Should Christianity be Controversial?

I wanted to address this topic because its something I hear a lot of in apologetics. A lot of well-meaning Christians make statements that run something like this “We don’t want to talk about Genesis, it’s just too controversial. We don’t want people to leave the church over a non-salvation issue.”  While I understand their sentiment, this fear of being controversial simply is not Biblical. This article will discuss the Biblical basis for Christianity to not be afraid to be controversial.

I find it very surprising that Christianity is now so worried about steering clear of controversy when Jesus certainly did not. Consider some of His public statements about the Jewish religious leaders, who were the most powerful men in Israel. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Arise, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:25-27. Does that sound like Jesus is trying to avoid controversy? Certainly not.

Before going any further, I feel I should point out that being controversial for the sake of the controversy is not Biblical.  Stirring up strife in that manner is strictly forbidden. “It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.” Proverbs 20:3.  In other words, trying to be controversial just to be controversial is foolish.  However, as Jesus made obvious in the paragraph above, being controversial by speaking the truth is perfectly acceptable.

Now some well-meaning Christians might be looking at what I’ve written so far and be thinking “Ah, but Jesus was God and He knew men’s hearts, so Him being controversial wasn’t a problem because He wasn’t going to be wrong.” It is a fair point, but it ignores critical context from the remainder of the Bible. The early church was far from being controversy-free.

Recall that, shortly after the ascension, Peter and John went to the Temple and ended up healing a man. The priests were furious and dragged them before the council. “But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.  So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.” Acts 4:15-21 Does it sound like Peter and John were busy avoiding controversy? Not in the least. They were busy preaching Jesus and, when told to stop, they told the priests they were going to obey God above men.

The early church followed this pattern as well.  Consider Paul in Ephesus. He did nothing to stir up controversy. All he did was preach the Gospel.  When the idol makers realized they were losing money, they reacted. “And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.  And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people. But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”  Acts 19:28-34. Notice what happened when Paul preached the Gospel in Ephesus? The town rioted for two hours and were only calmed down with the threat of Rome.  Sounds like quite a controversy to me.

Just these few examples make the point brilliantly. However, let me present one more example.  In Acts 7, Stephen gives perhaps the best succinct history of Israel ever given anywhere and then applies it directly to the Jews.  It’s too long to write out here but I encourage you to go read it. I’ve just added the last couple of verses here. “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” Acts 7:51-53 Stephen pulled no punches. He told the Jews exactly how it was. For being willing to speak the truth, even when it wasn’t popular or when it was controversial, he lost his life.

Now, let’s apply this to modern Christianity, shall we? We are not being persecuted to death….yet, in the western world. In the absence of persecution, wolves have crept into the church and watered down or eliminated critical doctrines. Many sheep are very confused and do not feel confident in defending the faith because church leadership has not taught them how.  Christians who are not confident are not willing to take bold stands for the faith.  It is impossible to be controversial unless you are standing for something.

Aspects of the Bible are controversial in our modern world. No one with any sense would deny that. The question for Christians is, are we willing to be controversial, to be divisive, in order to stand for what the Bible actually says? For most Christians, the answer is no. It’s time that changed. It’s time Christians again became bold in their faith and became unafraid of upholding the authority and sufficiency of Scripture from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.

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