The recent vote in North Carolina and this week’s generally unsurprising announcement from President Obama in support of same-sex marriage have Christians all abuzz. Some, lament the North Carolina decision saying they’re tired of the culture wars. Others have reminded us that there are good reasons that believers ought to continue to oppose gay marriage.
Younger Christians (and non-Christians) struggle to understand the uproar from their conservative forebearers. Rachel Held Evans is right to point this out. But just because homosexuality seems “normal” to the 30 and under crowd, it doesn’t mean that our response ought to be to throw their hands up in the air and sigh, “Can’t we all just get along?”
As Christians, we have an obligation to, as Jude calls it, “contend the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). So whether it’s a matter like gay marriage, the prosperity “gospel”, or the perpetual Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, to name but a few examples, we need to remember a few important truths that ought to guide our behavior as we contend for the faith:
1. Doctrine is intended to divide
There is a sense in which doctrine does divide. It can’t not by its very nature. Jesus himself—the Word of God made flesh—was and is the most divisive person to ever live. The people of his day were divided over his identity. They either didn’t know or refused to recognize him as the promised Messiah. Indeed, he himself said of his divisive nature, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” (Luke 12:51) and, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Because Jesus caused division and because he was uncompromising in his exclusivity as “the truth,” doctrine that aligns with Jesus will cause division. This necessarily means that we will be at odds with others—friends, relatives, perhaps even other believers.
2. Contending does not mean being contentious
Christians are never to be a quarrelsome people with “an unhealthy craving for controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:24). Instead, we are “to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1-2). The one who is contentious is looking for a fight; he loves controversy and debate. He builds men of straw simply to tear them down. But this person is one “who stirs up division . . . is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned,” wrote Paul. We are to have nothing to do with him—which also means that we must not be like him (Titus 3:10-11).
3. Don’t make doctrine more (or less) important than people
We are to speak the truth in love, not the truth or love. The Ephesian church deeply loved the truth of the gospel and that love overflowed toward “all the saints,” giving the apostle Paul cause to rejoice (Eph. 1:15). Yet, as we read in Revelation 2:2-5, it seems that, despite their rock-solid doctrine and their wealth of love for one another, their hearts had become cold to the things that had once burned so warm within them. Sam Storms writes:
What we see in the church at Ephesus, therefore, was how their desire for orthodoxy and the exclusion of error had created a climate of suspicion and mistrust in which brotherly love could no longer flourish. Their eager pursuit of truth had to some degree soured their affections one for another. It’s one thing not to “bear with those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2), but it’s another thing altogether when that intolerance carries over to your relationship with other Christ-loving Christians!1
We must not forget that there are people involved in every debate, both “those who are evil” and those who are, as Storms puts it, “Christ-loving Christians.” We must remember contending is an act of mercy on those who doubt and those who have been deceived. It’s much easier to view those with whom we disagree as being demons when they’ve more likely just been duped. But in doing so, we do them a great disservice and dishonor Christ in the process. There is a tension in contending that requires us to uphold both people and doctrine. We cannot contend without compassion anymore than we can contend without a love for the truth. “Doctrinal precision is absolutely necessary. But it isn’t enough. May God grant us grace to love others with no less fervor than we love the truth.”
I realize that the fight is exhausting—but we dare not give in and we dare not sit on the sidelines.
If we truly love Jesus and if we truly care about the well being of the Church then we must contend. “People’s eternal fate is at stake,” writes Robert Gundry. “With might and main [we] are to join in the fight.”2
- Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3 (Kindle Edition) ↩
- Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on First and Second Peter, Jude, (Kindle Edition) ↩