Posted in Debate and Argumentation

It’s Just Words, Man…Just Words

“You’re just arguing semantics,” was the reply I received. “That’s what he said to you?” an evangelist friend of mine asked. “Yeah, that’s what he said as if this somehow settled the argument,” I said. “That’s stupid, of course you’re arguing over semantics…that’s the whole point,” came my friends irritated response.[1]

What’s the Problem?

Semantics may not be a word that many are familiar with. But familiarity or not everyone uses semantical argumentation. In debates, dialogues, and various other forms of argument one of the things you will notice is that the debate stems from the varying ways in which individuals or groups understand certain key terms or concepts.

This is the game that is often played in cultural issues and or policies (i.e., politics). Barring consideration over the foundational issues inherent in any position held, language or the way we communicate is loaded with baggage.[2]  This baggage provides a filtering lens in the way we use terms or phrases, based on our interpretation of them via our worldview commitments. In short, the way we use certain words or phrases or concepts through various forms of speech (speaking, writing), and the way we hear them (audio, reading) will be governed by what we considered acceptable within a certain range of meaning.

Underlying Issue Elaborated Upon…

The conversation that I roped you in with above was the result of a real meeting I had with a board of elders in the Nazarene Church. This was during my first pastorate, and it was one of many steps as I journeyed on through the ordination process.[3] If I’m not mistaken this conversation would have taken place sometime in the spring of 2010 before the District Assembly’s meeting. The semantical argument that one of the elders referred to was over the word “vision.” The text pointed to was Prov 29.18 in the KJV:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

The problem was that they didn’t like my response on a questionnaire I had filled out a few weeks before the meeting. They interpreted my response as hostile, but it was anything but. In fact, one of the elders said that my demeanor in the meeting was not the impression he’d gotten from what I’d written. Meaning I seemed rather blunt, to which he took as, I suppose, some form of aggression on my part. However, they thought I was rather cordial in person.

The source of contention in this meeting was that I told them they had wrongly applied the passage in question. They were using it in a way to inquire what my “vision was” that I had received from the Lord for my work in Chesterhill, OH. What dream or aspirations or visionary net was I casting to lead me in future months as I worked in the ministry at that church? Even without a lexicon if one merely reads the verse you will see that parallel provided in this form of Hebrew poetry limits the use of the word “vision” in this context as instruction received from God’s law (Torah). More recent English translations pick this intention up provided by the writer of this particular proverb:

  • “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (ESV).
  • “When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!” (NET)
  • “When there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but as for he who guards instruction, happiness is his” (LEB).[4]

Even the Greek translation of the Tanakh does not allow for the manner in which they were attempting to use the term:

  • “There shall be no interpreter to a sinful nation; but he that observes the law is blessed” (LXX).

Once, I had proved my case the only possible answer was to dismiss me altogether with the statement: “You’re just arguing semantics.” And then, the meeting moved on as if it never happened.

I have heard similar argumentation when people quote Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (ESV). God says people are destroyed when they don’t seek for and embrace knowledge. As if this refers to any and all forms of knowledge.

Again, context helps us identify the meaning of the word “knowledge” even if we do not have a Hebrew dictionary. The second half of the verse shows that the knowledge that the people lack, which is the cause of their being destroyed, is they “have forgotten the law of your God” (Hos 4.6b). The reason is because they had teachers (i.e., priests and prophets) who failed to take God at His Word and give faithful instruction to His people. Which led to “cast[ing] off restraint” as the writer of the proverb above illustrated.

Aid or Hinderance…

Language and our use of it may be either a wonderful aid or a great hinderance to those whom we are speaking to. Fights ensue on theological grounds over the use of words and phrases. This war of words is not limited to what some might view as an ecclesiastical sphere, but takes place in our day-to-day life on a variety of issues. Being a political year, if we take the time to listen and weigh the words of those promoting their ideas, you will notice that the battle is one ideologically waged through the use of words.

