In debate competitions in schools, two teams are given opposite sides of a statement to debate. For example, the topic may be, “A secular society is conducive for everyone’s growth.” The team debating against the motion has to swallow their sense of right and wrong, shoot down every argument raised by the opposite team and try to disprove this statement at any cost, in order to win the prize. It is a competition, and the goal is to win the debate, and not to finally arrive at the truth, after listening to both sides. Isn’t this the way many debates actually go on, including those among political parties? We can watch political debates on TV where truth and conscience are thrown away, and arguments are raised only to hold on to each party’s status, or to pull down the other parties. The sad thing is that even among Christian groups that differ on doctrines or practices, the attempt they make is not to discuss and arrive at the truth, but only to hold on to their positions.
There are heresies and wrong doctrines to which we do not have to yield or be nice. But every time two Christians disagree on doctrine, one cannot assume the other is a heretic! It is possible that the two are looking at different sides of the same truth! God’s truths have many aspects to them. It is possible that our particular set of experiences, while growing up and in the church we move with, have influenced our understanding of the truth. For example, it is well known that the theological orientation of Bible colleges shape the mind of their students, and it is very hard afterwards for them to think outside of that box. That is unfortunate because many truths may lie outside that box!
Truth is not the monopoly of any single group. It will do good to all of us to come to the acknowledgement that the apostle Paul made, that he could know only in part and see things only dimly as long as he was on earth before the time came when he could stand face to face with Jesus in eternity (1Cor.13:9,12). Even if one group has got it right with regard to one part of the truth, there are other parts of the truth it needs to learn from others. But what happens during debates is that truths which are brought forth by the other groups are not recognised or taken into consideration by the first group, and they go on reiterating their part of the truth. If only every group was willing to accept truths from other groups that would qualify, clarify, correct or improve their own understanding, all of them could have become more well-balanced and mature. But people think that it is not politically right in the course of a debate to acknowledge their mistakes or shortcomings, and so, they go on harping ad nauseam on their special piece of the truth.
Think of the broad grouping of Christians into those who specialise in understanding the truths in the Bible and seeking to confine all their activities within the boundaries of those truths, and the others who pay more attention, in effect, to learning through experiences with God rather than through an intellectual study of the Scripture. Each group can find fault with the other, and for good reasons too. The first group is in danger of remaining merely at the intellectual level, and the second group is in danger of going off on tangents without control. What happens many times is that these groups see the possible danger in the other group and keep themselves away at a ‘safe distance’. But their myopic views of each other result in both growing up in their own style of lopsided development, which greatly grieves the Lord.
If we look at the current scene, what we see is an extraordinary interest in special experiences. Instead of wanting to be free from sin which is really the root cause of all problems and for which Jesus primarily came (Matt.1:21), people are more interested in healings, miracles, tongues, prophecies, dreams, visions, etc. This is similar to what happened when Jesus came as the Messiah for the Jews. The Jews wanted freedom from the Roman occupation, and were captivated by the miracles that Jesus did. They wanted nothing to do with Jesus as the way to the Father. Jesus saw through their hollowness and told them they were really not interested in Him as their Saviour, but only in the miracles (Jn.6:26). In these days,where people seem to have such a craving for experiences, there are many false teachers, prophets and miracle workers who cater to such people. In fact, many crooks have come to know that this is a way to make money, get fame and enjoy life as a ‘great leader’. When the motive is not good, from the side of the people and such leaders, the end results are also terrible. Weird things are going on in the name of the Holy Spirit, and large numbers are being deceived and their lives are going into disorder and confusion.
The other group of Christians, who observe these excesses, back away from them, and focus on studying the word of God. But there are excesses among them too, of a different type, where there is so much of dry knowledge without any life that bubbles up from within them and drives them to action (Jn.4:14). Some of them go to exegetic acrobatics trying to find Christ in every passage, for example, and some others find no problem repeating the same type of prayer or preaching week after week. Many of them seem to neglect the Holy Spirit for all practical purposes and carry on as if they did not really need Him. They do not look to the Spirit even to open to them the Scriptures which He has inspired in the first place, but are content with dissecting the Hebrew and the Greek. It is no wonder that many people are disillusioned by what these people have to offer and are looking for something ‘real’.
It does not take much cleverness to see that a healthy exchange of understanding between the two groups—with each eager to learn more, correct their own errors and to go forward—can do wonders for the entire church. Excesses can be identified and removed, greater stability can be achieved for the church and people can get to know the work of Christ in and through their lives through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. What we need is not a debating competition or an attempt to show who is right and wrong, but a willingness and eagerness to learn.