By Larry Ray Hafley
Controversy and argument among the Lord’s people is not new. Much of the New Testament reveals doctrinal division among brethren (Acts 15; Gal.; 2 Thess.). This article is not written to criticize and condemn examination and investigation of issues that are matters of dispute. Perhaps, though, there is a need to reflect on another aspect of texts, passages and subjects that are under study.
It is easy to get “caught up” in a discussion with a Baptist on the purpose of baptism. Is it “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38)? What does the word “for” mean? Run to the lexicons and cite the translations of the phrase, “for the remission of sins.” Compare the related verses (Mk. 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). The smell of blood fills the air; my opponent is withering and writhing! I am right I He is wrong! I have slain another foe! How clever I was! How penetrating were my unanswerable questions! I tied him up! He was made to look like an idiot; he did not know what to say or which way to turn! I nailed him good – another victory for truth!
Sound familiar? These disputes occur, and they are necessary. But is it possible that I am exterminating error without regenerating souls? Is it a lust for triumph, for display of debating skills, or is it a genuine love for truth and lost souls that motivates me? The Ephesian church was doctrinally sound. They ran false teachers out of town -“Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). However, they had left their “first love” (Rev. 2:4). In today’s conflicts, “Lord, is it l?”
Apply the same thoughts to instrumental music, the work and organization of the church, Pentecostalism (Holy Spirit baptism, miracles, tongues), marriage, divorce and remarriage, and such like. Is it possible to win argument; but not souls? Again, the arguments and discussions are essential. Not every exchange of views will result in conversion (Acts 28:22-28). Still, the battles must be fought on these topics. Fight them with vigor. Cry aloud and spare not. Read, study, write and teach the truth “with much contention” (1 Thess. 2:2), but remember what your goal and purpose is.
Let us study the meaning and application of Scriptures like 1 John 1:6-2:2. But if I understand and handle aright every Greek tense, yet, fail to gently lead an erring brother to repent, confess and pray, what have I gained? If I prove “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that no piano or organ is justified in Ephesians 5:19, but never teach brethren to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord, what have I achieved? If I convince brethren that the Lord’s supper is to be taken only on the first day of the week, but never cause them to discern the Lord’s body, remembering and showing his death, what have I accomplish ed? If I can show the truth in marriage and divorce and rout every false argument, but neglect to teach my children the basis of a loving home, what have I gained?
“These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 18, p. 552
September 21, 1989