Church Controversies

Wayne Jackson
While there certainly are times when a preacher, teacher or church must be publicly censured, there are many cases where problems are dealt with in a less than expedient manner—and far too often with an ugly spirit of division. What are some principles that should guide our reaction to such controversial events?

One of the saddest situations that a spiritual person can contemplate is a brotherhood engaged in a “non-civil war,” particularly in a time when it ought to be united against the growing forces of evil that threaten the stability of society and the welfare of our families. The grim reality is, however, it always will be the case that “little people” make “big issues” of “non-issues.”

There likely is not a church of any size that has not had internal problems of one sort or another on occasion. It was true in the first century (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17), and remains so today. This is because churches are made up of a diverse variety of people. We teach the gospel and hope to make converts that we can help complete their journey to heaven. Each soul, though, brings his or her own personality and conglomerate of problems into the family of God.

Some people are honest, pliable, and easy to gradually mold into mature Christians. Others bring a truckload of problems with them. Some are perpetually childish, supersensitive, grumpy, and/or constantly on the prowl for a fight. The contentious, like the poor, will be with us always (Mark 14:7). The key issue is: when and how do we deal with them?

There is no simple, universal solution. Frequently the chronic complainers simply must be ignored—unless they are disruptive to the church as a whole. Usually this sort of person eventually establishes himself as an individual of non-influence. He drowns in his own sourness.

Others may exert considerable unsettling influence, and need to be addressed in a more forceful fashion—perhaps even to the point of suspending fellowship. Those who are perpetually factious and disruptive must not be allowed to damage the peaceful environment of the local family (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10).

Internal personal problems ought to be dealt with within the local family, and should not be broadcast throughout the brotherhood. One scarcely can imagine the sort of chaos that would reign if every local controversy were to be elevated to a nation-wide scale, and pontifications were issued across the worldwide family of God that if a church, eldership, or preacher does not fall in line with a certain clique in a distant city, state, or country, they must be disfellowshipped! How insane is that?

Some Guiding Principles

  1. Local church controversies are much too complex for outsiders to know all the relevant facts. Long-distance analyses, therefore, likely are to be highly subjective and significantly inaccurate. Even though documents are widely circulated, they may have been composed in a climate of considerable bias and be subject to diverse interpretations. Some of our people are masters at taking words and phrases and twisting them to form an indictment alien to the meaning intended by the original author or authors.
  2. Outside evaluations cannot take into account the personalities, motives, and attitudes of the principals who have been involved.
  3. Some situations pertain to areas of opinion and the exercise of judgment, and long-distant critics are incapable of handing down dictums to be bound upon other churches—not to mention the absurdity of demanding such.
  4. It is the epitome of presumption to suggest that a small mob ofChristians scattered around the country can issue ultimatums to which all churches are expected to yield. Just because a few misdirected, lathered-up radicals threaten to impose disfellowship, does not mean that faithful people need to melt at the intemperate wrath of the misguided.
  5. What about the issue of credibility? Many of those who seek to fan the flames of local church problems are rabble rousers who themselves have been embroiled in serious controversies and inconsistencies, and generally have had past (or present) local problems that are quite as crucial as those they criticize. Their “dirty laundry” has never been acknowledged, nor has remedy been sought; yet they have set themselves up as monitors of the nationwide church. These self-deputized posses are constantly caught up in the frenzy of a new fight. Misguided zealots thrive on self-generated adrenalin.

Sometimes there are nation-wide conflicts that need to be engaged (e.g., changing the nature of worship or altering the elements of the plan of salvation), but many “fights” are not of this nature and should be left alone.

Jesus pronounced a blessing upon the peacemakers, not upon the strife-causers.