The New Testament and Controversy - Part 2
II. The Validity of Controversy Seen is the Need for Improvement
Campbell stresses his belief in the need for controversy when he states: "There can be no improvement without controversy." On the face of it, this statement may seem too strong to be in harmony with Bible teaching. But, after clarifying what Campbell meant by change and controversy, it will be the purpose of this section to consider whether his view of such, is in harmony with New Testament teaching. He says, "improvement requires and presupposes change; change in innovation, and innovation always has elicited opposition, and that is what constitutes the essentials of controversy." Campbell's affirmation that change is necessary in order for improvement to occur is, quite obviously, true. Given that a particular individual, say, John X. Jones has a certain character, say, C. Let it be supposed that in order to designate properly some improvement in his character G + 1 is written. Let it be further supposed that to designate properly some worsening of his character C - 1 is written. It is obvious that in order to indicate either improvement or worsening of character one would have to write either C + 1 or C - 1, respectively. In either case, change has occurred. There can be neither improvement nor worsening of character without change.
Further, as Campbell points out, change is innovation and innovation always brings about opposition. This is the case because there are always some people who prefer things to remain as they are and who therefore resist ail efforts to bring about any sort of change. (However, it must not be supposed for a moment that mere change is necessarily good!)
Yet, when either effort is being made to bring about change, or change is actually occurring and there is resistance to that change, then, as Campbell points out, the essential elements of the total situation involving controversy are present.
That the preceding affirmation is true is confirmed by plain teaching found in the New Testament.
That change (in man's character and life) is necessary is seen both by the life and the precepts of Jesus Christ and His faithful disciples. The very fact of His incarnation (John 1:1-14) is proof of the need for change on the part of man. Before the coming of Christ, man was lost hopelessly in sin. This is the case because (1) all men sin (Romans 1:18-3:23), (2) sin separates the sinner from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), and, the just punishment for it is terrible indeed (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:10-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). To be saved from, the just consequences of his sins, man must be reconciled unto (brought back into a former state of harmony with) God (Ephesians 2:13-18). But man alone cannot bring about this reconciliation. The grace of God must be involved (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is the case because "apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]" (Hebrews 9:22). The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins (Hebrews 10:4); only the blood of Christ can do so (Ephesians 1:7). But in order for Christ's blood to be available for man's salvation from his sins, it was necessary for the Word (Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate state) to "become flesh" (John 1:1, 14). Even before the birth of Jesus, the purpose of His mission into the world was made known: "And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). As to the general purpose of His incarnation. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9:
I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.
Paul further said in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant being made in the likeness of men; and being founded in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.
So generally speaking, it can be said that the Word (who was rich) became poor in order that man (who was "poor"—lost in his sins) might be rich (have salvation from sin and everlasting life).
Luke states the purpose of Christ's mission to the earth more specifically when he says, "For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Thus, the Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and to save the lost. The seeking of lost men entailed His helping men to see (fully grasp) the facts that they were guilty of sin and that sin separates from God. These facts necessitated that Jesus bring about in the minds of men a change of self-image (rather than regarding themselves righteous, they must come to realize that they were wicked). Further, it entailed that Jesus lead men to a change of conviction. This change of conviction, in turn, entailed that they change their minds as to who (or what) was to be the director (master) of their lives. Jesus made it clear that in order to be saved, men must renounce self-rule and recognize Him as King of their lives (Luke 9:23-24; 4:26-33; Philippians 1:20-21). He must change his state by being baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27). Jesus made clear that men must be willing to die rather than to be unfaithful to Him (Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:28)! The change demanded of men by Jesus further entailed that the actual lives of men be changed. It is not sufficient merely to say that one believes in and follows Christ; one must actually live a life which is in harmony with His teachings (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus made clear that each person has a choice (as to how to live his life) between only two alternatives: (1) the narrow way—which leads to life and (2) the broad way—which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
Each person who learns these fundamentals faces controversy, both with himself and with others. He faces controversy with himself because he does not want to admit that he is a sinner—actually unworthy of the love God and His Son have shown toward him (John 3:16; 10:16-18; 1 John 4:19). But one may win this controversy (i.e. he may admit his lost and undone condition) and still not be willing to admit that the only way out of it is to submit completely (without reservation) to the will of Christ as set forth in the New Testament (Matthew 7:13-27). The confrontation with necessity of his submitting to Christ's will may result in that individual's having a severe inner controversy with himself. Change does indeed involve controversy.
