Christians have a responsibility to contend for the truth of Christ without betraying the way of Christ. We must learn to walk and talk in the manner and with the same convictions and compassion of Jesus.
Our cultural context requires being wise in discovering what to tell people, but also ‘HOW’ to tell them. Many people strive to win debates at the expense of losing their relational platforms by how they win those engagements. Wise people have learned that one’s right view can lose the hearing of others by going about sharing it in the wrong way. We must learn to engage one another in meaningful ways that are faithful to the truth of Christ and the way of Christ. “We must make sure it’s our ideas that offend and not us, that our beliefs cause the dispute and not our behavior.”
But when is it right to fight? Martin Luther was without a doubt instrumental in the Reformation and he did not always seem to bridle his tongue. Here’s some example’s of him talking about his own talking.
“I was born to wage war against sects and devils..I am the great woodcutter who has to forge a path and therefore I have to destroy so much”
“Master Philip(Melanchthon), he cuts with the precision of a knife. I simply swing the ax.”
“Wycliffe and Huss assailed the immoral conduct of the papists, but I oppose and resist their doctrine. I affirm roundly and plainly that they preach not the truth, to this I am called. I take the goose by the neck and set the knife to its throat.”
“It is the duty of every Christian to accept the implications of the faith, understand and defend it and denounce everything false.”
“I have, to be sure, sharply attacked ungodly doctrines in general, and I have snapped at my opponents, not because of their bad morals, but because of their ungodliness. Rather than repent this in the least, I have determined to persist in that fervent zeal and to despise the judgment of men, following the example of Christ who in his zeal called his opponents “a brood of vipers,” “blind fools,” “hypocrites,” “children of the devil” [Matt. 23:13, 17, 33; John 8:44]. Paul branded Magus [Elymas, the magician] as the “son of the devil, … full of all deceit and villainy” [Acts 13:10], and he calls others “dogs,” “deceivers,” and “adulterers” [Phil 3:2; II Cor. 11:13; 2:17].
“If you will allow people with sensitive feelings to judge, they would consider no person more stinging and unrestrained in his denunciations than Paul. Who is more stinging than the prophets? Nowadays, it is true, we are made so sensitive by the raving crowd of flatterers that we cry out that we are stung as soon as we meet with disapproval. When we cannot ward off the truth with any other pretext, we flee from it by ascribing it to a fierce temper, impatience, and immodesty. What is the good of salt if it does not bite? Of what use is the edge of a sword if it does not cut? “
The very term Protestant means one who protests. The growing impact of Rome’s persecution ignited a movement of reform that often had unexpected outcomes. The preaching, teaching, debates and prodigious amount of publications and their dissemination across the continents spread the fire of reform. Protestant martyrs, Hugh Latimer, famously bid Nicholas Ridley, who was burned with him, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as (I trust) shall never be put out.” That light has spread across the globe but It is disingenuous or purposeful religious or historical spin, if one doesn’t acknowledge the place that fiery, explosive and contentious rhetoric had in the reformation.
The unfortunate nature of anger, wrath and even righteous defense of truth can be the broad swath of the reformer’s axe. It often ends up hitting everyone in the vicinity of the pugilist’s work of reform. It can become indiscriminate of people and strike down all in it’s berserker-like rage.
Reformer John Calvin wrote about this issue with Luther, when other reformers were getting hewn down in Luther’s battle with Rome, he wrote:
“I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us. On the present occasion, I dare scarce venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the other hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments wherewith he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he hath hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often have I been wont to declare, that even all though he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less hold him in such honor that I must acknowledge him to be an illustrious servant of God. But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labors at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction. I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth,and that he had not flashed his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgment of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is naturally too prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him, as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted. This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted; that, besides, you will do yourselves no good by quarreling, except that you may afford some sport to the wicked, so that they may triumph not so much over us as over the Evangel. If they see us rending each other asunder, they then give full credit to what we say, but when with one consent and with one voice we preach Christ, they avail themselves unwarrantably of our inherent weakness to cast reproach upon our faith. I wish, therefore, that you would consider and reflect on these things rather than on what Luther has deserved by his violence; lest that may’ happen to you which Paul threatens, that by biting and devouring one another, ye be consumed one of another. Even should he have provoked us, we ought rather to decline the contest than to increase the wound by the general shipwreck of the Church. Adieu, my much honored brother in the Lord, and my very dear friend. Salute reverently in my name all the brethren in the ministry. May the Lord preserve you, and more and more increase his own gifts in you. My colleagues very kindly salute you.”
From my sermon:
The Pugilist: How to contend for the Faith without being contentious: http://www.jacobswellspokane.com/?p=948