Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 29, 1962

Controversy And Christian Unity

David Lipscomb (Gospel Advocate, June 30, 1898)

A great many mistake denominational unity for Christian unity. They are not only diverse, but contrary one to the other. There is no greater enemy of Christian unity than denominational unity. Denominationalism, in itself, is wrong. I think beyond doubt "the man of sin" of which Paul gave warning in 2 Thess. 2:1-17, was bringing the church into one organization under some humanly-devised directing power. This organization rapidly grew into the Romish hierarchy, with the pope as its infallible head. If the pope is the "man of sin" or a manifestation and development of the "man of sin," beyond doubt the mystery of iniquity that worked in Paul's day was the bringing of the churches into organization for counsel and strength; for this organization did grow into the papacy, as all history attests. It was the embryo "man of sin" in Paul's day. It had been prefigured in Judaism in the combining the tribes into a kingdom under the human king. God, through Samuel, warned them that in doing this they rejected him, that he should not rule over them. The kings led them into idolatry and rebellion until their ruin was accomplished. They were rejected, and the nation destroyed and scattered. This was typical of something in the church of Christ.

Yet Christians cherish the idea of denominational unity, not unity in the faith. Many object to discussions of questions among "our brethren." It shows we are not united as "a denomination," is the meaning of that objection; and they wish to maintain an appearance of denominational union, whether we have unity of faith or not.

What God desires, Jesus prayed and died for, and the Holy Spirit came to lead into, is that the servants of Jesus Christ shall be one in the belief and practice of the truth. To attain and maintain this, the fullest and freest investigation of the truth should be encouraged. Without these investigations and discussions the truth will not be known. Bringing people up in a church where a truth has been investigated and accepted in the past generation, will not cause that truth to be believed and held by the younger generation. Fifty yearn ago and more the distinction between the old and new covenants was discussed, and all Christians understood it. Today the children raised by these very parents are ignorant of this truth and ignore it in practice. It needs to be taught and investigated by each succeeding generation to hold the generations to the truth. Unity in faith and practice is promoted by discussion. Nor should anyone think he has learned all the truth. Everyone should hold himself open to inquiry on any subject. Without this we can have no intelligent faith. Blind faith is not faith; it is prejudice or bigotry. A truth held through prejudice or bigotry will not profit spiritually. It must be held through faith in God because God teaches it. Most religious truth is held today because our father and mother or our party held it. Such faith may be better for the morality of the world than no faith, but it will not bring us into harmony with God and make us "partakers of the divine nature." Only faith in God will do this. All effort to repress discussion and investigation is hurtful to truth. It ought to be conducted in a proper temper and with the desire of learning truth, not with the desire or personal or party triumph.

What is called the controversial spirit is not to be condemned, but rightly guided. When a man investigates any truth, he ought to do it in the spirit of controversy — that is, looking at both sides of the question. I have tried through life when I approached a question to see what could be said on both sides. If I were to discuss a question, I would try to see and fairly consider all that could be said against what I held. My success in investigation would depend on whether I had seen all the reasons on the other side. This is the spirit of fair controversy. Paul's writings are controversial in spirit and manner. What is needed is to come to the unity of the faith in the truth. Let us seek unity in faith, not in a denomination.

Some are troubled because brethren differ as to truth. This ought not to be discouraging. Truth is never sure of its ground until every foot of ground occupied has been contested. Many who imbibe old ideas and customs will never change; but a steady growth toward truth, wherever it may be, will take place under fair investigation, and no one can feel sure of truth until it has been thoroughly tested. The discussion of questions to all who will examine to learn truth cannot be otherwise than suggestive and helpful. I as often receive helpful suggestion from an argument against the truth as of one for it. We ought always to place the most charitable construction on a brother's actions, for as we judge we will be judged.

The Bible calls men liars and hypocrites who are such. There were liars and hypocrites among the followers of Jesus Christ. He and the Spirit were not ashamed to say so. They were not afraid for people to know it, because it was true. Paul was not ashamed to tell the world that Peter dissimulated. They published it in the Bible to go to all nations and for all time. Are we ashamed to hand out the Bible because it tells of such things among the members? If liars and hypocrites exist in the church today, why should it not be told now as well as then? "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." (Prov. 28:13) This is as true of churches as of persons. Partisans, for the sake of party, cover up lies and condone sins in party workers; but no man, for the sake of truth, covers up wrong or condones crime, because all error and sin are enemies of truth.

If we are like Christ, we will do as he did in like circumstances; if we are led by the Spirit of God, we will not cover up wrong or hide sin. We will deal with it, not in an unkind or bitter spirit, but in a frank and candid spirit, calling things by their right names, but seeking to deliver the sinner from his wrong and free the church from the contamination of sin. The love of party perverts faith and destroys morality, virtue, and unity in truth.