Rules For Religious Discussions
“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15).
It is incumbent upon all Christians to be ready to teach others. There are many potential ways to do this. The passage above describes teaching that is done in the course of a discussion – someone “asks you.” These discussions take place in different environments – friendly or hostile, public or private, in person or online, etc. How do we make the best use of our opportunities to discuss the Scriptures with others?
On one hand, we are to “contend earnestly” (Jude 3); on the other hand we must speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We are to “demolish arguments” (II Corinthians 10:5, NIV), but “must not be quarrelsome” (II Timothy 2:24). How do we strike the right balance? We do so by remembering some rules for religious discussions.
Be Willing to Defend the Truth
Paul, as an apostle, was “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16). All Christians must be “ready to make a defense” as well (I Peter 3:15). God does not force us to do anything. In every part of our lives, we have a choice to do what He expects us to do or not. Anytime we have an opportunity to defend the truth in a religious discussion, we have a choice to be silent, to defend the truth the wrong way, or to defend the truth the right way.
Speak the Truth in Love
Choosing to speak in defense of the truth is essential, but it must be done with the right attitude. Paul said we are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This means we speak with love for God since our teaching glorifies Him (I Peter 4:11), with love for the truth by teaching all of God’s word (Acts 20:27) without additions or subtractions (Revelation 22:18-19), and love for the souls of men that they might know the truth and be saved (I Timothy 2:4).
Always Appeal to the Scripture
We are to “speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11, KJV). This means we speak the very words of God. To lead people to faith, we must make our appeal to the source of faith – the word of God (Romans 10:17). If people are going to believe our message, they must recognize it as being from God. Paul was thankful that the brethren in Thessalonica “received the word of God…not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). We need to cite book, chapter, and verse for our statements; not “I think,” or “I feel, or “Our preacher says…” Of course, to do this, we must be familiar with the Scriptures, which necessitates study on our part (II Timothy 2:15).
Build upon Common Ground
For most of the people we will have discussions with, we will agree with them on something. We should take advantage of that common ground and use it as a foundation for further teaching. Paul used common ground as a foundation when he taught. In Thessalonica, he taught the Jews in the synagogue and built upon the common ground of belief in the inspiration of the Old Testament (Acts 17:2-3). In Athens, he taught the Gentiles on Mars Hill and built upon the common ground of the importance of being religious (Acts 17:22-23). He even quoted their poets (Acts 17:28) to reinforce his point that all men came from God. When we have discussions with people, we need to try to find common ground – belief in God, inspiration of the Bible, the need for authority, the simplicity of New Testament Christianity, basic principles of morality, etc. – and build upon it.
Do Not Be Quarrelsome
Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged” (II Timothy 2:24). Of course, this does not mean we cannot contend for the faith (Jude 3) or refute error (Titus 1:9). But when we fight against error, we are to fight fair. We must not resort to personal attacks (Jude 8-9). We are to tear down faulty arguments – “destroying speculations” – not people (II Corinthians 10:5). We do not need the last word, but should simply “reject a factious man after a first and second warning” (Titus 3:10); otherwise, we could get caught up in useless and unending arguments. We must use the weapon that God provided – “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
Do Not Take Personal Offense
When we try to teach people, they may not listen. Some will argue. There will be those who reject or oppose what we say. When this happens, it is easy to take it personally; yet we must guard against this. Jesus said, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). Instead of taking personal offense when people reject Christ, we simply need to shake the dust off of our feet and move on (Luke 10:10-11).
The only way people can be saved is through the gospel – “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). So we should take advantage of opportunities to engage people in religious discussions. As we do so, let’s be careful to do it the right way.