I have noticed that when checking to see what it is that people google that leads them to my blog, that there are many entries for “What does the Bible say about controversy?” Oddly enough I did not have an article on that, (until now) even though the word controversy is in my blog title. Because of the number of times that question has been used, I thought maybe I should actually write an article on it.
The definition of “controversy” is essentially, a dispute, argument or debate, especially concerning matters about which there are opposing views and strong disagreement, carried on in public or the press. This latter is what differentiates a controversy from a simple argument or dispute. It is carried on in public, in a way that brings other people in on the argument. That is why the title of my blog includes the word “controversy” as many of the articles I tackle are matters of theological debate between different denominations in Christendom, which makes them very public.
So what does the Bible have to say about controversy? Are we to stay out of controversies, or engage in them? Before even addressing that problem I think the topic of how we address a debate is something that needs to be discussed. I myself have gone, as many people have, to Youtube to find videos on which to have a dialogue with people of opposing views. I have had conversations with atheists about the existence of God, and Christians about differing theological views. The one thing that has struck me is that many Christians use vulgar language and are as nasty as non-Christians, while I have (on rare occasions) run across some very nice, polite atheists. Christians speaking to other Christians can get really nasty, if I am to believe people when they call themselves a Christian. People do not know how to stick to the subject, and when frustrated by their inability to give an answer to the challenge, they instead attack people's intelligence, characters, integrity, even accusing other Christians of not really being saved, because they disagree on some issue such as the timing of the rapture, eternal security or the like. This is truly wrong, as salvation is not dependent upon these things. Debates are supposed to be about subject matter, not a personal assault on another person. When a person must resort to ad hominem arguments (An argument arising from or appealing to the emotions and not reason or logic, and attacking an opponent's motives or character rather than the position they are maintaining.), it simply means that they have no argument or defense to present against the statements being made by their opponent. I see this all the time with evolution/creation debates. Because the creation evidence offered is so logical and reasonable, and evolution can't dispute it, they resort to trashing the debater's character and intelligence instead. This is also seen between atheist/Christian and Christian/Christian debates. When you have someone resort to these arguments, you know that the debate is over, as they have nothing with which to logically dispute you, and they realize that, yet they will not concede your point. At that point, further debate just becomes wrangling, arguing just for arguing's sake, and Christians should not wrangle or "jangle". It is merely throwing pearls before swine, as Scripture says not to do.
1 Timothy 1:4-7 “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” People should especially not take up a debate when they are merely parroting their party's line and do not have a real knowledgeable grasp of what the Bible says, as the verse above warns us. They don't understand what they are saying nor affirming to be true, and therefore cannot really defend themselves against the opponent's challenge. Yet they try to be teachers and end up using ad hominem arguments as their defense. I have seen people contradict themselves immediately after making a statement, as they really do not understand what they are saying. They are just repeating what they have heard said. They do not even realize that they are making no sense whatsoever, and think they are defending themselves. It makes them look ridiculous, although they are not aware of that.
Matthew 7:6 "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." When the truth of God's Word is being rejected, we should not continue to debate as it becomes a matter of allowing them to trample God's Word underfoot.
Christians may read their Bible, (although I think most do not) but they most definitely do not study it. They know the verses they are supposed to use for their party line, but then so do Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and everyone else. What is necessary, is to be a Berean and know whether your theology does indeed line up with all of Scripture and is not just a theology which has been created by taking verses out of context. Most Christians could not say whether that last statement is true or false about their own beliefs, as they have never really scrutinized them against all of Scripture. We are to study to know whether or not what we are being taught is true according to the Bible, not just because “my pastor told me so,” which is a defense I have had used against my arguments. 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Acts 17:10-11 “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
We are not to simply accept what we are told in our churches, as men are fallible, and a wrong belief once accepted and expounded upon can lead to more erroneous beliefs. This is why we find so many different interpretations of the Scriptures by differing denominations. Nobody ever checks their Bibles to see if it really teaches what they are being taught, or if they do they bring their preconceived teachings to it, which then biases them against anything they might read to the contrary. When you know what the Scriptures teach, because you have spent years in studying it, you are not swayed by erroneous arguments, and you can present an intelligent defense for what you believe, which is a command God has given us. We are not supposed to say that we have a blind faith nor be unable to defend ourselves. 1 Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” Notice that not only are we to be able to give a reason for our belief, we are to answer people meekly. Not with anger or frustration. I know from personal experience that it is very difficult to keep a cool temper when people start throwing ad hominem arguments at you, for these are personal attacks, not debates against the proposition you are presenting, and that makes us get defensive. If you cannot keep your temper in check, then you need to leave the argument, as we do not do the cause of Christ any good by being a bad witness. We must also realize that there is a difference in the level of spiritual maturity, and while some have a greater understanding of God's ways, that is not to be used as a reason to offend others by getting into arguments.
