Satan is an expert at taking the truth and mingling it with just a tiny bit of lie. For instance, think about the question that he presented Eve in the beginning: “Did God actually say…?” (Gen 3.1).[i] When we read that statement, we immediately pick up that the serpent is trying to get Eve to doubt God’s instruction (i.e., Torah; law). But the question is not evil. Actually, quite the opposite the question is good.
I know, I know not the normal way we think about this section of Scripture. Follow with me for a moment and see whether or not I am speaking the truth. What are we instructed to do by God with all things? We are to “…test everything; hold fast to what is good. [In order to] abstain from every from of evil” (1Thess 5.21-22).
That is to say we are to weigh all things out, to test the spirit of the teaching (1John 4.1), and to see if what we are being told/taught is a truth of God (cf. Deut 13; 18.15-22).[ii] We err when we fail to do this, and this is when we end up getting tripped up by the lie covered in truth.
Debates and Argumentation…
With this is mind, I ask the following question: Should there be debates within the body of Christ? In other words, “Should Christians argue? Is that a godly attitude, opposing one another in formal discussion?” There will be some that say, “No, we shouldn’t. No, it isn’t right. No, it’s never helpful.”
The basis for this? “Christian unity is of absolute importance. Christians are called to love one another.” Therefore, any argumentation, debate, or heated discussion within the Christian community is looked down upon. And so, divisive arguments of all kinds should be avoided. Topics like creation, eschatology, the use of God’s law in society, and various other doctrines are squelched. A librarian’s “ssshhh!” mentality has gripped the professing Christian here in the West. Arguments, debates, and heated discussions are considered taboo by various Christian leaders and pew-sitters alike.
Unity and Love…
The natural urge for all people is to be well received by others. We want to be liked. We want to be held in high regard. A desire for unity and love is a good thing, a righteous thing, but it also drives the question in another direction:
A desire for unity and love of/for what? What is of ultimate importance in the Christian worldview? What should be our central concern when the issue of unity and love is presented?
Jesus proclaimed to those who had ears to hear, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). This is a universal exclusivity claim. “No one come to the Father except through me.” It is either Jesus’ way, His truth, and His life or it is nothing at all. How are you going to know any of those things, unless you study His Word? Everything recorded in the Holy Bible is profitable to the one who humbles himself before the Lord God. All wisdom and knowledge are accessible through the utterings of His mouth. His Word has been tested and purified and is unbreakable.
It is true that Christ called for unity and love amongst His disciples. He prayed to His heavenly Father: “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know hat you sent me and love them even as you loved me” (John 17.23). Now this includes not only the disciples of his earthly ministry, “but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17.20). Christ prayed for His people to be of one heart and mind (Acts 4.32). Unity and love define the Christian walk and are vital elements within the Church, but unity and love to/in/for what?
Learning from the Garden experience…
Think back on what transpired in the garden of Eden again. When Eve was challenged by the serpent “Did God actually say…?” the question of love and unity were in the forefront. Rather than yield to the serpent that he might be telling the truth; rather than grant to her own heart that truth is discernible apart from God’s revealed Word, she should have argued vehemently against her opponent. God’s Word should have been the foundation of all her thought. At that moment before she ate and before her husband ate the fruit with her, she had all those things that people truly cherish: love and unity.
Our first parents enjoyed unity with God—their/our Creator. They enjoyed unity with one another, for they were joyously unashamed. They enjoyed unity with creation itself, for work was pleasurable and all things were under their dominion for the glory of God. All of this was afforded to them, why? Because they loved God, and as a result loved each other, and loved the creation that God had given them. The moment love for God was cast aside for love for self, the unity that was formerly enjoyed was sliced in two. They were separated from the life of God (no unity), and as a result separated from each other (no unity), and separated from enjoying the rest of creation for pain and toil, suffering and death were the promised fruit they were given to eat (no unity).
In short, where love of God was lost, unity followed. There can be no true unity apart from fellowship with the God who formed us. Just as there can be no true expression of love apart from Him.
Debate and Argument are Necessary…
And so, we need to recognize this one fact and learn to adjust our thinking to it—Debate, even lively, heated debate within the Church is not a bad thing. There are times when such discussion is necessary and good.
“When?” you ask.
When the truth is at stake:
“Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth” (John 17.17).
We must also learn that not all dissension is bad, for there are times when that season blows in (cf. Eccl 3.5). Division is a necessary requirement when the truth of God is at stake.
I think I will deal with some concrete examples of what I am speaking about sometime in the near future, but for now we must understand a couple of things.
Christian unity and love are not determined by a false veneer that we set up by refusing to debate and argue of what doctrine is and is not Christian. Christian unity and love are dependent upon our relationship with God, and an adherence to what He has said. Since that is the case, we must weigh these words with utmost care, which were first spoken to the Christians in Corinth: “…that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written…” (1Cor 4.6). Therefore, there comes a time when debate and argument are necessary for the sake of Christian unity and love.
To be continued…
[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
[ii] Obviously, the chief concern in the Deuteronomic passages is to test the words (teachings) of the person who would dare presume to speak on God’s behalf. If in the course of speaking their true desire is revealed to lead us away from our Lord and His grace, then that prophet (one who presumes to speak for the Lord) shall not be listened to. God is so serious that He deems such activity of the false speaker to be worthy of death; even if it is a group of individuals (i.e., a city). While we do not put to death the individual (that was for civil leaders in Israel and not for the common citizen), we do put their teaching to death. If they refuse to abandon the teaching, then they ought to be removed from fellowship (e.g. 1Cor 5). That way the body of Christ is protected from the leaven of false teaching, and remains uncorrupted before the Lord.