#9: Why I Don’t Debate Any More

Well who can forget this classic? Originally posted on October 12, 2013, this one got 78 comments and had a rather long lifespan, for as I recall, I was taken to task for just about anything you can imagine. I was a coward for not debating about baptism any more to straighten people out… and in trouble for being on the wrong side of the debate in the story: good times! 🙂

Before you read this be warned! This is a story of a doctrinal debate that happened in a denominational setting where I had the side that the denomination in question did not agree with.  You may well disagree with me on the question, and if that is the case, please understand that I have no intention of causing any offense to you whatsoever, nor do I wish to demean any point of view that differs from mine; this is a story about an incident that I very much regret and in many ways I am the villain of the story!

Twenty years ago, I found myself in a conversation with my boss about Baptism. He is the “Big Guy” in my recent post “Attitudes are powerful.” Mr. Big did not believe that baptism is necessary for a person to be saved into Christ.  I believe that it is the means by which we enter our covenant relationship with Christ.  With most people, you can exchange views, discuss them, bat them around a bit and all is well; an interesting discussion.  With Mr. Big, however, there was never a view other than his own. “My way or the highway” was one his favorite sayings in fact.

Well, he couldn’t handle my arguments, so he challenged me to debate his pastor.  Being young and foolish, I accepted.  Of course I knew that if I didn’t, I’d never hear the end of it.  His pastor was excited about the opportunity and arranged a big event at his church that even included a Saturday night potluck.  He wanted all of his congregation to see how stupid it was to insist that baptism was in any way essential for salvation.  Of course, it was essential to join his congregation!

I knew exactly what his points would be, for I had carefully studied both sides of the question in Seminary, and even written a term paper on the subject; I was ready.  Any time you go into a debate on a doctrinal issue, you are ill-advised to argue about the conclusions, for when you do so, you will not change anyone’s mind, so I prepared to go after the presuppositions that back up those conclusions.  Pastor Larry was not prepared for that, I’m afraid.

We debated for the first hour in a very polite and kindly manner, and it went just as I had expected; he made his points and I made mine very politely, but I had a trap to set for the very end.  As I had expected, Pastor Larry kept reminding me that “the Bible means what it says and it says what it means” and that “the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.” I saved a verse for the end of the debate, which was supposed to be 90 minutes.

Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Mark 16:16

Pastor Larry did exactly what I expected him to do: He declared that I could not use that text because that final passage in Mark is not found in all of the early texts… I was ready.  For that night, I was using an old Bible that was beat up and about to fall apart.  I calmly stood up, ripped out the page from the Bible, wadded it up and tossed it over my shoulder and politely asked Pastor Larry if there were any more pages that I should rip out of the Bible so that he could win the debate.

There was literally a gasp in the room; Pastor Larry was mortified that I had treated the Word of God with such disrespect:

Gotcha!

If it is the Word of God, then how can you ignore it to make a point?  If it isn’t the Word of God, then surely you have removed it from your own Bible.  That was my “kill shot” and it worked… Pastor Larry could only stammer; he hadn’t expected that tactic.

In the aftermath, several families changed churches, and Pastor Larry was fired. Mr. Big’s son and daughter in law found another church as well…

Unintended consequences, and I felt absolutely terrible, I had never intended for anything like that to happen, I was simply trying to make the point that I had been asked to make.  I will never do that again, and when you see the way I respond to certain comments here, you will note that there are times when I am challenged and let it go.

Now you know why that is.

When the issue of baptism comes up, I usually suggest that since all of the Christian brotherhoods agree that we should be baptised, let’s not argue about the why, let’s just get it done.  When it comes to sprinkling or immersion, rather than argue, I just say that since everyone accepts immersion and not all accept sprinkling, why not just be immersed?  It covers all of the bases and we don’t divide ourselves with arguments.  Yes, I see this as very important, but I don’t wish to divide God’s people to win an argument.  There will be ample opportunity to teach God’s Word as we go from there…

Well, the comments on this one should be interesting, I’ll say that!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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27 Responses to #9: Why I Don’t Debate Any More

  1. paulfg says:

    Ahhh! The first time I connected in this bloggy church! Memory lane!! Wonderful!! 🙂

  2. Wally Fry says:

    Don

    I’m going to comment LOL. Brief and just my thoughts. I’m not going to debate either, as I’m not really equipped for that, to tell the truth. So many people on here are much smarter than me.

    I do not believe Baptism is necessary for Salvation. I have many reasons for this, and you know them all, I am sure. Do I believe Baptism is necessary? Absolutely!

