Tag Archives: discussion

Avoid foolish debates

But avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, knowing that such a person is perverted and sins, being self-condemned. -Titus 3:9-11

Every now and then, and especially in the course of slaughtering an individual or church’s sacred cows, I run into a well meaning Christian who decides to use this passage as an excuse to prematurely end our conversation (or prevent it from occurring).

Here is a typical parting shot1):

I have never seen or heard you clear up anything in the body of Christ. Instead you most often stir up divisions and arguments. Paul makes it clear in Romans 16:17, and Titus 2:9-11 exactly how I am to respond to someone who does exactly what you seem to find joy in doing everyday. So in obedience to my savior, goodbye Wes.

Here is another one:

I added that cause I wanted you to know that I do, love you, care for you, respect you: it is very easily separated. A person will not except change from a person who he does not respect. So you will not take correction from me, you have not in the past so I can not expect it in the future.

I am teaching Titus in Sunday School and these verses come to my mind:
Titus 3: 9-11.

I am not cutting you off, I am not mad, I will say hi, will talk with you but make any effort of correction will not unless you ask.

Now, personal feelings aside (and the snippets cited above contain quite a bit of emotional/historical baggage), the question needs to be asked: What exactly are “foolish debates” that are mentioned in Titus 3:1-9 and how should they be understood today? This question is quite vital since, if misunderstood and misapplied, it can quite readily lead to a complete breakdown in any and all debate and, as an extension, any and all discussion, discourse, or, indeed, disagreement altogether. So it is very important that we get this issue right at the outset.2

First we need to examine the text itself:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. -Titus 3:9-11

To begin to understand what Paul was writing about here it is helpful to understand the context. I highly encourage you to take a minute to read all of Titus. It’s only 3 chapters and the section quoted above comes right before the final greeting (Titus 3:12-15). So to get a good understanding of what Paul is talking about, we need to go back a bit as Titus 3:9-11 is likely a culmination of his letter’s primary train of thought rather than an independent, self-contained, section that is able to adequately stand on it’s own.

In chapter 1 we read:

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. -Titus 1:10-16

A few things need to be noted here. The first is that Paul is addressing an existing problem and the second is that this problem is between believers and unbelievers “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” and the third is that the way we are to tell them apart is by “their good works”. We can also deduce that the particular group Paul is addressing here are “especially those of the circumcision party”, meaning Jewish converts.

This kicks off what Paul focuses on for the rest of his letter, the presence and practice of good works. In fact, if one were so inclined, a word study in Titus on the phrase “good works” will undoubtedly yield much in the way of fruitful insights which are beyond the scope of this short post.

In chapter 2 Paul further develops his exhortation for believers to practice good works, namely what those good works look like and how they should set believers apart from the world around them. Likewise, in the beginning of chapter 3 we are given opposites of good works, the “evil deeds” we are supposed to look out for.

So it is reasonable to conclude that Titus 3:9-11, since it is Paul’s conclusion to his letter, is a reference to the beginning, Titus 1:10-16 and that the “foolish debates” are the “Jewish myths” mentioned in chapter 1. But what is more, these “foolish debates” are foolish, not because either party deems them to be so, but because the result of these debates is an “upsetting of whole families”. And this upsetting is not merely agitation or physiological discomfort. This upsetting is a damaging of others’ faith through false (lying) doctrine that is designed to draw others away from Christ. So the divisive persons here are primarily guilty of drawing others away from Christ and secondarily, from each other (as members of the Body of Christ).

In a post titled, Unity s ‘first tier’ doctrine, Alan Knox points out that:

According to Paul, a person who divides from brothers and sisters should be warned twice. If the person still remains divisive, then the church should separate from him. In other words, “divisiveness” is a reason supposing that someone is NOT a brother or sister in Christ.

He goes on to conclude:

In Scripture, there are very, very few reasons given for one believer to separate from another believer. This separation is the same as refusing to recognize someone as a brother or sister in Christ. Thus, “divisiveness” is a first-tier doctrine that is placed on the same level as teaching a false gospel, practicing gross immorality, and refusing to work to support yourself and others (yes, this is a ‘first tier’ doctrine also).

I believe Alan is spot-on here. Sadly, in an effort to quash what some pastors see as a threat they are quick to throw around passages such as Titus 3:9-11. What they often fail to realize is that in using this passage to quell what they perceive as division and discord, they actually end up coming dangerously close to participating in the same sort of divisive behavior Paul wrote to Titus about. That is, they seek to divide between brothers and sisters in Christ by calling into question (either intentionally or by implication) the salvation of the one they’ve (often unilaterally) deemed to be “divisive”.

