by Morris Norman
Sentry Magazine, March 2003

I have changed my thinking on the matter of controversy. There was a time when I had a dislike for all kinds of controversy. There are still some kinds that I do not like, but there are kinds that can be profitable for all concerned.

Controversy is "a dispute .. . between opposing views." To dispute is to "question the truth or validity of a matter. Honorable controversy is always good. When the parties involved are searching for the truth and agree that the source of truth is God sword; when all parties want, not only to present their thinking and conclusions but want them to be challenged by those who differ with them so as to put them to the test of the word of God, then nothing but good can come from it. This comes only when all parties concerned are honorable people in search of the truth.

It is regrettable that not all controversy is honorable. Perhaps we have all heard discussions (and formal debates, even by our brethren) where at least one of those involved was apparently striving to win a personal victory and not interested in truth triumphing. That s called the "debate mentality" (I m right and I must win.) Such is more subjective than objective. It s difficult to get such a person to lay aside personal pride long enough to admit his reasoning was faulty. We all have some degree of bias in what we believe, after all, did we not study long and hard to get our conclusions from the Bible? It's hard to remain in a discussion with one who will not consider a conclusion other than his own. It s better to leave such alone unless there are others who may be affected by such bias. When disputants are not willing to consider another s point of view and seriously evaluate their own conclusions in light of such, then little good can be accomplished.

We sit down with the word of God and draw conclusions out of our own study. Such is valid. But, being fallible, we may or may not have drawn the right conclusion. We all need a sounding board to test our conclusions. Honorable controversy will challenge our convictions, it will cause us to test what we believe. It is out of such situations (i.e., Bible classes, private discussions, etc.) That we may have changed some previous conclusions about what we believed. We may have misunderstood because we had failed to consider the context or other passages that apply, or we drew conclusions because we began on a false base, or we depended on traditions of the past; there are many reasons for misunderstanding the Scriptures. We all need objectivity that can come from an outside source, and that can come from an open discussion of the word of God.

We ought to desire to study with one who is a good student of truth, who is honest and will consider that we are equally honest. We need exchanges with one who is interested in the souls of men, and wants the truth to prevail; one who will tell us where our weaknesses are (and will consider his own weaknesses) and help us to be more objective about truth. We do not need one who is interested in only letting his side be heard and winning the "debate," and therefore would not entertain the thought of being wrong. It is an arrogance of the highest order to think that one's own intelligence is so superior that his position on a given subject is the only one that is right. Let us reason together but let us reason out of revealed truth. If we have a dispute, one or both of us is wrong. "Yea, let God be found truth and every man a liar ... that thou mightest be found justified in thy words, and mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment" (Romans 3:4).


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