Like many of you, I’m on the sidelines watching controversies brew in the Christian world. Often I wonder what we are doing to one another, if controversies are necessary. Do they tear apart the Church, which should be unified, as Christ commanded? Should we always pursue peace among ourselves and keep our mouths shut? If so, at what cost?
For Christians, when confronted with controversy, we should adhere to God’s word above all. It should be our primary guide. And I believe that God’s word guides us to stand for the truth — unswerving, undaunted in the face of untruth. For good reason.
On one hand, we are to be reconciled one to another, and we are to be unified, showing the world our love for one another. John 17 is often quoted with regard to unity, as Jesus prays: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (verses 22-23). Unity is prescribed for those who are within the body of truth and who know the truth, as described in the verses right before these.
Yes, unity is a goal. What should we do, though, when we simply cannot agree with one another in the Church? Again, go to God’s word. Paul faced controversy in the early church, and he was unafraid. When one of the leaders (Peter) was doing something that seemed contradictory, Paul confronted him in front of other leaders. He told him how his actions contradicted his profession of faith (see Galatians 2: 11-14). A quick read of these verses shows that Peter was leading people astray in the name of Christ, and Paul called him out on it.
Then there were times when wrong thinking entered the early church. When faced with wrong-thinkers (some would call them heretics), what did Paul do? Today I see Answers in Genesis leader Ken Ham rebuked because he “called out” an organization that is leading people astray. It is not Christian, some have protested to him, to stand up and rebuke others who call themselves Christian. It isn’t loving, they say. But Paul clearly calls out someone who leads another astray. And in Titus 3:1-11 he sets the standard for Christians to follow the Gospel and rebuke those among them who lead others astray.
Yes, some would like us to keep our disagreement private. The Great Homeschool Convention directors disinvited Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis when Ham pointed out the unbiblical position of another conference attendee who calls himself Christian. So what should someone who defends biblical truth do when faced with an organization that purports to be Christian but does not hold biblical views?
We are not told whether Paul met individually with the heretics to try and talk them into changing their thinking. We do have in front of us the letters that Paul wrote to churches that had heretics in their midst, when wrong thinking had begun creeping in. Clearly his priority was the purity of the Gospel message. That should be our concern, too. Paul’s zeal for the Gospel prompted him to speak out when heresy drifted in.
When faced with two contradictory teachings from people who say they represent the Christian church, the guidelines are simple: search the scripture to see which message is biblical. Not just one verse, but whole passages, in context. The one who teaches biblically is not afraid to have you hold up his teaching against the Bible to see if it is true. Where there is error, as Paul notes to Titus, point it out, then go the other way.
Another full-fledged controversy concerns a new book by pastor Rob Bell, Love Wins. I haven’t read the book so I will not pick apart the supposed argument. However, I will follow the dispute and see who speaks biblically and who does not. So far I see one side argue with scripture and the other side about feelings.
So is it biblical to call out other Christians with whom we disagree? It depends on the disagreement. If it is about heresy, then say so. Be unafraid in your defense of Scripture. Be zealous for the truth. Be ready to get shunned, as Ken Ham was when he dared to speak the truth. Truth will stand up to careful biblical scrutiny. Error will fall apart.