Wanted: Honest Discussion

By Steven Harper

From the beginning of time, man has had difficulty discerning truth. After God had placed man in the garden and given command that he could eat of any tree except one (Gen. 2:15-17), we find that the serpent begins a conversation with the woman by asking, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (3:1) From the very first words, we see that the discussion was not going to be honest, for the serpent reveals that he already knew what God had commanded (cf. 3:4, 5). The very intent of the discussion was to be misleading! The serpent first presented himself as “innocent” and “ignorant” of the truth, and then slipped in just one word that differed from what God had said. That one word made a world of difference, though, because the result was sin. Think about it: just one word was what necessitated the death of the Son of God!

But such is the strategy of our enemy, the devil! When Jesus told the parable of the tares, He explained that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man (Matt. 13:37), the field was the world (v. 38), the good seed was the children of the kingdom (v. 38), the weeds that were sown were the sons of the evil one (v. 38), and the enemy that came and sowed the tares was the devil (v. 39). The strategy here was to place unwelcome elements among the good in such a way as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to discern between the good and the bad [some tares are very similar in appearance to wheat in the early stages] or to simply make it difficult to “weed out” the bad without adversely affecting the good. Again, that is our enemy’s strategy! If the devil can get God’s people to find it difficult to discern between the good and the bad, or if he can just make it difficult to “weed out” the bad from the good without adversely affecting the good, he has succeeded [temporarily, at least].

Imagine such strategies used when two or more individuals sit down for what is supposed to be an honest discussion of truth. What is going to happen? Well, if all parties are honest, they will open their Bibles, see what God says, make a proper interpretation based on the context, and apply it honestly and consistently. All parties will leave in accord with one another because they have let the word of God be the sole source of their judgments and applications and they will not let personal prejudices, personal friendships, personal relations, or even their personal opinion stand in the way of truth.

But, in reality, we know that this scenario is far too rare. Far too often, one or more parties in the discussion comes to the table with a hidden agenda or ulterior motives. Far too often, one or more parties is not really interested in the truth at all, but only in a further propagation of the erroneous doctrine they hold or to simply justify themselves. When the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) after telling Jesus the greatest command was loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself (v. 27), he was not really wanting to know the answer — he was only seeking to justify himself! There was no real interest in knowing who his neighbor was, for he had already decided in his own mind. Let us not be foolish in believing this man was alone, for there are many still today who ask questions just as this man did, but who are not really interested in a discussion of truth.

In times past, when brethren disagreed on the matter of authority and the work of the church, some were sincerely interested in the truth and sought an open discussion so all could reach an accord based on God’s word. But, somewhere along the line, some started sidetracking the discussion and began confusing the issues at hand with other unrelated issues; some began making some slanderous insinuations and accusations against those who opposed them. No longer was truth being discussed, but time was spent on defending reputations and motives simply because another had thrown out unfair and unwarranted accusations in an attempt to prejudice the minds of those who heard or read their words and to prevent an honest and open discussion of truth. If truth was really being sought, and if truth was really desired by all, we would not have the division that now exists because all would have searched for the truth, found, it, discussed it, and applied it consistently and without regard to personal beliefs or desires. But that did not happen.

Some brethren — who disagree about God’s law on marriage, divorce, and remarriage — have now taken up this strategy. Some are now teaching error on this subject but are plainly not being honest. One man who is teaching error has been covertly teaching young men under his tutelage but has since been exposed. He continues to travel this country and to places favorable to his name and reputation and who will willingly hear him speak, but he — for some reason yet to be explained — cannot find time to discuss it with those who disagree. The most he will say is that those who oppose him and his erroneous doctrine should read articles he has already written on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage [but which do not discuss, much less answer, the erroneous doctrine he now preaches] or he chastises those who oppose him by saying, “We do not need to divide over every issue,” or [if you can believe this], tries to convince us he is “still studying the matter.”

I fear the ugly head of dishonest discussion has reared again and it will not be long before the issue will be considered “closed” [if not already] and “truth is fallen in the street” (Isa. 59:14). Friends and brethren, when we will not honestly discuss issues, there will be no unity based on the truth of God’s word no matter how loudly some proclaim that as their desire, yet that is exactly what is going on. Those who sincerely desire truth seek discussion and debate with those who disagree because they want everyone to hear the truth, see who is being honest with the Scriptures, and be able to decide for themselves who speaks truth. Those who do not seek truth will avoid debate except to further misrepresent the truth and twist it to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16) — and of those who blindly follow them.

When the Pharisees opposed Jesus, they did not do so with honesty. When they asked Him about the lawfulness of divorce for any reason, it was done to test Jesus (Matt. 19:3), not to find an honest answer. When they brought the adulterous woman to ask what should be done, it was not that they didn't know; it was that they were dishonest (John 8:6). When Jesus was asked about the legality of healing on the Sabbath, it was not asked with honesty (Matt. 12:9, 10). When Jesus asked them about the baptism of John, they did not answer honestly (Matt. 21:23-27) In all they did, they vehemently attacked Jesus and severely questioned Him about many things, but not because they sincerely sought to know the truth; they just wanted something with which they could accuse Him (Luke 11:53, 54). Simply put, the Pharisees did not desire honest discussion.

The fact [Fact!] that some have taken this up as their strategy when disagreements on certain issues arise is despicable and is destructive to the cause of truth. Where have the honest men gone? Where are those who are willing to discuss any matter at any time? Where are those who will put aside personal vendettas and selfish ambitions that the truth may be found, accepted, and defended?

I challenge you, as a fellow believer, to support those who seek honest and open discussion of all spiritual matters, and to reject those who will not. We need men, now more than ever, who will speak the truth (2 Tim. 4:2).

From: TRUTH & REASON, a bulletin of the Glendale church of Christ, Glendale, AZ.
Editor: Steven Harper
November 28, 2004

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