“Why should Christians debate about this? It’s so silly.”
I’ve heard this sort of sentiment before. And of course it can be true with certain debates. It is silly for believers to debate whether acoustic guitars are less spiritual than pianos or which European leader is most likely to be the (or an) antichrist. And it can be true with certain modes of debate. It’s silly to insult people, and it’s silly to get overly heated on Facebook or Twitter.
But it is flat-out inaccurate to say all disagreeing dialogue between professing Christians on matters of faith is wrong.
- The New Testament does it. A lot.
Jesus frequently admonished and theologically redirected His disciples. The book of Acts shows us repeated examples of the church interchanging over different sides of a theological issue. And of course Galatians, the sweetest rebuke ever written, contains sentences like this in order to call out serious, soul-threatening theological error:
As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
So if your position is that people claiming to believe in Jesus should never have vocal disagreements, then your position is that the New Testament has some serious problems.
- Christians throughout history have done it. A lot.
Obviously the fact that something is prevalent in Christian history doesn’t automatically make it right, but I do have a general rule for myself: If a lot of the saints who have gone before me have done something, I want to be very thoughtful and sure before I reject it. And theological debating has gone on in the church since Jesus ascended.
The seven ecumenical councils that met in the first millennium after Jesus died were all about serious theological disagreements, and about the practical implications of believing one thing or another. Whether it was the priest Arius claiming that Jesus was created, the debate over whether Jesus had one nature or two, or debating whether the Holy Spirit emanated from both the Father and the Son or just the Father, the Christians of the first 7-10 centuries of the church took faith in God very seriously. They knew God was real, that how a human thinks about Him matters, and they wanted to be faithful in thought and creed.
And of course during the next millennium, men like Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon debated morality, holiness, and (most importantly) the definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So Christians have, for 20 centuries, debated theological matters. Sometimes their demeanors were less than charitable, and sometimes they got an issue wrong, but to say that no believer should debate spiritual matters is to say that virtually each and every generation of Christians who came before us was doing something it should not have done.
- The sentiment that theological debate is silly is often just a mask for something else: Not enjoying God thought.
I’ve known some people who say that it’s silly to dialogue about the trinity, or whether salvation can be lost, or the nature of the Lord’s Supper, but who have no problem debating about The Walking Dead, politics, or the NFL. And so I think what this “it’s silly” mindset is sometimes masking is a heart that really doesn’t delight in thinking about God as much as it delights in thinking about entertainment or other interests.
And news flash: That’s often true of my heart.
And the answer isn’t to pretend that thinking hard about God and having deep theological convictions is “silly.” The answer is to repent of loving other things more than Him and asking Him to help me treasure Him with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength.
We all have opinions and thoughts on the things we care about. So what this kind of comment is sometimes indicative of is that the person saying it cares about other things more than God.
And now can I offer a few closing exhortations?
Thanks for the green light.
-Read a good, old book of Christian theology or doctrine. Grab a Spurgeon book on prayer, or a John Chrysostom commentary on a New Testament book. Read and ask God to help you love Him and think about Him as much as you love and think about TV or sports. Even in my own fickle heart, I’ve experienced the fact that God loves to answer the prayer “Help me love You.” And if you don’t think you have time (as I often tell myself: “You’re so busy, Wade…”), ask yourself, “When was the last time I watched TV?” The truth is, we all make time for what we value.
–Dwell on Him mentally throughout the day. We all have moments where we’re able to let our minds sift over something or someone. Why not God? The habit of meditating on the triune God, His Word, and His Kingdom is well worth cultivating. After all, most of our lives are lived out the way they are because of what we think about and how we think about it.
Let’s reason together with our brothers and sisters in Christ about things of great importance. Truth is as important as worship.
Let’s be people of both.