01 October 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 4

We've been looking at how to handle controversies, especially if you identify the issues as being over a principle or a method of reaching that principle. Be sure to go back and read the first three parts to catch up as we continue our thoughts.

Too often we want to be meddlesome – we want to be the Lord in someone else’s life. We say “This person is not answering to me properly. I wouldn’t have done that if that were my child!” Well, it is time to realize, it is not your child. The one whose child it is, they are answerable to God. You may be thinking they are making a mistake – so what should you do? What is the quickest way to be able to communicate that? By loving them, receiving them, and not be quarrelsome like this.

There are certain things that are important to remember when such discussions appear to be necessary, and I will just run through a few of them quickly.

First, methods are not bad. When discussing principles and methods, it is not to say we should just observe the principles without employing any kind of method. Methods are a necessity – you have to pick one to accomplish almost anything. It is just important that you understand what the difference is between a principle and a method. What is it you are trying to do? I am driving to heaven in my Ford, and if the Ford breaks down I am going to walk. I know where I am going, and I always know the direction I am headed. I always have my eye on the ball. So, the method is not bad, it is necessary, and it may differ from person to person.

Secondly, what is settled in history, and what is settled in principle are two different things. Cultivate humility of mind. You might win an abstract argument, yet in real life the historical outcome may be very different from how you envisage.
Third, in controversy, if you guess or judge the motives of another, assume you are almost always wrong. Not when you judge what they did, but when you attribute cause or purpose to it. When you assume the motive for something someone else did, you are almost certainly wrong. This one thing is a cause of all kinds of divisions. People would rather think the worst and divide over it, than to really deal with the issue through loving discourse. This type of thing needs to be avoided.

Fourth, God requires you to be a steward of everything he gives. This includes how you avoid controversy as well as how you conduct yourself within a controversy when it arises. You may find yourself in the middle of a controversy – just remember, in God’s sovereignty, He has given you this controversy to handle just like he gives you anything else he has in life. So, you must be a good steward of it. Just like being a good steward elsewhere, you need to show a good return in the controversy – showing where some profit was gained or learned from it.

Fifth, it is wrong to give offense, and it is wrong to take offense. Now, when I say take offense, I am not saying it is wrong to get hurt. I am saying it is wrong to be resentful, bitter, to dwell on it, or to use it to become a resentful person. Obviously there are things we can do emotionally, physically, or spiritually that wound one another, and it is not wrong to be wounded. It becomes a sin when we let that wound become infected.

Just like in life, when you get such a wound, it must be kept clean and dressed so that is does not get infected. In controversy, people are quick to say outrageous things about you – even to the point of making up things.

Controversies that come from ignoring the distinction between what is the central point or principle that we are after, and what are the methods that we employ to get there – neglecting this distinction - is the result of sin. It is a spiritual problem, and it is perpetuated by a certain kinds of individuals that the Lord calls fools and blind.

Let’s consider a controversy in Scripture, which is different as far as the actual controversy, but it displays the same mentality that we find afflicting some in our churches today. From Matt. 23:
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matt. 23:16-24 ESV)
So, it is important that we consider the weightier matter – the actual principle, rather than the various methods people take to get there. And the neglect of the distinction is a sin.

So, for instance, if you split a church over homeschooling, as a method, you are such a fool, and blind. I have personally seen and actually played a part in this very thing. It was a little deeper than just the issue of homeschooling, but the entire scenario was all about methods, not principles, and homeschooling was one of the key points.

There are many conservative Christians, who split relations and even churches in a way that is offensive to God. Over things like homeschooling methodology, or types of attire in worship, or any number of off-the-wall things that up-tight people use to cause controversies. When it comes down to people saying something like “this is what God wants you to wear” or anything along that line, and it is referring to a method and not a principle, that is where the issue is. It is true - God does want you to wear one thing – tender mercies.

So, after wearing tender mercies, can you go off and be a part of a sub-culture that dresses one way or another? Sure, put on tender mercies and go do what you want. Go, do as Augustine said - “Love God and do as you please.”

Now, we may see that and think he is advocating a do-what-you-want, anything-goes mentality, but that is not the case at all. As people of faith, a faith in and through the God of the Scriptures - we choose to adhere to guidelines and limitations that are part of that faith.

When we truly “love God” – then we are binding ourselves to what that means and how that plays out in our lives. That will lead us into a lifestyle centered on love, and guided by Scriptural principals, which will shape and direct us in what we do – and will not lead to an anything goes lifestyle.
If we are truly living in a lifestyle of love to God, that will also bring about loving others, which should bring us to where we need to be even amidst controversies like we are discussing.

Part five HERE