Casting off the Combative Armour – A Christian Does Not Debate


But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. – James 3:17-18

Isaiah 14:13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: 14 I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

It has ever been the policy of Satan to exalt himself above everything that is God and in this the controversy between good and evil, he has many devices by which he through the agent of man uses to thrust his blows at the principles of heaven. Whilst ever it is clear to man that Satan is the adversary of God, his devices are not always obvious and often men seeking to please God fall victim to his traps.

Satan’s step is noiseless, his movements stealthy, and his batteries masked. He does not venture to show himself openly, lest he arouse the Christian’s dormant energies and send him to God in prayer. {5T 293.4}

Whilst his methods may not be open to the discerning eye there is one thing that is certain about his aims.

He exults that fallen man presumptuously exalts himself, as he exalted himself in heaven, and was thrust out. He knows that the ruin of man is just as sure if he exalts himself as his was certain. {MYP 58.2}

Satan is ever looking to arouse in the heart of man the feelings of superiority, of a high self-estimate and self-confidence and this is especially evident when Christians engage in debating. The Christian does not debate. Now that may be a strong statement to make and I stand by it. A Christian does not debate, a Christian witnesses and there is a fine line between witnessing for the Truth and debating. Both may seem to be the same thing but both have markedly different aims and results.

Human nature is the same in all ages. The natural man is a fighter. If he be a religious man, still unredeemed from the state of nature, he will love religious strife. Paul’s two epistles to Timothy show how this element caused trouble in the apostolic church. It was the beginning of the falling away. Of the temperament of the theological fighter the Lord said by the apostle: He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strife’s of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputing by men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth. Yet the typical controversialist is the one who thinks he knows, and he excuses all the strife by urging his fervor for truth. It is difficult to explain to such the difference between firmness for the truth and contentiousness about theories of truth. But it is the difference between preaching the truth to win souls to the Lord, and arguing to convince some one of the superiority of a certain view, which really means of one’s own superiority. – {The Present Truth: September 23, 1897}

Did you comprehend in that statement the difference between witnessing and debating? It is the difference between selflessness and selfishness, between humility and pride. But before I delve deeper into the differentiations I want to make it very clear why this issue is so important and why it has been the topic of my study.

I think it goes without saying that debate, especially among Adventist is rampant over the internet if not in real life and as I have before presented it is an issue that is one of my weaknesses but I am truly grateful that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’ because it has caused me to study deeply into this issue.

Through debating one argues to convince of their superior view and in reality their own superiority. If I am saying or rather my argument is saying that I am superior to you am I making a judgment on both you and myself? Christ is the only true standard of character, and he who sets himself up as a standard for others is putting himself in the place of Christ.

For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: John 5:22

Since the Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son (John 5:22), whoever presumes to judge others even in this most subtle way is usurping the prerogative of the Son of God. These would-be judges and critics are placing themselves on the side of antichrist, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Can you understand now that debating, the exalting of one’s self above another is directly derived from Satan?

When men are really converted, controversy and debate will be ended. The plain, searching truth will be proclaimed by lips touched with a live coal from the altar of God. {RH, February 21, 1899.}

That is a hard hitting truth! But wait a second didn’t our pioneers engage in debating? Yes and there is a time and place for discussions to occur and this is supported biblically.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 1 Peter 3:15

Did you catch that? Give an answer when you are asked. And here lies one of the principles that differentiate witnessing from debating. Debating is boastful, provocative and does not wait to be asked. Debating is self-assertion, witnessing is polite and unobtrusive.

They should not stand in a position like that of Goliath when he defied the armies of Israel. Israel did not defy Goliath but Goliath made his proud boasts against God and His people. The defying, the boasting, and the railing must come from the opposers of truth, who act the Goliath. But none of this spirit should be seen in those whom God has sent forth to proclaim the last message of warning to a doomed world…. – {Ev 162.4}

So when then is discussion a necessity? When are we to engage the oppressor?

Discussions cannot always be avoided. In some cases the circumstances are such that of the two evils the choice must be made of the least, which is discussion. People who love to see opponents combat, may clamor for discussion. Others, who have a desire to hear the evidence on both sides, may urge discussion in all honesty of motive; but whenever discussions can be avoided, they should be; for the result is seldom honoring to God. They generally strengthen combativeness, and weaken that pure love and sacred sympathy which should ever exist in the hearts of Christians, although they may differ in opinions. {GW1892 189.3 -190.1}

Let us then look at the example before mentioned of Goliath of whom David did engage.

