Debates And Debating
With a trembling hand and a fearful heart we are going to take up a most awesome task, that of discussing the matter of debates and debating.
Many who are weak of knee and poor of spirit argue (debate, if you will) that it is wrong to debate a cause publicly, for the Lord said of those possessed of a reprobate mind that they were set to "debate:" (Rom. 1:29), murder, and what-have-you. (Read the list of sins in which we find debate condemned.) Suffice it to say that the term "debate" as used there refers to contentious striving. The term does not refer to orderly debate conducted in a manner that reflects love and concern rather than malice and hypocrisy.
However, many debates today would indeed be "contentious strivings" rather than searchings for truth. Some brethren are so disposed to debate that they virtually become "debate mongers." These individuals do little good and a great deal of harm to the cause of Christ for few are persuaded by the contentious fellow.
Let us consider further a few of the things wrong with debates, debating, and debaters.
(1) Too many brethren (one would be too many) are always spoiling for a fight and are anxious to take the polemic platform for the sake of glory among the party. These fellows are bent on carrying "propositions" with them so that they can always be ready to strive (oops, debate) with a false teacher. They are somewhat like the man (apocryphal) who when drying himself from the baptismal waters asked, "Now, where is there someone with whom I can get into an argument?" Sadly, some of us have developed a reputation for argumentativeness.
(2) Some believe that noise is a substitute (or foundation) for truth. Truth need not be buried within a plethora of sound. Truth can be, and should be, presented with dignity and poise — not with raucous ramblings that seem to emanate from a demented mind. Arm waving or other wild gesticulating suggest that the speaker is unsure of himself or his position. Such frenzied activity may please the party faithful but will do little to persuade men to abandon their false ways. Men who engage in such indicate that they feel the Lord sent them forth to make a burlesque of preaching the gospel.
(3) Many times unkindness is "covered" by a hypocritical display of amiability after the debate if over. It takes little to prance across the hall to shake hands as an indication that the disputants are still "friends." True friends would not resort to the abusive innuendoes that debaters often use. Nobody is fooled by "showboating" at the end of a debate. This does not suggest that we cannot be friends of those with whom we disagree, but friendship that is genuine calls for behavior different from that shown by some.
(4) Humility is often lacking within the framework of debates. Seldom are both speakers truly seeking to serve the Lord but are rather out to draw unto themselves glory as able defenders of the faith. It is suggested that you read a few debates, or listen to tapes of them, and see if this is not generally true of at least one of the debaters if not both in some cases.
Brethren, it is possible to debate in a manner that reflects the Spirit of God and brings honor to the name of Christ. The setting of the debate makes it difficult to do so for often the debater is more interested in "scoring points" than he is in conducting himself properly. A more conscious awareness of the pitfalls of debating would make it easier to avoid them. The debater needs to realize that his activities are properly designed to "correct sinners" and to convert them from their pernicious ways — not to impress them with his theatrical abilities.
There are several very able debaters among us today and we should use them as opportunities present themselves. As for the "showboat" debaters it would be best if they would quietly retire or find a new line of work.
1925 Gerard Park, Hazelwood, Missouri