Shall We Engage in Public Debates?

As a denomination, we are one of the few who, in present practice, do not advocate the holding of public debates as a means of finding the truth or settling controversies.

By J.YYOVAN, Assistant Director, South Central Luzon Mission, Philippines

As a denomination, we are one of the few who, in present practice, do not advocate the holding of public debates as a means of finding the truth or settling controversies. As leaders and ministers of the gospel of peace, we know well the Bible injunctions against debates on doctrine, or public discussions of controver­sial facts. There have also come to us through the Spirit of prophecy numerous counsels con­cerning the avoidance of such controversies, and the restraint that we should practice in this matter, as laborers together with God. There is, of course, permission to cope with unavoidable public discussions, when the challenger is injuring our interest and jeopardizing the cause of God. There are times when rejec­tion of a challenge to public debate will do more harm than a frank and polite acceptance of the challenge. But if there is a way of avoidance without defeat for our cause, this is the better course to pursue.

In the Philippines, and probably in other countries in which orators abound, public de­bates are hard to avoid. But if we are involved in such discussions, we must always behave as gentlemen. We must be men of courtesy and love, clothed with the beauty of humility in Christ Jesus. We should manifest a righteous­ness in the heat of battle that equals our right­eousness in the realms of peace. After all, we are not fighting alone. God and His holy an­gels are ever with us on our side. It does not seem honorable for us to shame an adversary, or rail upon his character or that of his reli­gion. Anything we say in antipathy instead of sympathy. any menacing act instead of de­corum, will react to the discredit of our good faith and our reputation.

Sometimes our evangelists invite public de­bates. They may not directly challenge, as others do, but just the same their sermons con­tain attacks that create counteractions. There are sometimes expressions, postures, and gestures that arouse the ire of the listeners. The display of a blatant voice, shallow learning, and unrefined behavior all tend to stir other men to call for public clashes. Let us over­come these faults. If we have been blameless in our manner and presentation, and a rash challenge comes to us, then let us, like men of God, rise to the occasion and defend the bul­warks of our faith.

Another subtle cause of public debate is that some of our inexperienced workers speak in a boastful way of their victories over ministers of other faiths. If they have won a verbal tilt somewhere, or garnered one or two laurels in public debates, they sometimes spread the news, bragging over their victories, thus incit­ing other gospel ministers who clamor for pub- ‘11/ lic verbal combat. If we have had triumphs in the past, let us not tell about them. Let oth­ers do this. This is one sure way of gaining the respect and admiration of men.

An argumentative presentation of a subject is a sure way of inviting debates. You may he unaware of the fact that you are teaching your audience to argue with you. If it is nec­essary to reason argumentatively on any doc­trine it is best to put such reasoning into the first half of the sermon, and then hold the rest for exposition, narration, or exhortation. If you close your sermon with a touching appeal, any seeming tartness in the early part of the sermon will soon be forgotten.

Sometimes our own members are the first to detect and criticize our uncalled-for raillery and unbecoming behavior. Our more pious colaborers shake their heads at times when recollecting such episodes. We must not for­get that even should we enter into public de­bates, we stand as emissaries of life and death between God and our opposers, and between God and our own people. Our opponent is really of little importance and significance in the sight of God.

In debates, we should not simply essay to vanquish the enemy. Far more important than this is the edifying of our fellow workers and our own laymen. This should be uppermost in our minds. We should endeavor to gain new converts, and simultaneously reestablish flock.

In summation, I would not encourage any novice to seek public debates, unless they are forced upon him by inevitable circumstances. But once we become involved in public discus­sions, let us be fully prepared, widely read, and temperate in all things in the handling of such encounters. Victory is sure to come if we are well prepared. These supplementary helps may aid us in reaching the crest of victory. But above all else, victory will come because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, brethren, let us don the righteous­ness of Christ on any occasion upon which we are called to witness. Let us always glorify God in our lives, words, dealings, and decorum.


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By J.YYOVAN, Assistant Director, South Central Luzon Mission, Philippines

June 1941

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