Voices from the Past

Our Attitude and Practice Toward Error

(Acts 17:16-34)

Dennis C. Abernathy
ca. 1975


We all are aware, I am sure, that error is all around us. A very important question is: "What shall be my attitude and practice toward such?" Let us in this article use the example of the apostle Paul. We find him in the city of Athens waiting for his companions to join him. He had come there to escape opposition (Acts 17:13-15). Upon his arrival Paul found the city wholly given to idolatry (v. 16). In other words, Athens was full of idolatry. It is said that Athens had more idols and images than all the rest of Greece. That it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens.

Someone else said the city "was one great altar, one great offering to the gods." This is the condition that Paul found in that city. How did it affect him? The account says, "his spirit was stirred in him." There was great unrest in his spirit, he was aroused to anger, or provoked. But someone says, "but isn't anger condemned in the Scriptures?" The answer is yes! But on the other hand, righteous indignation is approved. (2 Cor. 7:11). We see this from accounts concerning our Lord. (Jno. 2:13-17; Mk. 3:5). The Lord was angered by their acts. This is true with Paul. He looked on all of the idolatry with righteous indignation. He was contemplating its eternal consequences, because he loved the souls of men, but he hated sin.

We as Christians should realize that error and truth are incompatible (don't go together - oppose each other). They are like oil and water, they just do not mix. Error, wherever and however it is found is the lie of the devil, and it is always a challenge to the truth.

Some say, "Let them do their own thing; what's the use, I can't do anything about it ... it doesn't concern me." This attitude is becoming very common in the church today. I am not saying we should get a sign and run around the streets crying "repent or perish" or try to be some sort of a busybody (1 Pet. 4:15). But I think all would do well to ponder what is said in Ezek. 33:8-9; "When I say unto the wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." Isn't this what Paul taught in Acts 20:26-27?

We are now ready to ask what Paul did in this situation. Verse 17 says, "therefore disputed he" with them. Paul believed in "reasoning or arguing" (Acts 17:2; Isa. 1:18; Phil. 1:17). This was also true of the Son of God.

His life was a prolonged series of arguments. But we find that some today "won't argue about the Bible." When we challenge denominationalists to discussions they cry "the Bible condemns debating." They did not feel this way in days gone by. They would debate then. But now they evidently can see "the hand-writing on the wall" and so they go to, and abuse such passages as 2 Cor. 12:20 and Phil. 2:14. Certainly bitterness and ugly strife, quarreling and deceit are condemned. Sure, some debates have been characterized by such conduct. But does this condemn debating? No, certainly not. Just because something is abused doesn't make it wrong. Just because one cannot discuss the Bible without losing his temper and getting beside himself doesn't mean it is wrong to discuss the Bible. It simply means that the individual needs to learn some self-control. Let us never be guilty of arraying one passage against another. (See 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). But sad to say, we find many people who will argue that it is wrong to argue the Bible.

Is there a reason for this attitude or opposition toward public discussion of the Scripture? If we believe we are teaching the truth is there any conceivable reason why we would shun from discussing it? Usually those who oppose open discussion are weak in faith, afraid of their position, afraid of criticism, or are just plain uninformed.

Paul reasoned or debated with those in error. He didn't think differences were trivial or unimportant. A denominational preacher said one time: "Baptism in Acts 22:16 is unimportant. We need to be out saving souls. I won't discuss it with you." Our liberal brethren in LaGrange, Ga. have a question-answer radio program and I called in some questions concerning their comments on the problems that divide us. The reply was, "I hope we will not receive any more questions of this nature. We have more important things to discuss, mainly, the salvation of the soul." But they, the denominational preacher, and all need to realize that the salvation of souls depends upon the truth. (Jno. 8:32).

May we have the proper attitude toward the truth and in defense of it.

(Gospel Guardian, Vol. 27 No. 6, March 15, 1975, p. 14)


Feature Editor's Comments:

The author states well the ideas we have been striving to get across to others.

  1. We ought to have righteous indignation toward error, whether in the world or among brethren.
  2. Truth and error oppose each other -- there is no compromise!
  3. Some brethren are "sticking their head in the sand" instead of crying out as per Ezekiel 33:8-9.
  4. Debating is good!
  5. Those who will not discuss or debate their teaching are either "weak in faith, afraid of their position, afraid of criticism, or are just plain uninformed." Also, "If we believe we are teaching the truth is there any conceivable reason why we would shun from discussing it?"
  6. Differences are important.

We cannot help but to think of so many brethren (elders, preachers, and others) who stand in opposition to the above. We cannot help but to think of those who once believed the above, but now do not. Why?

God instructs us to abhor evil (Rom. 12:9). This includes doctrinal, as well as, moral evil. "Through Thy precepts I get understanding therefore I hate every false way" (Psa. 119:104).

The Bible teaches that there is no room for compromising the truth. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:11, NKJV). It seems, instead of "expose them," some inadvertently read "ESPOUSE them" or "EXPEDITE them." "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Concerning the error that was trying to work its way into the churches of Galatia, Paul said, "I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded" (Gal. 5:10). That is, we are to be single-minded when it comes to the truth!

It is sad, but true, some brethren are refusing to believe the there are brethren, known for their faithfulness in the past, who are now departing from the "old paths." They ignore the obvious facts that "brother has-been-around" is teaching error, and will condemn others for attacking an "ancient warrior" of the gospel. Of this, God says, "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 17:15).

Some have taken refuge in a "no-debate," "anti-polemic," "accentuate-the-positive-eliminate-the-negative," human philosophy. Paul and Barnabas did not believe in this, for they had "no small dissension and disputation" with the teachers of error (Acts 15:2). The apostles and elders did not fit in this mold, for they "came together for to consider" circumcision and engaged in "much disputing" (Acts 15:6-7). As the author points out, the life of our Lord was a series of arguments! Are we better than the Spirit-guided apostles or the perfect Lamb of God?

Yes, it has always been true that those who have the truth fear no investigation, but those who have not the truth, dodge, run, avoid, and squirm when confronted. Why are some preachers so reluctant to come forth with their doctrine? Could it be, they do not have the truth?

If you have the truth, and we are in error, come forth with it!!! You will be our friend. Do not give a poor excuse and fail to fulfill your duty (2 Tim. 4:1-5).


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