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Debating Doctrine
by Carl Light
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I have heard it said many times that Christians are not to argue over scripture and doctrine. I have not seen it in God's word but that doesn't mean it is not there, and it does seem to be logical. If nothing else, I believe God's word teaches against arguing period, and that would include arguing over scripture and doctrine. The scriptures which teach against arguing are usually covered under the category of strife, anger, and the sins of the tongue and can be found in Proverbs. I'm sure it is covered in many passages of the New Testament as well. Also there is the teaching against judging one another which I believe can be conceived in arguing on these things.

Having discussions where opposing views are expressed however, is not the same as arguing. I suppose the discerning factor which separates discussing and arguing would be temperament and motive. When things are discussed with both parties observing humility, patience, and general politeness, and the motive is to both learn, teach and be a help to the other and not to exalt oneself by "winning" the debate; then I believe such discussions can be beneficial.

While God's word may condemn the practice of judging other people and arguing over scripture, Godly discussion of scripture, even in the context of sharing opposing views, I believe is not only void of condemnation but perhaps even sanctified by God's word. When done in this manner, such discussions fall under teaching, counseling, and edifying. The following scriptures seem to substantiate this idea.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: (Proverbs 1:5)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)

Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)

There are many more scriptures in Proverbs that speak on the benefits of counsel as well as in Psalms and actually throughout the bible. I will not list them all here, but enough has been shown to make the point that counsel and instruction when sound is a good thing. Unfortunately many times if a person attempts to provide counsel he is accused of judging. Judging and counsel are not the same thing. That is another topic however. It should also be noted taht when it comes to casting judgment, it is the judging of people that is condemed and not the judging of things such as doctrine. The following scriptures support this statement.

But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
(1 Corrinthians 2:15)

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
(1 John 4:1)

It has been my experience that most of the time whenever two people are in disagreement in the interpretation of scripture, both sides will leave the discussion still clinging to his or her own original belief regardless of what biblically sound points may have been made by the person with the opposing view. I believe this is due mainly because of a little thing called pride. No one likes to be wrong. We all would prefer to be correct in our understanding. It is ironic then that someone who has a flawed or incorrect understanding may have the opportunity to come out of their deceit and step into a true understanding by the counsel of another, yet pride will sometimes cause a person to cling to an untrue interpretation. So then, to benefit from sound counsel a person must first have the humility to receive and accept it even when it is in conflict with an understanding that has been carried around for a very long time.

This is why it is so important that when people are involved in discussions of interpretation of scripture that they conduct themselves in a humble way. It is much easier for the person with the deceitful understanding to yield to the truth when the truth is presented in a humble way. So we must avoid harsh tones, condescending remarks, expressions of frustration such as eye rolling and head shaking when having these discussions. Otherwise, the person on the receiving end of our instruction, may not receive our instruction out of shear prideful defiance. That is a very real and admittedly flawed aspect of human nature and we should always be sensitive to it when having discussions where we are in disagreement.

It is also important to be open minded and humble enough to realize that we don't always truly know what we think we know and it could be us who should be receiving the truth in the discussion. It could be us who needs to be set free from deceit rather than the other person.

How then do we know whether it is the other person or ourselves who has the flawed understanding? Well the scriptures taken in proper context reveal truth. Some views are based largely on tradition, logic, feelings, etc... with just a dab of truth sprinkled on, but not applied correctly or wholly. When such views are found to be in conflict with God's word, then God's word must prevail.

Sometimes both views may be based on scripture and there seems to be no resolution to the disagreement. In such cases the two parties should depart in peace and commit to further study. There will be times when both parties are very sure that they are the ones with the correct understanding and both parties believe their view is well grounded in God's word and therefore neither party is willing to let go. In such cases, I believe both parties should respect the other person's view and continue in brotherly love and fellowship without negative feelings and each go in peace. Sometimes that is all we can do. God may then at a later time reveal His truth to whomever is in need of it.

Sometimes in these cases, it is a third party who may benefit the most. Someone who is in a neutral position who has not already made up their mind in not subject to the blinding affect of bias and pride. They are like a jury hearing a court case. They are able to hear both sides and objectively analyze the points from both sides, see how it fits in with the word of God and arrive at a well informed conclusion. They may even end up with a more accurate and sound understanding than either of the parties who were discussing the issue because they may see the relevant points of truth on BOTH sides of the issue and therefore come away with a third view which is the most accurate of all.

To summarize:

It is never good to argue doctrine, but discussions of opposing views can be edifying and beneficial when done so in a respectful way.

The objective of a debate on doctrine should never be to win the debate, but rather to learn and find the truth(s)

Pride will blind us from seeing the truth.

It is important to have the attitude that if you find that you were wrong, either wholly or in part, it is a reason for rejoice and praise because it means you have been delivered from deceit. This of course can not happen if we allow pride to prevent us from seeing the truth. Debate with humility.

Allow the word of God to be the foundation and discerner of all beliefs of doctrine rather than tradition, comfort, and human logic. Therefore any debate should be restricted to the interpretation of scripture and never on it's validity.

Pray for understanding. God's word says that if any man seeks wisdom, let him ask it of God.

Never, allow a disagreement be brought to a personal level. If you can not discuss the issue without becoming angry, you have no business discussing the issue. If the other person becomes even slightly upset or angry, end the discussion. Regardless of how the discussion ends, do not judge the person with the opposing view, and continue to treat them with Christian love and kindness.

Listen attentively. Realize the difference in "listening" and "waiting to talk" and avoid the "waiting to talk" behavior. Do not disregard the other person\s view just because it is different from your own. Consider their view and try to really understand why they believe the way they do.

Finally, in any area of doctrine open for interpretation, have the humility and wisdom to realize that no matter how sure you are that you are correct, there is a chance that you could be wrong.


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