Example regarding Politics…

Recently, I was listening (and watching) a conversation that Candace Owens had with fellow black leaders at some event (Clip from Revolt Summit; warning explicit language). Her conservative position was in the minority as could be seen with the panel of people she shared the stage with, as well as the response of the crowd. At one point she was asked what does Trump mean by “Make American Great Again,” “what’s he talking about?!? What era of American history is he referring to?!?”

One group heard the phrase “Make America Great Again,” as possibly referring to the days of segregation, or chattel slavery, or when women didn’t have the right to vote, etc. The other group, represented by Mrs. Owens, meant the values that were once held dear in terms of marriage—specifically fathers in the homes, rather than being negligent—when people worked hard for a living rather than being eager for a handout, when moral values where more in line with those held by our founders and other great leaders of the past; barring of course the atrocities that some fools committed. Though Mrs. Owens was asked the question she was shouted down by members of the panel and the crowd, because they refused to hear her definition of the phrase. It was an argument over semantics.

In Regards to Eternal Punishment…

As I noted in an earlier post in regards to Conditionalism/Annihilationism (See Here) from what I can tell the argument is one over semantics. Since that time, I have read a few articles, books, and some of the early writings of those often labeled “Church fathers” (i.e., the pastors, theologians and scholars of the early church).  I’ve also ordered a couple books on the subject from opposing sides. Until that time, I think that there are a few areas that I might address without having read those books.

What’s to be Expected…

The first has to do with the use of metaphoric language (i.e., symbolic use). The second will deal with the meaning of death in Scripture. The way I have seen it argued from the Conditionalist side is heavily geared towards cessation. If that is in fact the case, then we ought to be able to find biblical support for that position. We shall see. There is a third position that we could look into and that is heavily tied to the emotive human response to the idea of eternal punishment and/or damnation. Let it suffice to say that if both sides are honest NO ONE LIKES the idea of sinners in an eternity of torment/suffering. But the issue at hand has little to do with likes. Whether or not I like something or dislike something has no bearing on whether or not it is truth that should be embraced or rejected. The creature of God is called to submit to the Truth of God regardless of lack of total understanding and emotional bias. I may have a fourth article loosely tied to this in regards to philosophy vs. exegesis, in light of how they relate to one another. But time will tell what I decide on that point.

Until then I pray that you will have a blessed weekend. Worship the Lord while He may be found. Take advantage of today, for tomorrow is promised to none of us. God Bless.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This conversation is paraphrased from the original. The content is accurate, as well as the emotional distaste of my evangelist friend, but I don’t want to act as if this is an exact transcript. Many years have passed since then, and while I don’t believe my memory is slipping I don’t want to overstate my case.

[2] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief, E-book edition (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1998], 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[3] My ordination would not come until the April of 2014. By then I had left the Church of the Nazarene for doctrinal reasons, having submitted my resignation letter to my church and the District Superintendent.

[4] All italics are mine to emphasize the word in question.

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

Debate and Argumentation: Part III

This is the third and final installment of Debate and Argumentation (if you’d like to catch up here they are in order:  Debate and Argumentation for the Sake of Unity and LoveDebate and Argumentation: Part II ).

We live in a day and age that avoids all forms of debate like the Black Plague.  And yet, debate, argumentation even heated discussion is necessary and important when the truth is at stake. Our public square will shout you down, attack you personally, and attempt to censure you but that is only because they do not want what they propose as truth to be scrutinized and to be found wanting.  (Sometimes silence is attempted, but only insofar as you do not push the issue).

Back to Acts 15…

Last time, we were discussing Acts 15 and the heated debate that occurred in that day over “circumcision” and the “Law of Moses” (of God). The argument was over Scripture and flowed from two different interpretations of some very important key texts. I won’t rehash that here. If you’re really interested check out Part II linked above.

