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Our evening service was canceled last week because of the snow. The portion below is an edited portion of the larger sermon, a message on conflict from Proverbs. I thought it was worth posting (although now I haven’t preached it yet) as a follow-up to Tuesday’s post.

*****

Quarrels don't just happen. People make them happen.

Of course, there are honest disagreements and agree-to-disagree propositions, but that's not what the Bible means by quarreling. While studying Proverbs recently I was struck by the fact that most of the advice about conflict is not on how to resolve it, but how to avoid it.

Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (17:14; 20:3). These fights aren't the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome. Some Christians have a lifeline to Speedway and love to pour gasoline on every tiny spark of conflict.

You don't have to be a card-carrying member of the nice Nazis to believe that quarreling is wrong. You only have to believe the Bible (James 4:1). Hot-headed, divisive Christians are not pleasing to God (Proverbs 6:19). We are told to drive them out (22:10) and avoid such people (Rom. 16:17). This doesn't mean we only huddle with the people we like. We are not talking about awkward folks or those who disagree with us. We are talking about quarrelsome Christians–habitually disagreeable, divisive, hot-headed church people.

So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks?

1. You defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. You don't talk about secondary issues, because there are no secondary issues.

2. You are quick to speak and slow to listen. You rarely ask questions and when you do it is to accuse or to continue prosecuting your case. You are not looking to learn, you are looking to defend, dominate, and destroy.

3. Your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown on Mount Carmel. There is a place for sarcasm, but when Elijah with the prophets of Baal is your spiritual hero you may end up mocking people instead of making arguments.

4. You are incapable of seeing nuances and you do not believe in qualifying statements.

5. You never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context. You put the worst possible construct on other's motives and the meaning of their words.

6. You have no unarticulated opinions.

7. You are unable to sympathize with your opponents.

8. Your first instinct is to criticize. Your last is to encourage.

9. You have a small grid and everything fits in it. Everything is a social justice issue; everything relates to the regulative principle, everything is Obama's fault; everything is wrong because of patriarchy; everything comes down to one thing-my thing.

10. You derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in being rejected and marginalized. You are constitutionally unable to be demonstrably fruitful in ministry and you will never affirm those who appear to be. You only know how to relate to God as a remnant.

11.You are always in the trenches with hand grenades strapped to your chest, never in the mess hall with ice cream and ping pong. Remember G.K. Chesterton: "We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return to at evening."

12. You have never changed your mind on an important matter.

Just some food for thought. I know I choke on my own words at times.


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Comments:


87 thoughts on “Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person”

  1. Looselycult says:

    It wil be curious to see how many posters today will actually defend these exact kinds of behaviors by pulling out Biblical proof texts and “historical” examples in order to justify the “certain Instances” where they acted this way all “For the sake of the TRUTH.”

  2. John says:

    Very good observations, Kevin. Thank you.

  3. Thanks, Kevin. These are helpful and humbling thoughts on a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

  4. Robert Wille says:

    Would “You see everything in black and white; there are no shades of gray” be an acceptable paraphrase of Distinguishing Mark 4?

  5. Thanks, Kevin. These are helpful and humbling thoughts, on a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

  6. Roger says:

    These are the extreme folks. There are also the nice , pleasant, seemingly loving folk who are divisive over the wrong things. Paul doesn’t treat them lightly, nor do the proverbs.

  7. When I saw this blog title, I took a moment to brace myself–sure that I would fit the criteria. Thankfully, I didn’t (well, just one of them), but I do tend in that direction from time to time. Something for me to keep an eye on. Thanks so much for posting this, Kevin!

  8. TZ says:

    Thanks for the good thoughts.

    I’m assuming the church you serve is a little larger than mine and allows for a little anonymity. If I were to preach this sermon this directly, I could just as well have one of my “quarrelsome” persons stand while I preached. They are known for who and what they are.

  9. Greg Butler says:

    Ouch … but very helpful.

  10. John says:

    This is both helpful and timely, thanks.

  11. David says:

    After speaking at our local church last night about the importance of accountability and sharing our burdens within corporate church community and not only with those closest to us- I found that if you deny that this can become you, if it already isn’t in your nature somewhat, than you deny a part of our innate sin nature and our desire to be selfish which seems to be the stem of quarrelsome behavior. Your posting was timely and incredible.

