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Should Christians Engage
In Doctrinal Debates?
Authored By : Bill Kochman (aka The WordWeaver)
Published On : June 29, 2011
Last Updated : June 29, 2011
My Decision To Not Engage In Doctrinal Debates, Growing And Maturing In Faith And Wisdom, Futility Of Doctrinal Debates, Jehovah's Witnesses And Other Doctrinal Correctors, Debate Addicts, Troublesome Trolls, Controversial Divisive Nature Of Interpreting Endtime Prophecy, Paul Preaches At Corinth To Unbelieving Jews And "Greeks", Paul's Habit Of Preaching In Synagogues, Hellenistic Jews, Unclean Gentiles And Temple, Jude's "Contend For The Faith", "Be Ready Always To Give An Answer", Ask For Wisdom, Don't Cast Your Pearls Before Swine, Compare Scripture With Scripture, People Who Sow Dissension And Division Are An Abomination To God, Scriptural Basis For Not Arguing And Debating, Foolishness Of Idolizing Leaders, Argumentative Tactics Of The Divisive Unbelieving Jews, Paul Pleads For Unity Amongst Brethren, Paul Warns Against False Jewish Brethren And Deceptive False Doctrines, Paul Turns To The Gentiles, John's Warning Concerning False Brethren And False Doctrine, Constructive Discussion Or Divisive Debate?, Internet, Wounded Pride Inflated Egos And Verbal Armageddon, God's Desire For Us All Is Spiritual And Doctrinal Unity
As I have mentioned to my readers a number of times before, it is my personal policy to not engage myself in doctrinal debates. This is not a decision which I just suddenly made one day on a whim. It is in fact a position which I slowly adopted over a period of some forty years, after engaging in countless discussions, covering a wide range of topics, with both Christians and non-Christians alike. In my younger days, when I was perhaps more of an undisciplined firebrand -- and probably more self-righteous as well -- such exchanges would sometimes evolve into heated, but diplomatic, discussions. In my youthful foolishness and zeal, I was so certain that I was right about everything. I had the truth. How about you? Does that describe your life as well? Does the shoe fit?
As I matured in my Christian faith, and slowly grew in both wisdom and experience, I gradually came to realize that not only have I not always been right about everything, but that more often than not, engaging in doctrinal debates is simply an exercise in futility. "Why?" you may ask. Well, because both parties are usually quite entrenched in their doctrinal positions, and are not so much interested in maybe learning something from the other person, as they are in convincing the other individual of their particular views. While you can argue that this is what healthy debate is all about, let me ask you something: Does this kind of proud attitude and competitive spirit have a place in the life of a Christian?
And then there are those people who we can refer to as the "doctrinal correctors". These people -- a number of whom I have encountered over the years on both our Endtime Prophecy Net Messageboard, as well as on our Endtime Discussion Group Exchange (EDGE) mailing list -- go around with an attitude of superiority, and feel that it is their duty to point out how everyone else is wrong, while they alone are right. The goal of such people is not to engage in real conversation with other members of the community, it is simply to force their views on everyone else. It is a very sickening attitude to have to deal with. I am reminded of Jehovah's Witnesses who rarely ever let you get a word in. When they come to your door, be prepared to do a lot of listening, but very little talking yourself.
Of course, there are also certain people who like to debate for the sake of debate alone. Such people are debate addicts. They delight in exhibiting their mastery of words and their craftiness. They love to argue and they wear their pride like a badge. Then of course, there are the trolls. No matter what the topic of discussion may happen to be, even if they aren't truly interested in the subject, they will find a way to stir up an argument, in order to disrupt the conversation that is in progress. They will jab and poke and flame until someone finally explodes. Their strategy is to sow confusion, and to divide and conquer, and then to make a quick exit to the next conversational battlefield. It is best to just ignore them.
What actually inspired this current article was an online conversation that I had this morning with another Christian friend on one of the mailing lists that I operate. The topic of our discussion turned to Endtime Prophecy. As many of you will already know, the interpretation of Bible Prophecy is a rather hot, controversial and divisive subject. There are as many different interpretations of Bible Prophecy as there are preachers and teachers, and the Internet and Christian bookstores are literally filled with them. While I obviously have my personal views concerning Bible Prophecy, which are clearly outlined in a number of my many articles, I informed my friend that it is not my personal practice to engage in doctrinal debates. He was a bit perplexed by my statement, and pointed me to the following verses, which, in his view, seem to contradict my position:
"After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks."
Acts 18:1-4, KJV
In my view, the previous verses do not justify engaging in doctrinal debates with our fellow Christian brethren, and I will now explain to you why I believe that this is so.
