It is an unspoken rule. It is one of those topics which brethren shun, and would like to pretend does not exist. It causes many members of the church today to squirm in their seats, and get defensive. It is also the bane of every “change agent” and “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” for without it, they would go unchallenged in their quest to destroy the body of Christ! This new taboo of the church of Christ is controversy.
So many brethren seem amazingly uncomfortable with controversy. They would like to just wash their hands of it, and get on with their comfortable, unchallenging, and blissfully ignorant existence. Change agents, on the other hand, adamantly fear controversy. They have a good reason to! Controversy is what calls attention to their false doctrines and divisive motives. It makes brethren aware of their tactics, and actually causes the faithful to refute their heresy, and stand firm for the truth! In either case, controversy has become taboo, and those who attempt to be controversial are labeled as troublemakers.
The problem here is that controversy is at the very core of the gospel! Jesus was about the most controversial person in Israel during the time He was on the earth! What about when He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple? (Matt. 21:12-13). Or how about when He pronounced the woes upon the scribes and Pharisees? (Matt. 23:13-33). Was this not controversial? What can we say about Peter and the other apostles when they were brought before the Sanhedrin for preaching the gospel? Peter answered to them, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Was this not controversial in the extreme?
Today, when faithful brethren attempt to stand firm for biblical truth, and defend the gospel, the response (sadly, from their own brethren!) is often “that is too controversial!” Folks, the Bible is controversial by definition! Try telling most secular people today that the world was created in six days and see what happens! Better still, try telling about two-thirds of the world’s population that two thousand years ago the Son of God came to this earth, was nailed to a cross, died for our sins, rose from the dead, sits at the right hand of God today in heaven, and that through Him we might have eternal life if we believe and obey His Word. Will this not stir up quite a bit of controversy? If you do not believe me, go tell it to a Muslim and watch his reaction!
Brethren, to be a faithful Christian is to be controversial. The gospel message is not compatible with worldliness. Christians are to be “not of the world” (John 17:16), as Jesus also was not. When this happens, there is going to be controversy! What should we do? Shy away from controversy and let the world go unconfronted by the gospel? God forbid! The church has a message to share with the world. The bride of Christ can only teach that message effectively to alien sinners if we ourselves are a distinct people, shaped by God’s Word, and not afraid to be controversial!
What about within the church itself? Are we to shy away from controversy among our own brethren? Again, God forbid! If our brethren are digressing from the truth, should we not try to warn them and lead them back? What happens to our teaching if we ourselves are no longer a pure, distinct people? “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” (Matt. 5:13). This is going to cause controversy! But it must be done!
What about false teachers? When a wolf comes into one of our pulpits, are we just going to sit there and do nothing while he leads people astray because it would be “too controversial” to confront him? What about Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them”? (Rom. 16:17). Again, this is going to cause controversy! But it must be done!
We cannot be afraid of controversy, brethren! Yes, it may be uncomfortable, and people might get offended. But what of their souls? Is not our temporary comfort and people’s hurt feelings a reasonable price to pay when we are talking about eternity? As we have been instructed in the Scriptures, let us be bold and “earnestly contend for the faith”! (Jude 3).