Should Preachers Debate?

By Ron Halbrook

The psalmist said, “I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.” God’s Word equipped him to overcome every enemy of truth and righteousness (Psa. 119:98,128). Ever since sin and error entered the world, lovers of God and truth have met the enemy in public debate and controversy. Elijah confronted the priests of Baal and defeated them as each contended for his cause (1 Kgs. 18). Ezekiel was not content to ignore the theory of inherited sin but debated against it and destroyed it (Ezek. 18).

God gave his faithful prophets all the words of truth needed to refute every false way in honorable controversy. “The Lord hath a controversy with the nations.” Therefore, he gave Jeremiah “all these words” to do battle – “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy” (25:30-31; 1:10). Hoses proclaimed the “controversy” of God against those who professed to teach his law but who actually promoted error and participated in sin (4:1-7; 12:1-2). Micah announced “the Lord’s controversy” against his people and challenged them to answer his arguments if they could: “Arise, contend thou before the mountains” (6:1-2). John debated the meaning of his baptism with the leading religious leaders of the day (Matt. 3:1-12; Lk. 7:30).

Jesus Christ debated often on such subjects as:

1. The appearance of God’s kingdom (Matt. 12:22-30).

2. Proper authority in religion (21:23-27).

3. Duties to God and civil rulers (22:15-22).

4. Man’s immortal spirit and bodily resurrection (vv. 23-33).

5. The need to obey all of God’s word (vv. 34-40).

6. The human and divine nature of the Messiah (vv. 35-46).

Peter contended over the meaning of miracles several times (Acts 2:6-14; 11:1-4; 15:7-11). The preaching of Paul involved one debate after another. “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him” (Acts 17:17). Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, and other faithful men faced false teachers on the issue of what we must do to be saved. There was “no small dissension and disputation with them” and “much disputing” (Acts 15). All Christians are urged by God to debate and to defend the truth of the gospel, both publicly and privately as we have the opportunity and ability (1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3).

Should preachers debate? Only those who have the true power of the gospel should! The cause of truth is greatly advanced by it. False teachers should avoid debate as much as possible and make as many excuses as possible for not debating. Their cause has everything to fear from open controversy where people hear both sides of the issue.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 18, p. 561
September 15, 1988