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The Mudite controversy

August 2005 | by Gary Shepard

The bitter Mudite controversy arose in the year 2010 (forgive the time-warp). The heated debate between certain evangelical theologians arose over a simple question. Were spittle and clay necessary when Christ healed a blind person?

he Mudites took the position that John 9:6 is definitive of Christ’s healing method: ‘he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’. Where other scriptures fail to report Jesus using mud this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – only that the detail is omitted in those accounts.

But others (the non-Mudites) also using Scripture said, ‘Oh no, that’s not how it was done’. The use of mud (if it occurred at all) was the exception rather than the rule. The normative passage (they claimed) is found in Luke 18:46.

Here neither spittle nor clay was used – Jesus simply said to that particular blind man, ‘Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee’. The non-Mudites even darkly hinted that John 9:6 had been widely and even deliberately misinterpreted by their opponents.

Both Mudites and non-Mudites agreed that this was no secondary matter, since opening the eyes of the blind is a metaphor describing salvation itself. What could be more important than that? There could be no neutrality – you had to take one side or the other.

Seamless whole

Relax! I am being facetious, of course (and please forgive me if you are from Eastern Europe and your name is Mudite – I assure you there is no connection!).

But the controversies of men are often silly – though highly important in their own minds. We don’t have to wait till 2010 to encounter such debates. These are going on around us all the time, often centring on such matters as the exact time of our justification or the precise nature of the Spirit’s work in the believer.

But let us understand one thing. The work of God the Father towards usin choosing us before time began; the work of God the Sonfor usin redeeming us on Calvary’s cross; and the work of God the Spirit in usnow, as he regenerates us to life and faith; are not in conflict with one another. They make up the seamless whole of that onesalvation which is ‘of the Lord’.

Every aspect of salvation is the work of God who, in the tri-unity of his sacred persons, makes himself known to his people in his Word. Let us not rend that Word, tearing scripture from scripture, but rather hold the whole in harmonious balance – while praising God for his grace and mercy.

Six blind men

So I’ll give you a poem written over 100 years ago and pray that God might open our eyes to see the fulness of his glorious grace. No offence to any is intended, just indulge me in my old age!

It was six men of Anyland
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
‘God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!’

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, ‘Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!’

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
‘I see,’ quoth he, ‘the Elephant
Is very like a snake!’

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
‘What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,’ quoth he;
‘ ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!’

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: ‘E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!’

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
‘I see,’ quoth he, ‘the Elephant
Is very like a rope!’

And so these men of Anyland
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Blind to a degree

While the analogy of the six blind men describing an elephant has been used by various false religions and atheists to explain conflicting descriptions of God, it will not work for that purpose – for several reasons. God is not an elephant; these men were blind; they all came up with false descriptions; and they were all still blind and in error when they had finished their descriptions.

But it may well fit some of us who – though well-meaning and sincere believers – are still blind to a degree apart from the Spirit’s work of revelation.

If we are not careful, we can describe the various biblical doctrines of God our Saviour in such a way as to set them against one another. We then compound our error by insisting that it has to be ‘either-or’ – when apparent ‘opposites’ are equally true and are set side by side in Scripture to give us a bigger picture than our little minds could fashion for themselves.