Concerning current controversy

As the brouhaha concerning antinomianism continues to develop, with fallout in various spheres, it is sad to see the vagueness, brutality and confusion that seems to spring up in its wake, more or less prevalent and evident depending on the medium employed.

Vagueness, because lots of people seem to have something to say (or to think that they do), but not all of them are making plain that they are saying it. Twitter lends itself to this portentous cloudiness, in which momentous 140 character statements having to do with law and grace, with righteous dealing and integrity, and so on and so forth, roll off a thousand keyboards and screens. Taking into account the limitations of that medium, surely the ideal is a clear and direct communication? Whatever platform is employed, it would do us well to make plain what and who we are dealing with. If there are issues to engage or charges to be made, it is helpful to all to make clear that we are speaking of certain men and situations. Anything else seems a little churlish and quite unhelpful. Internet debate is a nonesuch for distractions and ephemerality, for making mountains of molehills and molehills of mountains. If there is nothing to be said, at least by us, then let us hold our tongues. If there is something to be said, let it be said pointedly and plainly, for the sake of us all, so that we can know what is going on and why.

Brutality, because the relish with which some Christians take up their verbal weapons and charge into such conflicts is always tragic. In a fallen world, such controversy is a necessary evil, never a gleeful melée. This kind of public dispute takes place when the honour of God demands it, and I have had no qualms about raising the issue myself in electronic and physical print, because I think what I described as incipient antinomianism, now sadly breaking out more substantially, is a matter of real and weighty concern. At the same time, we must guard against a vicious spirit which all too easily rises to the surface in the heat of battle. Our words must cut, but they need not rip. Cruel humour, sullen indictment, snide criticism, aggressive speech, wild accusation, imputed evil, and glee over those who stumble or fall ought to have no place in these engagements. Indeed, because of how easily we go astray here, and remembering that we cannot hear the tone of voice in which men write, we ought to pursue a scrupulous graciousness in such matters, so that while people might disagree violently with what we say, they might not be able to argue with the way in which we say it. As in so much, we must strive to ensure that the disagreements are a matter of substance and not of style. Edged weapons are necessary; barbed weapons should be laid aside. Our aim must be to win men, not to destroy them. Let those who are saints engage as such.

Confusion, because the key issues seem so easily to be lost sight of. I appreciate that the key issues are broad issues, overarching concerns. Given the nature of this beast, I trust that we will not lose sight of the wood for the trees. So, there is continued and often proper concern for relational integrity, justice and fairness, reasonable openness, holy speech, and so on. But the great issue is not - and should not be made to be - which man is rising or falling, whether or not this public statement or that ought to have been made, who is aligning with whom, or anything else of this order. These are largely incidental matters. This is not and must not become a matter of mere personalities. I trust that I am not adding to the problem by suggesting that what is at stake here is the distinctive holiness of God's people, its form and substance, its grounds and pattern, its establishment and progress. If the Lord has commanded us that "as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1Pt 1:15-16) then our great concern should be to reflect and cultivate that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. What is this holiness? What does it look like? On what basis is it pursued? By what means shall we pursue it? Holiness is to adorn the church of Christ for God's glory and for our good, and we must not let this get clouded, or have our attention drawn away from what is at stake, or compromise this holiness in our defence of it. You might think my martial language is overblown, but - make no mistake - there is something of vital moment at stake, and it will be clear before long, if it is not already, that this is indeed a battle, and a battle for the very definition and reality of godliness.

So, for what it is worth, let us please cultivate clarity and charity as we engage. If engagements fought long ago on this matter are anything to go by, this is just the beginning, and there will be tragedies before the dust settles. If nothing else, let us be determined that we shall honour Christ in the ways, means and ends we embrace. I know that all sides will say that, but the tree will be known by its fruit. I am utterly persuaded of the rightness of this cause, but it would be a sad thing to win the day and yet to see the banner of truth sullied by the way in which and the people by whom it has been carried into the battles that must be fought.