But even if one wins the controversy with himself (that is, he decides to submit completely to Christ's will), his controversy is not over. He must yet face opposers of the truth both in and out of the Lord's true church (Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:28-32; Revelation 2:14-16; 20-23; 2 Peter 2:1-3). Jesus warned that as men had hated and persecuted the Son of man (who was perfectly good) so they would hate and persecute His faithful followers (John 16:33; cf. 2 Timothy 3:12). But one must be willing to endure all such, because the gospel must be willing to endure all such, because the gospel must be preached to every person in the world (Mark 16:15-16). There can be no significant improvement (spiritually) in the lives of men unless they hear, believe, and obey the gospel (Romans 10:13-14). But when the gospel is preached in its entirety, men will oppose both it and those who preach it, because they (the opposers) do not wish to conform their lives to it.
During the earthly ministry of Christ, mf hated and persecuted Him not merely because what He taught differed from what they taught. After all, the various sects among the Jews differed from one another in their teachings. Yet, they did not crucify one another as they did Jesus (Acts 2:22-36). Why the difference? The difference was there because Jesus made clear that the difference of doctrinal viewpoint did matter—men simply had to submit to and obey Him in order to be saved (Hebrews 5:8-9; Luke 6:46).
During the early years of the Lord's true church, the disciples "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) and were "everywhere spoken against" (Acts 28:22). Why was this the case? Because these disciples knew that men were lost in sin and that no improvement could occur unless change occurred. They thus sought to bring about change by preaching the gospel of Christ and demanding that men submit to the Son of God by submitting to His gospel (Acts 2:22-41; 3:11-26; 4:18; 5:29; 8:26-40; 9:1-22; 17:22-31).
The faithful preaching of the gospel: resulted in much opposition during the days of the New Testament (Acts 4:5-22; 5:17-42; 8:8-15; 7:1-60; 8:1-3; 13:4-12; 14:13-51; 14:1-28). This is the case because as previously noted, faithful preaching of the gospel demands change, change demands innovation, innovation results in opposition, and opposition involves controversy, The validity of controversy is seen in the fact that it is necessary to improvement, the basic purpose of the advent of the Son of Man to Earth (Luke 19:10).
Campbell takes the position that it is the duty of those who have the ability to do such to oppose error. This is the case, he argues, unless the individual is perfect and always has lived in a perfect society. This principle is supported by New Testament teaching by the actions of Jesus Christ Himself. According to Matthew 21:12-13, Jesus entered the temple of God:
... and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple and overthrew the tables of money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and said unto them, it is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye make it a den of robbers.
In casting out the money-changers, Jesus Christ manifested His basic attitude toward wrong-doing. He was so opposed to error that He was, in a sense, compelled to cast out the wrongdoers. Jesus truly opposed error to the fullest extent of His opportunity and ability. This opposition entailed a principle which Campbell affirms and explicates in his writing. Jesus Christ always was motivated by love (John 10: .16-18) and always did the kind thing (Acts 10:38). Yet such love and kindness did not preclude His strong, open opposition to error (false doctrine). Thus, those who assert that Christian love rules out controversy err in so doing. Our Savior, who was (is) perfect in His love for man, was a most strenuous controversialist.
It was necessary for Jesus Christ to oppose error in such a manner because of its terrible consequences—error can do so much damage if it is not corrected. In explication of this point, Campbell said, "If error were innocent and harmless, than we might permit it to find its own quietus ... but... no man can be considered benevolent who does not set his face against it." Campbell here argues that the truth of God is too important to allow it to be tampered with in any manner (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19). Such men as Paul and Peter stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Christ in such opposition to all error (Acts 2, 17, 18, 21; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16). No man who does otherwise is faithful to Christ.
The word of God is essential to the obtaining of salvation for the soul of man. No man can be saved without knowing, believing and obeying the truth (John 8:32; Mark 16:15-16). Thus, man's obedience to the way of Jesus Christ is all-important because salvation is found in Him (2 Timothy 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19). The way of Christ is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14).
Every accountable person has sinned (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23; Isaiah 59:1-2). Without both believing and obeying the truth, no one can be saved; the espousal of error damns one's soul (John 8:32; 1 Peter 1:20-25; Matthew 7:13-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 2:10-12). Since the eternal destiny of each and every person is dependent upon his rejection of error and his acceptance of the truth, it is clear both that the truth must be proclaimed and defended and that error must be opposed. Any variation from the plan that Jesus Christ demands will be useless in the ultimate salvation of man (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19; Luke 14:25-35).