I do, however, need to address one issue that I left blank in the last post. Circumcision, although a vitally important element of the old covenantal system found its fulfillment in Christ Jesus (cf. Col 2.11-14; 3.11). The spiritual element is still mandatory, but the physical cutting of flesh has been done away with. That portion of ceremonial cleanliness is no longer necessary. Why? Because, the Lamb of God satisfied the purpose of those former shadows. Thus, the slaying of animals on an altar is no longer necessary. The separating of crops, of fabrics, even of various dietary restrictions have been met in the work of the Lord.

(NOTE TO READER: The book of Hebrews provides a wonderful explanation of why these former elements are no longer necessary, but the subject matter is too long to address in this relatively short article).

We are now going to turn our attention to the second major point of contention in Acts 15:5, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (emphasis added). How one responds to this statement will reveal a lot of what they know, what they’ve been told, and what they’ve come to believe (i.e. convictions).

The Law: Physical and Spiritual Elements

There is a general precept found in Scripture at three vital points. That a person should not presume to add or take away from God’s Holy Word. We find this warning twice in Deuteronomy (4.2; 12.32), once in the book of Proverbs (30.6), and once again in the book of Revelation (22.18-19).

Each statement should be considered contextually first. For example, the book of Revelation’s statement on this subject is limited to the writings of that book. That does not mean the principle is invalid or inapplicable outside of that text. However, if that was the only warning, we were given in that regard then we would be stretching the intent of the passage to attempt to apply it elsewhere. Which is why I believe God was adamant about repeating it.

This particular teaching also links itself to false prophets and false teachers (Deut 13.1-5; 18.20-22). Those who desire to speak for God, but deviate from His Word teaching false truths, false Christ’s, false gospels (cf. 2Cor 11.3-4; Gal 1.6-9; compare 1Thess 5.20-21; 1John 4.1). Thus, we read about the Bereans when they heard the gospel they “searched the Scriptures” to see if those things Paul taught were true; they tested his words (Acts 17.11).

The problem with the Law of God is not with the Law, but with our hearts (Rom 7.14; 8.7-8). The Law is described as good and holy (Rom 7.12; Neh 9.13; 1Tim 1.8). We on the other hand are not (Eccl 7.20). Two extremes spring forth from our lack of holiness and goodness. The first is legalism and the second is anti-law.

The Legalists…

These individuals look at God’s Law and find it insufficient in that they see the need to add extra guardrails to deter one from breaking them. This is an overreaction, and it is rooted in the false notion that we have within ourselves, the ability to live holy lives apart from the grace/power of God.  Some good example passages are found in Mark 7:6-13 and Isa 1.2-20.[i]

The Anti-Law Advocates…

These individuals look at God’s Law in an archaic fashion. They assume that grace has freed them from obligation to the Law of God. Often, they misappropriate the second half of Rom 6:14, “…you are not under law but under grace.” Paul is not saying in Rom 6:14 that Christians are free from obeying the law of God, but that we are free of the curse brought about by the law of God. The law of God does not save, it condemns. Sin is aggravated by the law, stirred up in our hearts and immediately seeks to rebel against God’s Holy standard (cf. Rom 7-8.8). Paul tells the Christians in Rome they need not fear for “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace” (Rom 6:14; entire verse).

In other words, you, who are in Christ, have been set free from the bondage that sin once had on you. The chains of sin have been broken, for when you were baptized in Christ you were raised to new life; therefore, sin lost its hold, its power over you. You have been freed from the power of sin, which is grace. That’s what it means to be under grace. That’s exactly what Paul is saying.

To attempt to argue otherwise is vanity. First of all, it pits Paul against Christ Jesus. Second, it twists God’s Word through the addition and subtraction of what He has revealed.

Jesus said very clearly that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt 5.19a). Jesus taught the smallest law is to be upheld (i.e. obeyed), and the person who taught another to not keep it will be called “least.” Before Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He said that they were to teach the nations “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20a).

Some attempt to be wiser than they ought and say, “Well Jesus was only talking about the things He commanded during His ministry.” Really, where did He say that? Oh, he didn’t, you just assume it. Ah…so you’re in the habit of adding to the Word of God, are you?

