Quarreling or Reasoning?

In Eric Svendsen’s small book Upon This Slippery Rock, he gives a small dedication in the front that reads:


“To the new breed of ‘e-pologists’ who contend for the faith over the Internet-the new battleground of apologetics”

This statement is phenomenal. The Internet is now where a large amount of contending for the faith is done. However, an issue that I and many other young Christians face is choosing wise battles. The problem with the Internet is that so much social networking takes place at one time in a context where so much material is so readily available, one would spend all day online if they engaged every battle offered to the public. I for one, have been involved in enough tireless, emotional and disparaging arguments on Facebook to understand that some are just not fruitful. 

However, while it is very true that many debates and arguments should be avoided, there is a swing among some people that every conversation falls into this category. A small idea is sprouting that any debate with an unbeliever is always a waste of time. Many Christians don’t want to debate. I feel this comes from a laziness that wants to avoid the hard work of preparing ourselves to defend the faith, even though Peter commanded it. 

However, I want to demonstrate that the Scriptures do not teach that Christians should avoid debating. 

Often times people will quote verses from 1st and 2nd Timothy or Titus to promote avoiding debates. Here are some of them:

1 Timothy 4:7  “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths
1 Timothy 6: 3-5If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness
2 Timothy 2:6But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness
2 Timothy 2:23Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels
Titus 3:9But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless

What these verses don’t mean:

These verses do not mean that Christians and Christian leaders must avoid all debates. A quick view at the context of these books, and of the men themselves will expose this. Within these letters, Timothy and Titus are both commanded to debate. 
Titus 1:6, Titus (after being appointed a pastor by Paul) is commanded to rebuke anyone who contradicts the sound teaching he learned from Paul. That’s debating. Titus knows the truth and he was to “rebuke” anyone who “contradicts it”. In Titus 2:11 Paul commands Titus to “silence” the Jews because their arguments are disrupting and discouraging Christian families. Then again in 2: 13 he said to “rebuke them sharply”. This is debating. When our modern day Jews levy attacks against the Christian faith, it can discourage young believers and family units. More prepared Christians and leaders are required to challenge these people for the edification of their brothers and sisters. 

Likewise, in 2nd Timothy 2:24-26 (right on the heels of 2nd Timothy 2:23 seen above) Paul instructs all servants of the Lord this way: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will“. 
This passage is key. Timothy is told not to quarrel, BUT to be kind and able to teach with gentleness etc. Thus, Paul’s definition of “quarrel” here seems to be more concerned with attitude and behavior within the debate, not in the debate itself. For in the passage he commands Timothy to correct his opponents. That’s engaging in debate. Otherwise we are left thinking that Paul told Timothy “the Lords servant must not argue but must be gentle to those he is arguing with”. 
Paul also mentions that gentle correction of our opponents can bring them to repentance. Thus, when we look at Titus and Timothy together, we see Paul affirming correction and rebuke, and believing that these debates can not only lead opponents to repentance but also encourage discouraged and confused Christians at the same time. There is much value in this. Thus, the verses that some use to say we shouldn’t ever argue are contradicted by the verses above and below them. 

They are also contradicting by their author’s own lifestyle. Paul was certainly a friend of argument and debate. Read Acts 17. In verse 2, Paul sees a synagogue and walks in. And the text says “as was his custom”. Paul habitually walked into others’ place of worship, uninvited, and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Christ needed to suffer and rise from the dead”. Paul was certainly a fan of argument and debate. He made it a habit to reason and explain things to his religious opponents. Most of Paul’s ministry was preaching and debate. 

What do they mean?

A thorough explanation of these verses about quarrels and controversies and genealogies would require a different medium as well as an understanding of the Greek that I don’t have. However, we can still know a lot by the context. And according to the context there is certainly in attitude in how we debate and argue that is in question here. However, there is certainly a teaching that some arguments and some challenges are not worth the effort. 
The ultimate message of these verses: Pick your battles wisely.
Not every challenge needs to be met. Not every debate is profitable. Sometimes we need to pass them over and be silent. Diving into our Word more and praying for the Spirit’s discernment regularly will help us to distinguish between unprofitable babbles in our daily contexts and important challenges that need to be silenced. 
Learn apologetics and challenge those who oppose the faith Christians. However, show discernment, and pick your battles wisely. Stay away from silly babbles and irreverent myths and foolish genealogies. 

*One concluding side note*
The issue of “genealogies” is intriguing to me. When I examine Romans 4, it certainly seems Paul attacks the Jews for claims that their beliefs can be traced back to Abraham. Paul steals Abraham from them in Romans 4 by claiming that Abraham preached his Gospel, not theirs. It seems reasonable that Jews had these complex genealogies to attempt to validate their message, and Paul instructed his young pastors to avoid them. 

We have genealogical attacks today as well. Rome claims to be the 2,000 year apostolic church. They attempt to trace their Papal lineage to Peter, their traditions like the Marian Dogmas to the apostles. Mormons have a strange kind of genealogical argument as well in regards to their Priesthood and view of apostasy. Maybe these are similar to what Timothy and Titus were told to avoid? I don’t know. But these debates could be unprofitable.   

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