  12. This is interesting because Christians are known for their ability to fight and argue. We feel convicted and theologically correct, so we feel that we have no option but to fight. We fight in our own church. We fight with other churches. We fight with nonChristians. We fight with theoretical threats.

  13. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Out of curiosity, has Rev. DeYoung, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, Francis Chan, and Mark Driscoll ever displayed the distinguishing marks of a quarrelsome person?

  14. Paul says:

    Probably the most helpful and interesting post I’ve seen from Kevin!

    I do have one question, though. I understand there are people for whom secondary issues don’t exist but I think those people are very rare. I think almost everyone would say that secondary issues do exist and they don’t quarrel about those. The problem is, they don’t agree on what the secondary issues are. Is speaking in tongues a secondary issue? How about women in ministry? How about infant baptism? How about the war in Iraq/Afghanistan? How about yoga (remembering Kevin’s friend Al Mohler)? Isn’t a quarrel inevitable when one person insists one of these is primary and another person insists it’s secondary and what, if anything, can one do about that?

  15. Allen says:

    Hmmm, thanks Kevin. Words for me to live by. While I could claim several of those…I kept thinking of a few of the King James Only crowd I’ve met over the years.

    Wow.

  16. Rose says:

    Hook me up with the folks who think everything relates to the regulative principle. I might fit in with that group. Where have they been all my life?

  17. Elderyl says:

    The more elder I grow, the more the world is shades of grey. I believe God is absolutly Truth, but I grow wary that I may even have an inkling of understanding Who He is. Sometimes though I do wonder if He allows our divisions and differing hermeneutics just so we have opportunities to practice grace with one another. There is a wide range of theological diversity in my church, yet there is little division and a great deal of unity. Folks aren’t pigeon-holed and there are no five part sermon series describing the castes of Christianity.

  18. Paul Adams says:

    Thought when reading through these 12 that I would NOT see myself in any of them.
    Oops…

  19. Garrett League says:

    Kevin, you’ve heard this plenty of times, but dude, you’re a great writer. You have mastered a very unique sort of loving, yet wry pastoral realism. You have a deep heart, a great mind, and a gifted pen (and keyboard). Keep it up!!!

  20. jan says:

    @Truth Unites…and Divides:
    I can’t speak directly about Mark Driscoll, but I can tell you that Mars Hill’s leaders are trained to be quarrelsome by the definitions Mr. DeYoung gives above. My husband and I were pushed out of the church because we disagreed on an issue which we thought-and Mars Hill claims-is a secondary issue, that of complementarianism and division of labor in marriage. Many of these traits, I’m sad to say, were VERY present in our discussions with leaders about whether we could stay at the church. It’s important to hold ALL Christians to the same non-quarrelsome standard, not just the laypeople; otherwise, the leaders get to trample on any disagreement however they want, with no guidelines for humility or gentleness or allowing a possibility of error.

  21. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Me: “Out of curiosity, has Rev. DeYoung, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, Francis Chan, and Mark Driscoll ever displayed the distinguishing marks of a quarrelsome person?”

    Jan: “My husband and I were pushed out of the church because we disagreed on an issue which we thought-and Mars Hill claims-is a secondary issue, that of complementarianism and division of labor in marriage.”

    Interestingly, all the men I cited above are complementarians (although I’m not 100% sure about Francis Chan).

    Jan, have you considered the possibility that the leadership at Mars Hill regarded (no offense intended) that you and your husband were the quarrelsome ones over an issue that the Mars Hill leadership had decided was settled?

    In Hebrews we are informed that we are to submit to our church leaders. If our church leaders settled upon complementarianism or biblical patriarchy, then we either submit graciously or we don’t. And if we don’t, that occasionally turns into what some see as a “quarrel”. You see the Mars Hill leadership as being quarrelsome. And quite possibly, they saw you as the quarrelsome one. Don’t you think that’s possibly the case?

    P.S. FWIW, Rev. Kevin DeYoung is also a complementarian.

