By Morris D. Norman
A controversy between brethren emerges and inevitably someone will say, “Who is right?” Or, “Which side will you take?” It is just possible that no one is right. While it is desirable to walk in agreement with all brethren (this is what God pleads for) it is not always possible. In almost every controversy, the issue will come to involve personalities, and when such is the case, it is a strong person who does not, in some way, manifest an ugly attitude. When personalities and attitudes are inserted, they often becloud the issue and we “line up “with people. More than “Who is right, “we ought to be concerned about “What is right.”
We should be concerned for brethren in every controversy. Often we find ourselves on opposing sides to dear friends, or a dear brother is “attacked” because of his position on an issue. In either case we must try to be objective in our study so as to determine where truth is. We ought never to ‘line up” with any brother or paper but with the truth.
We should never be obligated to defend any man. We are urged to “contend earnestly for the faith”(Dude 3); to be “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17); and “strive together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). We are obligated to ‘preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim. 4:1, 2). We are to be on guard against departures from the truth (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim. 4:1). As we fulfill this we will find brethren in error. As we oppose error we will see the necessity of opposing brethren who hold error. Even then, as we oppose our brethren, it must be for no other purpose than exaltation of truth. When Paul found it necessary to withstand Peter, it was because Peter’s actions were sinful, opposed to the truth of the gospel, and he had great influence among saints to draw certain ones away after him (Gal. 2:11-14).
Spiritual brethren are to restore erring brethren in the spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1). The servant of Christ is not to strive, but teach with gentleness, meekness and patience (2 Tim. 2:24-2fi). But, “them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Tim. 5:20). Often we may be able to defend and teach truth and oppose error without dealing in personalities. This seems to be the case of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. He severely rebuked the false teachers at Corinth, describing and opposing their false doctrine without naming them. On other occasions it may be impossible, for we find Paul and John naming those who were subverting truth. It takes great wisdom to determine when brethren in error must be named and opposed, but when the time comes it must be done for the triumph of truth.
So as controversies arise among brethren over issues that are divisive and concern error, let each of us be set for the defense of truth, study as objectively as possible so as to determine “what is right,” not so much as “who is right. ” If this means we must part company with dear friends, then let it be, for only truth will triumph. If dear friends must be rebuked for error, let us not attack the one who does the rebuking (unless his attitude is wrong, then rebuke him for improper attitude) but rather exhort the gainsayer because of your love for him. Follow no man wherein he does not follow truth. Brethren, this is important and basic. Pray God for wisdom to apply it correctly. The soul you save may be your own; be objective to truth.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:27, p. 2
May 9, 1974