We’ve all heard the proverbial wisdom, “There are two things you should never discuss: politics and religion.” Admittedly, the reason this advice is often because these two topics tend to cause heated arguments, as more than likely the participants strongly hold to their individual beliefs and choose to defend them passionately, usually at the expense of an open mind and polite discourse. That’s why most people today tend to avoid religious debate and discussion with as much zeal as they avoid telemarketers and pneumonia.
Yet, the greatest men you read about in the Bible did not shy away from discussing religion with others. On the contrary, they debated religion at every turn. Moses admonished Israel for idol worship (Ex. 32). Elijah confronted and opposed false prophets (1 Kings 18:17-40). Peter and John preached to the religious leaders of their day who were in error and pointed out their sins (Acts 3-4). The apostle Paul debated Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 9:29; 17:16-17). He also debated polytheistic Greek philosophers about their need to worship the One True God (Acts 17:18-34). In fact, he even disputed with fellow Christians who were caught up in religious error (Gal. 2:1-5; cf. Acts 15:1ff).
These men tried to correct those who held to religiously erroneous beliefs, and they did so because religious error is just as sinful as moral error or ethical error. Many today cannot see that, in part because they mistakenly assume that Jesus Christ himself would never tell someone who believed in God that they were wrong. “After all,” they say, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged…’ (Matt. 7:1).” Not only do they ignore the irony that they themselves are doing what they condemn when they tell others that they shouldn’t judge, they also overlook the fact that immediately after giving that command, Jesus commanded his followers to “remove the speck from your brother’s eye” in a manner that is free from hypocrisy (Matt. 7:2-5). In other words, he commanded us to judge, only without hypocrisy and not according to appearance (John 7:24). He wants us to expose sin and error (Eph. 5:11).
Christ himself was in constant conflict with those in religious error when he was on earth. For example, on one occasion he pointed out the error of the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection. He very pointedly told them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). By telling them this, he was basically saying that the Sadducees were wrong in their religious beliefs. Their error was not that they were ignorant of the Scriptures, but rather that they did not understand what the Scriptures were actually teaching.
How would we react if someone pointed out to us that our religious beliefs were incorrect? Would we get angry and accuse the person who challenged our beliefs of being hateful? Would we ignore them and walk away, assuming that we are correct without investigating the Scriptures to be sure? (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Thess. 5:21) Many believe that it doesn’t matter what one believes as long as they are a basically good person and call themselves a Christian, but an open-minded investigation of the Bible shows that Jesus, the apostles, Moses, and many other godly men and women thought otherwise (Matt. 7:21-27; Eph. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 4:6; Phil. 2:1-2; Rev. 22:18-19; Rom. 16:17-18; Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). They risked their lives to teach the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17) and point out the error in which many religious people found themselves.
So the next time someone wants to discuss our religious beliefs with us, let’s choose to avoid anger. Let’s choose to not ignore them and walk away. Instead, let’s remember that this person is only following the example of some of the greatest people in the Bible. Let’s also remember that the possibility exists that we may be incorrect about a doctrine or practice we hold to, and thus our soul would be in danger (Matt. 7:21-23). If this person shows us something from the entirety of God’s Word (Ps. 119:160) that contradicts what we believe, they are doing us an eternal favor (James 5:19-20).