1 Samuel 17:4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

8 And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me.

9 If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.

10 And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.

A parallel with the pioneers

In 1894 the issue of the Sabbath was being presented within the suburbs in and around Sydney, Australia and bitter opposition arose from the Wesleyan and Church of England ministers, who in possession of books written by then apostate D.M. Canright, turned many a soul away from hearing the Truth. These ministers held meetings of which the Adventist were invited and sought to ridicule and break apart bible passages on the question of Sabbath observance. At the meetings a man named Picton who was a Campbellite minister and trained debater challenged the Seventh Day Adventist to debate on the Sabbath question. And note here what Sr White writes:

We felt very sorry to enter into a discussion on this matter, for generally it leaves an excited state of feeling, but there was no evading the matter. The man boasted that he would wipe out the Seventh-day Adventists, and as God would be dishonored if this proud, boasting Goliath was left to defy Israel, the terms of the debate were agreed upon. – {4BIO 173.1}

Elder J.O. Corliss was the chosen representative of the Seventh Day Adventists in the six night debate. Sr White knew Corliss to be a man that was an ‘excellent teacher, able to make things very plain and clear’ She also knew him to be a man of quick temper and of high self-esteem and so she earnestly wrote to him to make Christ his strength, reminding him that Jesus met opposition with it is written.

The Result?

He [Corliss] went through the discussion trusting God, not relying upon himself, and truth was not dishonored in his hands. The man stood before the people as if bathed in the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. He was dignified because he was conscious of the fact that he was the mouthpiece of God. – {4BIO 174.5}

On this point we see another most important principle of witnessing introduced.

It is not by your show of knowledge or of superior talent or philosophy that you reveal Christ, but by keeping your own soul emptied of your natural self. – {16MR 296.2}

Witnessing is devoid of self and will therefore be open to the simple Truth because all it will speak is the simple Truth

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Revelation 22:17

The Spirit and the Bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! (Rev. 22:17). This is all; go and tell the things that you have seen and heard with God. That is all that a true witness can possibly do. True preaching of the Gospel is not a profession; it is simply one soul talking to another, and telling from personal experience the goodness and power of God; telling what one sees and knows.

Debate on the other hand is full of self and even the Truth will often not touch the hardened heart. A debater is only interested in one thing, recognition or to put it another way; to make your voice to be heard on high (Isaiah 58:4).

The habitual debater is so accustomed to beclouding and turning aside evidence, and even the Scriptures, from the true meaning to win his point, that everything that does not strike him favorably and is not in harmony with his ideas he will combat, caviling at God’s inspired Word. – {1888 168.5}

But even those who are presenting the Truth can be found doing the same, not turning aside Truth but bent on recognition by thrusting evidence upon evidence.

Often, as you seek to present the truth, opposition will be aroused; but if you seek to meet the opposition with argument, you will only multiply it, and this you cannot afford to do. – {Ev 302.2}

Sharp thrusts are too frequently given by both parties, personalities are indulged in, and frequently both parties descend to sarcasm and witticism. The love of souls is lost in the greater desire for the mastery. Prejudice, deep and bitter, is often the result of discussions. – {GW1892 190.3}

Have you witnessed this occurrence? Or more sadly have you been its instigator? I have been and this is indeed a rebuke to my own course of action but thankfully as many as He loves he rebukes and chastens that we may be zealous and repent. I really admire the character of God that he rebukes because he loves and because he loves he draws near to the sinner and shows a better way. God does not show us our weaknesses and errors that we may sorrow about how far we are from perfect. No, rather ‘for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation but the sorrow of the world worketh death’ 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Debating Versus Witnessing

I have often when on social networking sites seen precious souls lost to the beauty of Truth, not because what is said is not true but because of how and with the force in which it is said. In their zeal people can often condemn and judge others severely thinking they are exposing error and defending the Truth but this course of action is far from heaven approved.

Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself… Hosea 10:1 [First part]

The problem with ancient Israel was that because it had the Truth it separated itself from all that it deemed unworthy or unholy, it was a blessing unto itself. Now there is a parallel that we find in this condemning and judgmental course of action.

The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation is just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them farther from the truth. The work which Christ came to do in our world was not to erect barriers, and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong. He who expects to enlighten a deceived people must come near to them and labor for them in love. He must become a center of holy influence. – {Ev 305.3}

But in order to be an holy influence we must become a holy people

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as pilgrims and strangers, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:9-12

By your good works, not your good arguments. You know the other week I witnessed a debate about the Sabbath/Sunday issue but do you know what a more convincing argument is for Sabbath keeping? It is when the world can see a people that keep the Sabbath Holy, a people that aren’t engaged in their own pleasures or speaking their own words but rather call the Sabbath a delight, the Holy of the Lord, honorable. If that sort of love was seen rather than argued then would the world see and say wow, ‘here is the patients of the saints, here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’ Revelation 14:12

‘Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul’ How easy it is to pursue a course of condemnation when you see someone doing the wrong thing, that is the natural heart of man. It’s easy to feel justified in judging another but judgment is not ours to make as we have already discovered.

