By Larry Ray Hafley
It is alarming to hear brethren express reservations about debating. A number of saints, firmly founded in the faith and grounded in the gospel, have raised an eyebrow at the mention of a debate. Why is this? Are their objections valid?
Before we consider the complaints against controversy, it must be established that such activity is in harmony with the Scriptures. The following passages should convince any one that believes the Bible that debates are scriptural. (Acts 9:29; 17:2, 3; 17:17; 18:4; 19:9; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1; Jude 3) Look up the words “disputed” and “reasoned” that are located in some of the above passages. Obviously, debates are not sinful. Then,
Why Do Brethren Object?
1. “Because some debaters are dishonest.” Even in the first century there were those who dealt deceitfully with the word of God. (2 Cor. 2:17) Every contender for the faith should say with Paul, “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word,. but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2-RSV) If debates are dishonorable because some men are dishonest and deceitful, then it has ever been so. In some of the first public debates ever held, dishonesty was displayed. “Then they secretly instigated men,. . . and set up false witnesses . .” (Acts 6:11, 13) The apostles did not discourage nor disapprove of debates because some men were dishonest. Nor should we.
2. “Because some debaters say some harsh things.” Admittedly, no one should utter a harsh statement for hurtful effect. But listen to the Holy Spirit’s recording of some debaters’ pungent, pointed words, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51). “Then Saul, (who is also called Paul), . . . said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10) Some spiritual sweeties of the present would probably refuse to endorse Paul and Stephen for debate, because they said some harsh things. Who was it that said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell” (Matt. 23:33)? Did he not also say, “Ye are of your father the devil” (Jn. 8:44)?
3. “Because debates hurt the church’s image.” (A church which has this concept of debating probably has an image that needs to be hurt!) Sectarian sentimentalism is outrageously contagious. It seems some brethren want gospel preachers to manifest the spineless air of the denominational clergy, most of whom would not say boo to a field mouse. Wonder how badly Paul and Barnabas “hurt the church’s image” in Antioch when “the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution . . . and expelled them out of their coasts” (Acts 13:50)? Because Paul spoke “the gospel of God with much contention” in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:2), “the Jews . . . set all the city in an uproar,” and Paul and his party were forced to flee the city “by night” as common criminals. (Acts ’17:5, 10) Such “unfavorable publicity” did not discredit debate then, so why should it do so now?
4. ABecause no one is ever converted.” That statement is false. I can give names and addresses of some who learned the truth as a direct result of a debate. Granted, few may be converted, but if this will indict debates, will it not also do away with most gospel meetings, volumes of printed sermons, and hours of radio time? Paul had but nominal success when he disputed in Athens. According to the modern idea, he should have ceased debating. But he did not, and we should not.
Controversy has always enveloped the truth. It surrounded our Savior and abounded around the apostles. People are prone, however, to equate religious discussions with bar room brawls. Unfortunately; disputants have not always conducted themselves “as it becometh the gospel of Christ”‘ (Phil. 1:27), thus the reason for the feelings of many. But the victory of the’ Devil over the passions of men does not negate the worth of honorable argument. Controversy can be and ought to be commendable; Let us all seek to be meek in mind and humble in heart as we fight the good fight of faith.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:49, p. 8
October 17, 1974