Thursday, October 11, 2012

Contending for the Faith Is Contentious

In the 13 Sep 2012 podcast of The God Whisperers (episode 197), Bill Cwirla and Craig Donofrio discuss how doctrinal conflicts are resolved within their own denomination.  Bill Cwirla begins the segment by asking, "What's our approach to making peace?"  (Listen to the 1:40 clip here.)

Did that sound familiar?  You probably have relived that in some form.  Outside the Christian realm this is expected.  American culture now demands an intolerably high level of tolerance making any type of disagreement either an attack on the civil liberties of whatever societal group with whom the offended person identifies, or a postmodern pleasure-fest allowing each to define his own truth and reality.  People variously react to conflict, but the goal is always the same—defend myself regardless of how indefensible my position.  This self-centeredness has taken a prominent place in the American psyche, such that people have become incapable of debate, and logical reasoning quickly gives way to logical fallacy or ad hominem.

But how do we react within the community of the King of Kings?  Referring back to the sound clip, that scenario has  become the default mode of groups of Christians that fear the thought of conflict within their organizations as paramount to gross sin.  If an spiritual overseer speaks or acts contrarily to God's word in an effort to draw crowds and is rightly criticized for doing so, the standard retort has been to label the God-fearing critic as a loser or hater.  There is no attempt at talking through the issues as brethren in Christ with open Bible in hand.

Next is the situation where a Bible teacher delivers heretical doctrine, but instead of drawing people in, the intent is to expand the mind of the listener to the truths discovered through research, rigorous or otherwise, in a professorial manner for the common good.  This is worse because we are quick to give someone with academic intent more leniency, until we find ourselves wrapped in a web of deceit.  This one will dismiss criticism with an air of superiority, since the objector simply does not understand the subtle complexities, and the critic often goes away berated, assuming the inferior status is warranted.

What happens when overseers who actively go about caring for the flock, innocently begin to teach error or what you believe to be error?  The first reaction should be for the listener to question whether or not he heard correctly.  Then go listen to the teaching again, if recorded, ask what was stated and intended, or both.  At this point there should be freedom to clearly state the biblical mandate and work through to a commonly agreed understanding.

Lastly, there are those who are not believers but present themselves as the holders of true Christianity.  The problem might even be compounded by the fact are members in good standing of your congregation, or worse, leading it.  While this might not be true, the proper action is identical: these need to be confronted quickly and vigorously.

These last two cases—erring overseer and ravenous wolf— especially require a strategy for engagement.  One simply does not contend for the faith haphazardly.  A four-part method used during the Reformation given in the podcast above is helpful for the task.
  • 1.  State the controversy.  There must be stated points all parties understand are at issue, otherwise nothing can be started, much less resolved.  Opposing parties must clearly state what is being taught.
  • 2.  Define the terms.  Quite often no true progress is made because the same words are used but with different meanings.  Words can have completely different meanings for each side of a controversy.  Agreements will be made to statements that have different meanings to the differing parties.  For example, cults will use Christian terms but supply their own definitions.  Also, do not assume two Christians are using their terms the same way.
  • 3.  State the Theses.  What do you believe?  Share the points in plain language.
  • 4.  State clearly what you do not believe.  This is equally important, because it clarifies the points being made and reduces the risk of being led to a side discussion.  Often times this step is not used, because it is not for the fainthearted.  Conflicting points may not only need to be rejected but unequivocally condemned as well.
Contending for the faith is never-ending work, often with little or no immediate gratitude or reward.  Believers can grow weary of continually defending the faith.  These should be encouraged to consider the Lord Jesus "who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted"  (Heb 12:3).  Some continue in adversity to the point of death understanding what it means to "participate in the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phil 3:10).  But for those who endure, there is the promised crown of life (James 1:12; Rev 2:10).

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