December 5, 2014.
It seems over the past week I have been involved in or read so many controversial things when it comes to the realm of religion. If I’m honest, I would say that I am quite tired of it, for the time being at least. In a society where drama is what excites the masses, controversy fits very well into this motif. I have read things both from what would be considered the “conservative” side of the coin and from the “liberal” side and have been greatly frustrated with each. I suppose in a way, this response could also be seen as somewhat conflict driven, however I will try my best to make it about what the bible says on the topic with as little bias from me as possible. I don’t claim to be the most humble person in the world (far from it really), but I am trying. With that said, please place more weight on what the word of God has to say on any particular subject and not on my words. I am merely trying to guide the reader through a topic that isn’t really discussed much in religion (probably because it is considered boring, or rather something we don’t want to do), but is prominent in the New Testament.
If you want to write a blog post that gets a lot of views, really all you have to do is pick a controversial topic and title the post as such (guess which one of mine has the most views…). So why are we drawn to controversy? I think it is almost in our nature to be draw to drama. We love it. Its fun and exhilarating in a way, probably because it causes our bodies to release hormones that prepare us for the conflict (adrenaline). We often deny our love for drama, but I am convinced that is simply a lie we tell ourselves. Why else would we gossip? Why would we watch reality TV? Why would we discuss politics? If we truly hated drama, I would imagine we would stay well away from areas like these. But the majority of us don’t. We love it when something bad happens (maybe not to ourselves or someone close to us, but we are drawn to news stories of bad incidents, else the news wouldn’t report on the bad things). When bad news is sounded, people listen.
Religion is not protected from this. There are many who love religious debates and arguing over different issues. Some even decide they don’t believe a certain way just because other people do (without knowing). We ask controversial questions most often because we know it will spark a debate rather than us actually wanting to know the answer (or even though we have formed our own answer already). I think this does more harm to religion that it helps. Yes, there is a time and a place to ask these questions. There is a time and a place to have good discussion, deep discussion, about these topics, and there is even a time and a place to draw lines in disagreement. But I assure that these times and places are not all the time and everywhere. I don’t think this is a new problem, nor is it one that is isolated to our society and culture, but one that has existed throughout the ages. Sine the fall of man, there has been disagreement. The first murder that is recorded in the Bible comes just a chapter after Adam and Eve are placed out of the garden for their sin. Pick up any history book and you will see mankind’s poor ability to reconcile differences, opting to argue and kill each other rather than finding peace.
I could talk all day about my opinions on the subject, but what does the bible say about conflict? I’d rather look to the words of ultimate wisdom than come up with my own.
Living in peace with all men.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
The 12th chapter of Romans is a rather difficult chapter for many Christians, especially the end. It is a section we pay lip service to, but we find it rather hard to live in practicality. Well, I guess I can only really speak for myself and what I have seen. This section is dealing with how we should treat those who persecute us and deal badly with us- with love and good will. That’s hard. We are supposed to wish them well and pray for them, never seeking vengeance. Difficult. But there is a key phrase here that I think fits well in the topic at hand: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Live peaceably with all, as far as it depends on us.
What does that say about starting controversy? What does that say about conflict? Again, there is a time to ask these questions that could lead to such, but I believe it would be wise to ask ourselves why we are asking the controversial question. Many times we are not trying to “live peaceably with all.” This concept seems to run close to Paul’s heart as he gives Timothy this admonition as well:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
(I Timothy 2:1-4)
Is it out goal to live a peaceful and quite life? What does it mean to be godly and dignified in every way? When it comes down to it, I believe that we should be seeking peace rather than seeking attention. Seeking fellowship rather than forming dissent. Seeking love rather than building arrogance. This is hard, trust me, I know. But it is very biblical, and it should be the mindset of a Christian. There is a reason that the Way is different than the rest of the world. If we don’t follow our teaching, then how will we be recognized? How can we be the light of the world if we are hiding the light?
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
(II Timothy 2:22-26)
I think this one get’s us the most in our churches. Paul again encourages Timothy to avoid foolish, ignorant controversies that only breed quarrels. Has this changed in the past 2,000 years? Foolish questions still breed quarrels today. Yet we still ask them. We still get into these arguments. And all for what? To possible prove ourselves right at the expense belittling others? I do not think that this is having the mind of Christ. Now, did Christ argue with people sometimes? In a way. He had many discussions with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. I wouldn’t really call them arguments. There are also times that He simply did not engage in conflict. When they brought the woman caught in adultery to Him, He wrote in the dirt for a long time before finally giving a brief, concise answer. All argument was avoided.
So, why do we ask these questions? What is our intent? Is it because we are honestly seeking truth and want to listen to other people’s opinions on it? Or is it because we know what we believe and want to get into debate with others? I cannot answer that question for you, but I can for myself. And there is one who is above who will rightfully answer it, whether we do or not. He does not make mistakes.
Discussion and Discernment.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
There is a time for discussion, I am not trying to dissuade you from that. Discussion is great. Studying is necessary. Questioning what you believe can be very constructive for your faith. We need to be trained to discern what is the will of God, then things that are good and acceptable and perfect, as Paul writes to the Romans. This discernment does not come through argumentation, but through study, prayer and learning from others. This kind of learning asks us to set biases aside and seek truth in its purity. We are seeking the will of God.
What happens if you seek truth and find out that it is what you already believed? Good. There is not need for your “enlightenment” to always produce a different belief. Think about it. Would you ever set out to study about the deity of Christ and conclude that you must end up at a different end point than what you believed in the first place? There are things that I have studied and listened to other people on that I have indeed come to different conclusions than I once did. But just the same, there are others that I have likewise studied and come to the same conclusion. Truth is truth, no matter who teaches it or if we have believed it in the past. And this truth we should always seek, keeping a gently heart.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Letting Jesus be the judge.
Probably one of the best things that I have read all week, however, was a comment on a controversial question that had been raised that had nothing to do with the controversy itself. It had to do with how we respond to controversy. Sure, these things need to be discussed and we need to have our convictions, but too often do we draw lines that we have no authority to draw. We tell people they no longer belong to the body of Christ when we have no authority to do so. The point was made in Revelation where John is instructed to write a letter to the seven churches in Asia. As an example, the Lamb has this to say to the church at Ephesus:
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’”
The point was, though there is indeed a time when a church can become no longer a part of the body, and though it is possible to believe and teach the wrong thing, it is Jesus who makes this decision, not us. Yes, we should have conviction. Yes, we shouldn’t preach things we don’t believe. But to tell someone else (specifically in our fellowship) that they are no longer part of the body is not our place. We can mark them, we can show them why we don’t think they are right biblically (if done out of love), we can even withdraw from them (given a very good reason and adequate scriptural basis), but I don’t think we can condemn them. That is not to say that wrongdoing will not be condemned, because it will. But Jesus will be the judge, and that should really be a relief off our backs.
I pray that we can find a way to live peaceably with one another, even if we disagree on the small stuff. I pray that we have the mind of Christ.
Suggested Daily Reading: Romans 12, 14, I Corinthians 3, 6, 8, 13.
Grace and peace.