“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,” said the Lord, “but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another ().
I only ever recall once being told, by Mormon Missionaries, that I had the spirit of contention. I cannot remember exactly what our discussion entailed, but they were not happy with something I said, and so they threw the charge at me. But what do they mean when they say a person has a spirit of contention?
A Christ-like attitude
Mormons will often say that a person has the spirit of contention, when they feel that their beliefs are in some way being undermined or ridiculed. A Christian challenging them about what they believe can often find themselves labelled as contentious. They may suggest that you are not exhibiting a ‘Christ-like attitude’ in what you are saying or the way you are saying it. Jesus, who is the one allegedly speaking in 3 Nephi 11:29, makes it clear: ‘“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me…”.
Therefore, if you they charge you with being contentious, they are likely accusing you of being un-Christlike and acting more like the devil: “who is the father of contention…”.
It is possible that, in our zeal to reach Mormons, we do become argumentative and combative in our discussions. When this happens, we do need to catch ourselves and, where appropriate, apologise to them.
When witnessing to Mormons with the good news of the gospel, we should strive to not be contentious or mocking in any way. The Bible teaches us that we should endeavour to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15); and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (and particularly in witnessing show self-control). Elsewhere, Proverbs has much to say about the folly of contention:
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (10:12)
A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. (18:6)
A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarrelling is like the bars of a castle. (18:19)
As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. (26:21)
Also, Paul warns young Timothy not to get involved in contention:
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
So, it is clear from scripture that contention will not get us very far in our effort to reach the lost. Therefore, we must strive to not be impolite and/or insulting to our Mormon friends.
Turning the Tables
It is possible that as we remain self-controlled when sharing the gospel with Mormons, that it is them who will lose their self-control. I have personally experienced this. Sometimes Mormons will become a little irate and raise their voices. If this happens, then we can turn the tables on them - in love of course.
We can say something along the lines of we are not willing to continue with the discussion if they are going to be argumentative and contentious. Upon hearing us using the ‘c’ word against them – they will immediately calm down and possibly even apologise to us. After all, they cannot be seen to be imitating the father of contention. We can then proceed on with a friendly discussion about things of eternal importance.
Sharing the Truth in Love
Missionaries are taught not to contend or argue:
There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.
Though we as Christians are also not to be contentious, the Bible says that there is something for which we should contend:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
We are told to contend for the faith. Here we find our reason for sharing the truth with Mormons. Theirs is not the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. They have a different gospel.
Perhaps the following quote sums up how they might feel:
“Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened – and the devil laughs – when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.”
I would personally seek to re-write this quote to sum up our position:
“Surely our Heavenly Father is pleased – and the devil is angry – when we contend for doctrinal truth with our Mormon neighbors.”
There is always the chance that a discussion with Mormons, particularly about our doctrinal differences, will become a little heated, but this should not deter us from sharing truth with them.
LDS missionaries are taught to not strive in debate, but we are to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. As we do this their response may be to just bear their testimony to the truth of what they believe. But we must bear testimony to the truth that Jesus is enough.As we do, let’s remember to speak the truth in love.