There is no debate, Jesus settled it…

The fact of the matter is settled. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth passes away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5.17-18; emphasis added).  And before the person can argue (as some have done and others do) that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law is the end of the law reread his words: “Do not think…I have not.”

Fulfilling of the law is upholding the law, observing the law, obeying the law, living in accordance with the law; which is precisely what the apostle Paul says in the same epistle some run to in order to support their folly. And so, to those individuals we ought to say, “Have you not read[ii]…Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law” (Rom 3.31).

Returning to Acts 15:5…

So, on the surface the demand of some of the believers from the Pharisee party seem to be legitimate. It is right to teach new believers to obey the Law of God. Not because we are saved by the law, but because we desire to please God. That is where they are wrong, where they have erred from the truth, and it is the reason for the heated discussion in Jerusalem (Acts 15.7a).

To think that our activities save us is to fall into the fallacy of Cain. He brought to the Lord his very best, but his best was a stench in the nostrils of God. God wanted to vomit over Cain’s sacrifice, but Abel’s—his brother—well that was a different situation altogether. What made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable (pleasing) to God? His was offered in faith (Heb 11.4). Which is what precisely? Faith, true faith, is an act of obedience by the one who takes God at His Word and trusts (believes) He has spoken rightly.

James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (italics added).

I realize that some get really confused on the meaning here of James, so please allow me to clarify. Notice James does not say that works save, which would ultimately pit him against God (cf. Rom 3.28). His point, however, is that faith without works (obedience towards God) is dead! Can faith without obedience be said to be genuine faith in God? No, that would be a false faith. Supposed belief without any fruit of righteous obedience to show for it, is the same sort of pseudo-faith that the devil has (James 2.19).

What the Argument was truly over…

This is the opposite of what the “circumcision party” believed. In their mind, the only way someone was saved was by what they did. In short, they were their own justifiers.  It is akin to the argument: “If God commands it, then I must be capable of doing it on my own. My own nature is essentially good, therefore, my works are good and ought to be honored by God: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get‘” (Luke 18.11-12).

What Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James were arguing is that not only did God never teach this (it is an incorrect interpretation of the Law), but history (both former and personal) proved that they could not bear the yoke they were attempting to prescribe to others (Acts 15.10). The Holy Spirit saved Cornelius’ household before they had done anything (see Acts 10). Just as God justified Abraham before he had done anything (see Rom 4:1-13).

The Closing Argument…

To put the matter to bed, let me point you to Christ. Did He obey the Law? Yes, on all points. Did His obedience save Him, or was His obedience evidence of having a heart that truly loved the Father? His love of the Father drove Him to obedience in all things: “not my will be done, but thine” (Luke 22.42). His faith was living not dead, therefore, He trusted and acted upon God’s Law-Word. And we who are called by His Name are likewise supposed to walk in the same steps that He has taken (1John 2.3-6; 3.22-24; 5.2-3; 2John 1:6).

This example, serves as a reminder of the benefit of argumentation and debate. We need to wrestle with the Scriptures, and not be afraid of discussing what they mean. Challenging some if needed, loving others when possible, so that we might prove our unity and love to our Lord first and foremost, and then as a necessary result…one another.


ENDNOTES:

[i] In both passages we find those that profess to love God, profess to uphold His Law, rules and statutes, and yet along the way they have added their own personal standards to the practice. They are more concerned with the letter (the outward action), than the Spirit (inward motivation of the heart/mind) of the Law. Such individuals find a way to add further extensions (amendments, if you will) to progress God’s Law in a fashion they find acceptable to the people. They think themselves holy. They believe themselves just, but inside they are white washed sepulchers (tombs).

[ii] The phrase “have you not read” was a favorite of our Lord’s to rebuke and correct his opponents. See: Matt 12.3, 5; 19.4; 21.16; 22.31; Mark 12.20, 26; Luke 6.3.  Sometimes he presents it as a rhetorical question that demands a negative answer as in Luke 10:26.

