congregation, the leadership must be the blameless. Many people have been bruised by the sinful manipulation of a few crafty and greedy men who were little more than wolves in preachers’ clothing. The cost has been great. Being infuriated by the hypocrisy or guilted into the irrational, many have fallen away from Christianity, and many more have taken up arms against it.
As Paul wrote his letter to Titus, telling him to appoint leaders of the churches on the island of Crete, he encouraged Titus to locate and remove those leaders who were using the churches for their own gain. He specifically mentioned removing those who were “vain talkers and deceivers” (those who manipulated the word of God for their own gain), those who subverted and taught “for filthy lucre’s sake” (disregarding the health and well-being of the individuals for their own financial profit), and “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies (gluttons).” These were the ones destroying the name of Christianity on the island of Crete, and these are the ones who right this moment wreak havoc under the title “Christian.”
In the place of those who were corrupt and destructive, Titus was to appoint men who were blameless, loving, just, self-controlled and holy. What Crete needed, and what the world today needs is to hear the clear message of Jesus Christ and to see the truth of Jesus Christ lived out in the lives of those who call themselves “Christian.” They don’t need those who “profess that they know God; but in their works (their lifestyle) they deny him.”(v. 16) Titus had a lot of work ahead of him, but the name of Christ was at stake. If he did not root out the gross misrepresentations of Christianity that abounded, then in most cities the gospel would not be able to find a footing. As long as abusers used the title “Christian” and held positions of authority, the church could not serve its Christ-ordained purpose of being salt and light to a rotting and darkened world. Radical, painful measures were necessary. But no duration of suffering in Titus’s lifetime would be worth the eternally significant consequence of demonstrating the gospel’s beauty and stopping the mouths of all those who would dissent and attack by living a pure and blameless life.
Reflect: Read Matthew 23:13-15. Understanding that the Pharisees were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the Jews, why do you think Jesus said such harsh words to them here?