Friday, November 11, 2005

When Is It Time To Get Into A Theological Controversy??

Controversies - A dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views.

Using this definition, it is not a controversy if I am conflicted about a matter. But often I am not moved to investigate a matter or interprets a matter until I start to respond to some doctrine that is being spouted out there. So I am lazy until some Gadfly comes and knocks me out of my comfort zone. Perhaps others are more spiritual than I, but some of my seasons of doctrinal growth come from hearing a teaching that just does not seems right to me. Many years ago I was deployed in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. One Sunday I went to a Sunday School class at the Chapel on Eskan Village. The Chaplin was a good guy. When we got to Romans 2:22 "You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?" the Chaplin explained to the class that rob temples refers to Jewish people robbing pagan temples. I had memorized the passage in the KJV years before where it says "Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?" I disagreed with him on his explanation. He countered with a strong argument looking at the grammar. He pointed out the text we were using said "temples" not temple. I really had nothing to say. Though the verse was a minor one, I was driven to find out, how do your rightly interprets this verse. When I returned from the desert I asked my pastor about the passage. He just said that the passage was not major point of doctrine. One of the values of that church was to major on the major issues and minor on the minor issues. To this day I still hold this as a good guide for looking at issues. I started to pray that the Lord would teach me the scriptures. I thought I knew them but I could not come to a correct interpretation of this verse. When I moved to my next tour of duty I got involved with a home Bible study of a man named Bill. Bill had been a seminary student before joining the Army. We did not always agree on everything, and more often than not, when we did disagree he had an upper hand in the discussion. So be it, what I really learned from Bill was the art of exegesis. (Not that I have arrived in the discipline, but I started the journey.) I felt like God answered my prayer to teach me the scriptures. Unless I had been involved in this small controversy, I would not have prayed that God would open my eyes. So from an individual point of view, I think a controversy can "spur us on toward love and good deeds." Yes, I mean it motivates the individual. From a corporate point of view, there is a dynamic that can come from hearing other points of view. I am surprised how often when I think I have thought through an issue, others have covered ground in their thinking that I had not. As the scripture says, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Pv 27:17 (ESV) A good friend of mine is constantly asking me what I think about this author, topic or trend. Often he has a point of view himself that he will share. As he does it pushes me to higher callings. (And sometimes I think I push him along too.) We are maturing together as a part of a community. We have a phrase that we talk about in our church at the ordination of an officer. "Do you promise to study the peace and purity of the church?" A controversy gives an opportunity to love the brethren and be gracious while doing the difficult job of being valiant for the truth. I tend to be a blunt person so when I do get involved in a discussion, I can be unloving. So balancing the peace and purity concept is helpful to me. One of the biggest problems I see with controversies is that people often come to the conclusion that there is no answer. I think often times we become valiant for not being on one side or the other. So much so that we are valiant only for the concept of evangelical unity. Major on the majors and minor on the minors becomes a way of taking no stand. When a heated discussion becomes emotional and personal, many people can only hear the heat of the emotion and not the issues being discussed. If you sense the issue is emotional intensity (i.e. hate, anger, rivalry) and not the doctrinal issue, it is definitely time to back down for a moment to let things cool off. Re-engage with a cooler head. I believe the solution for this is a cordial engagement of the issues in a theological or ecclesiastical controversy. 1. No name calling or character assassination. Often on side or the other will create a name for the other side. This often backfires too. As the sides become defined by terms, it becomes an us versus them debate and the issues gets sidelined.

2. Assume your opponent has the best intentions at heart. We do have to be careful with this one but if we start there, we are less like to resort to name calling and character assassination.

3. Listen. (What can I say?)

4. When your restate what your opponent is saying, be sure that you do so in such a way that they would agree with how you have stated their position.

5. Be patient knowing that sometimes these things take time to gel. Don't expect to resolve a theological conflict when we see in history that it sometimes takes centuries.

6. Dialogue with the opposition, don't diatribe against them.

There are other times to disengage from a controversy.

1. When it is a trivial matter that gets undue attention. (Yes, minor on the minor issues.)

2. When the context of the controversy is misunderstood. If an issue brings people in who do not understand the context of the controversy, then it seems foolish to them. To many people today, all theological issues sound as if they are discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At this point disengage and re-engage when context can be established.

3. When you don't really understand the issue yourself.

4. When your opponent is seeking to draw you into a heated debate so that you look angry, belligerent, or foolish. A video camera can lie, especially during the editing process.
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