A number of years ago when I was preaching for a congregation in Southeast Arkansas, a preacher from up on the east coast of our country came by for a visit. He was in the middle of a trip in which he was seeking help for an evangelistic effort, and since he was an acquaintance came by to see us. While he was with us, he made the comment that he thought error should be placed on the back burner for a while, and that we just get on with the business of seeking the lost. I had heard that opinion from those who were known for their extreme liberalism, but I had never heard such a proposal from a brother whom I knew to be sound in matters of the plan of salvation, and the church acting in worship and work only where there is Biblical authority to act. With the passing of the ensuing years, it is plainly obvious that his mindset has spread to the great detriment of the Lord’s church.
The consequence of putting error in the church on the back burner is that men’s thinking evolves from deciding to ignore error to tolerating it, if not completely embracing it. Minds of the once faithful become dull under such circumstances, and it becomes popular for one’s position on controversial issues to be not to take any position at all; a kind of Pontius Pilate approach with the same devastating results for the church as Pilate’s had for the life of the Lord. It is not surprising, either, that ignoring issues does nothing to enhance serious and regular Bible study.
It is increasingly common for brethren, when asked where they stand on a certain issue among us, for them to say, “I try to stay out of that fight.” Unfortunately, that attitude leads to exactly what we are seeing today, many existing in an ever enlarging circle of fellowship, attempting to justify communion with brethren in error, claiming that one may do so with God’s approval, disagree with them on their particular falsehoods, but stand with them otherwise. Do they rebuke such for the error they hold? You know the answer to that is well as I do. It isn’t important enough for them to say anything! That is precisely the reason, for instance, that while some claim to oppose the myriad errors on the Holy Spirit, they nevertheless invite brethren who fellowship false teachers on the subject to participate in their lectureships or hold Gospel meetings for them. Such are not opposing anything. They are taking the Pilate position of taking no position. All they are doing is making it uncomfortably impossible for them to say anything. “What a tangled web we weave…,” as the old saying goes.
Make no mistake about it, when it became apparent years ago that the direct aid of the Spirit doctrine was going to become a serious problem, some brethren made the decision to stay out of the controversy and let other brethren attempt to deal with it. In the case of some, if they had spoken out on that particular error it might not have achieved the increasingly widespread acceptance that it has today.
One can have respect for those who stand up and make their voices heard, and even have some for those who go to the Word of God and make the point that based on the teaching of Scripture that an issue should not be a divisive one. However, there is no basis for respecting one who just chooses to dodge an issue thinking it will go away on its own, others will deal with it, or that they just do not want to involve themselves in controversy. Anyone who does the latter cannot successfully appeal to Jesus Christ as their example, for if there was anyone who never balked at controversy it was the only begotten Son of God! Jesus was constantly engaged with issue after issue with the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes, and anyone else who taught for doctrine the commandments of men (Matt. 15:1-9).
The negative impact of an individual refusing to take a stand is not limited to a congregation or the church universal, it also weakens the individual. It seems that many live their lives believing that if they put the kingdom of God and His righteousness first (Matt. 6:33), they can do whatever else they want to whether the principles of the New Testament condemn such action or not. Our people have been told for so many years that God comes first and everything else is secondary, that they began to focus in on the “everything” and decided everything meant anything. They put error on the back burner, refused to engage in any controversial issue (even with themselves), and as we pointed out at the beginning of this article ended up embracing many false doctrines and a great number of moral sins.
If anyone doubts the negative effects of avoiding controversy, just remember back in the 1950s when the various “anti” positions were developing and spreading. If brethren had not seen the Pharisaic legalism involved, it might possibly be that today no congregation would follow the scriptural directive to do good unto all men (2 Cor. 9:13; Gal. 6:10). Not only so, but a drinking fountain in any church building would be deemed error if the doctrine had been followed to its full implication. We are riding on the shoulders of valiant soldiers who went before us. If we fail to be valiant soldiers today, it is frightening to think what condition the church will be in when our children and grandchildren are grown. Come to think of it, because of the refusal of some over the past couple of decades to take a stand on certain matters, such as elder reevaluation, and those who have taught and/or practiced it, and how their refusal has produced a willingness to fellowship others in error, such as those who fellowship Sunset, Lake Tahoe Encampment, or the small group pattern, the placing of the pot on the back burner and ignoring it has already led to more boiling over than is good for the precious bride of Christ.