Whom to Ban from Theological Debate

We’ve been talking theology here of late, and people being what they are, talk about important things like theology often leads to controversy.  I’ve been involved, willingly or not, in several such controversies, and there are definite patterns, one of the more important ones being this: very often, the fight is more about the people fighting than it is about the theology they’re supposedly fighting over.  This makes it very hard to find a solution, because the real problem is not even being discussed.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the theological issue on the table will be trivial — although that often happens.  In fact, this dodge works best if the issue is quite important.  A weighty theological disagreement conceals unaddressed relational sins so much better than a trivial one.  If the disagreement can somehow be tied to the gospel, for example, then both sides can invoke Galatians 1: 8-9 (while ignoring what Paul actually did in that instance, but that’s another post).

Now as Americans, we have the notion that everyone has a right to a voice in the discussion.  Everyone should be heard; freedom of speech and the press and all that.  But this is not universally true in such theological arguments, precisely because warped and sinning Christians, especially in positions of leadership, often cause division and then cover their tracks with a doctrinal difference.  As much as it galls our democratic ideals, some people need to be silenced (Titus 1:10-11).  They simply shouldn’t be allowed to participate in discussions of controversial issues.

People who cause division, for instance.  Jesus said,

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.

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Our unity, Jesus says, is a necessary part of our gospel witness.  Some people refuse to be unified, and persist in dividing the body for their own selfish ends.  They will say that they’re trying to protect the gospel, but in fact their deeds are lying about Jesus and what He came to do.  So if a man’s deeds lie about the gospel of grace, why in the world ought anyone to listen to what he says about the gospel?

And so the divisive, those who exhibit hatred of their brothers, and other such people simply shouldn’t be heard.  A man whose life does not tell the truth about Jesus simply should not be listened to — even if he’s a pastor or a Ph.D., even if he’s a towering theologian or a great exegete, even if he’s right.

Why even if he’s right?  Because “he who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”  The man may be right on paper — i.e., the propositions he would affirm are technically correct — but in a way, that only makes it worse.  He is privy to the wisdom of the Word, and yet it is not profiting him, and that’s a comment on his character: “Like the legs of the lame that hang limp, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools.”  You do not want bad counsel, and — trust Solomon on this — the counsel from this guy is going to have a flaw in it somewhere.

Picture yourself at the Bema Seat, answering for acting in accord with this guy’s counsel.

“But Lord, his doctrine was correct.”

“I told you not to associate with people like him.”  Jesus says.

“But he was so well educated.  He was right about the doctrine!”

Jesus shakes His head.  “I didn’t say, ‘the companion of fools will be destroyed, unless the fools are really well educated, and right about some stuff,’ did I?”

Better just to steer clear.  The ones who lack Christian character are going to be evil company no matter what their doctrinal statement says.  You can’t walk in the light and walk with fools and liars at the same time.


9 Responses to Whom to Ban from Theological Debate

  1. Missy says:

    Good words, Tim. I find this lesson to be at the very heart of my own maturing.

  2. Sanc says:

    Hi Tim,

    I’m confident a divisive person can be replaced without any compromise to the quality of our theology. In fact it may even be improved, if I understand what you are saying.


  3. Jim says:


  4. Tim Nichols says:


    Thanks for your kind words.

    His forever,

  5. Jo Ann says:

    Much needed words, Tim. May the correctness of our theology not blind us to the flaws in our character. Lord, help us to be clear eyed about this. May we continually be confessing our sin and thus being forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.

  6. David Wyatt says:

    Bro. Tim,

    Of course, the ideal would be one that is right & also gracious. The rightnessof the doctrine ought to play out in the life. Oh me, I just smashed my own toes a little more……

    I especially like what you said about Jesus’ hypothetical words at the Bema. The older I get in the Lord, the more sinful I see myself. I sometimes actually wonder how my Savior, who knows all things & sees the end from the beginning, ever took me in the first place! How thankful I am that He is gracious & merciful. (Ezk.36:25-31) God Bless.

  7. Tim Nichols says:


    Over the long haul, I believe that one’s doctrine does play out in one’s life: what you really believe about God, self, others, and the world will out. Or to put it in Doug Wilson’s inimitable way, “Your theology comes out your fingertips, and what comes out your fingertips is your theology.”
    One way of looking at this is through 1 John 3:1-3. If you are sinning right now, then whatever your head and heart may be filled with right now, it isn’t hope in Christ’s promise of ultimate sanctification. If you have this hope, then you purify yourself; if you’re not purifying yourself, then you have a hope deficiency.

    At one level, the causes of ungraciousness are as many as the ungracious sinners themselves, but there are instructive commonalities. If you love God, then you love your brother. We love God because He first loved us. If you’re not loving your brother, then you don’t love God, and this is not because He doesn’t love you — He does — but because you don’t keep His love for you in your mind. If you don’t love your brother, you’re like the unforgiving servant Jesus talked about: forgiven much, but you aren’t grateful and don’t think on it.

    Among our leaders, there are those who love to have the pre-eminence. They may seem to be preaching Christ, but in the long run, they can’t preach Christ honestly, because that means saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” So no matter how correct the doctrinal statement might be, a modern-day Diotrephes isn’t really preaching Christ; he’s preaching himself, and over time this shows — he spawns a movement of people personally loyal to him and his teaching rather than to Christ. You will know these people when you meet them because they can’t tell you what the Bible says about a given subject, but they can tell you what Diotrephes said. Dead giveaway.

  8. Jim Reitman says:


    And as long as we’re in First John 3, why not throw in 3:18 for grins…or grimaces….

    First John is just one huge “chicken bone” to swallow for any of us who have false hope of living our theology out of our heads…versus “fingertips.”

  9. David Wyatt says:

    Thank you bro. Tim for this: “One way of looking at this is through 1 John 3:1-3. If you are sinning right now, then whatever your head and heart may be filled with right now, it isn’t hope in Christ’s promise of ultimate sanctification. If you have this hope, then you purify yourself; if you’re not purifying yourself, then you have a hope deficiency.” I believe you’ve hit on something for me. Of late it seems I have been in a low place in my walk with Christ. I know it is at least in part if not largely due to my own foolishness & sin. I am so thankful for the blood of Christ! It is also so wonderful to know the faithfulness of Christ, as in 2 Ti.2:13. If I remember right, this text was a favorite of the spiritual giant, Hudson Taylor, next to whom I am a super-dwarf spiritually speaking. Thanks for letting me think this through. God Bless you all, brothers & sisters.

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