Throughout her history, the Church has faced internal controversy about matters of faith and practice, so it is not surprising that we find controversy in the PCA today. But how should we as followers of Christ engage in public controversy within His Church? Over 200 years ago, John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame wrote a letter to a fellow minister about to engage in public controversy advising him how he could do so and “triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself.” We join the many who have called attention to this letter over the years, and invite you to comment on what you believe is the most important principle we in the PCA can apply from it.
A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton of his intention. Newton replied as follows:
As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.
read the rest of the letter.