‘FOR THE DEFENSE OF THE GOSPEL’
William T. Denham
MANY TIMES the Church of Christ have engaged itself in debates as you may have read several news stories featured in this magazine (PASUGO). However, other religions criticize these debates as unchristian and against the teaching of the Bible. They cite biblical verses to support their criticisms, as stated below:
“ For I fear , lest , when I come , I shall not find you such as I would , and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults …” (II Cor. 12:20, KJV)
“Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers….” (Rom. 1:29, Ibid.)
In addition, they say that debating about religious themes violates Christ’s admonition to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mk. 12:31, Ibid.), for arguing with one’s neighbor, especially in public, as they believe, is not a manifestation of love, but rather of hate.
Not All Debate
These people have a very shallow understanding of love. Why should they ever think that arguing manifests hate and not love when, in fact, the debates we engage in intent to love the very people we are debating with, and others who would benefit from them? But then, before we move on our discussion of this matter let us know first the meaning of the word “debate”:
“debate, n. a contention in words: argument.” (Webster’s English Dictionary, p. 143)
It is clear that debate involves no physical violence. It is a purely verbal exercise. Let us see whether the Bible prohibits such kind of debate:
“Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another.” (Prov. 25:9, KJV)
This seems to be a dilemma – the books of I Corinthians and Romans put debate in the same class as strife, deceit, and murder, while the book of Proverbs commands us to debate our cause with our neighbor. Does the Bible contradict itself? Of course not. There is a kind of debate or controversy which is not right for the Lord’s servants:
“Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.” (II Tim. 2:23-25, RSV)
Paul taught Timothy, a young Church of Christ minister, not to involve himself in stupid and senseless controversies; however, he recognized the fact that Timothy had opponents who should be corrected. Naturally, if one is going to argue or debate about something senseless or stupid, one might as well not argue – this would be a waste of time. However, if the subject is important and relevant, there is nothing wrong with debates. In like manner, the Church of Christ is not debating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or about the pros and cons of curled hair, but rather on valuable, pivotal religious issues such as salvation, the nature of Christ, and the true Church. Is it not important to find out and to disprove through debate the Protestants’ claim that faith is enough to receive salvation? Is it not vital to know whether Christ is God or man? Is it not imperative to be sure that one is a member of the true Church established by Christ?
Proper Debate Is Scriptural
Remember, according to the dictionary, debate is a contention in words or an argument. Keeping this in mind, we cannot but accept the fact that Apostle Paul was a debater:
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures ….” (Acts 17:1-2, Ibid.)
There are three salient points we should notice about this passage: first, Paul argued – therefore he debated; second, being a Christian argued or debated with the Jews who belonged to a religion different from his own; lastly, the argument or debate centered on the Scriptures or the Bible.
Before people start criticizing the Church of Christ for engaging in debates, they should criticize Apostle Paul. It was not only in Thessalonica that Paul argued:
“After this he left Athens and went to Corinth… And he argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:1, 4, ibid.)
Debate is not unchristian. It is not against Christ, as Christ Himself debated or argued. The entire eight chapters of John is an argumentative discussion between Jesus and the Jews who opposed Him. Consider their exchange:
JESUS: “I am the light of the world …” (v. 12)
JEWS: “You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true.” (v. 13)
JESUS: “I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me.” (v. 18)
JEWS: “Where is your Father?” (v. 19)
JESUS: “You know neither me nor may Father, if know me, you would know my Father also.” (v. 19)
JEWS: “Abraham is our father.” (v. 39)
JESUS: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me … this is not what Abraham did.” (v. 39-40)
JEWS: “We have one Father, even God.” (v. 41)
JESUS: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God… you are of your father the devil …” (v. 42, 44)
JEWS: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (v. 48)
JESUS: “I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” (v. 49 – all verses in RSV)
Christ didn’t run away when the Jews attacked His teachings. He answered them with words no one could deny. On another occasion, Mark the evangelist said: “… after that no one dared ask him any question.” (Mk. 12:31, Ibid.) He was not of the same spirit as the people in our time who, as soon as someone opens up a Bible to show them that their belief is false, immediately pack up their books and walk out the door, pompously declaring: “I don’t want to argue!”
There is a reason why Christ did not run away from an argument, and that Apostle Paul did not shrink from standing up for his beliefs:
“The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel …” (Phil. 1:16, Ibid.)
It was Paul’s obligation to defend the Gospel. If someone were to say that the Gospel, which is truth (Col. 1:5), was not truth, he had a duty and a responsibility to defend it.
Until The Ends Of The Earth
It is also not surprising that God’s Last Messenger, Brother Felix Manalo, as well as the present-day ministers of the Church of Christ, took exactly the same position that our Lord Jesus Christ and Apostle Paul had:
“ Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away .
“ Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed ; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
“Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded : they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish .
“Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.” (Is. 41:9-12, KJV)
God’s predictive will about His Messenger could not but be fulfilled. The mouths of those who mocked the doctrines of God were stopped. They were ashamed. They were confounded. Now, even if we seek them, we cannot find them. The reason for this, however, was not the Messenger’s own ability: he lacked wealth, earthly power, and human wisdom. He triumphed because of God’s promises: “I will strengthen thee … I will help thee … I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
There was only one purpose behind the argumentation of Apostle Paul, the debate Christ had with the Jews, and the Las Messenger’s contention with those who opposed him. It was not done out of hatred. Its purpose was not to harm or attack anyone.
According to Paul’s letter to Timothy, the purpose of correcting opponents is for them to repent and come to know the truth (II Tim. 2:23-25). The truth referred to is the words of God, which sanctify or make man holy (Jn. 17:17) Paul’s purpose in bringing the truth into view through debate was to bring people unto sanctification.
Christ was trying to convince the Jews to know and love Him and the Father (Jn. 8:19, 42). To know and love God and Christ is by following their commandments (I Jn. 2:3, 5:3; Jn. 14:21). If the Jews had done this, they would have abided in the love of God and Christ:
“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.” (Jn. 15:10, Ibid.)
Brother Felix Manalo was upheld by the right hand of God’s righteousness, which is the Gospel, and the power of God for salvation:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
“ For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written , The just shall live by faith …” (Rom. 1:16-17, Ibid.)
The only aim of Church of Christ ministers in preaching and defending the Gospel is to bring people unto sanctification, unto the love of God, and, most importantly, unto salvation. As we want to sanctified, to abide in God’s love, and to be saved, we also desire these things for other people. This shows the true love the Church of Christ has for others.*
Copied from PASUGO GOD’S MESSAGE/MAY-JUNE 1983/PAGES 15-17/VOLUME 35/NUMBER 3