When Christ says he who has the spirit of contention is not of him, but is of the devil, he is speaking of those who cannot hear truth without become agitated. They are uncomfortable in the presence of truth. That is the “spirit” that has power over them, and is the reason there were contentions among the Nephites about baptisms. The solution to contention is for all to have the Holy Ghost, not for truth to back down and give way to error.
When you or I write by the power of the Holy Ghost you and I cannot simultaneously be writing in a contentious spirit, that is, under the inflluence of the adversary. You and I cannot both write by the Holy Ghost and be writing by the spirit of the devil.
D&C 112:4 Let thy heart be of good cheer before my face; and thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth.
5 Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech.
In 3 Nephi 11 Christ teaches the children about baptism. He then says
3 Nephi 11:28 And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
So the Nephites are taught about baptism, and then told that there are to be no disputations concerning the points of his doctrine as there have hitherto been. For years I read this as meaning that if something bad is being taught, then our obligation is to not dispute it. However, let us take an actual example from the scriptures.
In Moroni 8 we read of a disagreement church members were having about baptism. Apparently some people in the church felt like infants needed to be baptized. So what would our gospel obligation be in that case?
If the doctrine being taught by Christ is that good should never oppose evil when it comes to church doctrine then those in the right should have said nothing. Imagine if it were us and that some members in our ward were saying we needed to baptize infants. Consider the consequences of saying nothing.
Moroni 8:14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
This scripture states with perfect clarity and without exception that whoever is cut off while in the thought that little children need baptism must go down to hell. So in our example, the consequences of saying nothing are pretty drastic.
Is Christ really teaching that if a bad doctrine is introduced among the members, we are not to dispute against it?
No, not at all. He is teaching something altogether different.
3 Nephi 11:29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, 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.
The point is that those who are uncomfortable around the truth, who feel agitated by it, who get upset around it, those are the people who have the spirit of contention in the sense Christ is talking about. Those people are following the devil, they give him reign, and are therefore upset by truth.
So what is Christ’s solution. His doctrine, which will do away with all contention (as stated in verse 30) is outlined in the following verses.
3 Nephi 11:32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
Christ’s solution is that we repent, are baptized, and get the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then as we grow into that gift the Holy Ghost bears record of two things. It bears record of who Christ is. We know Christ insofar as we have the Holy Ghost. It also bears record of truth. We know truth insofar as we have the “mind of Christ”, i.e. insofar as we have the Holy Ghost.
Christ’s plan is Not for good to fail to refute evil. He himself spoke quite boldly against evil doctrines. It is not for good to fail to dispute evil teachings within the church. Look at the prophets and scriptures and one can see that they clearly do so. Christ’s plan is for people to get the Holy Ghost (not just formally, but to really hold to the iron rod), and then the Holy Ghost bears record to each of us of the Father and the Son by making us more like them. Christ’s plan is to get rid of disputations by giving us the Holy Ghost so that we each independently have a witness of truth and there is no cause for disputation.
Those people whom he discusses who have the spirit of the devil, as witnessed by the fact that they contend against truth are the source of the disputations spoken of by Christ, as well as the disputations spoken of in Mormon 8.