P. J. Casebolt
Paden City, West Virginia
When there is any possibility of a misunderstanding, it is always good to define the subject or the term under consideration. Controversy: "A discussion of a controverter matter or controversial issue; dispute; debate; sometimes, quarrel; strife" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Copyright 1960, by G. & C. Merriam Co.)
Some claim they do not believe in any kind of controversy, but I have yet to meet a person who does not believe in some kind of controversy. Some think they are opposed to any and all controversy because they have limited the definition of the word to quarreling, strife, and bickering. I think that when we understand the true nature of controversy, and the part it plays in man's moral and spiritual progress, we may begin to regard it differently and even manage to have great respect and appreciation for it.
Where Shall We Draw the Line?
It is always interesting to notice how different people will draw the line at different places on any given subject. It is especially enlightening to observe the different attitudes regarding controversy.
Some think that controversy is all right between political candidates, in community projects, in the United Nations, in court, or in the home between husband and wife, but not in religion. Some believe it is permissible in religion as long as it concerns atheists, infidels, agnostics, and evolutionists. 'Others go further, and think it proper to engage in controversy with Catholics, Jews, or Mohammedans. Still others will extend the area of controversy to some "Protestant" groups which they regard as "cults" Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and some "holiness" groups.
Some brethren are beginning to entertain the notion that all religious controversy should be avoided. I think that this attitude is the result of certain alliances that have been formed between some brethren and certain social, political, and religious interests of a worldly nature. Also the idea prevails in some quarters that God has children in all religious denominations and we should not engage in controversy with them. A few others may fear that a condemnation of error in others would establish our own guilt in the same practices, and therefore would like to avoid any controversy on such matters.
However, I think that most brethren believe controversy is all right between ourselves and other religious groups, and some believe it is all right among brethren if engaged in with the proper spirit and motive. But, some do not think that controversy should even once be named among brethren. This latter attitude is the one we would like to correct, for we believe it stems from a misunderstanding or a limiting of the term controversy, and from a few unpleasant experiences between brethren who failed to manifest the proper regard for controversy and for each other.
First, let us establish the fact that none of us wants to eliminate all controversy. Some claim that preachers should not preach or write on controversial subjects, but these fail to recognize the fact that even such subjects as baptism, the Lord's supper, the church, and the second coming of Christ are not entirely free of controversy. Also, just let one of these brethren (or sisters) who do not think that preachers should preach or write on controversial subjects, get into a controversy with a fellow-worker or a neighbor, and watch him invite the preacher to join the controversy. Yes, when these get into trouble, they want a sound, fearless preacher who has the ability and the courage to defend the truth and expose error.
Other brethren do not want the preacher to expose the doctrines of men, but when their own son or daughter is about to make the trip down the aisle with a Catholic or other unbeliever, they want the preacher to stop the procession, talk to the son or daughter, and baptize the unbeliever. Or, they will object when the preacher condemns dancing, drinking, mixed bathing, and uncontrolled recreation, but when their own child gets into trouble they want the preacher to call upon his God, strike his hand over the errant prodigal, say a few words, and perform a near miracle. They did not want a little teaching on controversial subjects when it might have done some good, but now they are in it up to their necks.
"It Isn't Pleasant"
Too many are under the impression that controversy should be avoided because it is not enjoyable. No one said that it was, and I would be highly suspicious of anyone who thought that controversy was pleasant and enjoyed being involved in it. I have particular r3erence to controversy among brethren. Discipline in the home and in the church is not pleasant either, but when administered properly it will later yield "the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." (Heb. 12:11.)
We can either engage in discipline and controversy a little at a time when it is needed, or we can wait' I and face them in greater proportions at a later date. We may even succeed in avoiding our responsibilities in these and other matters during our generation, but sometime, somewhere, someone is going to have more than his share of troubles which will be through no fault of his own, but which he will receive by inheritance from us.