We do need to instruct immature Christians, but with a meek attitude, not a debating one. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 “And 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.” We are to not offend the weaker brother. Romans 14:1,13,19;15:1 “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations......Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way......Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.... We then that are strong and know our Scriptures thoroughly ought to bear the lack of understanding of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” We are not to dispute things with new or immature Christians. It does not help them to grow when they are taught that way. It only offends them. That is why it is so important to move on from the New Testament basic teachings of salvation to the Old Testament teachings of prophecy and the like. Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1-2, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. ” We should encourage others to get into the Word trusting that God will lead them into the truth, rather than trying to argue them into it.
So we can see that when we do debate, we need to 1) know what we are talking about by having studied beforehand so that we can intelligently defend ourselves, 2) we need to be a good witness and answer meekly, and 3) we are not to pursue empty wrangling about irrelevant and unimportant topics. Now, does that mean that we are not to ever enter into debates? That would depend upon the situation and how we behave. We already know that we must debate in a meek and Christlike way, not in an offensive way. That does become hard when debating with someone such as an atheist, whom you know is wrong and their error has eternal consequences. We tend to get very dogmatic, not so much from anger as from frustration, as we know if they do not repent what the consequences are. So we try to force them to believe, but that will never work. We have to learn to graciously accept that there are those who will never accept God or the truth. In fact the majority of people won't. Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” It is not our job to make them believe. It is our job to merely present the truth then let the Holy Spirit do the convicting.
We know we are not to wrangle and dispute irrelevant things. For instance in Mark 9:33-34, the disciples were disputing among themselves who among them would be the greatest. This was merely an argument to vanity, not to any theological truths about God. Therefore it was unimportant and should not have been a source of argument. But what about important things such as theological truths. If we keep things nice, can we debate controversial subjects? Let's see what Scripture teaches.
In Acts 9:29 Paul had just been saved, and was going about proclaiming the truth in a very bold manner. “ And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.” He was making the Grecians so upset, they wanted to kill him. This is how I think some people feel about me when I debate them on Youtube, based on what they say to me. Paul was not chastised for this. We are to stand up boldly for the Lord, but we had better be sure we actually have the truth. A week before the May 21,2011 date set by Harold Camping for the rapture, I met with two of my closest friends to try to make them realize this man was a false teacher and a false prophet who was conning people out of their money. I sat there in a public restaurant (we lived 4 hours apart so met in the middle) showing them Scripture after Scripture boldly telling them that if they did not turn from this, they would suffer the consequences. They had nothing with which to defend themselves, for as they readily admitted to me, they did not know the Scriptures the way I did, yet they told me that God Himself had verified to them that this was going to be the date of the rapture. I again boldly told them that they then no longer worshiped the same God I did, the God of the Bible, as that is not what Scripture teaches and my God would not verify a lie. They did not get mad at me, but they did sit there with self-satisfied smiles and sympathetic looks at each other for me and my perceived ignorance. They were wrong, and they now know that the God of the Bible was not talking to them. They are also no longer talking to me, but if that is the cost of boldly standing for God's truth and trying to save someone from their error, then that is the price we must pay. We do need to take a strong stand on the truth when we see other Christians being led down the garden path by a charlatan and wolf.
Acts 17 tells us more about Paul. Verses 10- 23 “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” Paul did not restrict himself to disputing within the synogogue or with religious persons, he would dispute anyone in the market that wanted to debate and even went to the Areopagus and took on the Epicureans and Stoics. Paul was taking a stand on the truth, and trying to lead others to Christ and the truth. He was a Tanakh (Old Testament) scholar and was able to defend what He was telling them about Christ by knowing the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment. Debates of this nature are always acceptable. Debating people to lead them to Christ is almost a mandate, in that it is the great commission to take this truth to everyone.
Is debating always acceptable then? No. Debating for the purposes of strife or for vanity sake (trying to prove you are right, whether you are or not) is not acceptable. It is in fact a sin. Romans 1:29 “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,.” 2 Corinthians 12:20 “For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” 2 Peter 3:16 “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” 1 Timothy 1:6-7 “From which (the true gospel) some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” So we are told that debating can be sinful under some circumstances.
So what can we debate? We are told in 2 Timothy 2:23-26 “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And 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.”
It is up to the individual to decide what is foolish and unlearned topics of debate. We have no clear guideline to what that is, but common sense should tell us that anything that leads someone to being edified, anything that leads to salvation, anything that leads to spiritual growth, anything that leads to a deeper understanding of God's Word, anything that prevents something bad from happening to people (such as my Campingite friends), we should boldly take up and debate, always making sure that we can defend ourselves not from what others have taught us, but from our own studies of the Scriptures. We should not use others' defenses to defend the beliefs they have taught us by parroting them. That is not studying to show ourselves approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. That is how people get led into error. We should only debate when we have studied the subject to such a point that we know exactly what we believe and why, without referring to others' arguments. One of my pet grievances is that every pastor that I have debated has never taken up the Scriptures to show me where I supposedly err. They have always, to a man, reached into their library and grabbed a commentary written by some fallible man. I on the other hand use my Bible when I debate. I do not accept the word of man over the Word of God. We should never expect anybody to accept the word of man over the Word of God. We must also debate with meekness and humility.
Hopefully this will answer the question that has been leading people to my blog, “What does the Bible teach about controversy?”