Controversy That Encourages Division

Edwin Broadus
Duluth, Minnesota

Sometimes a new religious periodical will make its appearance, purporting to be non-controversial. Aside front the fact that it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for any religious journal to be truly non-controversial, the material contained in it would be for the most part insipid, uninteresting, and unprofitable. The Bible is the most controversial book ever written, and any periodical teaching what the Bible teaches will of necessity be controversial.

Likewise, is was pointed out in two very fine articles ("Attitudes Toward Controversy in the Church") recently appearing in TRUTH Magazine, controversy of the right kind produces scriptural unity. As the writer stated, "The surest way to bring about division is to ban all discussion of differences and thus hinder their resolution." Thus, he rightfully advocated the kind of controversy consisting of "the thoughtful and dignified discussion of issues where men differ in their thinking . . ." But, as he also pointed out, there is a type of controversy that would cause division by its very nature."

Undoubted1y these principles are accepted by almost evervone who writes in religious journals, but not all abide by them. Especially in connection with the current controveries over church cooperation, care of widows and orphans, and related topics, there has been too much written that makes no genuine contribution to a "thoughtful and dignified discussion of the issues." In the hope of being able to say something that will help elevate the plane of discussion, I wish to call attention to some tactics in controversy that encourage division rather than promote unity.

( 1 ) Impugning of motives. Differences cannot be effectively discussed when one person accuses another of base motives behind his actions. We will readily grant that not all men have pure motives for all that they do, but we must still be exceedingly careful before passing judgment on those motives. The Lord could know for a certainty that the Pharisees were hypocrites, and he therefore identified them as such, but we are not able to look into a man's heart as Jesus could. Consequently, under most circumstances it is impossible for us to know what motives other men have. Unfortunately, however, when we disagree with a person, we are too prone to impugn his motives. For example, one man recently wrote that "our present controversy is the result of a well planned effort initiated some several years ago to make the church more acceptable to a modern society; to create her in the image of the denominations about her, and thus deliver her from their 'reproaches'." It was certainly not improper for the writer to disagree with what others have done, but he was impugning their motives when he said that they have done it as a "result of a well planned effort ... to make the. church more acceptable to a modern society" and "to create her in the image of the denominations." Accusations of this kind require thorough proof. I may be exceedingly naive, but I cannot believe that proponents of what the author calls "current innovations" have been activated by such motives. Certainly, to accuse them of such does nothing to promote unity and peace.

(2) Labelling opponents. A common but unfair tactic in controversy is to attach some unpopular label to an opponent. Candidates for public office sometimes stigmatize their opponents in the minds of many unthinking people by calling them "socialists" or "communists." Such tactics are appeals to prejudice rather than to reason. Sometimes we find the same kind of tactics employed by religious writers. One author, while correctly pointing out the unfairness of such labels as "anti, hobbyist, dictators, legalists, Sommerites," inconsistently called those who differ with him "promoters," "liberals," and "social gospel advocates." Because terms like these appeal to prejudice, they are a barrier to "thoughtful and dignified discussion of issues."

(3) Obsession with an issue. Important questions need to be discussed thoroughly and over long periods of time, but it is very much possible to make the mistake of discussing the same issue too much. If we are trying to convert a person to Christ, but he cannot see the necessity of being baptized for the remission of sins, we need to discuss the question with him. But it would be very unwise to talk to him about baptism every time that we saw him, Soon the man would avoid us, and all possibility of converting him would be lost. Yet, preachers, writers, and religious journals sometimes become obsessed with some controversial question to the extent that they scarcely discuss anything else. The result is that the very people that they are trying to influence grow weary of hearing the same thing over and over again, and they close their ears to the matter.

Methods like these are often employed unwittingly, but for whatever reason they are used, they defeat the purpose of Christian controversy. People who in times past were avid readers of religious journals have turned away in disgust because some who write in them are manifestly unfair in their tactics. Many others who still read these journals find themselves unable to recommend them to weaker Christians, not because the journals are controversial, but because the controversial discussions are not "thoughtful and dignified."

Even though these remarks are obviously critical, I hope that they are constructive. TRUTH Magazine and all other religious journals should be controversial, but that controversy should always be conducted on the proper level. Controversy of this kind will always contribute to the unity and strength of God's people everywhere.

Truth Magazine III:6, pp. 11-12
March 1959