There have been a couple of controversies brewing within Christendom over the last few weeks, one quite well known, and one not known by quite as many (and if you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry about it. I’m not addressing these particular conflicts themselves).
What almost always seems to happen with this type of thing is that people quickly take sides.
On one side is the “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” crowd. I think many women fall into this category: we want everyone to play nicely. Do you know that that sentence is not in the Bible? Of course there are warnings about gossip, idle words, schisms, doubtful disputations, etc. But in one message I heard, the speaker said he used to feel that way until he bought a red letter edition of the Bible and noticed some of the things that Jesus said. Paul in his epistles deals with many controversies of his day and ours and even names names publicly. He publicly rebuked Peter at one point. There are admonitions in Scripture to take a stand against error — not just the error of those who do not know God, but the errors of those who profess to:
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. I Timothy 2:4.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Ephesians 5:11.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Matthew 7:15.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. Acts 20:28-31.
The Bible does teach that there should be unity among the brethren, but not a unity at all costs:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. II Thessalonians. 3: 6
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. II Thessalonians 3: 14-15.
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. I Corinthians 5:9-11.
On the other side of controversies are the “contenders for the faith.” Jude does exhort us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (verse 3). Yet there are some who become needlessly contentious in their contending. There are sometimes sharp words used in Scripture, and some define their whole personality and outlook on those words, forgetting the ones about “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:14-16) and the admonition that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (II Timothy 2:24-26).
Doctrine is important. I am so grateful for the balanced voices of discernment who wisely and carefully lay out the issues and their importance with as much grace as possible after careful study of the issues. May we learn from them to take a strong, bold stand when necessary but in a way that brings Scriptural light to the situation rather than just stirring up the heat of controversy.
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. (Ephesians 4:14-15).