Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 24, 1955
NUMBER 45, PAGE 1,10b

Religious Controversy

C. E. W. Dorris, Nashville, Tennessee

It seems that some brethren have lost about all taste for religious discussions among brethren. They don't seem to realize that in all ages truth has come to the front and error defeated by religious discussions. The following article is from the pen of M. C. Kurfees, an editor of the Gospel Advocate. He was much in favor of discussions and did much of it in the pages of the Advocate. He felt that much good comes from discussions. Here is what he said:

In the midst of life's various currents and countercurrents as they effect one's relation toward God, it is necessary to keep one's self properly poised at all times in relation to religious controversy. On account of the antagonisms which it develops and the jagged thrusts between opponents which often attend it, good men sometimes differ in judgment touching its value at any time, and hence occupy opposite extremes, the one side favoring such controversy because of the evident fact it is a very potent and efficient means of eliciting the truth, and the other side opposing all controversy at all times because of the equally evident fact that it is sometimes conducted in a way unbecoming to Christians and even disgusting to persons with proper feelings and a proper conception of the dignity of Christianity and the high plane of action to which it calls men.

It is frankly admitted here that there is some apparent ground for both of these positions, and hence it is maintained that the true position can only be found where men make the word of God on the matter of controversy their standard of judgment. In the present article it is proposed to measure religious controversy by this stand-. ard. This is the only fair and infallible test, and all right thinking persons are willing that such controversy shall stand or fall according as it may or may not conform to this standard.

"Let it be observed, first of all, that, no matter which of the two sides just mentioned men may occupy, they find themselves confronted with the stern fact that Jesus, the Founder of Christianity, and Paul, the greatest human representative and defender it ever had, were constantly engaged in religious controversy throughout their whole religious career. Of course, this definitely settles the fact that controversy in and of itself cannot be wrong. Yes, more, it definitely settles the fact that controversy must indeed, be of much value, or these two illustrious persons would not have engaged in it practically all their lives. Nothing is more conspicuous in the life of Jesus or that of Paul than the prominent part they both took in the matter of religious controversy with their contemporaries. Let us look a little more closely into the facts.

"To begin with, so fiercely did the battle rage on one occasion between and the Jews that the latter, enraged at their manifest inability to meet him in argument, 'took up stones therefore to cast at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.' (John 8:59.) The ugly spirit and equally ugly conduct on the part of the opponents of Jesus on this occasion are what often brings religious controversy into disrepute. Jesus condemned their spirit and their conduct, but did not allow this wrong on their part to drive him to the wrong extreme of condemning controversy itself. This is where men often err. Wrong conduct in controversy, no matter to what degree it may be carried nor on what scale it may be enacted, has nothing to do with the merits of controversy itself. If it did, even preaching could be condemned on the same ground. Men sometimes show the wrong spirit and are guilty of wrong conduct in preaching the gospel; but surely such wrong in men is not against preaching itself, nor would right-thinking persons condemn preaching on this account. They would condemn the wrong spirit and the wrong conduct, but endorse and commend preaching.

"So it should be with religious controversy. The wrong manner in conducting it may and should be condemned; but no matter how ugly may be the spirit nor how ugly the conduct of men engaging in controversy, the latter should not be condemned on that account. If we had no other fact to plead in its justification, then the fact that we have a conspicuous example of the controversialist in Jesus himself would establish both its propriety and its value. Jesus was one of the greatest controversialists of his time, and Paul was not a whit behind him. In fact, the latter both began and ended his Christian career as a controversialist. From the day of his baptism at the hands of Ananias in the city of Damascus to the day his head fell from his body under the victor's ax, his whole career was marked by stormy debate. In the synagogue, in the school of Tyrannus, in the market place, in the Areopagus, before Felix, before Festus, before Agrippa, and in his lodging in the imperial city, he powerfully wielded the sword of the Spirit in the arena of religious debate. No man can imitate Paul as he imitated Christ without engaging in religious controversy. Hence, Christians should be careful never to condemn, but always to be ready to encourage, religious controversy when there is a proper occasion for it.

"Now, notwithstanding these manifest facts in the lives of Jesus and Paul, occasionally — in fact it is sometimes quite frequent — we hear publishers of religious papers and preachers criticized for engaging in controversy with men. They send up the cry, "Too much controversy,' or 'Too much wrangling in the papers,' or 'In the pulpit'; 'quit your fighting and preach the gospel.'

"Now, with all due consideration for those who raise this cry, we respectfully remind them that the solemn orders delivered to us from heaven tell us to pursue the very opposite course. Like a trumpet blast or bugle call to battle, these orders say: 'Fight the good fight of faith' (1 Tim. 6:12); and, 'Contend earnestly for the faith.' (Jude 3.) Hence, the question confronts us: To whose orders shall we give heed to those from men or to those from God? Contention and controversy are somewhat unpleasant, but God tells us to have them when truth comes in conflict with error; and shall we not obey His order? Some of the most profitable things in life for both body and soul are most unpleasant. The Christian should maintain the proper balance toward things whether they are pleasant or unpleasant and should be ready for either or both as the best interests of truth may demand.

"Furthermore, we should carefully discriminate between controversy itself and the wrong manner of conducting it. The former we should defend; the latter, never. Like preaching, controversy should be conducted in the proper way. It should be dignified, courteous, and kind, and conducted with the sole desire to elicit and propagate the truth. This does not mean that it should not be forcible and pointed. It should be both, and should make no compromise with error or with those advocating error. It should 'temper the winds to the shorn lamb,' but it must drive away or destroy the wolves of error. This, as in the case of the clash between Jesus and the Jews and in that between Paul and the Judaizers, sometimes leads to the fiercest and hottest controversy, but we must not shun it on that account. If we keep in line of duty, controversy is not only sometimes inevitable, but it is essential to the victory of truth. Great and good men have so regarded it in all the ages. John Milton, the immortal author of 'Paradise Lost,' said: 'There is no learned man but will confess he hath much profited by reading controversies, his senses awakened, his judgment sharpened, and the truth which he holds more firmly established. In logic they teach that contraries laid together more evidently appear; and controversy being permitted, falsehood will appear more false and truth more true.' And Dr. Robert Hall, the renowned English pulpit orator, said: 'The evils of controversy are transitory, while its benefits are permanent.'

"Hence, finally, let no Christian man or woman oppose controversy. As long as truth has to clash with error, controversy will be inevitable. Let us remember this when editors of religious journals and preachers in the pulpits have to engage in it. Let us not only withhold from them harsh criticism, but let us stand by them and uphold them while they are thus endeavoring to stand by and uphold the truth of God." (Gospel Advocate, 1920, p. 666.)

Brother Kurfees, like Paul, spent much of his time in controversy. He was often in discussion with the society people pointing out their error. He let both sides of the issue be heard.