"It offends the outsider"
We should not overlook the possibility that we may cause the outsider to stumble. This is especially true if it comes about needlessly and could be avoided. Yet, I think that we sometimes underestimate the fairness and understanding of outsiders. They must not be totally devoid of discernment, or they could not obey the gospel. Let us give them a little credit, anyway. These same ones can turn to the Bible and see conditions that prevailed in the churches at Corinth, Galatia, in Asia, and other places, and also read about the controversies that arose over certain practices in the early church. We can not keep them immune forever, and if we' listen to some brethren they will not be any better prepared to endure hardships and controversies when they are sixty than they were at sixteen. Let us use wisdom, discretion, and seasoned speech, but let us teach them.
"Quarreling and Strife"
There have been times when brethren did not discuss their differences as brethren. The good that a discussion might accomplish is sometimes nullified by the un-Christian attitude displayed by the participants. There are some brethren with whom I would prefer not to discuss anything, either publicly or privately, because of attitudes and tactics which they have displayed when dealing with others. If two brethren have personalities that "clash," or do not think that they could control themselves under the heat and pressures of controversy, they would do well to avoid such. If they can not see this, or their pride will not permit them to refrain from such discussions, then wise brethren should neither permit nor encourage such. We should not regard such a course as cowardice on the part of either the disputants or the church, but rather as the prudent course to be followed for the good of the Church and for the good of the Subject under examination.
Some have stopped subscribing to or reading any of the papers published by brethren because of controversy therein, and think that they can thereby avoid controversy. Only a simpleton would try to defend everything that has been written by brethren, or the attitude manifested by some writers, but a person is deceiving himself when he thinks to avoid controversy by refusing to read or listen. You can quit reading your daily paper, but when a bomb is dropped on you it will be none the less destructive. When controversy bursts all around you, you will be involved whether you want to be or not. Ask India if those Communists hammering at their borders are real or just figments of their imagination. Neutrality is a blissful thing if we can just get others to feel the same way. If not, someone has already shifted into gear, and you may as well let out on the clutch and watch where you are going.
I think brethren should be selective in their reading and in the matter of placing literature in the hands of outsiders. Some publications are not intended for the nonmember, some are designed primarily for outsiders, and some are good for both. I would not recommend that anybody just read one side of any controversial issue, religious or otherwise. If we could be certain that one publication would treat each subject with fairness and impartiality, we would only need one. The Bible is the only such book known to me. If you read after man, read from several sources, and then read your Bible. Try to exercise some judgment and discretion even when recommending publications of a controversial nature to some brethren. Some will swallow anything, so make certain they are able to chew and digest everything they receive; to discern between good and evil. If we do not keep ourselves informed, we will be at a disadvantage when the hour of controversy arrives, and it will come to a certain degree in all our lives in spite of all we do to avoid it, and in spite of our distaste for it.
"'What Shall We Say Then?"
The church has won its greatest victories for truth and made its greatest spiritual progress during times of great controversy. Jesus continually disputed with the scribes and Pharisees. Paul never avoided controversy, and disputed whenever the occasion required it. (Acts 19:9) He did it so often that others knew that he was "set for the defense of the gospel." (Phil. 1:17.), When controversy arose in the church at Antioch over false teaching introduced by "certain men which came down from Judea," there was "no small dissention and disputation with them. . . ." (Acts 15:1, 2) This controversy was among brethren, and they settled it by a "thus saith the Lord." (v. 28)
Have we so soon forgotten the debt we owe to such men as Stone, Campbell, Smith, and others like them? We show little appreciation for the heritage left us by these noble defenders of the faith when we say we do not believe in controversy.
Let us not engage in, nor encourage, needless controversy. When it cannot be avoided, let us meet it with knowledge prayer, and humility. Let us imbibe the spirit seen in Christ and manifested by the apostles and other great men who, in the hour of controversy, delivered their souls before God and man. If you still think you would like to escape from controversy, then I suggest you join the Catholic Church, the Communist party, or some other totalitarian system where the average member does not get involved in too much controversy because he does not enjoy that freedom --- he just does what he is told and dares not question why.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 40, pp. 5-7