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When Debate is Good?

“Debate” is often met with sarcastic tones and sour tastes in church conversations. And there are good reasons for that. In the past, churches have caused tremendous harm by engaging in heated conversations which turn more destructive than constructive. And many debates arise internally within the body of Christ, which almost always prove to be detrimental. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been good debates in the past, with Christ-like approaches and dialogue, but I do think it’s fair to say that healthy debates are certainly in the minority.

However, we can’t completely run from the word “debate”, as we find this word, or at least the discipline of it, in Scripture. One instance which comes to my mind is at the end of Acts 18. Apollos, a Jewish man from Alexandria with great potential and passion, had just been instructed by Priscilla and Aquila in their home concerning a better understanding of New Testament baptism and the Holy Spirit. Now he was ready to go back out on his own and teach others. One of his first stops was Achaia. We find these words about his experience at the end of Acts 18, “For Apollos vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:28)

What does this one verse tell us about healthy debate? Apollos proved from the SCRIPTURES that Jesus was the Christ. That’s why his debate was healthy. That was the standard and boundary for the discussion. It wasn’t about what Apollos thought or even wanted to think. We can’t speak as much about the Jews because we don’t have their recorded rebuttal in the text, but I can only imagine that whatever counter-argument they offered wasn’t that powerful, because Apollos proved the truth from the Scriptures. That’s the only way to debate. A lesson I’m sure Apollos learned days before at the home of Priscilla and Aquila who “…explained to him the way of God more adequately…” (Acts 18:25) Not Priscilla’s way or Aquila’s way, but God’s way.

How many conversations have you heard in Bible class that sound something along the lines of, “Well, I think…” Or, “My mom always said…” Or, “I’ve always been taught…”? Well, what you think, what your mom said, and what you’ve always been taught very well might be what the Scriptures say, but even if it is, those introductory remarks aren’t true spiritual qualifiers. It’s all about the Scriptures. And unfortunately, more times than not, those personal qualifiers often stand opposed to the Scriptures. They’re more traditions of men than teachings of God. Regardless if we’ve been Christians 65 years or 65 minutes, we must still turn our ears and listen to the only infallible voice of truth and reason—the Scriptures—to make sure we aren’t wrong.

And one more reminder—if we engage in debates that can’t be traced back to the Scriptures, we would be very wise to ignore them all together. We have what we have in God’s word for a reason, and we don’t have what we don’t have in God’s word for a reason. Peter phrased it this way in 2nd Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him…” Everything we need. The Scriptures aren’t missing hidden codes for spirituality. If it’s not debated in the text, don’t debate it in your life. For when we do, we look very similar to those Paul described in 1st Timothy 6:4 who were “conceited and understand nothing”. Who “have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, and evil suspicions…” If I were to guess, we’ve all met people just like that. I know I have.

So if you engage in debate, do so cautiously. But always remember, like Apollos, prove your point from the Scriptures, and Scriptures only. Everything else is a waste of time.

Jacob Hawk serves as the Pulpit Minister for Faith Village Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, Texas. He holds both bachelor and master’s degrees in Bible from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. He and his wife, Natalie, have three sons-Hayden, Hudson, and Hewitt.

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