The key points to properly understanding these verses is to recognize where Paul preached, and to whom he preached. We are told that Paul "reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath". It goes without saying that if Paul preached in a synagogue, he must have been reasoning with unbelieving Jews, and not debating with his fellow Christian brethren. As I explain in such articles as "Biblical Cafeteria, Or The Whole Course?", this was in fact Paul's usual manner of preaching whenever he entered a new town or city. He would preach on the Sabbath in the synagogue -- because by this time, the Jews were quite scattered around the Mediterranean region. Furthermore, we are told that Paul was reasoning with the Greeks as well.
Let me point out here that while the Greek word that is used in that verse -- "Hellen" -- is translated as Greeks, it is possible that the writer -- Luke -- is actually referring to Hellenistic Jews; that is, to Jews who had for a long time adopted the Greek language, dress and culture as their own, and who lived all around the Mediterranean region. After all, it is only Jews who would enter, or who would even be allowed to attend, a synagogue on the Sabbath day, as Gentiles were viewed as being unclean. For example, consider what happened when some of the Jews erroneously assumed that Paul had taken an Ephesian into the temple in Jerusalem:
"Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar."
Acts 21:26-31, KJV
In the Book of Revelation, we also find these interesting verses:
"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months."
Revelation 11:1-2, KJV
Returning to the previous verses that are found in Acts chapter eighteen, the fact that these Jews and "Greeks" were "persuaded" by Paul, further indicates that some of them went from a state of unbelief, to a state of belief in Jesus. That being the case, it becomes quite evident -- at least to me -- that the Apostle Paul was really reasoning with nonbelievers. He was not debating with his own Christian brethren. So to reiterate, those verses are not describing Christian brethren who are engaging in doctrinal debates with other Christians. It is actually the Apostle Paul debating with his own fellow unbelieving Jews, and convincing them to believe in Jesus. My friend also shared the following verse with me:
"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
Jude 1:3, KJV
Personally, I believe that Jude 1:3 -- which I also quote in a number of other articles -- is referring to the same thing. In other words, it is my belief that when Jude tells us to "contend for the faith", he is not saying that we Christians should engage in doctrinal debates with our fellow brethren. Similar to the Apostle Paul, I believe that Jude is actually saying that we should contend for the faith with the outside unbelieving world, and win them to Christ. As I will explain in a moment, there is already too much infighting within the modern Body of Christ as it is.
In his first Epistle, the Apostle Peter also offers us the following advice:
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:"
1 Peter 3:15, KJV
Please notice carefully what Peter is saying. Ask yourself: Would a saved fellow Christian ask you to explain the reason of the hope that is in you? Obviously not, because he already understands it, just as much as you do. Therefore, we can safely conclude that Peter must be referring to responding to unbelievers when they question us about our faith. Similar to the previous verses, this verse has absolutely nothing to do with Christians debating amongst themselves over doctrine.
While it is indeed our Christian duty to preach the Gospel of Salvation to the lost of this world, at the same time, as the Lord admonishes us to do, we need to ask God to give us the wisdom to recognize the difference between sincere seekers of truth, and time-wasting reprobates. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us the following:
"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."
Matthew 7:6, KJV
As you may already know -- particularly if you are one of my longtime readers -- for many years now, whenever I am asked about a particular Biblical issue, my practice has been to carefully compare Scripture with Scripture, in order that I might arrive at the proper conclusion. I regard this as the safest approach for arriving at the correct exegesis of any Biblical text. Upon doing this, we discover that the idea of Christian brethren arguing with each other over doctrine is totally contrary to the Scriptures. There are in fact a few key verses in the Bible which clearly reveal that sowing dissension and division amongst the brethren -- and doctrinal debates will most certainly do that -- is an abomination to the Lord. Consider the following verses:
"These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."
Proverbs 6:16-19, KJV
"But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
2 Timothy 2:23-26, KJV
"But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain."
Titus 3:9, KJV
"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
1 Corinthians 1:11-13, KJV
"For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase."
1 Corinthians 3:3-6, KJV
As I explain in other articles, the reason why the Apostle Paul had to write these things, is not only because some of the Christian brethren were beginning to idolize some of the Early Church leaders -- just as so many Christians idolize certain evangelists and preachers in our own day -- but also because the legalistic Jews purposely used doctrinal debates as a way to divide the Early Church. They argued about which holy days had to be observed. They argued about what food was permissible to eat and drink. They argued about the necessity of circumcision, and on and on it went. Their modus operandi was simply divide and conquer, and such contentious doctrinal debates weakened the Early Church.
