As Christians who live in a world that denies absolute truth, we are going to run into controversy. Controversy is an area we need to learn to deal with in a God-honoring way when there are issues inside and outside our churches that need to be addressed.
How do we know what needs to be addressed?
Controversy in the church is challenging since we know the church is called to unity. When the truth of the gospel is at stake in the church, we need to take a stand for truth.
Many times we can find ourselves divided on issues we shouldn't be, those that are secondary and not fundamental to the gospel. Things like baptism or church order and hence why we have various denominations. Even when we find ourselves divided on issues, they should be able to be discussed with a level of spiritual maturity within our congregations.
Sometimes these issues need to be addressed but where do we begin?
John Newton on Controversy:
I came across a letter written by John Newton on how to address controversy as a Christian. I'm linking to it so you can read the whole letter and I just want to pull out a few areas that stood out to me. He breaks the letter down into three areas to consider: Your Opponent, The Public and Yourself.
There are hundreds of years between us and when this letter was written, but because it is based on the truth of God's Word, it stands the test of time even in our current modern age.
John Newton shares that we must contend for truth and controversy will be inevitable, but there is a way as believers we should enter into it.
“I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary but over yourself.” ~ John Newton
Many times we can find ourselves focused on the controversial issue and forget that we are dealing with a real, live, breathing person who has a soul and feelings and they may be a brother in the faith.
“As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him, and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” ~ John Newton
Do we take the time to pray for our opponent? If they're a believer are we treating them as a brother in the faith? If they are not a believer, the reminder we should always have scrolled through our thoughts is, “by the grace of God I go.”
When we're dealing with them either in person or in writing is it done in a spirit of love, humility, and gentleness? Colossians 3:12 comes to mind here:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
Pray for the Lord to soften hearts and open eyes and hearts including our own in the situation.
Consider the Public:
With our modern media and technology our responses, many times, will affect more than just the one person we're addressing.
“By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these, I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.” ~ John Newton
Think thoroughly on how you are responding and make sure you are contending for truth out of love and humility and not just to look wise in your own eyes.Think thoroughly on how you are responding and make sure you are contending for truth out of love and humility and not just to look wise in your own eyes.
We need to contend for the faith, and we need to contend when the gospel is misrepresented. Our desires are good, but our delivery and things like our temper may not be. He reminds us to watch our attitude and not allow anything that will be an obstacle to our communion with God. It's never right to sin in dealing with a controversy.
“What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?” ~ John Newton
Examine your heart and be reminded we bring no glory to the Lord or any benefit to the controversial situation if we don't show ourselves to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus is our example of how to deal with controversy.Examine your heart and be reminded we bring no glory to the Lord or any benefit to the controversial situation if we don't show ourselves to be a disciple of Jesus.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. ~ James 3:17-18
To the Glory of God:
“If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves.” ~ John Newton
Simply put, God's glory should be our desired end of any controversies we deal with as believers when we must engage in it. Notice I said when not if because as Christians we must love and contend for the truth.
- Pray for your opponent
- Deal gently with your opponent
- Instruct your opponent with meekness
- Be watchful of your tone and words
- Be watchful of self-righteousness
- Be watchful of your character
“Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.” ~ John Newton
John Newton on Controversy – @Ligonier