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

Debate and Argumentation: Part II

This is a continuation of (Debate and Argumentation for the Sake of Unity and Love )

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….

Am I saying that we are to be contentious? No. Are we to argue for the sake of arguing, puffing out our chest here and there because our eggheads are three sizes too large? No. Debate, argument and at times (when necessary) heated discussion are obligatory when the truth is being weighed. Not our truth. Bear that in mind, that’s important. But God’s truth (cf. John 17.17).

One of the things that you learn shepherding God’s flock is that we do not always see eye-to-eye. There are times where that is allowable and good, and there are times when it is damaging to the gospel.

Today, all I want to do is a give a couple of examples where this sort of thing might spring up. The first maybe one you face in a local church setting. The second will be drawn from the Bible in the 1st century. Hopefully, from these two we will learn how to properly handle them.

What’s the Gospel?

I also think at this point, it is important to understand the different nuances in which the term gospel is used in Scripture.

The gospel of God is not limited to the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel of Christ is not limited to the New Testament canon. The gospel of Paul is not limited to his writings (the epistles of the N. T.). The good news of God is interwoven through all of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. To be frank, you cannot truly understand the gospel in any of its senses (general or specific) apart from the foundation teachings laid down by Moses (1st five books: Gen-Deut), and the Prophets (which would include the sections of history, wisdom writings, and specific fore/forth-telling).

Specifically applied to…

That being said there is a specific fount from which the gospel springs from and focuses on: the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb 1.1-3).

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1Cor 15.1-8).

When to dissent and divide…

When a teaching infringes upon the gospel of God. When the doctrine being proclaimed leads Christ’s little ones away from the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).  The key to remember is that a person can be in error, but still be in Christ.

For example, …


a person who believes that God created by some other means in Genesis 1 than what is clearly taught in the text might still be a Christian—for it is belief in Christ that saves us—but they wouldn’t be qualified to hold a teaching position in the church.[i] That sort of divisive attitude is necessary for the sanctity of truth. Fellowship is granted, but the role of teaching is prohibited. Now if such a person took offense to that and broke fellowship with the body over it, then that too is a necessary act of division. You might run to that person and attempt to reason to them from God’s Word. However, if such an individual will not bow the knee to Christ, (not our, at times, faulty interpretations) then for the sake of peace and Christian unity it is better that they leave.

They may still be considered a Christian, just a slightly stiff-necked one. Give lead way to the Holy Spirit to deal with His own. I tend to look at such people like the apostle Paul describes in 1Cor 7:13-15 in regards to the spouse being married to an unbeliever. As long as the unbeliever is willing to stay and be taught, then I will continue to teach them and pray for them. Perhaps God will correct their hearts. But if they desire to go, then for the sake of peace I let them and hold no ill will towards them.


But what about an attack on the gospel? Not just error, but one that distorts the grace of God? How do we deal with that?

Acts 15: Debate and Dissent over the Gospel

There was a certain sect within the body of Christ that believed circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses were necessary to be saved. This sparked a lively and heated debate within the church(es) in Antioch, Syria and caused the 1st ecumenical council to take place in Jerusalem, with Paul and Barnabas being sent as representatives of the defense.

The charge was laid out as follows:

“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15.1)

“It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15.5).

True or False? If only it were that easy, right?!? The problem with the above statements is that there are elements of truth mingled in with a lie. Both circumcision and the Law of Moses (actually, its God’s Law not Moses’ but I digress) are important teachings in Scripture. We need to remember that the source of the conflict which ensues (Acts 15.2, 6-7a) is the Word of God. The error arises, as it so often does when speaking of biblical doctrines, with faulty interpretations over what is written. When the meaning is skewed, then straying from the path to the right or to the left is often the result. This is why Jesus warned his disciples to be wary of the yeast of the Pharisees (Matt 16.6, 12), for a little leaven infects the whole lump (1Cor 5.6-8).

