There is nothing wrong with arguing, but that does not justify a mean-spirited disposition.

A common rule in modern society is that people must not "argue" about politics or religion. And that grows out of, in part, the connotation of the word "argue" today. "Argue" means, to most people, an "angry dispute or disagreement." The word, however, at one time simply meant to "reason" or "prove" or "assert" a point. Nothing in the word implies "anger" or "shouting," as might characterize some arguments.

The apostle Paul, for example, often entered the synagogues of the Jews where he knew he would encounter men who denied that Jesus is the Messiah. The Bible says that he "reasoned" with them (Acts 17:2). Greek lexicons define the word "reasoned" (dialegomai): "discuss," "converse," "argue." Paul set forth reasons from the scriptures why he believed Jesus was the Messiah. He also reasoned with Felix, an immoral governor of Rome, about "righteousness," "self-control," and "judgment to come" (Acts 24:25). Paul did this because truth is essential to salvation and because the Lord commanded that truth be preached to every person (see Jno. 8:31,32; Matt. 28:18-20).

We, of course, have not guarantee that "reasoning" with people from the scriptures will not evoke anger--even to the point of losing friends. This happened to Paul at Thessalonica. After he discussed the matter of Jesus as the Christ, they stirred up persecution, assaulted some who believed Paul's message, and drove Paul himself from the city (Acts 17;1-10). Paul got so graphic with Felix in his reasoning that the governor was terrified by the message of the gospel concerning judgment. Whether Felix was offended or whether he ever received the gospel is beside the point. He need to hear it, and so do our friends.

When Apollos, an educated and eloquent preacher, came to Ephesus, he used his knowledge of the scriptures to "powerfully confute," meaning to refute, the Jewish view of Jesus (Acts 18: 24,28). Since the only way to God is through Jesus (Jno. 14:6), this young preacher fervently reasoned and discussed and argued with the Jews who needed truth. Paul asked brethren to pray for him that he might open his mouth and speak boldly the gospel in his trial before the emperor of Rome (Eph. 6:18-20). His concern was not about a "personal" defense but the courage to discuss with his judge the scriptures.

Yes, I know we live at a time when it is not "polite" to differ with people religiously, especially when you have to openly show them that they are in error. A person who believes he can be saved by infant baptism, by sprinkling rather than immersion, or by faith only in the absence of baptism is wrong--not because I say so, but because the scriptures so teach. He may never know he is in error if we maintain this modern idea that it is wrong to "discuss" or "reason" with people from the scriptures. We must not shrink back from teaching and declaring the whole counsel of God to all men as revealed in the Bible (see Acts 20:27).

But let us also remember that there is nothing wrong with being kind and gentle. In early restoration days preachers were largely of rural backgrounds and congregations were located predominantly in small farming communities. Both preachers and debaters were rugged individuals who were plain spoken. Audiences and congregations were of the same mold. Many of the remarks, put- downs, and charges were rough and would be highly insulting to a modern assembly of people.

As preachers, the question we have to ask ourselves is: "Do we have to repeat the crude remarks of an earlier century of preachers to be sound?" The question is not must we preach the same truth these men preached and whether we should speak with clarity of understanding. All men need the truth and it must be declared plainly, boldly, and fully (see 2 Cor. 3;12; Acts 20:27).

John the Baptist was a prophet of God, and the Spirit, who knows the hearts of men and their hardness, directed him to lash out at stubborn Jews with words like -- "Ye offspring of vipers" (Lk. 3:7). Must I use those words to be faithful to God? Jesus - God in the flesh - said to that same generation: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites" (Matt. 23). I've never said that to an audience, and don't believe I can. Does this make me unsound?

The Lord's servants must avoid strife, Paul says, and "be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves" (2 Tim. 2:24,25). Will this make a preacher soft, yielding, and compromising? Is it wrong to nurture brethren as a nurse who cherisheth her own children (1 Thes. 2:7)? Both disposition of heart and content of message, brethren, are the measure of soundness and faithfulness. Let us then speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth frankly -- even argue it, but -- in LOVE and with LONGSUFFERING! (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:2).

By L.A. Stauffer in Biblical Insights, Vol. 4, No. 9, Sept. 2004.

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