Debates are fun for those who take part in them and for those who listen to them. And the debate to which we listened on Thursday morning at the Convention of our Young People was a very interesting one. Shirley and Ruth Dykstra upheld the affirmative on the question, “Resolved: that doctrinal controversy is advantageous for the Church of God,” while the negative was maintained by John Bos and Herm Woudenberg.
The first affirmative defined the terms doctrine, controversy, and advantageous. Doctrine was defined as the teachings of a particular group, doctrinal controversy to oppose those teachings with arguments, and advantageous as favorable or profitable. The negative agreed to these definitions. The first affirmative also pointed out that it is essential for the Church to have doctrinal controversy since it is the only way in which pure doctrinal preaching will be maintained in the Church. The text as found in II Timothy 4:2 was cited as proof: “Preach the Word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” and it was maintained that reproving and rebuking and exhorting would be impossible without doctrinal controversy.
Another point made by this speaker was that the Reformation brought about by Luther was certainly by means of controversy, and she challenged her opponents to prove that this controversy was not profitable. The challenge was met by the negative with a statement of agreement. They admitted that some doctrinal controversies are advantageous as in the case of the Reformation of 1517 when the church was corrupt, but the point they wished to make was that such controversies as the one which is splitting our churches at present is not advantageous because our church is not corrupt. They apparently were debating the proposition from the point of view of our present church strife only, and felt that they merely had to show that this present controversy which is taking place in our churches is not advantageous. They did this by pointing out how this controversy is hindering the growth of our churches since “you can’t multiply by dividing,” how it is disrupting the pastoral work in the congregations, the mission activities of the churches, how it brings on financial burdens, how it causes friction and unpleasant relationships in families and among friends.
In answer to this the affirmative agreed that controversy and fighting for the truth will surely bring with it friction and suffering, but that we must not be afraid of this. Christ says, “Think not that I am come to send peace, but a sword.”
Rather late in the debate the negative made the point that they wished to substitute conversation for controversy and thereby maintain a pure church without all the serious implications of a split in the denomination. However, the point was not brought out strongly and clearly enough to offset the argument of the affirmative that conversation will necessarily lead to controversy if we are holding fast to the truth, and are willing to fight for it, putting on “the whole armour of God.”
The five ministers present judged the debate and decided in favor of the affirmative. As is usually the case, the “real” debate took place on the sidewalk in front of church after the meeting was dismissed. In that debate the speeches were not timed, the speakers did not address the chair, no judges’ decision was rendered, and, of course, no summary was requested for Beacon Lights.