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Should we avoid controversies in the Lord’s church?

A person would have to be like the proverbial ostrich with his head in the sand to be unaware of conflicting views among the Lord’s people these days.

Even mature Christians sometimes disagree on important issues in areas of worship, leadership, marriage, the roles of men and women, salvation and fellowship.

In some respects, this has always been true. If you spend time reading books and articles by members of our fellowship over the years, you will see disagreement among supposedly sincere, well-meaning believers. Such division has never been ideal. It is important to acknowledge that the tensions existing among us are our doing and not the Lord’s (Psalm 145:17). 

Brian Giselbach | Views

Of course, those who love the Lord don’t like this reality. We hate division among Christians. No one likes tension. It is a never-ending challenge to safely navigate through the issues and controversies that place the kingdom of God in such strain.

Jesus prayed for unity among Christians in John 17:6-26. We should go out of our way to find unity — although never at the expense of the Savior’s own words and teaching. How else do we explain the New Testament’s insistence that God’s people have no fellowship with those who do not hold fast to the truth? (Matthew 7:15-20; Romans 16:17-18; 2 John 7-11)

It seems odd to me that we understand Jesus’ command to love one another but fail to appreciate his insistence that everything he taught matters (John 15:9-14; Luke 9:26).

The same Lord insists on both unity and fidelity to Scripture. They are never in conflict (John 18:37).

It is my prayer that you will consider a few thoughts from this humble writer regarding the stresses that exist in our fellowship today:

• Disagreement about what God has said (and what God would have us to do and not do) have been around since Satan tempted Adam and Eve.

Satan is an instigator of disharmony. He wants nothing more than to see us divide over what we think God said or didn’t say. We should always be on guard (1 Peter 5:7).

Even as the apostles and early Christians were involved in the greatest evangelistic enterprise the world has ever known, they encountered soul-jeopardizing questions and controversies. They had to learn to discern the Lord’s will in such matters (Acts 15:6-29; 1 John 2:20, 26-27). And then they had to apply inspired truth and principles to the issues they encountered.

Are we to imagine that the church today, unlike our first century brethren, should be exempt from controversy? Even Jesus was embroiled in controversy. He gave every indication that his followers would have to endure the same. Dissension and disagreement are not necessarily an indication that we are missing the Lord’s ideal for his church. It may be indicative that some are holding fast to the truth while others are teaching and living in opposition.

• Our disagreements are grossly exaggerated by the armchair critics among us.

Some ask, “Since Churches of Christ are a divided fellowship, how can they purport to hold up the banner of religious truth and unity to the rest of the world?” The claim is even made that we are more divided than our denominational neighbors.

It is difficult to take this claim seriously since denominationalism is divisive in its very nature. It is sad to my heart that these accusations sometimes seem loudest among some in the church itself.

Jesus told us to seek unity on the basis of truth (John 17:13-21). The alternative is unity on the basis of falsehood or opinion, which everyone knows is impossible. Surely this is not what the Lord, the embodiment of truth, desires (John 14:6).

• Disagreements often are a sign that we are trying to get things right.

The best people I know on this earth are members of the Lord’s church. If controversy is an indication that we are not getting it right (which I am not ready to concede), at least we are trying to get it right.

I was reared in a denominational church where Bible authority was an issue of concern, but only on the most basic level. Since that time, I have had numerous Bible discussions with people across the theological spectrum. I became a Christian because I saw in the hearts of God’s people a desire to discern the Lord’s will for salvation, worship and other issues.

Churches of Christ are a people who are asking the right questions: “What is God’s will on this matter? What does the Bible teach on this question?” Sometimes these questions do not get asked among our religious neighbors. I am always thrilled when I meet people from other churches who want to know the answers to these questions.

The best people I know on this earth are members of the Lord’s church. If controversy is an indication that we are not getting it right (which I am not ready to concede), at least we are trying to get it right.

• Working out our disagreements and finding the truth together are noble goals — instead of pretending that our disagreements don’t exist.

I want to challenge the notion that we should not engage in discussions of issues and controversies — that we should get on with “the more important business of saving the world.”

Why can’t we do both? Why is one more important than the other?

If baptism has become a point of controversy among us, and if baptism is necessary to salvation (and therefore essential to evangelistic work), is it not imperative that we confront and discuss issues relative to baptism? Doctrinal clarity strengthens us in our evangelistic task.

Once the lost are saved, what do we teach them relative to morality, marriage, worship, church organization? Each of these topics leads to numerous questions that have proven to be controversial. To ignore controversy in these matters results in having nothing to teach new converts concerning God’s will for their lives.

Let’s deal with division and controversy in the church from a position of maturity.

The apostles and New Testament writers dealt with these issues because it was vital for the early church to go on to maturity. It is unrealistic to think that maturity can result today without dealing with questions and matters involving controversy.

Here is a better idea: Let’s deal with division and controversy in the church from a position of maturity. We have the capacity to do this. Let’s study the Bible. Let’s deal with one another from a position of love and good intentions. Let’s handle matters of controversy with a desire to understand God’s will.

Let’s be people who want to be taught of the Lord (1 Peter 2:2).

And when it’s time to make a stand against error, let us do so from a position of confidence, knowing that we have done all we can do to investigate and discern the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:8-17).

Brian Giselbach preaches for the Wood Avenue church of Christ in Florence, Ala. This Views piece is excerpted from a column he wrote for plainsimplefaith.com.

Filed under: Big Questions In the Word opinion Opinion politics Views

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