Therefore, it can be understood that Jesus Christ, in word and in deed, manifested the need for controversy in religious matters (those dealing with the Word of God). Campbell's affirmation of the necessity for controversy in religion is clearly in harmony with New Testament teaching.
III. The Validity of Controversy as Seen in the Refutation of the Charge that Controversy is Unchristian
In this section, I want to note that from the time when Jesus Christ was on Earth to the present, those who have defended the gospel have been the object of criticism. Some critics have contended that any form of controversy is unchristian. They have scathingly critized ail critics, not realizing, it seems, that they were condemning themselves. But Alexander Campbell held that many were mistaken as to what constitutes the true Christian spirit. "What they call, or seem to call a Christian spirit, is that spirit which approves their course, and commends them in their undertakings; that spirit which says to them, 'Well done,' whether or not they have done well." Thus Campbell asserts that what some men call "the Christian spirit" entails the willingness to put the stamp of approval on whatever doctrine men may espouse and on whatever course of life they may choose to follow. But, as Campbell well shows, this is simply not the case.
In discussing the Christian spirit from a positive side, Campbell made an incisive point. He pointed out that genuine Christian love for truth leads to one's being in opposition to anything that would rival the truth, In contending for this point he says,
Had it not been for this, Paul the Apostle had never dared to have said, 'If any man or angel proclaim any other gospel than the true, let him be anathema.' His opposition to men proceeded from their opposition to the truth.
Genuine love for the truth necessarily entails hatred of any error which opposes it. Some men give themselves credit for being great lovers of Christ when, as a matter of fact, they are nothing but compromisers of His truth and, they are enemies of Christ.
"It is quite compatible with the meekness, mildness, and tenderness of a Christian spirit, to reprove, rebuke, and expose hypocrites and false pretenders to truth and righteousness." If such were not the case, then the Holy Spirit would not have commanded, through Paul, that men of God should "reprove, rebuke, exhort" and would not have assigned as the basic reason for such action the fact that false doctrine is preached by various men (2 Timothy 4:1-5; cf. 1 Peter 2:1-3). Campbell said that on every occasion, which called for such, all of the faithful men of the Bible engaged in controversy. He then lists a number of such men from throughout the Bible. These men and a Scripture reference of their actions and some of their opponents are charted in the following column.
In the face of such evidence from the Bible it is incredible that some mend should conclude that engaging in controversy is "unchristian activity." In each of the accounts listed below, the man of God was engaged in (1) upholding God's truth, and (2) opposing man's error. Evidence hardly be more conclusive.
Controversialist Opponent Reference
Moses (Aaron) Pharaoh Exodus 5:7-13
Moses Jannes and Jambres 2 Timothy 3:8-9
Elijah Prophets of Baal 1 Kings 18:19-46
Job Princes of Edom Book of Job
Jewish prophets Idolatrous Kings of Israel Books of Amos, Hosea et al.
John the Baptist Scribes and Pharisees Matthew 3:7-12
Jesus Rabbis and Priesthood Matthew 21:23-27
Peter and John Sanhedrin Court Acts 4
Paul Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers Acts 17:16
Campbell rightly raises the question as to how an activity could be "unchristian" or "ungodly" (not in harmony with the nature and will of God and His Son) while the Bible clearly teaches that various men are pleasing to God while engaging in that activity.
As a matter of fact, it is clear that ever among men who are members of the Lord's true church, there has been and remains a gross misunderstanding concerning the word "controversy." In reality, it is impossible to separate an adequate presentation of the truth from controversy. Controversy is analytic to such a presentation. This is the case because even when one is presenting the positive side of the truth, he is involving himself with controversy. Any presentation in harmony with New Testament teaching eliminates any and all other ways to salvation (Matthew 7:21-23; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). It is clear that there is not even one religious topic or subject which is not controversial. Since this it the case, every individual faces a difficult, yet crucial, choice. Each person must decide either (1) to be a religious person and, thus, be involved in controversy, or (2) to leave religion in general, and biblical teaching in particular, alone entirely. How can one decide? Campbell points to the life of Jesus Christ as the key to obtaining the correct answer. G. C. Brewer well said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ was the most persistent, alert, resourceful, and masterful controversialist that ever lived." If this assertion can be shown to be true, the choice would be a clear cut one. This is the case because every person should follow the example of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:21-23).
