Attitudes Toward Controversy

Jim Roberts
Hope, Alaska

Perhaps the greatest hindrance in arriving at a solution to problems in the church of the Lord is an improper attitude toward controversy. To avoid controversy completely is to avoid an orderly search for divine truth. It is virtually impossible to occupy any position of a religious nature without being faced by an opposing position. This is controversy. If you deny that infant baptism is scriptural, you have immediately created controversy because you will certainly meet opposition. If you insist that Christ is presently reigning over His Kingdom you have created controversy. If you affirm that there is one God, you have created controversy.

Participation in controversies is an essential requirement in 'contending for the faith.' By contending half-heartedly or by completely abandoning our faith we could but lessen our part in controversy. So long as truth and error exist in the same world, there will be controversy, and the faithful servant of God will find it necessary to participate on the side of truth.

Therefore, let us have the proper attitudes toward controversy within the church. That we admit to being faced with controversies among brethren is simply to face and recognize reality. We must determine the course which faithful brethren must take and then we must continue therein.

As in every facet of the Christian's service, we are required to maintain the proper attitude toward the end which we seek. That end is the divine will.

What, then, are some improper attitudes toward controversy that we should strive to overcome? Consider the following:

  1. Ignoring the existence of an obvious controversy.
  2. Refusal to fairly study the question for ourselves.
  3. Misrepresentation of the opposite position.

I. Ignoring the Controversy

During the controversies in recent years concerning institutionalism and the sponsoring church system, many brethren have simply ignored the existence of the question in hope that would go away. This is manifestly wishful thinking as the present condition of the church illustrates. Instead of going away the problem has become more serious. The question has now spread from the larger cities and the larger congregations to nearly every section of the United States and into the foreign fields as well. There are still many congregations that have not had to face these problems at home and to make a decision as to where they will stand, but it is only a matter of time until they will have to make that decision. Remember that the controversy over instrumental music raged from 1859 when it was introduced at Midway, Kentucky until 1906 when the division that it caused was officially recognized. During the period of forty-seven years the question was being faced over and over again as it spread from congregation to congregation.

Ignoring a controversy does not free us from the necessity of facing it at a later date. It is far better to be informed when it comes.

II. Refusal to Study

Too often we are prone to accept the decisions of others rather than to study for ourselves. I am certain that there are hoards of brethren on both sides of the present controversies who have accepted the decisions of others without a personal honest investigation. This usually means acceptance of the decisions of the majority, which of course is the path of least resistance.

How long have we been critical of our denominational neighbors for accepting a religion handed to them by someone else? How often have we emphasized " . . . being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you . . .?" (I Pet.3:15). May we never espouse a doctrine that we cannot of our own study determine and defend by the Word of God.

III. Misrepresentation of the Opposite Position

No false doctrine is so heinous that misrepresentation of it is a lawful means of combating it. Its own falsity is sufficient to condemn it when seen in the light of truth.

Misrepresentation of an opponent's position is not necessarily intentional. It can often occur because of a failure to discern what his position really is. We should never reprove an opponent when we have only an approximation of his position.

This is the sad case that we often find in the present controversy over institutions supported by the church and the sponsoring church system. Brethren are accused of being opposed to the care of orphans and widows. They are accused of being opposed to cooperation of congregations. They are even accused by some of being opposed to evangelism by means of radio and television. All of these accusations are made by one of two types of accusers: 1. one uninformed concerning the issues or 2. a deliberate liar. I am sure that the first count includes most such accusers, but I hasten to admonish that the influence in this regard is exactly the same as the influence of those accusers in category two. The responsibility of the two in the resultant damage is identical. Without fully understanding both sides of the question, we can hardly pursue a fair process of decision-making. Never form a decision without first familiarizing yourself with every side of the question.

IV. Summary

  1. Controversy is unavoidable to the faithful servant of Christ.
  2. Controversies concerning institutionalism and the sponsoring church system will have to be faced at home.
  3. In order to make a sound decision you must investigate both sides of every question in the light of God's Word.
  4. Make your own decision.
  5. When contending, represent the opposition fairly.
  6. Pray for the wisdom to discover the side of truth and then contend earnestly for the faith. (Jas. 1:5; Jude 3)

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 11, pp. 4-6 August 1966