Let not one hard stone be thrown to hit an opponent. In the course he pursues he is deciding his own eternal destiny. – {16MR 299.3}

Let us consider another scripture if you still feel that you are justified in cutting people down who don’t believe as you do.

Judge not, that ye be not judged, For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? – Matthew 7:1-3

Not until you feel that you could sacrifice your own self-dignity, and even lay down your life in order to save an erring brother, have you cast the beam out of your own eye so that you are prepared to help your brother. Then you can approach him and touch his heart. – {Mount of Blessing 128.3}

Why was Jesus justified in rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees? Because He did lay down His life for them. And even so he did not often openly rebuke them but did so in parables.

Christ presented the truth in the form of parables. This was the only way in which he could rebuke sin without causing personal offense. – {RH August 11, 1903 Par. 11}

Jesus spoke before the Pharisees and Sadducees in parables, hiding the clearness of truth under symbols and figures, because they would make a wrong use of the truths he presented before them; but to his disciples he spoke plainly. We should learn from Christ’s method of teaching, and be careful not to close the ears of the people by presenting truths which, not being fully explained, they are in no way prepared to receive. – {GW92 191.3}

Finally brethrens we must remember that which we covered from the start Satan’s step is noiseless, his movements stealthy, and his batteries masked. When we are opposed, when we engage in discussion it should ever be clear in our minds who our real opponent is:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12

In this time evil angels in the form of men will talk with those who know the truth. They will misinterpret and misconstrue the statements of the messengers of God. The question is asked, Why is it that hearts are not moved by the proclamation of the gospel of Christ?—It is because Satan is linked up with the religionists of today. Good seed is sown in the hearts of the hearers, but the soil was not prepared, and the seed does not spring up to bear fruit. The enemy comes with his suggestions and insinuations, and the words of life that were spoken lose their force. – {RH August 11, 1903 Par. 12-13}

Satan is looking to devour us and his ways are subtle, when we engage in debate we are on his grounds. We must therefore cast off the combative armor, the debating spirit, and rather take unto you the whole armor of God.

Truth must reach down to the deepest recesses of the soul, and cleanse away everything unlike the spirit of Christ, and the vacuum be supplied by the attributes of His character who was pure and holy and undefiled, that all the springs of the heart may be as flowers, fragrant with perfume, a sweet-smelling savor, a savor of life unto life. – {16MR 300.3}

So let’s quickly go over the principles

  • Debate if avoidable should be avoided
  • We should never provoke debate
  • When in discussion, if self is hidden in Christ, our discussion will be emptied of natural self, habits or tendencies will cease
  • Our Witnessing is to God’s words and not our own
  • Our Witnessing is underpinned by a deep love for souls, a love that is willing to sacrifice all
  • Our enemy is not our opponent it is Satan and anything we do or say that is un-Christlike is a victory for Satan

And to conclude, two last statements

What we want most is not learning and eloquence and the mastery in debating, but heart power, prayer to God in faith for His converting power, thoroughgoing piety. Half-way converts abound; singleness in love for Jesus is rare. It is not brain power or purse power, but heart power that the people need now. – {1888 718.1}

Argument will fail to convince the sinner of his responsibility to God. Learning and talent will fail to convince the soul. But the presentation of the love of God has a convincing power above that of argument, debate, or eloquence. The love of Christ, as expressed in self-denial, self-sacrifice, and death, as He bowed low under the sins of humanity, touches the sympathies and melts the stubborn heart. The fact that the Son of God, innocent and pure, suffered for sin; that the guiltless bore the punishment of the guilty, the just endured the penalty for the unjust, breaks the heart; and as Jesus is lifted up, conviction strikes to the soul, and the love that prompted the bestowal of the infinite gift of Christ, constrains the repenting one to surrender all to God. The seed of gospel truth has been dropped into his heart; and he beholds a love that is without a parallel, pledging a personal Saviour, and with Him every needed blessing. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? – {BEcho March 26, 1894 Par. 2}

It is my sincere prayer that we as people may in all conversation speak not our own words but ‘shall speak of thy righteousness and thy praise all the day long’. Take off the combative armor and put on Christ.

Amen.

Posted on May 27, 2012, in Prayer Meeting Sermonettes. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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