Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hills on which to die

The latest edition of the Founders Journal contains an interview that I did with Dr Tom Ascol.  The interview is taken from Risking the Truth: handling error in the church (Christian Focus, 2009).

Here's a taster:

How should a minister keep himself from bitterness and pride when engaged in controversy?

First of all, a minister ought to try to avoid controversy. Sadly, there often is a perverse desire to battle that tends to well up in a minister who is fully committed to proclaim and defend the truth of God's Word. When that is coupled with the abundant distortions of truth that prevail today, a man very easily could find himself doing little else than engaging in controversies. A minister must learn to distinguish those hills on which he is prepared to die from all others and choose his battles carefully. Prayer, Scripture and godly counsel help in this effort.

Secondly, a man must recognize that in the heat of any controversy his greatest challenge lies within his own heart. One of the Puritans said that the temptations that accompany controversy are greater than those that accompany women and wine. Bitterness and pride are only two of them. John Bunyan recognized this and addressed it very graphically with his character, Valiant for Truth, in Pilgrim's Progress. Study the account of that man's bloody battle and remember that the three enemies that left him bruised and battered all resided within his own soul!

On a practical note, I try to remember that the truth for which I am contending commands me to love the one with whom I contend. It does not matter if he is a Christian brother or not, since Jesus tells us to love even our enemies. If I allow myself to become vengeful or bitter or arrogant toward my disputants then I am violating the very truth which I profess to defend in the controversy. It would be better for me to remain quiet and let others better suited to represent Christ and His cause take up the battle. It would be best for me to become such a person.

Also, I try to remember that in controversies my goal should be to win people and not arguments. It is easy to hang people on their words by pointing out every misstatement and accusing them of meaning what they genuinely did not intend to communicate. If I see something more clearly and accurately than my "opponent," then it is only by the grace of God and I should not allow myself to believe or act like it is because I am smarter or better in any way than he is.

Finally, I ask my wife and a few trustworthy men to watch me carefully when I am engaged in controversy and to point out to me where I am exhibiting pride, thoughtlessness or lack of love. God has used them to help me see what I would not have seen otherwise.

What practical steps should be taken by preachers to "watch their life and doctrine closely"?

Recognize that this admonition is given to us for a reason. Every preacher should remember that better men than we will ever be have fallen into grievous sin and error. Ministers need the gospel as much as anyone and we must learn to live by the grace of God in Jesus Christ every day. We need to deal with our sin daily and trust Christ for forgiveness daily. We must fight against every tendency to resign ourselves to professionalism in ministry. As Robert Murray M' Cheyne said, "My people's greatest need is their pastor's personal holiness." Dealing daily with our hearts before the Lord is not optional. This work does not compete with my ministry, it is a vital part of my ministry.

Using trustworthy catechisms and confessions can help guard our doctrinal commitments. Such documents are not infallible, but they provide guardrails which we should overrun, if ever, only with great caution and clear biblical warrant.

You can read the whole thing here

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