In reply to the charge that controversy is unchristian, Campbell says,
If any, then, should condemn us because exhibiting, in their judgment, an unchristian spirit, let them do us and themselves the justice to examine the memoirs which both Testaments exhibit, especially the New; and whenever we fail in evincing the zeal, plainness, force, severity, mildness, and tenderness, which they displayed in accordance with the characters addressed, let them remind us of it, and we will desist, confess our error and abandon it. But as at present, advised, we shall, God willing, with all impartiality, fairness, boldness, and courage, reprove, exhort, beseech, and expostulate, until there is no longer need for these means—always cultivating that benevolence, good will and affection for them who love the truth and the God of truth; always cherishing that holy spirit, that peace of God, and unfeigned brotherly love, without which Christianity is but a name, death terrible, and heaven unattainable. ‘The conqueror shall inherit all things; and I will be to him a God and he shall be to me my son. But as for the cowards, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murders, and prostitutes, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
The closer the life of Jesus Christ is examined, the easier it is for the examiner to understand why controversy is welded into Christianity. This is the case because Jesus was not willing to compromise the truth of the gospel. He was not willing to admit to common ground with error when the truth was at stake (Luke 16), and He condemned all who were so willing! He held, and demanded that others also hold, to the truth! He did not hold merely to a form of the truth, He held to the truth! He did not send His disciples into "all the world" (Matthew 28) to preach "some religious message." Rather, He sent them to preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). No man has any authority from Christ to preach any message except the gospel (Galatians 1:6-9; Jude 3: Galatians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 9:14-16; Philippians 1:15-17). Jesus made clear that just as there is one Savior, there is one message, obedience to which results in salvation (Matthew 7:13-14). Christianity is the true—the exclusive—religion of the one true God.
The method which was used by Jesus and His apostles in teaching the truth should be noted. According to John 5, Jesus was discussing with the Jews the matter of His authority. Jesus not only rebuked the Jews (with Scriptures) but also gave a rational presentation of the point He was making. The giving of evidence relevant to a certain conclusion is a sound biblical principle. Jesus was (is) the Master teacher and our perfect example (Colossians 1:18; 1 Peter 2:21-24; Hebrews 4:15). Obviously, if Jesus engaged in controversy, then it cannot be "unchristian" to be so involved. Jesus did not do that which is "unchristian." Since He is the perfect example for men today (and we are to walk in His steps), then faithful disciples of Christ also are to be engaged in controversy.
Jesus came and presented a message which demanded change in the lives of His auditors, controversy resulted, and Jesus Himself was involved in that controversy. According to Matthew 22:23-33, a group of Sadducees (a Jewish sect which held that there will be no resurrection from the dead, Luke 20:27) came to Jesus and asked Him a question which, no doubt, they felt would reduce to an absurdity the affirmation that there will be a resurrection. That basic question was: if a woman had seven husbands (one after another due to the death of the preceding one) during earthly life, whose wife would she be in the resurrection? In reply, Jesus said:
Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
It is clear from this account that Jesus, who was the master teacher and is our perfect example, (1) not only set out the truth (of the question at hand) in a positive way, but (2) in a negative way, made clear (a) that the Sadducees were teaching false doctrine and (b) that they were ignorant of the Scriptures. Whatever Jesus did, in principle, is right for men today to do. Men are to follow "in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). Nothing men do while following "his steps" can ever be regarded correctly as "unchristian." It is clear, therefore, that engaging in religious controversy is not an unchristian activity. It is not unchristian, when the particular occasion warrants such: (1) to show that some are teaching false doctrine, or (2) to show that some are ignorant of the Scriptures. The man who thinks he can be more kind and loving than Jesus has erred into becoming not good but an unscriptural "goody-goody."
This same basic truth is set forth in the New Testament epistles. Attention is here called to various passages in epistles written by Paul, Peter, Jude, and John.
Paul plainly taught that he was "set for the defense of the gospel" (Philippians 1:15-16). And he proved that such was actually the case by the many instances (recorded in the New Testament) in which he engaged in controversy, if Immediately after he was baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27), he not only proclaimed (in a positive way) that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20), but he also confounded the Jews in proving that such was the case (Acts 9:22). And this sort of thing occurred over and over during his ministry (Acts 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 24, 26).
The apostle Peter laid upon Christ's disciples the obligation (1) to prepare themselves to defend the truth and (2) to actually do the job of defending the faith (1 Peter 3:15).
Jude enjoined that men "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3).
Jesus, through John, commended a strong defense of the truth against error (1 John 4:1; 2 John 9-11).
From these facts. Campbell draws the conclusion that the basic presentation of the gospel as set out in the Bible is a factual, rather than an emotional one. The following statement will bear repetition.