Thus, the Apostle Paul was inspired to write the following. He in fact pleaded with the Corinthian brethren to unite against a common foe -- his very own divisive, unbelieving Jewish brethren:
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
1 Corinthians 1:10, KJV
Paul warned the Christian brethren over and over again to beware of the false Jewish brethren who crept into their midst, in order to sow dissension, division and discord by involving the brethren in doctrinal disputes. Please consider the following verses:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."
Acts 20:28-30, KJV
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them."
Romans 16:17, KJV
"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him . . . For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15, KJV
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Galatians 1:6-9, KJV
"And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:"
Galatians 2:4, KJV
"Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision."
Philippians 3:2, KJV
"If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself."
1 Timothy 6:3-5, KJV
"But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."
Titus 3:9-11, KJV
In the following verses, Paul again warns the brethren to watch out for the false, heretical doctrines which were introduced by these vile, shrewd, deceptive snakes:
"That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:"
Ephesians 4:14-15, KJV
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein."
Hebrews 13:9, KJV
"As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do."
1 Timothy 1:3-4, KJV
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;"
1 Timothy 4:1, KJV
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;"
2 Timothy 4:3, KJV
As I mention in other articles, the Apostle Paul eventually grew so tired of debating with his hard-hearted, unbelieving Jewish brethren, that he finally turned to the Gentiles, as we see by the following verse that is found in the Book of Acts:
"Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles."
Acts 13:46, KJV
The Apostle John likewise had this to say regarding false brethren and their false doctrines:
"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."
2 John 1:9-11, KJV
All of the previous verses paint a very clear warning for us, and that is this: Unless kept in check, doctrinal debates can very easily get out of hand, and lead to confusion, division, discord and offense.
Upon reading the previous paragraphs, some of my readers may possibly arrive at the erroneous conclusion that I am saying that we Christians should never discuss doctrines amongst ourselves. Some of you may even wonder "Well, what about Acts chapter fifteen where the Church Elders in Jerusalem and Paul and some of his companions got together in order to establish certain doctrinal guidelines for the Jewish and the Gentile brethren? Doesn't that contradict what you seem to be saying in this article?"
Actually, no it doesn't; because there is a huge difference between what they were doing, what the false Jewish brethren were doing, and what a lot of Christians are doing today as well. In other words, there is a distinct difference between establishing Church doctrine in the company of Church Elders, and the many divisive doctrinal arguments and debates which occur between so many regular brethren today, some of which tend to become very mean-spirited. There is a big difference between constructive discussion and divisive doctrinal debate.
Let's be honest here. Doctrinal discussions may start out innocently enough, but sooner or later, something goes wrong. Perhaps a participant takes offense at something that's been said. Maybe they simply took something too personal, or maybe they just misunderstood something that was said. We all know how arguments can sometimes start over the silliest things. How often does this happen on the Internet where we are not always able to speak face-to-face? Sometimes confused signals are sent because we cannot see a person's hand gesticulations or hear the tone of their voice; and thus we have a hard time interpreting their true meaning or intentions. Let's face it; smileys don't always make the grade.
Regardless of the reasons, once someone is offended, pride rears its ugly head; and once someone's pride is wounded, it isn't long before the defensive walls go up, and name-calling begins. Before you know it, because of wounded pride, as well as inflated egos, what was supposed to have been just a calm, tempered discussion regarding some particular doctrine, all of a sudden evolves -- or devolves -- into a major mess and a verbal battlefield. Eventually, each participant stomps off in their pride and self-righteous indignation, convinced that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. Such is often the danger of becoming involved in doctrinal debates. It seems that some Christians simply lack the spiritual maturity to exchange viewpoints without a verbal Armageddon developing.
If you still don't recognize the serious danger of engaging in doctrinal debates, then I urge you to take a good, hard look at the Christian world today. Satan has certainly had his field day over the past two thousand years. There are now so many different churches, denominations, organizations, sects, etc., each with their own particular set of doctrines, that it will require an absolute miracle of God in order to bring us all into spiritual and doctrinal unity again. Unity is indeed God's ultimate goal and desire, as we can determine by the following verses:
". . . Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
Psalms 133:1, KJV
"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, KJV
"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are . . . That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."
John 17:11, 21-23, KJV
"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
John 10:16, KJV
"That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Romans 15:6, KJV
"Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
2 Corinthians 13:11, KJV
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . . That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
Ephesians 4:1-3, 14-16, KJV
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;"
Philippians 1:27, KJV
"Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
Philippians 2:2, KJV
Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.
⇒ Go To The Next Part . . .