Church columnist: Paul, the debater for conversion

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2016

Norm Fields

Contributing columnist

The Greek word translated “reasoned” in Acts 17:2 means “mingle thought with thought, discourse, discuss, argue” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).

We get the English word “dialogue” from this Greek word. It is used 13 times in the New Testament, with all but three of those being in the book of Acts. Every use of this word in the book of Acts has to do with Paul and nearly every one has to do with his mission work of preaching the gospel.

For example, in Acts 17:2 Paul was “debating” the scriptures with the Jews in the synagogue. In Acts 17:17 Paul was “discussing” Jesus with everyone he could. In Acts 18:4 he is found again “reasoning,” i.e. debating, in the synagogue with the Jews.

Throughout his missionary work, Paul debated, reasoned, discussed and spoke about the truth of Jesus Christ. A great deal of that “reasoning” took place with other religious leaders in their places of assembly, i.e. the synagogues.

With this example of the apostle Paul, why is it that the majority of the religious world today is so opposed to openly and honestly discussing their doctrine? I genuinely appreciate it when someone of a differing viewpoint is willing to do what Paul did and “discuss, reason, debate” about those differences.

The prevailing thought of the day seems to be the exact opposite. Everyone just believe what they believe and not discuss any differences we may have.

Paul would not have functioned well in a time and place with such an air of tolerance for differing views. Paul knew the truth of God’s word and was not content to just let people believe and continue in error. He went to them where they were to make the earnest effort to depose error and spread truth.

He did it because he loved the people he was going to (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1-2). Paul was not content to just let his “countrymen” to be ignorant of God’s will. He wanted them to be saved and even put his own life on the line in the effort to show them the truth.

It is not God’s will for those who profess faith in Christ to be divided into various sects with varying ideologies and differing doctrines. Jesus prayed for unity, not diversity!

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20–21, NKJV).

Paul said there should be no divisions between those claiming faith in Christ. Rather, that they “all speak the same thing … perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Understandably, there will always be division among some because their loyalty is to their ideology, rather than to Christ. Jesus said that the unity He prayed for would be based on the faith that comes from the word of the apostles (John 17:20; Romans 10:17). That is, Christian unity must be determined by adherence to the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42), which is the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11).

That’s why Paul worked so diligently to produce conformity to that doctrine (cf. Romans 12:1, 2). He would not “agree to disagree” or “go along and get along.” No! He debated against divergent ideas to produce true conversion to Christ. He knew that the only hope of blessing and salvation is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we worked even a fraction as hard as Paul did for the sake of religious unity? How much better off would our society be if “Christendom” presented a truly unified front against the worldliness that is against God?

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day killed the Savior out of envy (Matthew 27:18). Is the aversion to open and honest debate of the doctrines that divide us motivated by the same thing? That is, the “envy” that Jesus was gaining followers and they were losing them.

Is there a stronger motivation to gain followers to a preferred “sect” rather than to Christ? Would there be “envy” toward a group that was growing because of their adherence to the plain, simple and clear doctrine of Christ because it meant adherents to a “sectarian” doctrine was decreasing? Why not be debaters like Paul? What is there to be afraid of?

I want to be a worker for the Lord, like Paul was. I would be perfectly willing to engage in such discussions – as some readers already know – because I believe it would further the cause of Christ.

My commitment remains the same – if I am found to be practicing things in the work and worship of the church that the doctrine of Christ does not authorize, I will stop; if I am found to be neglecting things required by the doctrine of Christ for the work and worship of the church, I will start.

My commitment is to the doctrine of Christ! I have no commitment, loyalty or attachment to any organization or doctrine beyond that of the New Testament of Christ. There is no such thing as “church of Christ doctrine.” There is only Bible doctrine and the church of Christ is the church of Christ because it follows Bible doctrine. Nothing more, nothing less.

Again, I’m happy to discuss that as publically or privately as the reader and/or local religious leaders would be willing to have such a discussion. If that willingness is not there, why not?

Norm Fields is the minister for the Church of Christ Northside meeting at 1101 Hogansville Road in LaGrange. He may be reached at 706-812-9950 or