A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a debate on the subject of premillennialism. It focused mainly on the millennium, whether or not Jesus would literally reign on the earth with His saints for a 1000 year period sometime in the future. A good friend of mine denied that proposition for it does not fit into what Scripture teaches concerning Christ and His relationship to man and the world. But I already knew that.
I knew also the arguments used by his opponent for I had read many books and articles on premillennialism. Every point he raised had already been suggested and discussed by others.
Some might ask, "Then why did you go? As a matter of fact, why even have a debate in the first place. Neither disputant is going to change his mind and most of the people will remain polarized behind the speaker of their choice. It seems like a waste of time and effort to me."
Believe me. It was no waste of time. Though my views on premillennialism remained the same, there were many lessons I learned. I would like to share a few of those with you.
Some people are afraid to get into an open and honest discussion of truth. Many shy away from debates because they believe they are counterproductive to unity -- that they only further polarize people who already have dissenting points of view. And if the truth is mishandled it could do much more harm than good. Truth must be handled properly (2 Timothy 2:15) and when it is ably presented by a dedicated servant of the Lord, it is fascinating to see it rise above the false applications of men and take its proper place as the word which lives and abides forever (I Peter 1:25). The "anvil" of God's word has broken many hammers of those who would try to alter it or mold it to fit their own view.
It is wonderful to see the word of God in action. I marvel when I see it first convict and then convert the sinner who needs to obey it for the salvation of his soul. I marvel to see the force and power it possesses to confront error and those who expound error.
It is comforting to know that what the Hebrew writer said of it long ago remains true today when he said, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
To see the proponents of error shrink at the truth enforces the power and relevancy of the gospel. To literally see the false teacher shaken, his face white and his mouth open, when God's truth is presented reaffirms the faith one has in the word's power to conquer all foes. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
A young Christian in his mid-twenties came to me at the end of the first night of the debate. He had never attended a debate before and he had not been sure what to expect. He had heard some negative things about debates from those who think they have outlived their usefulness (probably some of the same people who think the gospel meeting is passe). He had already made plans to be out of town the second night. When he came to me I told him it was good to meet him, wished him well and said good-by. He quickly informed me that he was changing his plans. There was no way he was going to miss the next night. He had seen and experienced the triumph of truth. He said he wanted to do what he could to support it His faith had been strengthened and his spirit renewed.
While there were many lessons of a positive nature to be learned from the debate, all of them were not pleasant.
My friend's opponent had over a dozen people accompany him from Maryland, a distance of some 850 miles, to support him in his efforts. They are to be highly commended for their dedication. On the other hand, many so-called "Christians" would not (notice I did not say "could not") drive a few miles across town to listen and be supportive. The building, not a large one by any means, was not nearly full. The lack of support by other preachers in the area was also disappointing. Not only do those of the world seem to be wiser in the things of this world (Luke 16:8) but also more dedicated to their cause.
I pray that more of God's people will set aside the things of this world and actually seek the things of the kingdom first (Matthew 6:33).
As you can see, I learned a lot. I hope I have the opportunity to keep learning. I pray that God's word will continue to have free run and opportunities to defend and proclaim it may abound. When they do, let all of us, as we can, be actively involved in doing all we can to stand for it and having done all to stand -- "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13).
The above article was written after the first two nights of my debate with Todd Weiner. The first part of the discussion was conducted in Evansville, Indiana on November 5 and 6, 1992. The second part was conducted in Baltimore, Maryland on November 19 and 20, 1992.
Though the crowd in Baltimore was not as large as we had hoped for, we still had the opportunity to speak eight times before a group of 60 or 70 non-Christians. On November 19, about 25 people from a Disciples of Christ congregation came to observe the debate. Before the discussion started, I was not sure whether these people were on "my side" or not. Within a few minutes, it became obvious they agreed with what I was preaching.
John Welch, of Indianapolis, Indiana served as my moderator during the debate. This is the fourth time has served in this capacity for me. Harry Lewis helped not only in the months of preparation before the debate, but also sat at my table to help during the debate. I have enjoyed working with Harry on a call-in radio program for over six years. Gene Taylor, of Tallahassee, Florida drove over 3,500 miles to attend both parts of the discussion. Gene did a wonderful job of managing my overhead transparencies.
View other articles on this debate or download Charts from the Padfield-Weiner Debate. Over 100 overhead charts used by Padfield in this debate. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to view the charts. You are free to print the charts and use them in sermons and Bible classes (PDF file size: 341k).