Controversy in the New Testament

Sometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood. All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church. We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.” The term is used pejoratively; but should it be? Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.

  • In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
  • Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
  • Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
  • I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
  • II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
  • Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
  • Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
  • Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
  • Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
  • I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
  • I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
  • Philemon is a welcome exception.
  • Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
  • James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
  • I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
  • II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
  • I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
  • II John warns against hospitality for heretics.
  • III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
  • Jude throughout its entirety is an exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
  • Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.

Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me, why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?

Where Does the Problem Lie?

If you are having problems with your minister, consider this neglected possibility:

Congregations often “heap up teachers who are in keeping with their own desires.” (2 Timothy 4: 3b).

The difficulty, in such cases, is that the problem isn’t only with your minister—it may also be with the flock! The fault is, Paul said, teachers are frequently chosen by congregations because they think that they will cater to their desires by scratching their ears!” (4:3a).  Such congregations don’t want to hear the preaching of sound doctrine because it often doesn’t do so.  Indeed, good teachers—those God approves—will often say just the opposite of what a congregation wants to hear.

Look around—is the kind of minister one that pretty well teaches what your church wants to hear? Is he soft on sin and easy on commendation? Or is he a faithful preacher of the Word who speaks truth, whether or not, those listening want to hear it.

Conflict and Contention

Recently, in my counseling training class at Redeemer A.R.P. Church, Moore, SC, I happened to mention something, at which a student remarked that he was afraid would “cause contention.” It had to do with dealing with liberalism, I probably should mention, and not to do with contention within the true body of Christ.

I responded, “Yes! Doubtless it will.”

He seemed a bit dubious at that response. So I went on to explain that whenever you have contact with unbelief, there is likely to be contention. And I pointed out that in every New Testament book, except Philemon, you find conflict of one sort or another. You see, it’s very difficult to present the truth without stepping on someone’s toes–especially liberal toes, when they have a habit of sticking their feet out trying to trip up genuine Christians by their attacks on the Word of God.

Who was ever in greater conflict than the Lord Jesus, unless it was Paul, the apostle? No, if you are confronting error and attempting to help others to be freed from it, sooner or later, you will run into conflict. We should never go looking for contention, but we shouldn’t be amazed when it comes as the result of faithfulness to the Lord Who came “not to send peace upon the earth, but sword.”