Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:23–25 NIV).
… Debates are characterized by kindness and gentle instruction. Quarrels are foolish, resentful arguments.
Peter encourages dialogue with those who question our fundamental beliefs, saying, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” But he also dictates a tone for these debates: “Do this with gentleness and respect … so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15–16).
If Peter calls for “gentleness and respect” in debates with those who don’t follow Christ, how can we expect anything less in our disagreements with fellow Christians? Yet a quick glance at Christian dialogue reveals far more quarrels than gentle debates. If you want a front row seat to a cage fight, pop some popcorn and read the comments on a Christian blog that covers debatable topics. You won’t be disappointed.
When tightly-held beliefs are questioned, tempers flare—especially when those attacks come from fellow believers. I’m as prone to this as anyone. I can move from docile to “attack-mode” in the time it takes to say, “I’m a Cal-menian.” It’s easy to be hot-headed when God’s truth is on the line. But if we want to follow the instructions of Peter and Paul and the example of Jesus, we must find ways to cool our anger before it lashes out.
What’s the bucket of ice water to calm our defensive rage? I’m not going to suggest that we all drop our disagreements in service of a watered-down “faith” that is of little practical value. I’m also not going to recommend that we hold peripheral beliefs a little looser (although it wouldn’t hurt)—I doubt we could all agree on which beliefs are and aren’t essential, anyways.
Instead, I’m going to recommend that we open our eyes to the current season of the church year. As Easter approaches, Christians of all traditions reflect on the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I was once told that, at the foot of the cross, we’re all on an even playing field. How true that is. Picture yourself on your knees before Christ on the cross. Imagine yourself in the silence before his stone-closed tomb. Envision yourself as Thomas, confronted by the risen Lord in his tangible glory. Can you see yourself clambering and clawing with your fellow believers for the intellectual high ground in any of these scenarios? …
During Easter season I’m reminded that I live in a post-Easter world. Every day, we live in light of the historical reality of Holy Week. As I reflect on Christ’s actions during Holy Week, an amazing truth is revealed. On Maundy Thursday Christ dropped to his knees and washed his followers’ feet. On Good Friday he suffered and died for us while we still opposed him. We serve a humble God. And humility should define his followers.
That doesn’t mean we should stop defending his truth in conversation with believers and unbelievers. But godly debate is not focused on proving that I’m right and the other person is wrong. It’s about weighing ideas in a genuine search for truth, with the other person’s best interests in mind. As Christians bicker in anger, others are watching. Can we reframe our internal dialogue to better represent Christ? The world needs an example of godly debate, now more than ever.
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