Religious Controversy

Luther Blackmon
Clermont, Florida

A great statesman once said, "Let the people know the truth and the country is safe." A great Christian, David Lipscomb, said, "Apostasies have come and will come. They will come where the cause is popular, and where an ease-loving and popularity seeking spirit prevails, and always manifest themselves among those who avoid controversy and discussion." Jesus was the world's greatest controversialist. He even debated with the devil (Matt. 4.) Jude said, "Contend earnestly for the faith." Paul "disputed in the synagogue with the Jews and with devout persons, and in the market daily with those that met with him" (Acts 17:17.) Again, speaking of those judaizing teachers who came in "privily to spy out our liberty" Paul said, "to whom we gave place by subjection no not for an hour that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." (Gal. 2-5.) He contended vigorously with these false teachers in the church.

Freedom invites controversy. Where people are allowed to think and speak for themselves, controversy is unavoidable. This will be true whether in politics or religion. There is no controversy among the Catholic; because a Catholic does not have the right to think for himself in religion. He simply does what he is told. It has already been decided for him by the official interpreters of the Church what he shall believe. But the New Testament church has no built-in interpreter. Every man is a priest (Rev. 1: 6.) and under obligation before God to study the Bible for himself. Since the Lord's church has no official interpreter, it is inevitable that differences will arise, and the only way I know that we could avoid these differences would be to elect an official interpreter as the Catholics and some others have, and agree to take his ipsi-dixit. I know we are not ready for that.

Congregational Freedom. The very nature of the organization of the church may give rise to controversy. The New Testament church has no universal organization. The local church with its elders and deacons is the only church organization in the New Testament. And each congregation is in dependent under Christ to conduct its own affairs. These congregations are bound together in a common faith with Christ as the head, and this is the only way they are bound together. The elders of each church are responsible to God for the flock in which they are elders (I Pet. 5 and Acts 20:28.) without regard to the decisions or actions of the elders of any other church. If this gives rise to differences among congregations on some things, remember that this is the Lord's plan, and He makes no mistakes.

Not many differences will arise that a genuine respect for Bible authority and a little brotherly love and Bible study together will not cure.

The inerrant word and fallible man. The word of God is perfect or inerrant, but man is imperfect. Therefore he will make mistakes in his study of the word. Elders and preachers will make mistakes in their understanding and application of the truths of the Bible. Often these mistakes have been discovered and corrected because these men were willing to subject their ideas to the crucibles of discussion. I could not count the times that I have been shown the weakness of a position I held by engaging in a brotherly discussion of the matter. A man who takes a dogmatic position on some point of doctrine, especially a point on which intelligent and honorable men differ, and then refuses to consider the possibility that he might be wrong, or to further examine his position in the light of the truth, is either an egotist or he is afraid of his position.

Wrangling and bickering. Paul warns Timothy not to "give heed to fables and endless genealogies which minister questions." He says in the same chapter that "some have turned aside unto vain jangling." He warns of those who are "proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words." Wrangling, bickering and bitterness have no place among the people of God. A person may have the truth and still be wrong because he manifests an ugly spirit. But these should not cause us to close our hearts to free investigation of the truth. Like a parent who cannot bring himself to correct and punish his disobedient child, and wakes up one morning to discover that the unruly little boy has grown into a big lawless man who is now a menace to society, the man who refuses to discuss or permit discussion of controversial matters because he wants 64peace" more than he wants "truth," will find one day that those "little departures" he tried to ignore have grown up.

I doubt that any man deplores these circumstances that make it necessary for us to contend with our brethren more than I. I would to God that we might all "Speak the same thing" that we might be "of the same mind." But I know that it has never been that way for very long at a time, and I do not indulge the hope that it will be so in the future. I know further that to try to suppress discussion of such matters is but to prepare the soil for a harvest of trouble farther on.

Our present problems. At this time we are faced with issues that involve the organization and the mission of the church'. That is, for example, whether it is the business of the church to provide entertainment and recreation by building and supporting youth camps, sponsoring ball clubs, Boy Scout troops, skating parties and swimming parties. (Yes, some churches are renting the swimming pool for certain hours -- church swimming parties), kitchens and fellowship halls. Or whether the church may build and maintain colleges where the Bible is taught, hospitals, benevolent institutions and such. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss these matters, but only to point out the need to study the matters in the light of truth.

Literature. Because of the ugly and unfair attacks that have been made on brethren in some of the papers, I have ceased to subscribe for them or to read them. But I have never ceased to read a paper because its writers did not agree with me. Papers and tracts are written by men, whether good or bad. Let us always remember that, and remember that bur aim in all our reading and study is to know the truth. The truth is revealed in God's word. When you read tracts and papers, keep your Bible handy -- look up the scriptures and try to, forget the writer -- he is just a man.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 29, pp. 6-7
May 27, 1971