Vol.XIV No.VII Pg.3
September 1977

Cultivating Controversy

Dan S. Shipley

Cultivating controversy among brethren is not a charge to which anyone is likely to plead guilty, much less be proved guilty. In fact, I doubt that any Christian would deliberately set out to promote unrest and disrupt peace in the Lord's church. However, even the most charitable spirit must admit that controversies among us are a reality. True, some of them may be unavoidable, but most are as unnecessary as they are hurtful.

In fact, most controversies, like fires, have embarrassingly small beginnings. But, when fueled by wrong attitudes and actions, they can soon engulf the entire church.

As a result, the slightest mistake or oversight can soon mushroom into big trouble by those who are determined to make-something-of-it. For instance, a classroom teacher or student makes an erroneous statement about some subject. In the discussion that follows hasty and unkind remarks are exchanged. Someone is publicly embarrassed who could have been corrected in a spirit of love and meekness. Likely, it will not be long before the "opposition's" every- word and action will be suspect. More "proof" of softness or false teaching will soon be uncovered and extensively advertised. Some will believe it, sides will be formed and God's people will likely be divided. And all because some Christian wanted to save face; wanted to help a brother be wrong instead of right. Those who are determined to make-something-of-it encourage controversy. And, because we all make so many mistakes, they are seldom without something to make-something-of, so the controversy continues.

Those who would "follow after things which make for peace" (Rom. 14:19) must follow after humility. Few qualities go further toward promoting and maintaining peace than lowliness of mind. When we are of the same mind, the same love and of one accord; when we in lowliness of mind count each other better than self (as instructed in Phil. 2:2-4), then controversy will seldom be heard of. Just enough humility to admit some personal wrong would go far in reconciling brethren; but failure to do so can only encourage more controversy.

Like humility, longsuffering is also essential in following after peace. Many find it hard to bear with the ignorance and faults of immature Christians. Others are short suffering with the mannerisms, personalities am distasteful qualities they see in some brethren. Longsuffering issues from love (1 Cor. 15:4); we forbear one another in love (Eph. 4:1). We therefore suffer long with all brethren, not because of what they ARE (loveable), but because of what we HAVE (love). Where there is no longsuffering there can be no lasting peace.

Finally, even when controversy is unavoidable (as in matters of faith), its hurtful effects can be lessened with Christ-like behavior. To act otherwise is not only sinful, it can alienate and embitter brethren so as to make further teaching impossible. Being on the side of truth must never be construed as license to mistreat others. On the contrary, the very truth we seek to defend demands conduct befitting peacemakers and peacekeepers. Let's live it!