Debate Thy Cause

By Ron Halbrook

The American press is the envy of the world because it serves the public both by reporting facts and by discussing and debating a wide range of issues. In the process, the womanizing of politicians like Gary Hart has been exposed along with the religious scandals of Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker, and the PTL. All who speak in the public arena welcome public review and discussion unless they have something to hide. We promised to update the cover-up of false teaching at the Christian Center.

In previous articles we offered to meet Don Hurley in debate on modern day claims of miracles. He affirms them and we deny them. Our articles have generated letters, phone calls, and personal discussions, but still no word from Mr. Hurley or B.B. Hankins about our proposal to present both sides of the question to the public. We are open to the comments of our readers and will share some of them in this column, as follows.

1 What do Mr. Hurley and the Christian Center have to hide or to fear? Those who are asking this question may read John 3:19-21 for the answer. When men are not teaching the truth, they hide their doctrines and practices from the light of truth which would “pose them.

2. Does Proverbs 25:9 (“debate thy cause”) apply only to private problems? Verses 9-10 teach a principle that applies to matters of both private and public dispute. In any matter of controversy, we should deal with our opponent in an open, honest, and direct way. Otherwise, our underhanded methods, treachery, and dishonesty will be exposed as a disgrace. Christ and his apostles debated their cause publicly, reflecting the open spirit of Proverbs 25:9. People who refuse this open spirit by avoiding examination of their teaching and people who resort to anonymous letters do not meet this standard and so must suffer the disgrace of their actions.

3. Is it right to call the names of false teachers? Paul called the names of such false teachers as Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus (1 Tim, 2:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). Paul told Timothy to follow his example – “these things teach and exhort” (1 Tim. 6:2).’Shall we censor the Bible when it called names or censure the inspired apostle who taught us to identify false teachers?

4. Since there are problems in the Churches of Christ, why should you debate preachers from other churches? While Paul was debating false teachers outside the church, he was also debating his own brethren who were falling into apostate doctrines (Acts 15; 17:17).

5. Jesus and his disciples did not debate but only went from city to city teaching their doctrine. Debate is one of the methods of teaching that Jesus used from city to city, debating such subjects as the appearance of God’s kingdom, proper authority in religion, duties to God and civil rulers, man’s immortal spirit and bodily resurrection, the need to obey all of God’s Word, and the human and divine nature of the Messiah (Matt. 12:22-30; 21-22). False teachers will not follow this example of Christ. Will Mr. Hurley or Mr. Hankins follow it?

6. In Acts 19:9-10 Paul left those alone who would not hear him. Verse 8 says, “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” If Mr. Hurley, Mr. Hankins, or any other representative of the Christian Center is willing to engage in a series of discussions for three months, we will agree that is sufficient time for them to learn and obey the truth. After that, we would do well to teach others.

7. In Matthew 15:14 Jesus told his disciples to leave the opposing religious leaders alone. Jesus was in the midst of a series of debates with the Pharisees and his own disciples were surprised at his severe speech when they saw that the Pharisees were offended by it. Jesus taught them that they should not be surprised at the need to uproot false doctrine because this is the work of God. “Let them alone” does not mean to quit debating them because Jesus continued to do that. The meaning is that if false teachers are offended by our opposition, let them worry and be troubled if they will but we must go on preaching the truth.

8. Matthew 7:15-20 says that we can judge people by their good fruits, so we don’t need to debate. Verse 15 begins with the words, “Beware of false prophets.” When men hide under the cover of silence and darkness to avoid debate, what kind of fruit is that? Public examination helps people to judge the fruits of false teachers and that is why Jesus and his apostles did so much debating.

9. We should be bold enough to teach as the early Christians did by going into people’s homes and by meeting them in front of stores such as Jumbo’s. We are willing to teach people anywhere they are willing to study, and we do teach in the homes. We cannot teach people very well while their arms are full of groceries and they are struggling to get to the car. The early Christians not only taught in homes but also publicly, and that included debates (Acts 20:20; 17:17; 19:8). Some people are not bold enough to follow that example or even to sign their private letters.

10. Mr. Hankins is a congenial person and wants to be positive, not to debate. A winning smile and a friendly manner do not prove a person is preaching the truth of God’s Word. Jesus said that false teachers appear in “sheep’s clothing” and as “an angel of light” (Matt. 7:15; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). A true evangelist must be both positive and negative (2 Tim. 4:2). When men debate against debating, argue against arguing, controvert controversy, and make negative statements about others being negative, they are not so positive after all! When preachers try to be so positive that they avoid debate, they are trying to be more positive than the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles ever were. That’s just a little bit too positive!

In a time when so many religious scandals and cover-ups are being exposed, it behooves all of us who teach publicly to be very much open to public examination, investigation, and discussion. What do we have to hide or to fear if we are preaching the truth of God’s Word? Many of our readers indicate an interest in the proposed debate on claims of miracles today, but there is no indication that Mr. Hurley or Mr. Hankins wants such an open study.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 3, pp. 72-73
February 4, 1988