It is nevertheless true that our great models, the Prophets and Apostles; nay the Savior himself, though often mild as the genial influence of spring, were sometimes severe and surly as the winter's blast ... soft and persuasive were their words and arguments to those who appeared honest in their convictions, but severe and tart were their reproofs to such as appeared obstinate in error. Hence Paul, who instructed his son Timothy to imitate him in all things, admonished him to instruct some opponents 'with all meekness' and 'sharply to rebuke and confute others.' So did Peter and Jude, in their epistles, 'make a difference,' says Jude, 'between those, who are complainers, who walk according to their own lusts, whose mouths speak great swelling words, and admire men's persons for the sake of gain ...
To your posts, then, O Israel! Remember you have enlisted not for six months, like some of our sectarian militia; but you have vowed allegiance during the war. 'Fight the good fight of Faith.' Keep your eyes upon the captain; and when the conflict is over he will cover you with laurels which will never wither, and bestow upon you a crown of righteousness which fadeth not away.
Considering Campbell's view of controversy in the light of Bible teaching warrants the deduction that his view is in harmony with the teaching of Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers. To emphasize this harmony, attention hereby is called to the words of Jesus, through John, to the church at Ephesus.
I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false. . . . But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which 1 also hate. (Revelation 2:2, 6)
It is clear that Jesus commended the disciples at Ephesus for refusing to tolerate false teachers! Further in writing to the church at Thyatira, John gave this message from Jesus:
But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)
Jesus condemned the church at Thyatira for tolerating false teachers! Let all present-day compromisers beware!
Paul, Peter, John and Jude all made clear that engaging in controversy is a vital element in an adequate presentation of the gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world. Thus, it is clear that the charge that engaging in controversy is unchristian simply is not warranted by any Bible teaching. No one can know truly what is either Christian or unchristian except by ascertaining from the Bible that one or the other is the case! Since the Bible plainly (1) demands that Christ's followers engage in controversy (Jude 3), (2) upholds those who will not tolerate teachers of false doctrine (Revelation 2:2, 6); and (3) condemns those who do tolerate teachers of false doctrine (Revelation 2:20), it manifestly is clear that the charge that engaging in controversy is an unchristian activity is false.
In closing, I want to present: (1) a summary and (2) some final conclusions. The summary will involve a reminder that the basic contention of Alexander Campbell relative to religious controversy is in harmony with plain Bible teaching.
In a statement which summarizes the scope of religious controversy, Campbell says:
What is the scope of religious controversy but the vindication of religious truth? Is not this truth liable to be denied, distorted, corrupted, or frittered away? Is it not often entangled with specious errors, and charges with false consequences? Are its friends required to stand silent by, and see its dearest interests jeopardized, without coming forward to its defence? Is there any alternative left then, but to enter the lists, and to endeavor to show truth triumphant? By this we do not intend to advocate the belligerent spirit of controversy: however polemical or warlike may be our terms. But as to the thing itself, we see not but controversy is inevitable as error, and as harmless as its refutation. If there are fundamental truths in the gospel, and these truths are liable to be assailed, they must be defended, and if they are continually assailed, they must be continually defended.
Thus Campbell clearly argues and rightly concludes that the scope of religious controversy must be as broad as are the attacks on truth! If the truths of the gospel are "continually assailed," then those truths "must be continually defended."
In showing that it has ever been the practice of God's faithful men to both proclaim the truth and to defend it against error, Campbell says:
It is a long since religious controversy began. The first quarrel that arose in the human family was about religion; and since the proclamation 'I will put enmity between thy seed and her seed,' the controversy has been carried on by different hands, by different means, and with various success. It is the duty of the Christian, and has ever been the duty of the saint, to contend for the truth revealed in opposition to error. From the days that Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, down to the present time, every distinguished saint has been engaged in controversy. The ancient prophets, the Saviour of the world, and his holy apostles, were all religious controversialists. The Saviour's life was one continued scene of controversy and debate with the scribes, the elders, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and with the established priesthood of his era. The apostles were noted disputants and the most successful controversialists that ever lived. Paul the apostle was more famous in this department than Alexander or Bonaparte in the field. Whether a Stoic or an Epicurean philosopher, a Roman orator, a Jewish high priest, or a Sadducean teacher encountered him, he came off victorious and triumphant. Never was he foiled in battle — never did he give back; the sword which be wielded, and the arm which directed it, proved resistless in the fight.
By implication, Campbell teaches that as religious controversy was right for these men, it is right for men today.