  22. jan says:

    That is a valid point, and it is the case that the Mars Hill leadership called us quarrelsome, as well as rebellious, unsubmissive, unfaithful, and at times insinuated that we might not be Christians at all. We were so committed to not being quarrelsome that we invited good Christian friends and pastors outside of Mars Hill to help us examine our hearts and see if we were in the wrong, if we really were the ones being contentious and quarrelsome. We refused to speak ill of leaders or talk behind their backs, even when they did those things to us. We were openly willing to change our views on the issue, but a two-way discussion of the topic from Scripture was never permitted; for requesting it, we were labeled “quarrelsome”, even though we expressly stated our desire to “be led into all truth” by the Spirit.
    I understand that churches decide issues, and I understand that Scripture calls us to respect and submit to leaders’ guidance. The issue was that we were accused of being quarrelsome when we simply disagreed on a secondary doctrine, and we were happy to “agree to disagree” and not bring it up or make a big deal out of it. The leaders were encouraged to practice these quarrelsome behaviors, on the other hand, in order to demonstrate proper authority and get us to submit by doing exactly what they said to do.

  23. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Thanks Jan for your in-depth recounting.

    Obviously, I wasn’t there (thankfully) and what you said could entirely be the case. Maybe the Mars Hill leadership was “quarrelsome” and you weren’t. I don’t know.

    For exploration sake, let’s assume that I’m a complementarian attending an egalitarian church. And I have the following conversation with the leadership.

    Me: “Respectfully, I believe the practice of egalitarianism in this church is unbiblical and not faithful to Scripture. While not a first-order issue, it is an aberrant doctrine and practice. Can we examine this issue in the light of Scripture and if we’re all open to the Word of God and the Spirit’s leading, would it be possible for this local church to turn away from egalitarianism and towards complementarianism or biblical patriarchy?”

    Egalitarian Church Leadership: “Thanks for expressing your concern so graciously. While we appreciate your love of Christ and His Word, we have previously examined this issue and we have settled upon the doctrine and teaching of egalitarianism. It would not be a good use of the church leadership’s time to re-open and re-examine the issue of egalitarianism or complementarianism. We want to be humble egalitarians and not quarrelsome either. I hope you appreciate that we want to careful stewards of the tasks and time that God has given us as leaders of this church. We appreciate the heart that Jesus has given you and we are humbly, yet irreversibly settled on egalitarianism in this church. God bless you.”

    Me: “Thank you.”

    ——-

    So what do I do? I either graciously submit or I attend a church that I believe is more biblically faithful with complementarian teaching and practice. Do I stay and tell others that the leadership of the church is aberrant with their egalitarian teachings and practice? Do I say that the leadership has abused me for refusing to re-examine the issue of egalitarianism?

  24. jan says:

    That’s a beautiful conversation to have, full of simultaneous grace and conviction. In that situation, I would say strongly that it is improper and just plain mean to start stirring people up about a decided issue, and I don’t see any abuse in that interaction whatsoever.
    But let’s say you approached the leadership saying, “I really respect you and think very highly of your intellect, character, and ministry. But we disagree on the issue of egalitarianism, and I don’t know if the error is on my part, your part, or a little of both. Can we sit down with our Bibles and you lay out your side, while I listen respectfully, then I lay out my side, while you listen respectfully, then we ask and answer questions until we agree or agree to disagree?”
    In this situation, I don’t believe you would be behaving in a quarrelsome way at all. But if the leaders to whom you extended this invitation responded with anger, black-and-white rules that should be followed unquestioningly, no humility or willingness to allow for the possibility of another perspective, and mandates to submit regardless of conscience–then I would say that the leaders were abusive and quarrelsome.
    My point in commenting was not to debate complementarianism/egalitarianism, or to rag on Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll, because I have seen this issue in several churches over several secondary doctrinal points. The real issue is, are the people in power in the church–pastors, elders, board members, deacons, major donors, whoever–held to the same standards of humility, grace, gentleness, and brotherly love when dealing with divisive issues as the laypeople in the congreagation are? Too often leaders, in the name of “spiritual authority” or by intimidation, are given freedom by the church to fit any or all of the characteristics you outlined above, baptizing them in Christianese to make those character qualities appear Biblical. We are ALL called to be meek and humble in heart, as Jesus was, just as we are ALL called to bold defense of truth.

  25. chrissy says:

    Some Christians believe they are better than other people and this can start strife. We , including me, need to remember where we came from. Try to have mercy on others because you never know when you will be in their shoes.

