So long as God’s truth exists in a world full of lies, there will be controversy. Lovers of truth will never escape controversy this side of heaven, nor should they try to.
Christians must contend for the truth, since it has set us free (John 8:32). It is our obligation to discern truth from error and truth from half-truth. But how? How do we handle controversy, particularly within the Church?
Some are under the illusion that one cannot engage controversial issues while promoting peace and unity. Christians are to “contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) while at the same time being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). These commands are not mutually exclusive; they actually compliment one another.
The beauty of restoring New Testament Christianity is the realization that peace and unity exist because of truth. Genuine unity can only exist when there is both unity of truth and unity of spirit. Anything less is just counterfeit unity. By contending for the truth, we are contending for unity. Peace and unity cannot exist without doctrinal purity.
If we want unity within the Lord’s church, we will also want purity. And if we are indifferent in our attitude about controversial issues, we are probably indifferent in our desire for peace and unity among the Bride of Christ.
But there is a balance that must be kept. If we are engaging every controversial issue, with equal passion and equal priority, then we are probably not asking the right questions. Simply being ‘right’ isn’t good enough. We must also be ‘right’ in attitude, spirit, and conscience.
Here are some questions to ask before diving into controversy:
1. Have you prayed? This should be the most obvious thing to do, but it is often the most forgotten. Prayer will help in two ways. First, it helps balance your argument. If you can’t make the argument before God, you shouldn’t make it before anyone else. Second, prayer is how you ask God for help. Pray for both you and the person you are about to engage. Ask God to give you both a spirit of gentleness and a spirit of determination.
2. Have you consulted someone else? We desperately need the wisdom and insight of older and more experienced Christians. Develop a habit of calling one of them whenever an issue arises. Ask their advice on how to approach people, how to word your argument, methods to use, and things to avoid. Personally, the advice of more knowledgeable and more experienced Christians has helped me a lot.
3. What are your intentions? Many of us are good at questioning the motives of others, but are lousy at examining our own hearts. Are you diving into controversy for the sake of controversy? Do you like to ‘stir the pot’ because of the attention it draws? Or do you genuinely want people to come to a better understanding of God’s Word?
4. Are you involving too many people? Do you really need to involve people who are unaware of this issue? Is this a public or private matter? This question has particular relevance to social media. Ask, “Do I really need to tell the world, particularly people who aren’t even Christians, what I think about this issue?” If a brother is going to stumble, make sure it isn’t your fault. And if someone becomes disenfranchised with the Church, make sure it isn’t because of you.
5. Does this issue really matter? Paul told Timothy, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies” (2 Tim. 2:23). If this controversial issue ultimately doesn’t matter, why bother? Are there more important battles to fight? Pick your battles, starting with battles that actually matter.
6. How are you going to treat the person with whom you disagree? If the ‘Golden Rule’ (Matt. 7:12) isn’t applicable when dealing with controversial issues, when is it? Are you treating your opponent like an enemy or a brother? Are you talking to him like you would want him to talk to you? If your love for him and for the church isn’t obvious, then reassess your approach.
7. Do you need to ‘cool down’ first? Don’t say anything you know you will regret later. A good night’s rest can work wonders. You know yourself better than anyone else; if you feel like you’re overly passionate about an issue, you probably are. Write down everything you want to say, and then revisit it a while later, after you’ve had a chance to simmer down.
8. What is your purpose? Are you trying to glorify God and His Kingdom, or are you trying to further your own agenda? If your purpose isn’t to point people to Jesus Christ, then your priorities are wrong and you will harm the cause of Christ.
Question: What advice do you have for Christians about to venture into controversial issues?