The practicalities of how to contend for the faith is a big subject. We’re told to contend, of course, many times and in many ways. For example, Jude wanted to write a nice, little encouraging letter, but found that because of false brothers teaching false doctrine, he had to do his duty first.
Beloved, although I made every effort to write you about the salvation we share, I felt it necessary to write and urge you to contend earnestly for the faith entrusted once for all to the saints. (Jude 1:2)
Paul was sure that in his absence the Philippians will be “contending side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Philippians 1:27).
Paul urged Timothy to “fight the good fight“. (1 Timothy 6:12).
Stand firm, do not turn, speak truth, and so on.
It’s important to consider, especially in this day and age of social media platforms with widespread audiences watching us, reading our words, and listening to our debates. Even in Solomon’s Portico or at the Areopagus or on the hillside at the Sermon on the Mount, with tens of thousands in attendance, today’s audiences who either lurk or engage with us online are an order of magnitude larger than those audiences.
But how? How do we contend appropriately? Sometimes we’re called to be gentle, other times to be direct. Righteous anger is allowed, but not unrighteous anger, and don’t let the sun set on any anger. Paul used holy sarcasm, but are we allowed to? Maybe? Maybe not.
I’ll do my best to answer the above but first, there is one part of online life in civil discourse I’d like to address as I fold it into the larger issue of appropriate theological discourse. I call these the “Drive By Debaters”.
It’s when someone takes the time to read the post. They take the time to comment on the post. But when they reply they state their position and end it by saying “I don’t want to debate.”
This kind of comment is opposed to true theological discourse, and even undermines it. It shuts down the point of any biblical discussion, which is to work together to arrive at a common understanding, mutual edification, and brotherly love with Christ as a center point. That kind of comment says ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, and I don’t care if you accept it or not, I just wanted to use your platform to say so. Buh-bye.’
The purpose of discussing biblical principles, interpretations, or concepts in person or online is to arrive at a common understanding. It’s to teach and be taught. The drive-by debate-denier displays they have an unteachable spirit.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).
What I do if someone says “I don’t want to debate” on one of my platforms (Facebook, Twitter, blog, or email) is to engage once more by gently asking a question about what they’d said. Sometimes they’ll come back and we can begin discussion. If they don’t, I delete their original comment. I figure, if they don’t want to discuss, then we won’t discuss. At all.
I won’t allow my platforms to be used by drive by commenters, because from the outset they display that they are not interested in the rules of honest civil engagement. We should all seek wisdom, then understanding. This should be true from the top-most sage teacher to the newest babe.
Wisdom is to be highly prized. Proverbs 4:7-9 says,
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
9 She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
As for my main point, how to contend. I contend a lot. I share with friendly people and unfriendly people. Some of the most unfriendly people I deal with are those who claim they are Christians but are not. When addressing their sin, they explode in myriad ways. When pointing out their favorite teacher is false, they go off like a rocket. If you really want to poke a bear, either discuss their sin with a false professing Christian, or identify their favorite teacher as false. Both discussions go to the same root: sin. Satan is protective of his peoples’ sin and it does not like to be exposed to the light of day. (John 3:19). That’s why the person explodes on you.
Some Bible verses call for gentleness on the part of the deliverer of the message, other Bible verses call for firmness, harshness even. In today’s ‘tolerant’ and ‘don’t judge’ atmosphere, when discussing biblical things, if the other person blows up it’s often seen as a failure of communication on our part. But in many cases it’s not, and don’t be afraid of it if it happens to you. I’ll share this verse again and again in the other upcoming parts:
The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ 5And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.b Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.(Ezekiel 2:4-7).
Not that we are Prophets like Ezekiel was, but in New Testament times we are God’s witnesses, His ambassadors, people with a sent message. We are one of the ways Jesus uses to either draw people to Himself through the Gospel message, or we are one of the ways He will condemn them on the last day, if they refuse the message. In our case we say ‘Thus says the LORD’ via His written word.
In addition to sharing the Gospel, we are called to warn, encourage, rebuke, teach and exhort and so on. We are constantly called upon to employ a humble attitude and to contend in myriad ways. Though our proclamations sometimes will not be received well either, we still speak them. The LORD assured Ezekiel and He gives us the same assurance in Luke 12:4 and Revelation 2:10.
In the next part I’ll sift through the various verses that discuss our speaking up in warnings and rebukes and exhortations, and being a witness through appropriate theological discourse in difficult times. There’s a lot to it, but mainly it boils down to two ingredients; speaking the truth, in love. I’ll share my perspective on this tomorrow.