  26. To Jan,

    I believe the dialog you encourage is beneficial, but at a more personal level than with the leadership of a church. In my experience, secondary issues are those that are used to distinguish one church/denomination/etc from another but which should unity within a given body. Al Mohler uses the idea of theological triage – Primary issues delineate Christians from non-Christians, secondary issues delineate Christians into different bodies, tertiary issues can have multiple viewpoints within a given congregation. Using this scale, complementarianism would be a secondary issues at MHC – a distinctive to them, requiring agreement by members. For that reason, it’s probably not a beneficial dialogue to have with the leadership since it’s doubtful that it will bear much fruit and that would be the case for most churches. Now, that’s not to downplay any potential harsh reactions from any parties involved and it’s not an excuse for lack of humility but sometimes, frankly, some conversations don’t need to happen on issues where a local church has a settled and communicated position.

  27. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    The real issue is, are the people in power in the church–pastors, elders, board members, deacons, major donors, whoever–held to the same standards of humility, grace, gentleness, and brotherly love when dealing with divisive issues as the laypeople in the congreagation are? Too often leaders, in the name of “spiritual authority” or by intimidation, are given freedom by the church to fit any or all of the characteristics you outlined above, baptizing them in Christianese to make those character qualities appear Biblical. We are ALL called to be meek and humble in heart, as Jesus was, just as we are ALL called to bold defense of truth.”

    If that’s the real issue, that seems reasonable to me.

    Rev. DeYoung: “You are incapable of seeing nuances and you do not believe in qualifying statements.”

    If I were to nuance and qualify your paragraph above, I’d simply add that who some people say and think is a “quarrelsome” person is not a “quarrelsome” person to another. There’s an element of subjectivity to it.

    Here’s not a great example(!). Someone thinks Obama is a quarrelsome President. Another person ardently disagrees and thinks that Obama is definitely not a quarrelsome President. The first person says “Whatever” and that, regardless, Obama is a terrible President. The second person again ardently disagrees and thinks that Obama is doing a good job.

    There’s some element of subjectivity involved. That’s my nuance and qualification.

    ;-)

  28. Rose says:

    I think Jan is describing a situation in which an implicit faith is being required by the leadership of a church. If you, as a teacher, are unwilling to sit down with someone who asks you to explain with an open Bible a doctrine you have “settled,” then you are not doing your job. Another way of describing a quarrelsome person, Biblically speaking, is “unteachable.” You do not decide a person is unteachable and quarrelsome and must be driven from the church or disfellowshipped because they have a different opinion than you and are willing to express and defend it. I really think it needs to come down to someone saying, “Yes, I see that’s what the Bible teaches, but I refuse to believe it.” That is unteachable and quarrelsome. Point 9 could just as well have been “You have a small grid and everything fits in it. Everything is a ecclesiastical issue; everything relates to the Cross, everything is Bush’s fault; everything is wrong because of feminism; everything comes down to one thing–my thing.”

  29. Drew says:

    I wish you had posted the larger sermon because I hope there is a part two to this sermon. It seems incomplete … In my reading of it, you say “Marks” but really mean “symptoms” and the question then becomes, “what’s the disease?”

    I don’t hear a lot of sympathy in this sermon for the simple reality that these are all symptoms caused by the disease. And like any symptoms, the cure doesn’t come by shining a bright light on the symptoms.

    Personally, I show these symptoms at various times and the disease is sometimes sin, sometimes immaturity, but most often, a lack of love … a lack of experiential love

  30. Paul Adams says:

    @Drew:
    Sounds as if you don’t need the entire sermon. Kevin’s post seems sufficient to prompt you (and all of us) on the heart of the matter.

    “The greatest of these is love.”

  31. Rose says:

    I actually did have an experience which involved Mark Driscoll in an indirect way, of trying to have a “dialog” as Chris calls it, about something really not that controversial (whether looking at Christ is interchangeable with looking at the Cross) on a “personal” level (with my facebook friends) rather than with the leadership. The result was that my family was met in the parking lot the next time we came to church and told that we were not welcome to worship there because of Jude 1:12. When someone else asked about this, they were sent to a sermon by Mark Driscoll concerning how to deal with divisive people. Apparently another pastor, whom my husband had asked privately about saying that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection were of such great importance that nothing else was worth mentioning, had given the pastor who had inspired me to begin a conversation about the equivalence of Christ and the Cross a “heads up” about us, and that, along with a few other exaggerated and twisted reports about our history of the sort that usually accompany gossip and slander, was enough to give us a reputation as wolves in the flock. Yes, I think there are pastors who are very confused about what quarrelsomeness looks like and who become very defensive and abusive at the slightest hint of a challenge to their own awesomeness.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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