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It is not confidence in his beliefs, as some may conclude, that causes an individual to attack his opponents with discourtesy and defamation; for he who thinks his teaching needs to be bolstered up by meanness and viciousness does not really believe in its validity. The man who truly believes in the soundness of his position on any question, who honestly loves the truth and diligently seeks after it, can afford to be courteous to those who disagree with him. Said Milton in his AREOPAGITICA, "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously be licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"
Personal victory in controversy is never the objective of the truth lover. He considers his personal fortunes as nothing in view of the vast importance of truth being upheld, and he desires not the chagrin and embarrassment of his opponents but rather their edification and salvation. This unselfish attitude is expressed in the words of the apostle Paul: "...not seeking mine own profit, but the PROFIT of many" (1 Cor. 10: 33). "And I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Cor. 12;15). "I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).
The lover of truth knows that in open, fair, free controversy if perchance his own stand on some issue is proved wrong he still is a winner rather than a loser, for now he knows the truth whereas before he had believed a lie.
He who seeks the salvation of human souls is well aware of the fact that to attack his opponents on a personal basis with vitriolic insults, when truth is at stake, is to drive them deeper into error by making them emphasize resentment of personal injury done rather than the search for truth. Unfairness in the treatment of one's fellowmen is never an agency of conversion.
It is not so much a question whether tolerance or intolerance should be used in the treatment of those who disagree with us, but rather whether we shall or shall not be fair and decent in our actions toward them. Common courtesy, fair and decent dealing, are always attributes of the true followers of Jesus Christ.
In the all-important work of leading souls out of the darkness of error into the marvelous light of truth, an obligation which is divinely enjoined upon ever disciple of Christ, there are some basic attitudes and modes of action that are prime necessities. Note the following:
I. CULTIVATE A DEEP, ABIDING LOVE FOR HUMAN SOULS: --
The boorishness, meanness, and discourtesy that characterize certain supposedly doctrinally sound individuals in their treatment of those who disagree with them always involves a lack of love for human souls. Such men seek not the salvation of souls but the inflation of their own selfish egos. He who is successful in converting souls from error is one who manifests a loving, unselfish, humble, tender, and compassionate interest in the welfare of others. "Love suffereth long, and is kind;...love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked..." (1 Cor. 13:4,5).
The story is told of the individual who revealed his resentment toward a certain preacher and his appreciation of another. When asked why the difference in his attitude toward the two preachers, he replied, "When one tells me the consequences for the error he claims I believe, he actually acts as though he's glad that I'm going to hell; but when the other preacher tells me the same thing he expresses real sorrow for my plight." Those teachers of the Word who blatantly boast of the fact that they really give those in error a good "skinning" and seem by the tenor of their boasting to get almost a diabolical delight in causing embarrassment to the objects of their tirades -- who ridicule the use of tact and approach in teaching -- would do well to consider carefully the questions: What impression are you leaving upon your listeners by the attitudes you manifest in your teaching? Do they sense that you are honestly, humbly interested in the welfare of their souls? Or do they feel that you are just "spouting off" to show how smart and bold you think you are? Can you truthfully say that you are "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15)?
II. ASSUME THAT THOSE IN ERROR ARE SINCERE AND HONEST: -- Unless there are undeniable facts to prove otherwise, every man must be conceded the position of honesty and sincerity in his beliefs. To begin a controversy by impugning the motives of the one who disagrees with you is to alienate him immediately before a full discussion can be realized of the differences involved. When Paul spoke to the idolaters of Athens, recorded in Acts 17, he did not make his approach by insulting their integrity and honesty. This does not mean that he failed to tell them of their error, for he pressed the truth in opposition to error with clarity, simplicity, and firmness. There was absolutely no condoning of error or sin. But Paul did nto becloud the issue at hand, that of idolatry, by allowing his sermon to degenerate into a personal tirade against the motives and characters of his listeners.
III. TRY TO UNDERSTAND WHY THOSE IN ERROR BELIEVE THE WAY THEY DO:
-- When you deal with a person in error, place yourself in his position and endeavor to think as he does. Consider the motives for his thinking. Note carefully the environmental conditions that have produced his religious concepts. Realize that were you trained and nurtured under circumstances similar to his, in all probability you would think as he does. Say seriously to yourself, "There, but for the grace of God, am I." Apply the golden rule in your treatment of him: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12). Yes, aske yourself the question, "Were I in his position and he in mine, how could I reasonably expect to be treated by him -- with jibes, insults, innuendoes, etc. or with kindness, love, and understanding?" And all the while you are considering the error of your opponent, look to yourself and realize that you have the same propensities as he that can lead you into error and sin. (What gospel preacher has not at some time or other been forced by the demands of intellectual honesty to tear up some favorite outline or give up a seemingly plausible argument when he discovered that he actually was teaching error?) Such thinking
will produce the kind of humility in you that will tend to attract your opponent to the truth rather than repulse him. "...ye who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6: 1).
IV. PRAY!: -- Do not fall into the fatal error of believing that you can successfully compete with error and convert sinners by your own intelligence and moral strength. You need God's help, and that continually. Pray for wisdom -- wisdom to so act and speak that you will lead men to the truth rather than alienate them from it. "But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (Jas. 1:5). Pray that the effectual working providence of God may open doors of opportunity for you in the conversion of souls. "For a great door and effectual is opened to me..." (1 Cor. 16:9). Always remember, "The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working" (Jas. 5:16). Hearts that are warmed and mellowed by converse with God through constant praying cannot produce anything but love and compassion toward those in error. "Let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins" (Jas. 5:20).
By James M. Tolle in The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 3, January 1952.
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