October 18, 2017

The Spirit Of Non-controversy

By Leslie Diestelkamp

Question: In this, the middle of the Twentieth Century, has the Lord's church outgrown controversy? Of
course there are some who do engage in controversy. Some may do so only for the sake of controversy, and
others may do so out of pure motives. Some may be fighting for self, and some may desire to stand in defense
of truth. Many may engage in controversy with a kind and gentle spirit, while others may do so with a spirit
of bitterness and malice.


However, the usual cry is "Peace, peace." Sometimes this is a cry for "Peace at any price." It seems that
some of the Lord's people would rather have peace than to have truth and right if these can only be had in and
through controversy. Some seem to be ashamed of an argument about the scripture and have become so
completely overwhelmed by pacifism that they will allow a soul to be lost in ignorance rather than earnestly
discuss the Bible with him and they will allow the church to be led into error rather than "contend earnestly for
the faith (Jude 3) with brethren.


This spirit of non-controversy manifests itself in several ways, some of which we shall mention.


Be Altogether Positive


A few deny that there is value in negative teaching. Many minimize the value of such. Perhaps a majority
simply over-emphasize the positive, and thus de-emphasize the negative. It is not my intent to suggest that our
teaching should be of a negative nature most of the time. Rather, the essence of the gospel of Christ is a positive
message, and the one who teaches truth will not fail to devote most of his time, energy and ability to the
proclamation of the high and holy demands of the positive word. On the other hand, the preacher or teacher who
avoids the negative, will fail to impress upon his hearers (or readers) the whole truth, and those who give heed
to what he teaches will undoubtedly fail to harmonize their lives with the will of God, and will evidently receive
a false conception of the gospel.


When the negative is minimized the following things, at least, will result: (1) The use of mechanical
instruments of music in worship will become a matter of little concern, even to people who worship where such
are not used. This is seen by those of us who live in large cities, who observe the action of Christians who come
from faithful churches but who drift (and sometimes gladly plunge) into the Christian Church when they move.
The church where the mechanical instrument is not opposed openly and frankly and often is due for a rude
awakening as soon as many of its members leave the home community. (2) Dancing, petting, drinking
intoxicants, etc. will characterize the lives of members of the church even if they are taught to "keep thyself
pure" and to. "keep oneself unspotted from the world." By being completely positive it is probably impossible
to get youngsters to see any sin in dancing. If gospel preachers follow the lead of denominational preachers,
and confine their lessons on moral matters to entirely positive messages, we can expect the Lord's people to,
condone dancing and petting because they do not oppose lasciviousness, and to overlook lasciviousness because
they do not actually abhor fornication!


To be positive is fine and is in harmony with truth. To be altogether positive (or altogether negative either)
is to be wrong and unscriptural. A proper balance in preaching and teaching (and in our attitude) will enable
us to attain that which God expects and to avoid that which he condemns. Let us beware if our own attitude
is one that causes us to be displeased with negative teaching. Even a casual reading of the New Testament will
enable us to see that, though its message for us is primarily a positive one, much of its instruction for us is
couched in negative language. Let us also be aware that a denial of the proper value of negative teaching is an
almost certain indication of the influence of modernism in our religion.


Consider Only One Side


Another angle of the non-controversial idea is to refuse to hear, read or allow to be presented, both sides
of a matter. For instance, often some brother expresses great admiration for a certain paper published by
brethren, explaining that he likes it so much because it doesn't allow controversy upon its pages. The fact of
the matter is that usually that paper may be almost filled with controversial material, but that it will only print
one side of such controversy. It is not at all uncommon for a paper which is styled as non-controversial, but
which really is only one-sided, to have perhaps five articles, three or four of which are highly controversial.
Yet some brethren are made happy because there is no argument (they say) in it. But whoever gives a reason
for his beliefs, presents an argument. However the tendency toward pacifism today, among Christians, causes
many to insist that only one side of an argument be presented.


When we refuse to consider both sides of an argument, we are like the proverbial ostrich, and such a
closed-mind policy will likely cause us, at times to be the blind one whom another blind one leads. The only
safe course is to allow every issue to be tested in open discussion, either orally or printed; for the lesson that
does not challenge the opponents of truth has missed its mark, and the one that cannot stand thorough
investigation does not deserve serious consideration.