So the next time you are tempted to apply Titus 3:9-11 to someone, take a step back and ask yourself whether they have earned such a label according to Paul’s previous exhortations. Do they have a history of immorality? Do they seek to draw others away from “sound doctrine”3? Do their arguments contain much speculation4? Do you have a real reason to question their salvation (apart from the present disagreement)? Do you really think they are headed to hell5? Is the other party, once warned, unwilling to continue a productive discourse on the issue at hand6?

The charge inherent in Titus 3:9-11 is not something to be taken or thrown about lightly.

  1. I use the phrase “parting shot” here because after citing this passage no other contact is made. Thus, the pattern seems to be 1. identify someone’s speech as undesirable, 2. claim the offending party is in violation of Titus 3:9-11, 3. have no further contact with them, cutting off any and all hope of further discourse (which includes reconciliation []
  2. It is also important to settle this question in our own souls because if we leave this question unexamined it could lead to some serious personal spiritual damage. []
  3. This does not include personal theological preference, ie. Calvinism, but sound doctrine as is found in 1 Corinthians 15 []
  4. For a good example of “Jewish myths” that likely existed in Paul’s time, look into Kabbalah. []
  5. and do you want them to go there? []
  6. If they are, then you need to seriously consider whether it is you who are being divisive in this instance. []

How to win an argument …by not being the subject

When confronting opposing views it is often easy to fall into the trap of attempting to win by shooting at the messenger rather than the argument. It is also tempting, especially in evangelism1, to try and base your primary point of persuasion on your own personal experiences via your testimony.

After trying and failing at many different tactics I discovered that the best way to share your faith is to point out to others what your faith is grounded in. In other words, strive to leave the other person with facts to wrestle with rather than a warm and fuzzy story based wholly in personal experience that is easily dismissed with the relativistic notion of ” that’s true for you, but not true for me”.

Even if your facts and evidence and arguments don’t ultimately prevail. If your aim is truth rather than the other person then even though you may have lost your case you will have hopefully exchanged2 a true belief for a false one, a win-win situation.

For more resources to help you argue more persuasively, I highly recommend this post by Brian over at Apologetics315 which includes the following:

Peter Williams:
• Paul in Athens and Engaging with Popular Culture MP3
• Apologetics in 3D MP3
• Apologetics: What, Where, When, Who, How & Why? MP3

• Persuasive Evangelism MP3 by Tom Price
• Conversational Evangelism MP3 by David Geisler
• Conversational Evangelism MP3 by Michael Ramsden (excellent!)

  1. This observation is also heavily grounded in my years of experience in FAITH evangelism where part of the training stipulates that not more than 5 minutes in a 15minute encounter should be spent on your personal testimony. []
  2. This isn’t to say that we ought to abandon our deeply held beliefs without a vigorous and through fight. However, we should practice what Francis Schaeffer called “one legged theology” as described in the excellent book “Truth With Love“ []

Questioning the sermon

One of the greatest myths in modern Christianity, particularly in the South1, is that any attempts to discuss the sermon amounts to disapproval of either the pastor or his message, or both.

Quite often those who dare to raise the question “What did you think about the sermon?” expecting anything other than the pat and unhelpful response of “I thought it was great!” are seen as gossips spreading discord and division.

Unfortunately this has the effect of stunting too many Christians’ spiritual growth by blocking off what can otherwise be a very fruitful avenue of discourse and discovery. As much as a pastor would like, they simply can’t exhaust the subject (whatever it may be) in one hour on Sunday morning, or three if you grant him Sunday and Wednesday evenings.

A large part of real discipleship is asking questions, and since many sermons are forgotten the moment we walk out the doors, discussion and debate would at the very least serve as a memory aid to help us keep the message fresh in our minds.

Try taking a poll sometime of who remembers last week, or this morning’s, sermon. If they do remember the general topic, press them for what they specifically learned or about details. For kicks, ask them afterwards where they ate and with whom afterwards. My hunch is that many people will be able to tell you what their conversations were about during lunch more than they could tell you about the content of the sermon they heard only a few hours earlier.

But there’s more to it than that.

We are told in Scripture that the Bereans, among others, searched the Scriptures daily to see if what they were being taught was accurate or not2. While I’ve heard many pastors encourage this practice, I’ve heard fewer who also encourage real cross examination. Rather, most rush to add to their exhortation to search the Scriptures regarding their sermons to only ask them questions in private. However if we are to learn, examine, and grow we must be willing to talk publicly about what we’ve been taught. After all, if the pastor has slipped up, he should expect and encourage the correction of observant and loving brethren rather than, for the sake of false unity and a misguided and misapplied sense of authority, wish such falterings to remain in the dark.

I believe many churches would be radically transformed if the people in them would simply have the courage and conviction to question the sermons they hear in a loving and respectful manner.

  1. Ironically the south is also commonly referred to as the Bible belt. []
  2. Acts 17:10-12 []