How To View Religious Controversies
by Gary L. Grizzell
From time to time we hear of controversies between brethren.
Some controversies are clearer than others in determining who is at fault. Men have a problem with producing confusion and such is never God’s fault. "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33).
From time to time we hear of controversies between brethren. Some controversies are clearer than others in determining who is at fault. Men have a problem with producing confusion and such is never God’s fault. "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33).
When one has been accused of teaching false doctrine about water baptism, having publicly taught that baptism is not necessary for salvation, then it is possible to come to a conclusion about where the problem lies rather quickly when the evidence of guilt is presented. Either a teacher taught the false doctrine or he did not. If he did teach such then our responsibility is clear.
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11, KJV).
Less Clear Cases For Honest Outsiders
However, whenever there is no charge of false teaching, things can become quite sticky for honest outsiders in determining just who is guilty of what. This is the case because outsiders do not know all parties involved. By “know” is meant more than just knowing an individual’s name but actually knowing how each individual is in his/her daily living. "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
Dominion Over Another’s Faith
There’s just something wrong when outsiders are expected to know exactly what took place in a reported conflict when that controversy had these characteristics: 1) There is no charge of teaching a false doctrine, 2) We do not know the accuser, 3) We do not know the accused, and 4) We do not know the related parties involved on both sides of the problem.
To an outsider some congregational controversies smell of things that just haven't come out yet (and may never come out in this life). Perhaps it's a local matter that should not have been made public and it's wise to remain between the parties involved due to personal matters, if Biblical wisdom dictates. God’s Word says,
"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:13-18).
Of course we can know things by the reliable testimony of others, but when the credibility of the witnesses is unknown or unsure this is a legitimate reason for withholding one’s judgment about that controversy. The inspired Paul wrote, "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" (2 Cor. 13:1). Paul took into account that those be credible witnesses.
Honest outsiders today who have had a controversy, which originated in another congregation, thrust into their faces cannot always know of the credibility of the witnesses. Those insiders who have prejudice against honest outsiders who do not see things their way, exhibit a mental astigmatism—A mental condition which disallows another to see things as they are for himself. Those seeking to determine what has happened in a past controversy have the right to think for themselves (Phil. 2:11-12).
It is a sin to seek to have dominion over the faith of another in the process of the discovery of facts and such is a rejection of the good example of the apostle Paul. Note the apostle’s good attitude and statement to the church at Corinth in this regard: "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand" (2 Cor. 1:24).
The Accuser And The Accused
When a meeting is mutually being called for between two willing congregational leaderships to examine with the Word of God alongside of an accused person’s behavior, a person whom the two leaderships have in common—then fairness dictates both parties, the accuser and the accused, be present in that meeting. If not, why not? Note Paul’s attitude concerning fairness in evaluating an accused individual. He on one occasion was thankful that he was allowed to meet with "the accusers face to face" so he would "answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him" (Acts 25:16).
To disallow the accused to face his/her accuser in certain situations is not only self-defeating, but perhaps reveals there’s a snake in the wood-pile.
Thinking too highly of oneself and being a respecter of persons are sinful states of mind. Paul wrote "to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly" (Rom. 12:3). The great apostle Peter had to learn that "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). Should not the same lesson be learned today?
Sincere Individuals Who Make Inquiries
Have you ever had this experience or a similar one? Recently I received an email from a preacher who requested to know where I stood so far on a particular ongoing feud somewhere in another state. I was remotely aware of the sad controversy and that the conflict between opposing parties did not involve any charge of teaching a false doctrine. Also, based on the emailer’s recent behavior with others in discussing this particular controversy it was clear that to disagree with his conclusion would probably bring about an immediate demonization. He seemed to be in a rush to cut ties with everyone who had not reached the same conclusion he had reached, though apparently he had heard only one side of the controversy. No rational person is interested in dealing with that type of illogical attitude. The same emailer had been guilty of the fallacy of Special Pleading. God’s Word teaches we are to think rationally (1 Thes. 5:21).
I recently became soured to reading after a particular controversy. I temporarily ceased reading about the conflict when I read that the accusers, who were willing to meet with brethren who were outsiders to discuss the supposed guilt of the accused person, but were unwilling to allow the accused person to be present in that meeting. Frankly, such accusers destroyed their credibility when it was learned they wanted to meet to discuss/criticize the accused person without that person being present. Such suggests that one has something to hide or that one is being high-minded (Rom. 12:3). This is a type of railroading.
Honest outsiders who have had a certain type of controversy, as described above, thrust into their faces cannot possibly determine everything needed when there is not a fair hearing allowed with the accused being heard/present.
Some are big on demanding you and I disfellowship their enemies in situations where you cannot possibly know those persons involved (and it is a situation where no one was accused of teaching a false doctrine). Would they like to be treated this way? No! Jesus said, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Mat. 7:12).
If evidence later comes out the nature of which is within an outsider’s ability to examine and learn that evidence, then honoring the withdrawal would be necessary (1 Thes. 5:21; Eph. 5:11). Such illustrates that certain circumstances do indeed alter cases.
You and I may know of a controversy between brethren wherein due to conscience we have personally had to withdraw fellowship from certain ones. Should we demand that others also withdraw fellowship from those individuals in the case that the discovery-of-evidence-method limits outsiders to have been a witness in that circumstance? This is not to be mislabeled as an excuse to compromise and deny evidence, though it is fully anticipated that those who have an axe to grind will so misrepresent the intention of this article. Thus, let us remember that "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up . . . Charity never faileth . . . Let all your things be done with charity" (1 Cor. 13:4, 13:8; 16:14).
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