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.