Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight… for they have rejected the law of God Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.   (Isaiah 5:20-21, 24a NIV)

Our world is full of clever-sounding arguments. Since there is nothing new under the sun, we should not be surprised to learn that Paul served under similar conditions. Perhaps, when he taught in Corinth, the Apostle felt he “lost” his share of arguments.  Silver-tongued orators who opposed the gospel may have clearly out-talked him.

Those times that Paul “lost” the argument, he explained himself in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: “When I came to you, my brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but but on God’s power.”

As it was then, we may witness proclaimers of truth trembling like Paul as they engage skillful debaters. Some get scorched while others are burned. In your mind, who wins?

In the political arena, persuasion is an art form and the end-all. It is accomplished not simply with words, but with how “wise” and cleverly those words are presented. In America, we have 24-hour TV and radio news offering their perspective on the day’s events. Frequent ideological guests acquire a nickname of “talking head.” They are mercenaries. They have honed their craft and earned reputations for winning arguments. If it is a “con” position, they mercilessly rip into the opponent. If they are asked to speak on the “pro” side, then instantly, a switch is flipped and wise and persuasive words come forth.

Where is truth in all of this? Is it okay to defend and deceive if it favors a certain point of view? And what of truth? The news media has created a breed of professional verbal assassins, often disguised as journalists.  They are paid well to silence and shame the enemy. They are exalted for the notches on their belt, or, like the World War I flying ace, achieved fame for the big names they’ve shot down.

Let’s switch to the contemporary Christian scene where we have a parallel universe to the political world. It pains me to say, but in the name of Christ, the same rabid, cult-like behavior exists. I’m not referring to sub-Christian cults–of which there are many– but the lesser known, such as “the King James-only” crowd and the doctrinal purists who scour the data looking for dirt or who light and release fiery darts at godly pastors and teachers. (Am I at risk of making their hit list or is my name already in their enemy file?)

“Send the trained troops out. Attack spiritual foes. Defend the ‘unassailable’. Smile at the camera. Post the impressive resume of positions, plaudits and degrees. Display the sharp wit and smooth tongue. Show, O master of argument, you are more than ready for war.”

They go wherever a microphone can be found. They practiced for hours and constantly rehearse. They eagerly destroy those whose way, truth and life differs from their own. They are the sole-arbiters of orthodoxy. They are the proud, intellectual Christian elite.

How foolish to engage the all-wise arguer in a verbal joust! They debated many weak and fearful foes, and have yet to lose. Among their peers, they have won acclaim, but are they truth-seekers? Do they tremble at God’s word. Woe to them if the answer is no!

Next, in Part 2, we hope to expose the masters of deception that lurk in the church.

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