The Piety of Debating

by michaelbhall

In a prior post on status-mongering, I had noted that some members of the church demonstrate their piety by defending the truth via debating others on various matters.  The willingness to defend the truth via the mechanism of debating is certainly commendable, but that doesn’t mean that one’s motivations for debating are always pure, nor does it mean that the debate into which one enters is actually profitable.

In the first place, there are plenty of potential downsides to the debate format.  It may be that you, as a defender of truth, are not as adequate to the task as you believe yourself to be, and so your defense actually causes your brethren to be ashamed of their association with you, and of their association with the church.  It may also be that those who are attending the debate (assuming you’re in hostile territory, so to speak) are simply swine, and nothing you can say will cause them to believe in the truth.  Alternatively, (assuming you have home field advantage, so to speak), you may simply be giving error an opportunity to be taught that it would not otherwise have enjoyed.  Thus, there are several factors that may cause a public debate to work decidedly against God’s Bride.

Given that it is therefore possible that public debates may have considerably negative outcomes, it therefore behooves preachers to consider the possibility of these negative outcomes.  It also behooves brethren to consider whether they should support debates given the potential downsides.  Alas, neither brethren nor preachers seem particularly inclined to consider that there may, in fact, be times and instances in which our attempts at defending the truth may do more harm than good.  Instead, preachers and brethren focus on the more obvious outcome that truth is being taught in whatever way possible.

This focus on always teaching truth, with no concern for anything else, is generally nothing more than simple status-mongering.  Those who practice this are not so much concerned with whether engaging in public debates is going to do any practical good; rather, they are concerned with appearing to do good (or being a “shining light”).  Again, this is nothing more than signaling one’s status, which in this case is piety.  Debating shows piety because one is essentially saying that, by debating against error, one is really and truly concerned with defending truth, and defending Christ’s church from those who would assail it.  By implication, those who do not engage in these debates are inferior either in terms of motives or in terms of ability.

Piety, as demonstrated in debating, and a host of other ways, is the currency of status in the church these days.  Whereas direct displays of wealth were once the main way to demonstrate one’s status, the church has now exchanged physical wealth for spiritual displays.  In essence, piety is the new materialism, and public debates of this materialist mindset.

Again, as noted before, debates are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing; they can be and often are used for good.  This is especially true when debates are used to demonstrate the holiness of God and his church.  However, it seems in recent years that debates have mostly been used to demonstrate the apparent holiness of those engaging in them.