Controversy “sells” these days. Words like “triggered” have become part of our everyday speech and lifestyle. Just turn on the news or social media and controversy abounds, and it’s easy to get sucked into it all, and well . . . “triggered.”
We are of course called to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless (Titus 3:9).”
But how are we to know what things are to be considered “foolish” controversies, genealogies, strife and disputes about the Law, and what are not? When should we “go to battle” and confront people and when should we avoid conflict?
Matthew uses the term translated “foolish” μωρός moros several times when giving an account of Messiah’s words. The second account is relative to our present question.
Matthew 23:13-36 is often labeled in your Bible headers as the “8 Woes” in which Yeshua strongly calls out the hypocrisy of some of the Pharisees and scribes (meaning they are “actors”) who are more concerned about looking good or “religious” to others than actually being good. They desire power and control, and seek after honor for themselves rather than God, demanding the best seats in the synagogue. They also put heavy burdens on others but won’t live according to the same stringencies themselves. Clearly, the Messiah appears to not have avoided controversy with them, but blatantly calls out their hypocrisy (acting) in strong terms.
Matthew 23:13–36 (NASB95)
13“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
17“You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?
18“And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’
19“You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering?
20“Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it.
21“And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.
22“And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
24“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
26“You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
30and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
31“So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
32“Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.
33“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
34“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,
35so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
36“Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Likewise, we see the term “foolish” μωρός moros used with reference to the Parable of the 10 Virgins (Matt 25) in which there are 5 “foolish” virgins who bring their lamps but no oil. This would be likened to those Yeshua confronted who have or rather know the commandments but lack the Spirit who gives the light through their application in the world. In other words, these foolish virgins have the Law which they pretend to keep externally, but inside they have no Spirit of God and consequently do more harm than good to those around them whom they walk all over and seek to control and manipulate.
I’ve seen a terrible trend in the Messianic or Hebraic Roots movement in which people have taken on the attitude of the greater progressive American culture to avoid any and all controversy for the sake of “peace” and “unity,” but it is a false “peace” because it accepts things that are foolish and sometimes blatantly unbiblical but they don’t realize it because it’s clouded in new “Hebraic” language. Ultimately, this does not lead to unity but further division, strange doctrines, and ultimately heresy.
R. C. Sproul notes that “Theology breeds controversies…whenever theology is studied, arguments inevitably follow,” (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Sproul, xvii). But while we should avoid “foolish” controversies and seek to exhibit gentleness, meekness, patience, and kindness, not being contentious, divisive, argumentative, or judgmental, does this “mean” we should just accept everyone’s ideas in our Messianic/Hebraic Fellowships simply because they claim some so called “Jewish” source (often not even given specifically but only stated as “the (mystery) sages said”) or should we reject other ancient Christian teachings simply because they sound too “Christian”?
The saying, “never discuss religion or politics” is a common axiom of our day because it often “generates more heat than light. . . Yet controversy accompanies theological commitment (Sproul, xviii).” Yeshua’s “life was a storm of controversy. The apostles, like the prophets before them, could hardly go a day without controversy. Paul said that he debated daily in the marketplace. To avoid controversy is to avoid Christ. We have peace but it is a servile and carnal peace where truth is slain in the streets. We are called to avoid godless controversies. We are called TO godly controversies, (Sproul, xviii).”
Those who are well versed in theology argue with each other because “they understand that truth, especially theological truth, is of eternal consequence. Passions rise because the stakes are so high. In contrast, godless controversies often arise not because the combatants know too much theology, but because they know too little.” (Sproul, xviii). I believe this is the fundamental underlying problem within the Messianic and Hebraic Roots movement today for a large majority entering into the movement. Many have a little knowledge of one new pre-suppositional truth about the Torah still being valid today, but they have no real foundation of understanding of sound biblical Christian doctrine nor do they trust anything their church fathers had to say. This becomes an open door for the enemy to easily use their hurt and mistrust of the “church” to draw them away from many important essential truths and particularly about the person and work of Messiah. Some even begin to fall into old school heresies that deny the Deity of Messiah and ultimately a few walk away from Him altogether.
The “foolish” controversies rampant in the Messianic/Hebraic Roots movement are a symptom of a larger danger: ignorance of old school sound biblical doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints. This lack of knowledge can lead directly to denying the person and work of Christ. It is not just a danger of “conversion” to Judaism as very few take that route and totally deny Messiah. The more dangerous and deceptive problem today is the denial of the Deity of Messiah, which is to deny the very essence of who He is and the authority He held to lay down His own life and raise it up again on our behalf.
While the orthodox Protestant “church” today still denies some of the “light” matters of Scripture, let us not be so blind as to ignore the important fundamental doctrinal things they got right that go to the heart of the very Gospel of Messiah itself. If we do not stand strong against such heresy, the Messianic/Hebraic Roots will continue to be plagued by heretics who draw away the hurting sheep who mistrust the church but do not realize the vital importance of certain doctrines that should in fact be maintained and contended for earnestly. As it says in Jude 3-4,
“…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, while certain controversies are “foolish,” when it comes to the identity and authority of Messiah Yeshua, who was not simply a man, but the God-man sent from the Father, we should not hesitate or back down, but should earnestly contend for the faith and drive out all who deny Yeshua as κύριος Kyrios LORD.