In referring to the ignorance or dishonesty of some, Campbell says,
There are not a few who deprecate religious controversy as an evil of no small magnitude; but these are either the ill-informed, or those conscious that their principles will not bear investigation.
Campbell emphasizes the abiding nature of controversy when he says,
So long as there is good and evil, truth and error in this world, so long will there be opposition; for it is in the nature of good and evil, of truth and error to oppose each other. We cheerfully confess that it is much to be regretted that controversy amongst Christians should exist; but it is more to be regretted that error, the professed cause of it, should exist. Seeing then that controversy must exist, the only question is how it may be managed to the best advantage. To the controversies recorded in the New Testament we must appeal as furnishing an answer to this question. They were in general public, open, plain, and sometimes sharp and severe. But the disputants who embraced the truth in those controversies, never lost the spirit of the truth in the heat of conflict; but with all calmness, moderation, firmness, and benevolence, they wielded the sword of the Spirit; and their controversies, when recorded by impartial hands, breathe a heavenly sweetness that so refreshes the intelligent reader that he often forgets the controversy in admiration of the majesty of truth, the benevolence and purity of their hearts.
In pointing out the value of public discussion of (debating) the truth, Campbell says,
Public discussion is, we are convinced, one of the best means of propagating the truth and of exposing error in doctrine or practice.
We now reap the benefits of the public debates of former times, and we have witnessed the beneficial results of those in our own time. And we are fully persuaded that a week's debating is worth a year's preaching, such as we generally have, for the purpose of disseminating truth and putting error out of countenance. There is nothing like meeting face to face in the presence of many witnesses and 'talking the matter over,' and the man that cannot govern his own spirit in the midst of opposition and contradiction, is a poor Christian indeed.
Campbell here argues well his contention that "a week's debating is worth a year's preaching ... for the purpose of disseminating the truth and putting error out of countenance."
By way of summary, some accomplishments of our study should be noted. It was shown that Campbell presented corrections of two misconceptions related to religious controversy. The first of these misconceptions has to do with the question as to who is actually involved in such controversy. He showed that any person striving to live a good life is necessarily a partaker in controversy, even if he did not realize it. It was shown also that Campbell put forth considerable effort to correct the view that it is unchristian to be involved in controversy. It was shown that he did this by giving scriptural proof for the involvement of faithful servants of God in both the Old and New Testaments and by, pointing to the fact that the life Jesus Christ constantly was centered around controversy.
Further, we have set forth Campbell's view of the need for controversy. In the process of doing this, the importance of this matter was also emphasized. Our study showed that Campbell argued that without controversy there could be no improvement in either individuals or in society. Campbell's further contention that, unless every individual is perfect and lives in a perfect society, there could hardly be a more important topic of discussion, was also elucidated in the paper.
In regard to each of the preceding matters, it was shown that Campbell's basic contention was in harmony with plain Bible teaching.
There remains only one basic question: what should be the attitude of God's children now living toward religious controversy? It is clear that in order to be a faithful Christian, one must follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ, (the greatest of all controversialists), and be militant in the proclamation and defense of the gospel. Every Christian will be required to use his abilities and opportunities to their fullest capacity (Matthew 25:31-46).
Finally, while zeal for the militant proclamation and defense of the gospel must ever dwell in the hearts of God's people, that zeal must never be allowed to become so dominant that what is done is not done in love. This is the case because even if God's children "speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love" in that speaking, then they are nothing but "sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).
True followers of Christ will both proclaim and defend the truth— and they will do all of this in genuine love both for the Lord and for their fellow man.
Men now living are in the debt of Alexander Campbell for having written and preached so faithfully these marvelous truths. Therefore, as each man has opportunity, let him "earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3).
All conclusions in this article are based on the teachings of the Bible the sacred revelation of God to man. Also referred to in this article are materials by authors in the following books:
Campbell, Alexander, ed. The Christian Baptist. Vols 1 and 6.
Campbell, Alexander, ed. The Millennial Harbinger. Vol. 1
Brewer, G. C. Contending for the Faith.
Various articles in The Spiritual Sword.
Lindsey Davis Warren, the only son of the late Dr. Thomas B. and Faye Brauer Warren, was born August 24, 1950, and died September 24, 2009. He was a graduate of Freed-Hardeman College, Harding University, Harding Graduate School of Religion, and Oklahoma University from which he received the Ph.D. Lindsey was the father of Thomas Bart Warren, one of the founders of Warren Christian Apologetics Center, and who also serves as Associate Editor of Sufficient Evidence: A Journal of Christian Apologetics, published by the Warren Center.