Is circumcision necessary to be saved?

Well that depends upon your understanding of circumcision doesn’t it? Is circumcision a physical act only? Or is there a spiritual element to it as well? The answer is, its both.

Is obedience to the Law of Moses necessary to be saved?

Again, that depends upon your understanding of the Law of God doesn’t it? Is obedience a physical act only? Or is there a spiritual element to it as well? The answer is both.

“Pretty bold claim. Can it be defended?” you say. Oh, I think so….

Ohhh, you mean right now? Okay…no problem. Are you ready? Let’s go.

Circumcision: Physical and Spiritual Elements

What is circumcision? The cutting off of flesh? Yes, it is that. A sign of being covenanted to God? Yes, it is that. God gave the sign of the covenant, people called by His Name to Abraham.  You could not, cannot be a member of the household of Abraham, the household of faith, and therefore the household of God apart from being circumcised.

“This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen 17.10-11, 14; italics added).

Circumcision was also necessary in order to participate in the religious festivities, in particular the Passover. If you wanted to sup with God, to break bread if you will, then you needed to be circumcised. Just like above this was true for the natural born descendant of Abraham, as well as those grafted into his household (i.e., sojourners, foreigners).

If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” (Exod 12.48; italics added).

Finally, circumcision was necessary if one want personal access to God—to worship Him. Again, this was applicable to what later became known as Jew and Gentile; natural worshipers and unnatural worshipers of the Lord God.

“Thus says the Lord God: No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary” (Ezek 44.9; italics added).

The Common Thread that is often missed…

There is a common thread that binds these instructions of God on the heart of his people. We see this more fully drawn out by the prophet Ezekiel who reveals that circumcision is not just an external act, but an internal one as well. Not just physical, but also spiritual. While the external act of circumcision signified a cutting off of allegiance to an old way of life (a life without God), this also provided possible evidence for an internal cutting having taken place (a heart for God).

According to the teaching of Moses true circumcision is both external and internal. The external the person could do. They swore with their mouth and professed to believe in their hearts that the Lord God is God, there is no other. The internal God had to do:

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30.6; ref 10.16).

The internal work was necessary for a person to be capable of loving the Lord, and therefore obeying His Word. The sign of circumcision was given as a testimony before men (i.e., mankind). Here is a statement that I have prepared that I believe helps illustrate what I am saying in light of these biblical teachings:

If we do not have evidence of being cut off for God, we will be cut off from God.

So, when we look at the claims laid by some in Acts 15:1, 5 we find that there is truth to the claim. The error, however, is related to their interpretation and application of the truth revealed by God. They assumed that the letter of the law (Torah) is what saved, when it has always been the Spirit of the Law (2Cor 3.6). Despite the fact that God taught the only thing that could save them was His grace. He alone could atone for their sin. A life must be exchanged for a life, blood for blood (Lev 17.11) to which true circumcision most assuredly points (cf. Rom 2.28-29; Col 2.11-14).

We have addressed the one teaching that needed to be discussed, debated and refuted, next time we will look at the other: The Law of Moses…

“Wait a minute! You didn’t explain whether or not physical circumcision is still necessary!”

You’re right, we’ll discuss that in the next post as well as a bit of a precursor. Until then….thanks for you patience.

ENDNOTES:

[i] I am speaking about a local body where I am an overseer. However, I do believe that this ought to be a universal standard within the body of Christ. If you are incapable of understanding that what God spoke about the beginning is just as authoritative as what he has said about the middle and end, then you don’t need to be teaching. If you struggle with the clear meaning of the text, and want to bend the language to fit a preconceived idea that is foreign to the text (i.e., outside), then you don’t need to be teaching. If we are not willing to use Scripture as an interpretative grid for the rest of Scripture, then we don’t need to be teaching.

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

Debate and Argumentation for the Sake of Unity and Love

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.

Testing time…

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…

ENDNOTES:

[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.