Thomas Paine became internationally famous after he published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense in 1776. Published anonymously, the document was widely read and wildly popular because it articulated what most of the American colonists were already thinking (hence the title Common Sense), that the British had no right to govern the colonies and that the colonies should declare their independence.
Similarly, I seek to state here an opinion that I believe to be common among many brethren in the churches. Admittedly, this is my opinion, and I have conducted no scientific surveys to prove my hypothesis that the opinion is widely held by the brethren. Even if the opinion is mine alone, I still believe that it is a sensible opinion, and the title of this opinion can be renamed Uncommon Sense if deemed necessary.
My opinion is this: The churches are being hindered and harmed by the endless debating of certain issues. Please consider this opinion carefully and do not misunderstand what is stated. The point of the opinion is the endless debating of the issues. It is not to say that the issues do not merit debate, for in every case they do. The problem is that they are argued out to the “nth” degree to no avail.
How do I know that these extended debates are to no avail? This is where I must apply “common sense.” When the arguments are initially made for each side of an issue, there is much to be learned by all who observe. When the arguments are restated in different forms in order to answer the opposing arguments, there is still opportunity for learning. However, common sense tells us that at some point everything has been stated. At this point, there is no purpose for carrying on endless debating. There is nothing left to benefit, and all that can avail has been accomplished.
On the other hand, there is a point when these extended debates do actually become harmful to the participants. That point is when the arguments become petty and/or personal. I have read several series of debating articles between brethren about various issues, and sometimes the debates descend into contests of wits and “gotcha” games. By the time I read a reply to a response to a rebuttal of a criticism of a letter, etc., I have forgotten what the issue is! The substance of the issue fades from the primary debate when brethren dissect every word of their opponents rather than using common sense to fairly understand what has been stated. Brethren sometimes misrepresent one another (whether deliberate or not) as they attempt to win arguments. Sometimes the debate appears to become a defense of persons rather than a defense of beliefs.
My greatest concern in all of this is when these things hinder and harm the churches. Again, I acknowledge the benefits of debating issues, for by doing so Christians can learn truth and be strengthened. However, when there is nothing left to introduce into the arguments and yet the debates go on and on, how much time and effort are being wasted? Consider the good that could be accomplished for the church and lost souls if that same time and effort were used for more profitable causes.
Let us also acknowledge the unnecessary strife and division that can result. Certainly, divisions will occur when brethren stand for truth against those who stand for error. Yet when brethren become petty and personal, they are not striving for truth, but rather they strive against one another for no good reason. Churches can be pulled into the fray because of their associations with the persons who are carrying on the debates. The churches must be careful lest they become followers of men rather than Christ. The pressure is on to choose camps - “Are you for this magazine or that magazine?”; “Are you for the college or against the college?”; “Are you a ‘six-day creation’ church or not?”; “Are you a ‘mental divorce’ church or a ‘civil ceremony’ church?”; “Are you with Brother A or Brother B?”
What is to be done? Where do we draw the line between contending for the faith (Jude 3) and just being plain contentious? Here are my two cents:
1. Abide in the word of God. I assume that the brethren always intend to do this, but they sometimes depart far from the simplicity of the Bible in into a contest of wits. If the debate cannot be continued on the basis of the Bible, it is time to end it.
2. Love one another. I have purposely used the term “brethren” often to emphasize the relationship that we all should have in Christ. Remember that Abram could have asserted his rights over
3. Don’t wrangle over words. I am not saying that words of Scripture should not be studied in their original languages, but shouldn’t we make room for common sense? Can we not read and understand? “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10:26) For example, if I read of six days of creation in Genesis chapter one, does anyone think that God will condemn me for believing and teaching that the world was created in six days? Why do we need to wrangle about the meaning of the word “day?”
Not only this, but at times brethren wrangle over each others’ words (not Scripture) to the point that they almost seem to fit the description of the man in 1Timothy 6:3-5, who “is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction…” (for a similar description, see Titus 3:9). If these factions occur within a local church, the elders of that church are bound to deal with it. When they happen in a public forum, the debaters should have enough restraint to take control.
4. Know when to say when. When the benefit of the debate has been realized, stop the debate. If the debate is transforming into a contest of wits, stop it. If a debate becomes a personal defense, “turn the other cheek” – stop it. Let’s understand that having the last word is not the same as winning the argument. It’s okay to walk away.
5. It is okay to be wrong. I have not read or listened to every debate, but of those I have observed, I have never witnessed a debater admitting that he was wrong and changing his position. Does this ever happen? I have heard of such happening in the past, but what about now? And if it doesn’t happen now, why doesn’t it? I suspect pride is to blame. If a person debates a point and is proved wrong, he should rejoice that he has found the truth and corrected his misunderstanding.
6. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. This is the commandment of Romans 14:22, and it does not apply to everything. However, it needs to be applied to some things. Some convictions that a person has should be kept to himself (perhaps this opinion of mine is one of them!). There is no need to stir up all brethren just to provide affirmation for one. For example, if a brother believes that the days of creation are not twenty-four hour periods, why does he need to disturb the faith of his brother who believes otherwise? Again, common sense should be applied to determine when a conviction should be shared with others and when it should be kept private.
I admit that I am just a child and not at all qualified to stand with the great debaters and writers among our brethren. I also realize that the opinion stated above may be dissected and crushed by some who are much wiser than I. Yet I am compelled to rise to the defense of the Lord’s church when it is hindered and harmed, and I feel that this is what has happened.
Stacey E. Durham
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