On this fallen earth till Christ comes again to renew it, the enemy will seek every opportunity to distort Truth as the primary thrust of spiritual war. We need discernment from the Spirit of God always.
When two parties argue on certain issues holding opposite views, it is not uncommon to see the debate ending in offence to either party. A meaningful debate with the sole objective to learn from one another should see both parties presenting their case with their best evidence or persuasion. But if any one party starts name calling or uses expletives, I can only imply that such a party is not capable of handling truth. We need to have the basic understanding of a few important points to have a meaningful debate.
1. Whether the motion is about matter of truth or about matter of conscience.
Let us take an example in the debate on whether Jesus is the only way to God. As much as we would like to be seen tolerant on alternative view, we will end up arguing with passion and offending many holding the view that several roads lead to Rome. That is debate on truth. But to debate on whether one should eat food offered to idols; one should dress decently; mum should work or stay at home; one should drink or abstain from wine; we are then debating on matter of conscience. For matter of conscience, we only have to be wary of stumbling a weaker brother even if we have strong evidence. To persist in stumbling a weaker brother riding on uncharitable liberty is sin.
2. Whether the debate is on a particular message or a particular person.
When one party hold a critical view of a particular issue, the other party should afford the benefit of doubt at times that the opponent may also be a pious brother or sister in Christ who sincerely believe in his or her own critical view. To judge the character of the opponent through insinuation and not the message itself will cloud the argument put forward by him or her. For example, I tend to argue harshly against certain deviant truths but I should not be accused of bearing a grudge against the brother or sister adhering to such deviant belief. By heaping such accusation in a polite discussion, the best argument I put forward for discussion will be clouded or lost.
3. Whether the debate is backed by strong statistical evidence or by limited testimony.
I have once entered a debate with my engineering classmates on the harmful effects of Aspartame. My view is that it should not be harmful because the food and drug authorities of more than a hundred countries (with thousand of scientists testing and evaluating) have approved the use while the opponent merely produced a testimony by a Dr X or Dr Y as evidence. Though numbers may not be conclusive at times, common sense is still necessary for meaningful debate.
4. Whether the view put forward by the debater is against the intent or against the act per se.
When our Lord said, ” Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.”, we can see that our Lord is not against tithing per se but about priority in practising the more important duty without neglecting the first.
For example, if I make the critical comment that the rich church should help the poor church and not spend disproportionately on lavish building and salary, I am not against spending per se but against neglecting the more important duty. I am not against the church spending on lavish building and salaries, but against the disproportionate spending towards other poorer churches. In other words, the duty has to come before self in my opinion.