Discussion Vs. Debate

Over the past two summers the Lord has burdened my heart to preach a series of messages on controversial issues.  Last summer the series was entitled Hot Topics.  The sermons I presented were meant to cause thought provoking discussion with our church members.  Racism, Politics, Sexuality, Going Green, Social Networking, and Abortion were some of the topics I felt motivated to share with our people. This summer the series was entitled: Questions for God.  In this series we asked: Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a Hell?  Is God a Republican or Democrat?  Is it Fate or Free-Will?  The format in both cases was simple.  I gave the contemporary argument, we looked at the issue from both sides and then we looked into the Scripture to see what God had to say on the issue.

Honestly, throughout both summer series I felt as if every sermon had the potential of splitting our church.  The temptation to preach on issues that everyone agreed upon was a real consideration, but I felt very strongly that the Lord was leading in this direction.  I believe that now I know why.

I Timothy 4:1-6, Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 6If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

Paul told Timothy that in latter times some would leave the faith listening to the doctrines of devils and believing in the well formulated arguments of this world. He goes on to say that a minister of Jesus Christ is to remind the church of good doctrine.

Some may say that this is unwise and will cause unnecessary debate and division in the local church.  Yet, I believe, it is a very weak church indeed that is not able to discuss the most controversial topics of our day and find common ground in Scripture. At Southern Hills we teach our people to discuss but not debate, to express your opinion but keep your cool.  We often use the following Scripture in our church to remind us of the importance of instructing others in truth without pushing them away.

 II Timothy 2:23-26, But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

There is no reason to discuss whether or not Adam had a belly button but it is important to discuss whether or not life begins at conception.  Yet, even when we are discussing these things there is no reason to “strive” with others but we are to be gentle and patient. Not everyone agrees on every issue and God, through humility and Bible instruction, might give them or you an opportunity of learning the truth in a specific area.

 This philosophy has even entered our Wednesday evening service time. We no longer have a traditional church service but instead have sermon-based small groups for the purpose of building friendships and digging deeper into last Sunday’s sermon. We have found that the truths of the Word of God permeate much deeper into the lives and hearts of our people when we allow them time to think and discuss the Scripture and topics that were shared.

The Church is to be a place of fellowship and worship, but it is also to be a place that challenges its people to learn and grow.  I believe that encouraging discussion goes a long way to accomplish this goal.

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