Brethren everywhere lament the action of denominational people who refuse to openly discuss issues, but
at the same time such brethren will often refuse to give consideration to those issues that prevail among God's
people. Furthermore, when brethren do have discussions with denominational people, they do so without malice,
usually, and stoutly affirm their friendship for those with whom they differ. Yet, significantly, when brethren
differ they usually manifest a spirit of ill-will that borders upon hate for one another.


It is my intention herein to beg for two things: (1) Open, frequent and candid discussion of those things that
trouble brethren; (2) and a spirit of brotherly kindness, compassion and patience in such discussions, whether
they be oral or written.


The Test By Controversy


The Holy Spirit says, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21). But how can a thing
actually be proved without controversy of some kind? The actual controversy may be one that only rages in
our mind, when we place one argument against another, or it mav be a friendly discussion between friends
and/or brethren. On the other hand, a thing may sometimes best be proven true or untrue by public, oral
discussion, or by written debate. At any rate that which we read or hear, and believe without a fair and accurate
test, is only an assumption. And, to assume such to be truth is to risk our souls destiny upon uncertainty. The
only fair and safe course, in view of our never-dying, soul and of the eternal reward or punishment, is to be sure
that all that we believe and practice is adequately, advisedly and ambitiously tested in the crucible of
controversy.


To refuse controversy is usually not a sign of humility but of weakness, and to decline controversy may
be an indication of cowardice rather than meekness. The supposed sweet spirit of non-controversy breeds
ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. By-products of this attitude will be compromise, sectarianism and apostasy.


There are those who count the baptisms reported today and boast of accomplishments in this new day when
debate is unpopular and when an argument is discouraged. They say that we have arrived at the time when
those things are not needed to get results. It is affirmed that the church is growing more and more than ever
before in modern times, and all of this without the controversy of former days. However we should always keep
in mind that experts in that field say that from 80% to 90% of the baptisms today come from the Bible study
classes. This simply means that most "growth" today is from families already in the church, and that little
progress, comparatively, is being made toward converting people of the denominational world. It can hardly
be denied that fewer denominational people are being converted today than in the early days of the restoration.
Why? Could not one reason be that there is less controversv with them? Furthermore, take note of successes
in foreign fields: Where have greatest successes been seen? Usually, and with perhaps a few exceptions like
Nigeria, by far the greatest success is in the place where opposition has been great and therefore controversy
has been a prominent part of the work. The work in Italy is a real example of this, for there, under the stress
and strain of argument and discussion, hundreds have been baptized who have remained faithful, indicating real
conviction which was usually produced in the face of strong opposition. On the other hand, if one wants to see
an exhibit of weakness, it may usually be easily found in those places where baptisms have not been preceded
by long, hard struggles with conscience, with conviction, and with truth.


Disagree Without Being Disagreeable


The non-controversial spirit which, in some places, is choking all the vitality, vim and vigor out of the
Lord's church, may simply be the result of a mis-conception - supposition that those who, differ must divide
and that when we disagree we must be disagreeable. Some people forbid controversy because they say love
forbids it. However, this is shallow thinking. In the first place, real love for a person demands that we get the
truth to that person if at all possible, even if we do take the chance of losing his friendship. Furthermore, love
for truth requires that we declare it firmly, fully and faithfully. To keep back part of the truth is to make the
remaining part a lie. Likewise, that truth which is declared in a compromising spirit is a weakened, diluted and,
at least to a great extent, an impotent truth.


If the church must grow without constant controversy, then it must cease to follow the greatest
controversialist of all time, Jesus Christ. His every thought, word and deed brought him into open and severe
conflict with Satan and Satan's servants. If the followers of Christ today find themselves in less conflict than
he, perhaps it is because they do not possess the "spirit of Christ," which spirit will motivate lives and words
everyone of which will be an open challenge to Satan and Satan's servants.


Let us then take "The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," and fight faithfully the good fight
of faith, with fidelity.


Truth Magazine II:2, pp. 10-12
November 1957

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