By James P. Needham
In Philippians 4:5, Paul said, “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another (Rom. 12:10).
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient (2 Tim. 2:24).
To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men (Tit. 3:2).
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (Jas. 3:17).
We live in an angry society, the age of rage. Patience is almost non-existent. Everybody is on edge, and demands instant gratification. Airports are crowded. Traffic is bumper to bumper. All this pressure and tension leads to all kinds of rage: air rage, road rage, domestic rage, child murderers, parent murderers, and abortion by the millions.
It is a fact of history that the church is influenced by its environment. We can find in the church parallel conditions and situations that we observe in its environment. Corinth tolerated fornication; it was the way of life in the city.
We can see in the church today the intemperance and rage that we observe in our society. The best illustration of that is to be found on the Internet and the printed pages of the journals among us. Preachers seem to be the worst offenders. So many seem to be unable to discuss differences without reflecting upon motives and personality traits, which have nothing to do with the issues discussed. Language becomes acrimonious, harsh, and unkind. Egos get in the way of honest consideration of the divine word. It is almost as though being a Christian is an automatic adversarial relationship with fellow Christians.
This has caused many to turn away and not consider the issues involved. It is difficult for some people to ignore the intemperance and focus on the core issue. They are sensitive to the lack of brotherly love and kindly consideration. Such poor behavior blinds them to what needs to be studied. I do not mean to excuse this, but to state a fact. Important issues are not considered because brethren perceive of them as paper fights, just competition between periodicals, or preacher fusses brought on by egocentric individuals who want to be somebody in the kingdom. Sometimes this may be a fair evaluation, but not often.
Some brethren would do us a favor by turning off their word processors, do a little introspection and undergo an attitude adjustment before they turn them back on. If we are studying issues, why don’t we do just that, carefully consider each point of view until we have settled the matter in our own minds. Sometimes when brethren approach me with a disagreement, their very method of approach is obnoxious!
It’s seldom if ever proper to impugn the motives of the persons with whom we disagree. Such is almost always just and assumption. Motives sometimes are obvious, but not usually. A brother said to me recently that my disagreements with a brother were more personal than doctrinal. Now, how could he know that? It absolutely is not true. I refuse to discuss the matter further with him because my motives and integrity are not a matter of debate so far as I am concerned. Paul said (1 Cor. 4:5): “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” I understand this to be a condemnation of judging motives, things we cannot know. Paul said, No man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him (1 Cor. 2:11). We may suspect that a brother has bad motives, but unless we know for sure it is best not to approach it.
Today there are several issues that trouble the church: The nature of Jesus controversy, marriage, the divorce and remarriage question, the unity-in-diversity issue, etc. Rather than deal forthrightly with the issues involved, we have seen efforts to intimidate by questioning motives, trashing the opposition, attempts to minimize the seriousness of these issues, or sweep them under the rug in a unity-in- diversity scenario.
Good brethren who have been known for their intelligence, soundness and good work are sometimes caught up in these unbrotherly tactics. It is a shame to see great mental energy wasted on side issues and personal insinuations that cannot be proven. Men of good will and great intelligence should not be swayed by worldly pressure or brotherhood politics to violate the principles we know they have embraced all their preaching lives.
The church today is burdened down with problems. The solution is not losing our patience and composure and venting our spleens at each other, but rather settling down and in a cool and collected manner study the issues in the light of God’s word. If we don’t get down to this task, we are about to undergo another split. If a split has to be, then let it be over error, not over personality conflicts that come about by intemperate outbursts, religious rage and poor attitudes unrelated to the core issues that divide us.
When brethren cast aspersions on each other and assume bad motives, these actions can accumulate to the point that we can’t stand each other’s company; so we divide not over issues, but because of personal bitterness. It is sad to see brethren unwilling to sit down and discuss scriptural issues because of personal dislike and intemperate language used in the fray.
This is no defense of softness or compromise, but a plea for us all to be civil in our discussions. It is proper and right to press one’s point with vigor, but remember, it is lightning that kills, not thunder.
1600 Oneco Ave., Winter Park, Florida 32789