    I believe it is a pictorial representation of our death, burial, and resurrection into our new lives and the first act of obedience as a believer. But, I don’t believe it saves us.

    Having said that, I have more! If you walk and aisle and make a profession of faith, then the first thing you do is refuse Baptism based on the argument that it is not needed for salvation, then there is a HUGE problem. If you claim to be saved, then right out of the chute are in disobedience to the clear directives concerning Baptism, then your trip down that aisle was probably a wasted trip.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    Aw always, I love your writings and look forward to your new posts constantly..thanks again.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thanks Wally.

      Since you’ve shared your background previously, I would have expected you to see it that way. 🙂 We might not see it in exactly the same way from the point of view of systematic theology… and that is fine by me, since we agree that it is something that needs to be timely accomplished, so the way I see it, why argue? just get it done! While the smart ones are arguing, we bring people to Jesus Christ, and that my friend is the ball game anyway.

      Oh… and the post wasn’t even about baptism, it was about debating! (That was the part that I always thought was kind of funny, but then I have a strange sense of humor. 🙂

  3. tellthetruth1 says:

    Do me a favour, Don. Are you a pastor? If so, got a question for you…Don’t fear it, I need to know something about baptism. All right, question: Can any believer baptise another if they request it and they haven’t got a church to go to? My Mum’s been a believer for three decades. I’ve been a believer for five years. I want to be baptised. Can she do it, or it’ll never get done.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Sorry, I’m not a pastor in the sense of a paid minister or preacher, but yes, in a more Biblical sense as an elder. Can a “layman” baptize someone is really the question, I think. In many denominations that is against the rules, but the rules do not come from Scripture. Therefore, I would say that if you were in a denomination that says you have to be ordained, then follow their rules. Since you aren’t, then by all means let’s get it done!

  4. That was a brilliant strategy; sorry for the terrible outcome. Sometime winning isn’t everything. 😦

  5. Wow! Thank you for writing this (again)! I’m just recently coming to that conclusion as well that not all things are worth debating about between Christians… because of the ramifications debates can have in shattering peace and unity!

    I wrote a post maybe a month ago about it based on Romans 14http://girlwithadragonflytattoo.com/2014/10/29/there-is-wisdom-in-being-peaceful-avoid-arguments-mind-your-own-business-seek-to-live-a-quiet-life/

  6. NicieLee says:

    The page-ripping moment must have in deed been a powerful moment.

    At the age of 41, I am a “baby” Christian, sprinkled in the Catholic Church as an infant and then saved and reborn only 11 years ago. (I am certain that sentence probably raised all kinds of eyebrows for different reasons with different people.) I was a religious studies minor in my 20’s but that was an academic study of eastern and western religions. So…. No formal training here. In fact, the more I grow in my walk with the Lord, the more I know I need to learn; but I believe any meaningful spiritual wisdom I have gained has come from faith alone (believing what I cannot always see).

    With all that said (whew), I too believe that a person cannot pick and choose which pages of the bible they wish to believe. Your page-ripping action must have been one powerful word picture! However, I often need help reconciling some verses with others. I think we all struggle with this from time to time. And then in the end I pray and see what God wants me to know, as I believe the bible is His living word.

    As to the outcome of the ripping of the page, that saddens me. I am certain that was not your intention. I am always perplexed when certain rituals or doctrines of man-made religion becomes a point of devicivenes amongst the body of Christ. I think it’s the opposite of what Christ would want for His flock; unity not division.

    As to the baptism, I do not have the credentials to offer an expert opinion about the requirements of being saved within particular religions. But I do believe that Baptism is at minimum a public profession that you have asked Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior. Personally, I was filled with overwhelming joy to be baptized. And I might add that I was dunked, not sprinkled; not because I feel strongly about dunking or sprinkling, but only because my church dunks. (I’m sure that sentence as well could trigger some debate.) But in the end, I don’t want people debating technicalities around me. I merely want them to see the new light within me and to celebrate and welcome me to Christ’s church on earth.

    Perhaps I am a naive simpleton about religious doctrines and rituals….. But I’ve got Jesus in my heart and I love sharing His love with the world.

    Thank you for sharing this writing. Very thought provoking.

