Dear Friends in Christ,
Chapter 17 of the history of the CLC is entitled “Doctrinal Controversies.”
Yes, we have to admit that in the history of our church body there have been serious debates and controversies concerning doctrinal matters. I doubt that there is any church body on Earth that has never had such controversies.But we should hasten to add that the controversies in the CLC have never dealt directly with the basic teachings of Christianity. There has never been any dispute among us as to whether the true God is the Triune God, whether Jesus is true God and true man, whether Jesus died for the sin of the world, whether we are justified by faith rather than by works, whether the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. By the grace of God we have been spared from such controversies, even though many other church bodies have been troubled by these things.
Still we have had controversies on doctrinal matters, and in some cases these controversies have led to the withdrawals of some of our members because they did not agree with the resolution of the controversy that was adopted by the CLC. Our history book refers to eight controversies in the CLC. We do not have the time to go into detail on any of these controversies this morning. We would probably need a full class period on each one of these controversies to get a good grasp of the specific problems and how they were resolved.
The point I want to make here this morning is that sometimes controversy is necessary, and that God uses controversy to get us to study His Word more carefully and to examine our own beliefs and practices in the light of God’s Word.
There was one major doctrinal controversy in the Christian Church in the days of the apostles. It was a controversy that involved the apostles Paul and Peter and the brother of the Lord Jesus named James. The question that was debated was a very important one: What is necessary for salvation? The one party taught that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation and nothing else. The other party insisted that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation but that following the Old Testament regulations concerning circumcision and the eating of certain foods was also necessary for salvation. Those that taught this are generally called Judaizers because they were insisting that following the Jewish laws was necessary for salvation.
Acts Chapter 15
The book of Acts tells us about this controversy in chapter 15. It came to a head at the conclusion of the apostle Paul’s first mission journey. On this mission journey Paul preached the gospel of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles. He assured the Gentiles that they too were children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. He did not tell them that they had to follow certain Jewish rules in order to be saved.
But when he came back to Antioch after his mission trip, some of the Christians from Jerusalem were telling the Gentiles: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Since these Christians came from Jerusalem, the birthplace of the Church, and since they claimed to represent the views of James, the brother of Jesus, this became a major controversy.
The apostle Paul was certain that the position he was taking was the right one. He regarded the Judaizers as false teachers. So we read in his letter to the Galatians: “We did not yield submission to them even for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.” Paul did not want to go along with the wrong view even for a moment for the sake of avoiding an argument or for the sake of outward peace. He resisted what he considered to be false teaching. He spoke up.
At one point in this controversy it seemed that even Peter was siding with the Judaizers. Peter stopped eating with the Gentile Christians in order to please the men from Jerusalem. Paul could not let this pass without saying something, even though it would involve more controversy. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “When Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face.” Yes, here we have the unpleasant scene of one apostle disagreeing with another apostle in front of the whole congregation. Controversy in the church! You see, it is sometimes necessary.
How was it resolved? The book of Acts tells us: “When Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.” They had a meeting, just like our church conventions today. There at that meeting, on the basis of God’s Word, they resolved the controversy. Peter, Paul, and James, the brother of the Lord, all agreed that the view of the Judaizers was false teaching and could not be tolerated. In Peter’s words: “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” May our gracious Lord help us always to resolve our controversies through the written Word of our Savior God. (TLH #260:5-6)