Written by Nicholas T. Batzig |
Tuesday, November 14, 2023
We can easily become outraged over the sins of others–as David did when Nathan the prophet told him the story of the poor man’s stolen ewe lamb–while harboring sin that is every bit as egregious as that which we denounce. This is the very reason why our Lord used the figure of the speck and the log (Matt. 7:3-5). It’s quite difficult to want to involve ourselves in every controversy or to seek to correct every error when we remember the indwelling sin with which we are personally engaged in warfare every single day or our lives until Christ comes again.
Part of the pernicious underbelly of the internet is that many allow themselves to be drawn into controversies about which they have no need to involve themselves. For many years, I too wanted juicy details about whatever controversy was swirling around in evangelical and Reformed circles. To my shame, I have either initiated or been on the receiving end of innumerable conversations that began with the statement, “Did you hear what just happened to so and so. . .?” So much of this belong to the realm of gossip rather than to the sphere of sanctified concern or justified probing. As Jerry Bridges has rightly noted, “Behind all of our gossip, slander, critical speech, insults, and sarcasm is our sinful heart. The tongue is only the instrument that reveals what’s in our hearts.” So what are we to do if we are to live informed lives without allowing ourselves to be drawn into foolish controversies in which we have no responsibility from God to involve ourselves? Here are a few helps:
1. Remember the Sphere of Your Calling from God
When the Lord drew me to himself in saving grace, He implanted in me a burning desire to preach the gospel. I believe that my conversion and my call to ministry occurred simultaneously. That being said, I was not called to pastor the universe. I was called by God to pastor specific local churches as specific times in my ministry. This means that my priority must be for the care of the needs of the people whom God has entrusted to me in the local church I serve. Just as Augustine referred to spheres of moral proximity, when answering the questions about caring for the welfare of those in need, so there is a moral proximity for pastors and people to care first and foremost for the spiritual needs of the people in the same body.
Of course, this does not mean that the sphere of responsibility stops at the local church. I happen to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. This means that it is my responsibility to concern myself with the spiritual condition of the churches in our denomination. However, within the PCA, we have regional Presbyteries that take precedent to the national court. If I neglect my responsibility to serve on committees and to care to the best of my ability for the spiritual health and wellbeing of the churches and ministers in our Presbytery because I want to give the better part of my time and energy to denominational controversies, then I am failing to fulfill the role to which God has called me. After giving ourselves to the care of the local church, we are to give ourselves first and foremost to the wider regional expression of our denominational affiliations.
This is not to say that ministers are not called to care for the wider church. It is right and good for ministers in the PCA to serve on denominational committees and agencies. It is important for pastors to labor for the peace and purity of the denomination at large. However, even within this sphere, great caution is needed. Many thrive on controversy.