Controversy and Conflict

Recently I’ve enjoyed reading and interacting with a blog run by some friends who are Australian Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) in polity and affiliation. They are a fresh breeze to the conversation among a movement that has, for the last 30 years or so that I have known of, been less than charitable towards those with differing opinions about anything from clothing style, music, bible versions, hair length, evangelistic methods and the roles of men and women in family, church and society and on and on and on…

The IFB movement in Australia once had a positive reputation for their evangelistic fervor and open, frequent engagement in the community for the sake of the gospel. Oh sure! If your theological leanings are biased strongly towards Reformed and Hyper Calvinism than you will no doubt accuse them of a host of methodological errors often associated with revivalism, Finneyism etc. But these guys were on fire! Unlike their American forebears they were less concerned with the squabbling and in-fighting that too often characterised their northern hemisphere counterparts. Yes, they were conservative, had old-fashioned values, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t dance, didn’t play cards etc. They were more known for what they stood for than against. They stood for Jesus Christ, the gospel, the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, the autonomy of the local Church and the primacy of missions.

Somewhere along the line, something went astray and the focus changed (or perhaps followed its inevitable trajectory?) and soon, other than the accents of the speakers, there was little to differentiate the Australian from the ugly garden variety of American IFB. The focus turned inward and discussions and conferences started taking pot shots at each other and increasingly became more focused on outward forms and behaviour modification than on the gospel. Controversy and conflict were viewed as enemies – especially if someone voiced a view or perspective that differed with the popular (or louder!) leaders and speakers of the movement. Rather than openly discuss and charitably debate issues such as methodology, ministry philosophy and strategy a line was drawn and anyone who crossed it was blacklisted. One of those lines was the King James Bible, another was reading authors who were not IFB ordained or IFB trained, another involved 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree ecclesiastical separation (who do I associate with based on who they associate with).  If you’ve read much on my blog here, you will soon see that I crossed all of those lines a long time ago.

Through family, home town and bible college connections I’ve stayed in touch with the Australian IFB’s. Whilst I would no longer be considered one of their number I am sometimes pleased to hear of positive rumblings among the movement. One of those rumblings is coming from the blog, InFocus, I mentioned. If you are not acquainted with Australian IFB’s, this blog is a nice place to meet some that are gracious and godly. If you are acquainted with Australian IFB’s and feeling a little jaded by the ongoing conversations (rants!) please check out these guys and be refreshed and encouraged. You’ll notice in the comments meta that there are visitors and lurkers that are from the old IFB guard and they’re still taking pot shots. You’ll also notice a more gracious attitude amongst the writers who are willing to listen to the old guard but not afraid to check and challenge their assumptions and bias. This is evident in an article posted by the blog convener, Jason Harris, on the topic of Controversy. I’ve included a quote (with my emphasis) below.

There is much that could be learned from this discussion. Particularly for those committed to certain cultural paradigms that eschew controversy. However for now, read on and click-through to read the full article.

Controversy occurs when people have differing understandings of what is true. Of course controversy can get ugly, but it doesn’t need to.

The kind of controversy that should be common among believers is the kind where two people who genuinely love the truth more than their own positions exchange reasons for the beliefs they hold and critique the reasons given by the other person.

In such an exchange, the participants and the observers cannot but be challenged to think through their understanding of truth more carefully. More precisely. More contextually.

This is beneficial.

Not only is it beneficial, it is necessary. Otherwise, our views become inflexible. Pride takes root and we begin to love our positions more than we love the truth. Being challenged by others who love truth is a grace for which we should thank God.

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