Tag: Controversy

Martyn Lloyd Jones Handling Controversy

Martyn Lloyd JonesWhen we are in the midst of controversy, there are two temptations that can easily encroach on our souls: pride and self-righteousness. When we are convinced of the truth and see clearly the errors of another, it is very easy to be tempted to look down on that person (or group of people) and feel good about our ‘discernment’ or ‘clear-mindedness.’ But Martyn Lloyd Jones helps us to avoid these two temptations and approach controversy in a way that honors Christ and is good for our soul.

May He enable us together to stand as a rock in the raging seas all around us. We must, of course, never pride ourselves on our stand, or become self-righteous or small minded persons. But in humility and obedience, let us follow the apostolic exhortations, always coming to know more deeply our glorious God, remembering that He has redeemed us, and aware of what a glorious faith it is to which He has called us to bear witness (Knowing the Times, 60).

Is this easy? No. Some of us are too easily attracted to controversy and debating and arguing—often times for the wrong reasons. But Lloyd Jones helps us fix our gaze on the right object: the ‘glorious faith to which we have been called to bear witness.’  In this way, we enter into debate with others—not for the sake of controversy, but to clarify and defend truth for God’s glory and the good of others.

John Owen on Handling Controversy

John Owen.pngAnother vital component in our approach to controversy that will keep our hearts soft and our mind focused is communion with God.  Not merely communion with God in prayer for help (e.g. ‘Lord help me to remain steadfast as I defend your truth,’ etc.) but also in the truth itself that we are currently contending for.  Owen writes,

When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth,–when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us–when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the thing abides in our hearts–when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for–then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men (John Owen, The Glory of Christ; quoted in Beyond the Bounds, ed. Piper  Taylor and Helseth).

The very truth that we are battling for should become a means of fellowship with God!  Usually, when we are fighting for some particular doctrine, we find that our minds become more sharp and certain of the truth itself-controversy has a way of purifying our conception and understanding of the truth.  This clarity, therefore, according to Owen, must not remain in our heads alone, but rather create deep fellowship with God.  This fellowship will keep us near to the Lord and thus far from the dangers of pride and self-reliance; it will also tend to soften our hearts toward our opponents.

John Newton on Handling Controversy

John NewtonJohn Newton provides us with some very helpful words in a letter he wrote to a man who was involved in some kind of controversy in his day:

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 he is a believer,] in a 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…[If he is an unconverted person,] he is more proper the object of your compassion than your anger.  Alas! “He knows not what he does.”  But you know who has made you to differ [I Cor. 4:7]. (John Newton, “On Controversy,” The Works of John Newton, page 269).

What practical and soul-preserving counsel is here!  Newton encourages us to desire only the best for our opponents and to demonstrate great love toward believers and heart-broken compassion toward unbelievers.  But what is the foundational reason that a Christian is able to look on an opponent this way? Because he knows that it was neither his intellect or his wisdom that has made him different from the person who is currently in error; rather, it was pure grace that has given him insight into and conviction of the truth.  Just as Paul reminds us, “For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (I Corinthians 4:7)?  Knowing this, then, let us proceed into controversy, not only with keen minds and well-grounded arguments but with broken hearts and tender compassion toward our opponents.

Charles Spurgeon on Handling Controversy

In his excellent book, The Forgotten Spurgeon, Iain Murray focuses on an aspect of Spurgeon’s life that has been overlooked in recent times: Spurgeon’s faithful commitment to Bible doctrine, primarily the doctrines of free grace and God’s sovereignty in salvation.  These theological commitments, however, often put Spurgeon in the midst of controversy. Toward the latter half of the book, Murray gives us four valuable lessons we can learn from Spurgeon’s approach to controversy.

1. First, there is evident in all the major controversies in which he was involved a pastoral concern for the spiritual welfare of men and women. Thus in the first great controversy, while accepting the Christian standing of some who could not receive the doctrines of free grace, Spurgeon saw how a general toleration of errors respecting those doctrines injured the prosperity of the Church and the progress of the gospel (197).

2.  Secondly, Spurgeon engaged in controversy with great faith in God, and with a sense of his duty to do God’s will whatever the outcome (202).

3.  Thirdly, the various controversies of Spurgeon’s life are unified when we see them as parts of his total commitment to the Word of God.  This perhaps is his greatest legacy…A zeal which is confined to certain aspects of scriptural teaching is the consequence of an unworthy view of the Word of God, and from such an inconsistency Spurgeon continually sought to escape (203).

4.  Lastly, Spurgeon reminds us that piety and devotion to Christ is not a preferable alternative to controversy, but rather it should-when circumstances demand it-lead to the second.  He was careful to maintain that order.  The minister who makes controversy his starting point will soon have a blighted ministry and spirituality will wither away.  But controversy which is entered into out of love for god and reverence for His Name, will wrap a man’s spirit in peace and joy even when he is fighting in the thickest of battles (205).

In the next few days we will hear from Martyn Lloyd Jones, John Newton, and John Owen in their approaches to controversy so that we might be better equipped as servants of the Word: ministers who diligently cultivate the essential qualities of theological competence and pastoral tenderness—each without any expense to the other.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.—II Timothy 2:24-26