  7. You have provoked a comment from me. I find your post to be something of an oxymoron. Please help me to understand what you have learnt from the experience. I speak as a friend and not an enemy. Did you only feel terrible because of the consequences even though you thought you had been proved right? It reminds me of an old fashioned joust-lets try and knock spots off each other to win the argument- a piece of theatre and oneupmanship and all that. During the debate were you ever trying to listen to understand where the Pastor was coming from rather than listening to refute?
    And so now you choose not to debate? There is nothing more infuriating than someone who makes an authoritative statement and then when is questioned declines to reply. I don’t think you quite meant that or did you?
    I might have understood better if it wasn’t for the last paragraph. So instead of debating we must do as you say-be baptised by full immersion or not be saved. Is this for God’s sake or to be seen clean in the eyes of those who don’t believe in anything less?
    I hope this does not sound harsh as I am not meaning to be harsh. I am more perplexed than angry.
    You may well have heard all these questions and comments from your other 78.
    Love and blessings,
    Julia

    • Don Merritt says:

      Julia, this isn’t really that complicated, and you might be looking for too much here. That debate all those years ago is simply an example of the damage that our debating, arguing and discord creates. On that evening, I was challenged by the pastor who was planning on making mincemeat of me for the amusement of his congregation… or maybe for their education. What he didn’t realize is that he challenged a guy with a master’s degree in rhetoric who was on 2 national champion college debating teams; I could win on either side of the argument… or most any other for that matter. Were either of us listening to the reasoning of the other? Of course not; we were there to advocate a position, and I persuaded a great many of his people to change their minds.
      I learned a lesson about debating and arguing that night, and he learned a lesson to be more careful about who he challenges to a debate! That isn’t to say that I don’t respond, I manage to respond to most every comment, but I won’t get into an argument, for that isn’t how hearts and minds are changed.

      I hope this makes more sense 🙂

      Don

      • Yes, thank you for the explanation. I get it and truly understand what you are saying about needless debate especially if it is just to score points and perform the best to win an argument.
        Yet I am still puzzled and think at times we need to acknowledge our differences in a safe place.
        What do you do when you meet someone of deeply held convictions which directly oppose yours? How do you meet and form relationship with them without trampling on their sacred space? How do you embrace the differences? And remain true to your own convictions?
        And how does your conclusion about Baptism (Let’s all get fully immersed as adults I assume!) embrace another who has a different conviction?
        Please read my latest post and then you may know where I am coming from? If I had not been asked to be a godmother to my friend’s second child, I would not have received the blessing of “Deep Peace” through holding the child on that sacred occasion.
        Julia

        • Don Merritt says:

          Julia, the answer to your question is really disarmingly simple: My highest priority as a Christian teacher is unity of the Body of Christ. Unlike some, I don’t see unity coming about when everyone agrees with me, I see unity in the fact that we have been forgiven by his grace and accepted into His loving arms, even though we might not see everything in quite the same way. As a teacher, I see my job in two ways: One is to do the best I possibly can to faithfully teach His Word, and Second, to try and bring people face to face with the Person of the Word… and then to get out of His way. I either I or the other person needs to ajst our thinking, He can do the leading, and we should follow Him. I am just a servant; He is the Master.

          In human terms, I can be very persuasive, but as His servant, I am only commissioned to bring people to the feet of Jesus, who is the real Teacher… not me. Thus, I see other Christians of whatever perspective or tradition as my brothers, sisters and fellow servants, and together as a Body we will reach out to the lost and bring them, in turn, face to face with the Master… unless we waste all of our time arguing amongst ourselves. Make sense?

  8. My take is that baptism serves a very useful symbol of becoming a believer of Christ. Jesus himself received a baptism before starting his ministry, but that is not definitive for this topic in my opinion. Suppose I received a baptism but I never knew the person who baptized me was just an actor, then God should not hold that against me.

  9. EXCELLENT points. Could care less about the details and trivia (or as we Lutherans say (and will tell you we say) ‘adeophora’). It’s the sacrament that counts, not the way it happens. Ditto communion. Rock on.

  10. AND if folks are hung up on immersion vs sprinkling or infant vs later, well, if they’re gonna get all wrapped around the axle about it, then it’s not up to me to do anything to lessen their faith; other issues are at play there…milk before solid food. So dunk away.

  11. Don, I can see why you would consider yourself a villain. Although I feel the pastor got what he deserved, knowledge tends to puff us up and can leave us looking foolish. Particularly in our youth. I’ve found myself in a similar scenario and learned that though sound theology is a must to our personal and proper understanding of God, public discourse is not always a suitable venue. I reserve that rhetoric for one-on-one discussion or structured educational formats. But as I see on several Christian blogs, we can insight safe spiritual dialog through our passion to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. I appreciate your ministry. God bless.

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