18 Aug 2013

Barton W. Stone, the Debate Culture & Christianity

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Barton W. Stone, Church, Church History, Holy Spirit, Ministry, Restoration History, Sectarianism, Spiritual Disciplines, Unity
I grew up in a “debating culture” or perhaps it was a “sub-culture.”  If the minister did not like what was going on a mile down the road then a public challenge was issued.  At times this was done through the local paper.
I recall debates on various aspects of the Holy Spirit (indwelling to tongues), orphan homes, real wine on the table (but never what kind of bread!! but I will never forget the statement ‘can we have meat and potatoes on the Lord’s table?‘), what version of the Bible you can use and the like.
I vividly recall a debate between a Nazarene minister and a minister from the Churches of Christ about “who” was the real church.  I know I will get abused for saying this . . . but I ALMOST became a Nazarene that day purely on the basis of the spirit demonstrated that day.  It was not a pretty sight!
I must say that I am not opposed to debates on philosophical grounds.  Yet, I am very resistant to engage in them because I find them often to be places where the sinful nature is fed . . . perhaps it exposes my own weaknesses.
From my reading of the NT Paul never engaged in anything like what I have been exposed to . . . discussion is not necessarily debate.  Barton W. Stone, a man of great passion and conviction, expressed (in 1842) near the end of his life what he thought debates had done to our Movement and what they continue to do to Christianity.  This was important to Stone and shared his concerns in his advice to young preachers, near the end of his life.  Reflect on his words and see if they do not “ring” with truth:
It is a common saying among the preachers of this day, “Old men for counsel young men for war.”  This is often advanced in justification of the public debates . . .  Do they [i.e. old men] counsel you to engage in such debates? . . .  I will fearlessly answer, that no old man of piety, and intelligence, will give such advice, unless in an extraordinary case. For they know by long experience that such debates tend to strife, deaden piety — destroy the spirit of prayer — puff up the vain mind, annihilate the taste of the marrow, and fatness of the living word, and destroy the comforts of true, heavenly religion.
In Stone’s view, few men had enough Christianity rooted deep in their souls to engage in religious debates.  He observes a fact that I find to be a truism (at least in my own experience):
Seldom do we see in the same person, a warrior and a humble devoted christian.  Rara avis in terra. Such acquire a controversial habit and temper . . .”
Then Stone addressed the opinion that the Apostles gave us a positive example in this manner:
I know it is said in justification of such debates that Paul disputed in the synagogue at Athens, the School of Tyrannus, with the Jews and others.  Read the verse correctly, and the force of the objection is removed — He reasoned or dialogued with them.  This should be the constant practice of every faithful minister of Christ.  Would to God, it were the practice of all our young preachers, to reason out of the scriptures on the important things of the gospel!
But ‘young men of war.’ What war? not against flesh and blood, . . . but against the powers of sin and hell, with spiritual weapons afforded to us from above — not against men, but against their sins . . .

istoneb001p1(Barton W. Stone, “To Young Preachers,” Christian Messenger 12 [August 1842], pp. 316-317).

I may be wrong (wouldn’t be the first time) but I think Brother Stone was on to something here.  I agree that debates tend to strife, deaden piety — destroy the spirit of prayer — puff up the vain mind. And destroy the spirit of inquiry, squelch expression of love, and cultivate a lack of humility.
How many debates do we see on the necessity of prayer? What could be closer to the Christian walk. I have had challenges to public debate and when I asked the challenger to pray with me they refused.
Do debates appeal to the carnal nature: lust for victory, the thrill of defeating the foe . . . Just my opinion, they do.
But we can “reason” together like saints and people filled with the Fruit of the Spirit and the spirit of war.
Bobby Valentine

3 Responses to “Barton W. Stone, the Debate Culture & Christianity”

  1. Bradford L. Stevens Says:

    Those who enjoy debate revel in legalism. It is a struggle to win for the sake of pride. The Word of God will never pass away. Love trumps everything.

  2. Regan Clem Says:

    Excellent post. A great reminder. I remember when I was an atheist, Christians would let me win debates with them. I won the debate, but they, through their love and humility, helped to win my soul to the Lord.

  3. Alabama John Says:

    I wonder what happened to all those BIG printed on a bed sheet sized posters in color that were used by the COC in the debates in the 40-60’s? Had a set special made for each denomination that would dare debate. Maybe hidden away by the COC for future use like the dead sea acrolls were.
    Took my mother in law to one between the COC and a church of God and all she could do is cry. She was a methodist and had never seen christians beating up and disrespecting one another so. Even the audience was divided with one side COG and the other side COC.

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