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Senseless Strife

By Lindell Mitchell

religion, articles, christianity

I have an interest in "The War For Southern Independence." As a son of the South I am proud of my heritage. I cherish what is best in Southern culture and honor the courageous sacrifices of those who fought against overwhelming power. I have tried to understand how the conflict could have been allowed to erupt, and then continue until more than 600,000 young Americans lay dead. Americans killed more of their fellow­citizens in the conflict than have died in all our other wars combined. It is profoundly saddening to think about the senseless slaughter.

A federal officer named Joshua Chamberlain conducted the formal stacking of arms at Appomattox when the South surrendered. He wrote movingly of events on that day:

Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond....

Without official sanction, and all unplanned, Chamberlain suddenly gave the command for the Union soldiers to "order arms" in that deepest mark of military respect:

Gordon (Confederate officer) at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe.

Gordon had ordered his men to respond in kind:

Honor answering honor. On our part not a sound ... an awed stillness rather, and breath­holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
As each successive division masks our own, it halts, the men face inward towards us across the road, twelve feet away; then carefully "dress" their line.... They fix bayonets, stack arms; then, hesitatingly, remove cartridge boxes and lay them down. Lastly, reluctantly, with agony of expression-they tenderly fold their flags, battle­worn and torn, blood­stained, heart­holding colors, and lay them down....
What visions thronged as we looked into each other's eyes! Here pass the men of Antietam, the Bloody Lane, the Sunken Road,
the Cornfield.... The men who swept away the Eleventh Corps at Chancellorsville; who left six thousand of their companions around the bases of Culp's and Cemetery Hills at Gettysburg; these survivors of the terrible Wilderness, the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania, the slaughter pen of Cold Harbor!
[W]hat shall we give them for greeting that has not already been spoken in volleys of thunder and written in lines of fire on all the riverbanks of Virginia? ... met now, so thin, so pale, purged of mortal,-as if knowing pain or joy no more.
How could we help falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all!

The cost of conflict is too great to be entered when other options are available. The casualties are too devastating to continue a war flippantly. The aftermath is too overwhelming to engage in battle foolheartedly.

Most readily agree with these sentiments regarding carnal conflict. But spiritual war is viewed differently. Sadly, some are eager to make a name for themselves as great warriors for truth. They are so intent on establishing themselves as heroes of the faith, that they engage in devastating battles unnecessarily.

Next to Christ, no leader in the ancient church was more vigorous in his defense of the faith than Paul. None resisted error more tenaciously. He never retreated from false teachers, never backed down from troublesome charlatans, never compromised with evil. At no time did he debase his character by appeasing the wicked. Not once did he compromise his convictions because of cowardice.

Paul upheld truth and waged total war on error. But he did not squander precious Christian fellowship in senseless strife. His battles were strategic. They were necessary for the church's security, essential to preserving the faith delivered once and for all to the saints.

Paul did not relish controversy. He was not spoiling for a fight. He had no desire to make a name for himself understood that the war with wickedness would be lost if brethren became belligerent, embroiling the church in silly squabbles over stupid questions.

He knew factious men in positions of authority threatened the existence of the church. When the Spirit moved him to record the qualifications for elders, those qualifications were overwhelmingly concerned with temperament:

[N]ot accused of riot or unruly ... not self willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre ... sober, just, holy, temperate (Titus 1:6­8).

Every generation produces men with more ego than ability who covet power. If they possess it, great harm results from their abusiveness. Their coarse character and shallow thinking are manifested through juvenile self­assertion. They embroil the church in an endless series of asinine conflicts.

Paul ordered Titus to maintain good works that were profitable (Titus 3:8). He strictly forbade involvement with foolish questions, genealogies, and contentions about the law, because they were unprofitable (Titus 3:9).

Cretan churches were threatened by foolish bickering. They were not alone. Paul expressed concern over this problem in several places (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:23). Congregations were more acutely threatened by senseless controversies than outside agitators or even government persecution.

Titus was ordered to avoid such questions, not because there was no truthful answer, but because they were "unprofitable and vain." Titus was to exercise authority admonishing Cretan Christians regarding proper conduct. He was to exert equal authority in refusing to pursue stupid squabbles.

Some have been led to misapply Titus 3:10 because of the KJV's rendering hiretikon as heretic. Modern usage of the term heretic would suggest that Titus determine the correct position and enter the fray on the side of right. But Paul specifically forbade any participation in the controversy. Some of the Cretans refused to avoid foolish questions accompanied by strife. Titus was ordered to admonish them for persistently pursuing useless controversies. Their sin did not grow out of their doctrine (though it may also have been sinful), but out of pushing the controversy to the point of division.

After two admonitions, Titus was to "refuse" such a man. This is not withdrawal of fellowship (though it was potentially the ultimate result) but a refusal to continue the discussion. Whenever any Christian proves himself factious, brethren must refuse to participate in his controversy, deny him a hearing, and avoid him as you would old wives' fables (1 Tim. 4:7); and stupid questions (2 Tim. 2:23). At least two participants are required to engage in a senseless controversy. When Christians allow an overbearing blowhard to entangle them in a silly spectacle, they are participating in the degradation of the Lord's church. When she is thus debased, no participant is innocent.

Paul practiced what he preached. Whenever a matter of indifference arose with the potential for causing controversy, Paul deferred to the sensibilities of weaker brethren. He required that faithful Christians follow his lead (Rom. 14). He was unwilling to risk Christian fellowship by insisting on his own way regarding inconsequential matters.

Let us be resolved to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). But let us be sure the faith is in jeopardy before we disrupt the harmony of a congregation. We must refuse to grant factious men a hearing. Where there is no fuel the fire of controversy dies. As soldiers of Christ we must avoid having to fall on our knees, all of us together, praying to God to pity and forgive us all! DEO VINDICE

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Published March 1997