The Christian & Controversy

Complements of Nathan W. Bingham via Ligonier Ministries:  http://www.ligonier.org/blog/oncontroversy/

A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton of his intention. Newton replied as follows:

Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded.

To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God.

I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

1. Consider Your Opponent

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.”

But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose.

“If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

2. Consider the Public

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments.

The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.

The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

3. Consider Yourself

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous.

What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

-John Newton, Excerpt from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy.”

Herding the Elephants

“This isn’t on the scale of Piper inviting Warren. This is more akin to Augustine inviting Muhammad.” -Thabiti Anyabwile

“Thanks for the herding. Now lets hope there’s no more breeding and that the issue becomes extinct.” -Clint Archer, response to Riccardi’s synopsis

For a great synopsis of the Elephant Room debacle, check out Mike Riccardi’s post at the Cripplegate.

http://thecripplegate.com/herding-the-elephants/

Why Did Baucham Refuse to Participate in the Elephant Room 2?

I hesitate to post more than once a day. It’s hard enough to keep up with the plethora of information in the blogosphere. But, Voddie Baucham’s post on the Elephant Room controversy deserves to be read. He’s an excellent example of a faithful pastor and I’m looking forward to hearing him live at Shepherd’s Conference this year.

I’m posting a few highlights, read the entire article here: http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/voddie-baucham-ministries/blog/elephant-room-2012-01/

Why Did Voddie Baucham refuse an invitation to participate in the Elephant Room? Are the beliefs of  T.D. Jakes actually bad enough to warrant all the controversy? Baucham’s response here:

1. T.D. Jakes has a history of holding to, teaching, and associating with modalism, and ER2 was a forum wherein he would be assumed to be a “brother”.I was already on record concerning Bishop Jakes’s modalism (see:  The Ever Loving Truth, LifeWay, 2004), and I have kept up with the matter.  Jakes had never repudiated Oneness Pentecostalism.  Nor had he come out with an unambiguous, credal/confessional statement on the doctrine of the Trinity.  There was absolutely no basis for me to assume that Jakes was suddenly orthodox, and therefore, no basis for me to welcome him as a brother.

2. The “Word of Faith” gospel he preaches is heterodox and harmful.Even if Jakes had come out with a statement on the doctrine of the Trinity, it would not have done anything to change the fact that he preaches “another gospel.” (Gal 1:8–9)  Having studied the “Word of Faith” movement, and seen the devastation it leaves in its wake, I was disinclined to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the man who has been this country’s most popular purveyor of this heresy in the past two decades (Note:  James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll had both preached against the Word of Faith movement and called it heresy, so I did not believe I was informing James of anything he did not know already).

3. Jakes’s influence in the Dallas Metroplex has been negative, at best. My wife is from Dallas, and my in-laws still live there (her parents and five siblings).  I have preached in Dallas on many occasions, and at numerous churches, and have many acquaintances in the city.  I know firsthand what kind of influence T.D. Jakes has had on the evangelical community, and broader Christian witness there.  Suffice to say that he has not brought greater gospel clarity and fidelity.  He has, however, brought a charismatic, theatrical, excessive, “Word of Faith” flavor to the city that permeates many churches (especially black churches).

4. Bishop Jakes is an example of the worst the black church has to offer. One of the goals of ER2 was to address the issue of “racial” unity.  Thus, Bishop Jakes was there (at least in part) as a representative of the “black church.”  In light of the aforementioned issues, I was disinclined to participate in such an event.  You see, Jakes was an invited guest; an invited ‘black’ guest.  If he were mistreated, he had the race card; if he was accepted, he had entree into a new audience.  It was a win-win for Jakes, and a lose-lose for evangelicalism.  Obviously, he was not going to spout unadulterated modalism.  Nor was he going to repudiate his roots (remember, this is his “heritage,” both ethnically and theologically).  He had a perfect opportunity to find a middle ground and show “humility” in an environment that would be portrayed as “hostile” even though hostility was forbidden in light of the unwritten rules surrounding his blackness.   Thus, his opponents had to choose between outright defeat and pyrrhic victory.

Moreover, I rejected the invitation because I did not want to give even the appearance of tokenism.  The participants in the Elephant Room (and ER2), though they disagree methodologically on how we “get there,” are all virtually identical in their general profile.  They are all successful mega-church pastors who have leveraged innovative and/or controversial methodologies to grow their churches, media empires, and/or pare-church ministries.  I, on the other hand, am a pastor serving at a church with less than five hundred members; I’m not on television or radio; and my books aren’t best sellers.  I don’t fit the profile!  Whether MacDonald meant to or not, he was painting a picture of tokenism.  If he meant it, I didn’t want to be used, and if he didn’t mean it, I didn’t want to be the source of misunderstanding.

-Voddie Baucham,  01-30-2012,  http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/voddie-baucham-ministries/blog/elephant-room-2012-01/

Does the Book of Genesis Really Matter?

The Book of Genesis is probably the most important book ever written. The Bible as a whole would surely be considered (even by those who don’t believe in its inspiration) as the book that has exerted the greatest influence on history of any book ever produced. The Bible, however, is actually a compilation of many books, and the Book of Genesis is the foundation of all of them.

If the Bible were somehow expurgated of the Book of Genesis (as many people today would prefer), the rest of the Bible would be incomprehensible. It would be like a building without a ground floor, or a bridge with no support.

The books of the Old Testament, narrating God’s dealings with the people of Israel, would be provincial and bigoted, were they not set in the context of God’s developing purposes for all mankind, as laid down in the early chapters of Genesis.

The New Testament, describing the execution and implementation of God’s plan for man’s redemption, is redundant and anachronistic, except in the light of man’s desperate need for salvation, as established in the record of man’s primeval history, recorded in Genesis.

The Book of Genesis gives vital information concerning the origin of all things-and therefore the meaning of all things-which would otherwise be forever inaccessible to man. The future is bound up in the past. One’s belief concerning his origin will inevitably determine his belief concerning his purpose and his destiny. A naturalistic, animalistic concept of the beginnings specifies a naturalistic, animalistic program for the future.

An origin at the hands of an omnipotent, holy, loving God, on the other hand, necessarily predicts a divine purpose in history and an assurance of the consummation of that purpose. A believing understanding of the Book of Genesis is therefore prerequisite to an understanding of God and His meaning to man.”

-Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, 1976, 17-18