By T. Doy Moyer
We live in an age of non-controversy. People don’t want to discuss things that are controversial. The shift in recent years has been toward “positivism.” “Don’t say or teach anything that has a negative tone to it. Let’s just be positive and make people feel good.” The trends in denominationalism show this attitude, as churches have become more and more social in their approach to the world. The new “mega-churches” cater to everyone, including those who don’t care about God. Churches have apostatized as they have become more concerned with making people “feel” good, instead of trying to save souls. Never step on toes or preach things that could offend hearers. Doing such just turns people off. (See Matt. 15:1-17 to see what Jesus thought about this.)
Sadly, the trend in denominationalism has become well-accepted by many disciples of Christ. Many have bought the techniques of pop-psychology. Instead of taking the approach toward teaching people that Jesus or the apostle Paul took, we promote the “Dale Carnegie” approach and refuse to call sin. Whatever the cost is, we are determined that we will not make enemies. This is the basis of the “peace at any price” ideas. Consequently, we have those among us, who say things very much akin to the things Isaiah had to deal with: “Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isa. 30:10). Teachers speak falsely, cater to itching ears, and the people “love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31; cf. 2 Tim. 4:2-4). As long as we don’t get controversial, we can keep our jobs and keep the peace.
I don’t know many people who really enjoy controversy for its own sake. Who likes to agonize over something that is a source of contention? I would not try to promote controversy for its own sake. But at the same time, the fact of controversy is something we had better understand. It is a fact that those who care about the Lord and his cause will have to get involved in controversy. The Lord could not avoid it (Matt. 22-23); and neither could his disciples (Acts 15). Today, as in the first century, what the Lord wants are disciples who are brave enough to enter the battlefield and contend for the faith (Jude 3). “For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Those who engage in controversy are generally criticized for doing so. Call into question a particular teaching, or deal with something in a straight-forward manner, and the next thing we know we are mean and unloving. Those who refuse to enter the battlefield then might complain that the ones who fight the battle are doing it for their own reputations, to promote themselves. I suppose the same could have been falsely said about Jesus or Paul. If you want to get someone upset at you, just deal with an issue in a straight-forward manner. Question something that he engages in and see the sparks fly. Ask for answers and you’re a troublemaker.
What is it that divides? Often when an issue comes up, people want to avoid discussion about it by saying, “That’s just another one of those issues that can splinter and divide brethren into thousands of little groups.” Does the fact that there is potential division mean that we must avoid the subject? We are afraid to discuss virtually anything these days. Issues like the deity of Christ, divorce and remarriage, different aspects of the Lord’s supper, and many other subjects must be studied. It seems, though, that just to bring them up for study is looked down on. I don’t know what the problem is in studying such issues. The Bible deals with them. Why should we be so afraid to? When a person says that “those issues can divide,” is he asking that we do not teach on them? Is the only way to keep the issue of divorce and remarriage from dividing brethren not to teach on it? Should we avoid teaching on the Lord’s supper because some brethren are so touchy about that? Talk about splintering! Before long, we’ll splinter teachings down so that we can’t address anything. We’ll just have to give up preaching truth altogether in favor of ear tickling. That way we can make friends and keep from upsetting anyone, except those who love the truth. (Can’t please anyone can we?)
I don’t believe that issues divide per se. Attitudes are what divide. For example, the issues of circumcision was not what divided brethren in the first century. Rather, it was the differing attitudes toward the issue that divided. If we can just get brethren to be rational and calm as they face certain issues, then there would not be nearly as much division. However, instead of trying to calmly study out an issue, the moment a question is brought up we get angry and irrational. We become unwilling to put our beliefs to the test and prove our convictions. The easiest thing to do then is just divide and say the other side is at fault for bringing up the issue. It is easier to get mad and indict motives than it is to think out and think through difficult questions. Giving an answer demands thought and study. Is it that we don’t want to do that?
The only way that we can “speak as the oracles of God” is to put our beliefs to the test (I Jn. 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:11). Truth has nothing to fear. We don’t have to be unkind and cranky about it. But we can engage in honorable Bible study together over any issue and not have divisive attitudes about it. This is not to say there will never be a division. But we dont have to cower in fear and refuse to talk. We can’t pass over our responsibility to contend for the faith by letting others do all the work. “I don’t like controversy” is no excuse. Who does like it? It would be wonderful if everyone voluntarily believed and taught the very same things with complete conviction. The only way to make that possible is through Bible study, which will often involve controversy as people think through their positions. I may not agree with someone, but I can respect him much more if he will try to study the issue and give honest answers.
In the end, the “non-controversy” attitude will backfire. Such an attitude will allow for false teaching to run like wild-fire through the ranks of God’s people. Then, we might all be in union with each other, but we’ll all go to hell together also. The aim of the gospel is to save souls. When the gospel is perverted, it means the loss of souls. Therefore, lets take up the sword of the Spirit and preach the truth without compromise, understanding that the wisdom from above is “first pure, then peaceable (Jas. 3:17). Division is not the goal. No one wants that. We an want unity; but we want it to he true unity, not a compromised union. Thus., its time that we exercise our senses and dig into the issues that trouble us. Do so with the attitude of finding truth, and our efforts will he rewarded. Though controversy is often unpleasant, it makes for better understanding and the greater knowledge of the things of God. “Those divisive issues” dont have to divide, if well approach Gods word and each other with proper attitudes, determining that whatever God says is his word and we will submit to it. Will true disciples do any less?
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14, p. 23-24
July 15, 1993