Emo Phillip’s joke was voted as the most hilarious religious joke of all time in 2015. He got a thrill out of it, and published an article in the British newspaper The Guardian titled, “The best God joke ever – and it’s mine!” If you haven’t heard it before, here is the joke:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
The poll was conducted by a satirical blog Ship Of Fools, which is run by two professed Christians, who endeavour to “help Christians be self-critical and honest about the failings of Christianity.”
PLURALISM AND CONTROVERSY
When it comes to honesty and addressing the failings of our faith, the majority of us refrain from engaging in controversy. Unless you believe in religious pluralism, then controversy is inevitable. Pluralism is a philosophical position that teaches reality consists of different parts. Therefore, religious pluralism asserts that different religions contain truth and can lead us to God even though they contradict each other. Christians with a pluralistic mindset shrink and shiver from controversy.
Before I go any further, let us define this big word; controversy. We have these two Latin words “contra” which means against and “vertere” that means to turn. From these two, we get another Latin word, “controversus,” that means to turn against or dispute. In essence, controversy is a debate, discussion or forms of ideas that have opposing opinions and may result in strife.
Ravi Zacharias explained that if everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false, then it would also be true to say everything is false. The moment you affirm a truth, you are standing against every other idea that challenges it. Burk Parson asserts, “Controversy exists because God’s truth exists in a world of lies.” Controversy, therefore, must exist in a truth-loving and Christ-exalting Church.
It sounds utterly implausible to talk about Christ exaltation and controversy in the same breath. Robert Haldane commented on this matter, “Many religious persons have a dread of controversy, and wish the truth to be stated without any reference to those who hold the opposite errors. Controversy and a bad spirit are, in their estimation, synonymous terms, and to strenuously oppose what is wrong is considered as contrary to Christian meekness. Those who hold this opinion seem to overlook what every page of the New Testament lays before us.”
In all the history of our Lord Jesus Christ, we never find Him out of controversy.” Jesus was, is, and will remain to be the most controversial person in all ages, and so are his disciples.
Paul tells the Corinthian Church that there must be differences among them to show which of them have God’s approval (1 Corinthians 11:19.) We should stop pretending that disagreements don’t exist in the Church. Rather, identify and address them in a way that glorifies Christ.
CONTROVERSY IS UNAVOIDABLE
You’ve probably heard this, “Doctrine divides, let us focus on Love.” Often, this happens when you try to tackle doctrinal differences or call out a heretic. Well, the two guys on the bridge didn’t quite clearly demonstrate what heresy is. Apologetics Index tells us that heresy is the teaching of doctrine, which is erroneous in such a way that Christians must divide themselves as a church from all who teach or accept it. I want to emphasise the words “must divide” in our definition. The guy on the bridge did not qualify to hold the title “heretic” if you followed keenly.
John Gresham Machen played a significant role in the founding of Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Let me give you a snippet of how it happened. The Fundamentalist –Modernist controversy gave birth to OPC. Contention arose because modernist, a movement in the 19th and 20th-century, sought to reconcile historical or orthodox Christianity with findings of modern science and philosophies. Modernist held that the Bible was with error because human hands wrote it and humans are prone to mistakes. They also challenged the authority of scripture, making the fundamentalist ( who believed in strict interpretation and application of scripture) to sharply object, declaring that, “the scriptures not only contain, but ARE THE WORD OF GOD, and hence all their elements and all their affirmations are absolutely errorless, and binding the faith and obedience of men.”
Machen was the leader of the Fundamentalist. He produced a book in response to modernist Christianity and Liberalism, which was a defence of the Orthodox Christianity. He engaged in several controversies and stood for the truth of God’s word. Machen reasons with us: “Again, men say that instead of engaging in controversy in the Church, we ought to pray to God for a revival; instead of polemics, we ought to have evangelism. Well, what kind of evangelism is it that is indifferent to the question of what evangel it is that is to be preached? … Not the evangelism that Paul meant when he said, ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.’ No, my friends, there can be no true evangelism which makes common cause with the enemies of the cause of Christ … Every true (moving of the Holy Spirit) is born in controversy, and leads to more controversy.”
We have established that controversy is indispensable for all truth seekers. But we are yet to help the guys on the bridge. How and when should we engage in controversy? Let’s carry on this pursuit in part two.