I had the opportunity to pick up the Times & Transcript newspaper over the weekend which is something I rarely do. I have been thinking about reading the weekly religious column produced by a variety of pastors/professors in the Moncton area for quite some time now however I have not devoted any time to its content.
The column this week was written by Richard Jackson who I have not had the pleasure of meeting. Richard is the pastor of First Moncton United Baptist Church here in the Moncton area. The article was about a young high school student who writes an opinion column in the T & T by the name of Isabelle Agnew. This lady, in the past, had critiqued Christians in her column but she is now attending a church and reading through the bible. The point that Jackson was making in this column was that the church should be open to dialogue and questions. He writes:
Should not the church be a safe place where people can gather and discuss and debate without fear? Of all places, should not the church (which I believe can stand up under the closest scrutiny) invite people to investigate who we are and what we stand for in a loving and affirming environment…Let’s make our churches places of study and inquiry. Let’s invite people to investigate who we are and what we stand for.”
I appreciate Isabelle’s openness to search out these things and I pray that the Spirit of God will convict her of her sins and that she might come to know her sins forgiven through the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am, for the most part, in agreement with what Jackson wrote in this column. The only point I would have furthered in this small article was another question for the churches. It is fine to encourage people to ask questions and scrutinize but is your church ready for such a thing? If someone was to come into your church and talk to the average church member, how would they fare in regards to expressing and defending their beliefs? This is what we refer to as “apologetics”. Let me explain “apologetics” a little further.
To the average person when I mention the word Apologetics or apologist, this sounds like Greek to them and it should since the term is derived from the Greek. We find the term used in scripture in 1 Peter 3:15;
But Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense ( pros apologian) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
Apologetics is from the stem word apologia and is defined by W.E. Vines as “a verbal defense, a speech in defense“. Kenneth Wuest gives us a good definition of the meaning of the term.
“The words “give an answer” are the translation of a Greek word used as a legal term in the courts. It means literally “to talk off from”, and was used of an attorney who talked his client off from a charge preferred against him. He presented a verbal defense. The exhortation is to Christians to talk the Bible off from the charges preferred against it, thus presenting a verbal defense. (Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Kenneth Wuest, P.89)
Many concerns over the task of the apologist are from a misunderstanding of what he/she does. To give an answer doesn’t imply “to argue” as some have insinuated. The difference is, once again, found in 1 Peter 3:15 in that we are to give that answer “with gentleness and reverence. An Apologist has the task to look deeper at the truths presented in scripture, to present the truth of the Word of God in an honest fashion while refuting unbiblical heresies and the attacks of the non-believers. We must also learn the tactic and beliefs of other religious and non-religious bodies in order to refute them for without this understanding, we are unable to present the gospel to them. It was once said that in order to present the gospel clearly to someone we must take the glasses of the man-made religion off of him or her so they can see the gospel clearly.
It is commonly misunderstood as well that debating is done for the purpose of winning. I debate not for this sake, for if the person has not converted from their error and embraced truth, I have not won anything. Not only this but we are always reminded of the people reading or listening to the debate, that they may hear the truth presented to them.
An apologist must be always ready to answer the questions of the skeptic, pseudo-Christian and most importantly, the young believer looking for answers.
The task of answering the claims of those who would attack the truths of the Word of God may seem to some as trivial. I can respect the comments from people who feel the gospel should be presented and rightfully so since our common goal whether an apologist or a gospel preacher is to make known the message of the Person and works of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I guess the question begs to be asked, so why not simply preach the gospel? The problem with this assertion is that it assumes that there is only one way to preach the gospel. You see, to someone who is involved in a pseudo-Christian religion or a skeptic, often times they need to firstly have the stumbling block removed before them in order to take the first step toward the Person of Christ. There is a need to take away their trust in their theological fallacies and present the message of the Gospel afresh to them.
I am sometimes left rather baffled at some comments I’ve received. Some feel like ignoring these fallacies and, as they would render, “not bother with them” is the way to address the issue. I’ve heard of Christians proudly stating how they had “slammed the door” the face of a Watchtower couple. Several questions keep ringing within the depths of my soul; do these people not deserve to have the gospel presented to them? Are we really unconcerned with the welfare of their soul to the point that we would simply rather ignore them than answer their questions in hope that perhaps they would at least look deeper into your discussion? I will share in a future post the importance of receiving the answers I was looking for before my conversion.
The need for apologetics doesn’t end there; you see there is another problem facing Christians today and that is that the gospel is being attacked from every front. Young people are losing their trust in the gospel due to the muddying of certain groups or skeptics.
Within the last few years Roman Catholic theologians have been putting out books primarily to defend the “Catholic Faith” and there have been many conversions to Roman Catholicism particularly because of their attack on our view that the scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith. Also, You would only have to look outside your door on Saturday mornings to see friendly Watchtower couple coming to your door with the intention of recruiting others to their form of theology. There are thousands of Mormon missionaries putting thousands of hours of work to present to the world the gospel of the Latter-Day Saints. Not to mention the issues going on in the news on abortion, evolution, attacks on inspiration of the scriptures and the list goes on and on.
With all these issues presented before us, who will step up to defend the truth? In my opening post, I presented the question “why do you bother”. The reason I bother is because I love the Lord Jesus Christ, I am forever grateful and in awe at the love He showed me and I believe that the truths contained in His precious and Holy Word are worth defending.
The Lord Jesus
I will now address the example the Lord Jesus had left us in our appreciation of standing firm for the truth. It should be noted that the Lord was well acquainted with the fallacies of the Traditions of the elders in that day. The Lord Jesus was never shy in answering for the Truths that had been brought forward by the Father. He constantly rebuked and refuted the Jewish Elders and even sometimes his own apostles. One won’t need to look in vain in the scriptures at the instances where the Lord addressed those who were poisoning God’s truth and were placing unwarranted burdens on the people. Notice the following examples:
In Matt 12:1-8, The Lord rebuked the Pharisees on the issue of the Sabbath; He rebuked them once again on their claim that He was casting out Demons through Beelzebul (Matt 12:22-29), again when they were accusing the apostles of breaking the traditions of the elders (Matt 15:1-4), on the issue of divorce (Matt 19:1-12). The Lord drove out the moneychangers rebuking the use of God’s temple for such reasons (Matt 21:12-17). He rebukes those challenging His authority (Matt 21:23-27). He refutes the challenge of the Sadducees with respects to their test of the seven brothers (Matt 22:23-34); He rebukes the hypocrisy of the Scribes & Pharisees (Matt 23:1-12). If one was simply to read Matt 23:13-36, the eight woes, one would have clear picture of the Lord’s powerful apologetics and there are many more that could be listed as well.
It is obvious when reading through these texts of scripture that the Lord Jesus believed that giving an answer and rebuking untruths was of great importance. There has always been an urgency to protect God’s truth since, once again, those truth are worth defending. We are always to be Christ-like hence a part of this lies also in the defense of God’s precious and Holy Word.
When the Lord had ascended and gone Home to be with the Father, He had left the apostles in charge of proclaiming the Gospel and the responsibility of keeping it pure. Christ promised the apostles the Holy Spirit “whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26) One will not have to look hard to find, from the time of enscripturation, heresies creeping into the flock of God. These were numerous groups including Judaizers & Gnostics who were interested in teaching their rendition of the truth. The question begs to be asked: How did the apostles address this situation? Did they simply “not bother with them”?
The apostle Paul was always suffering for the gospel and stood firm in its proclamation before leaders of various cultures. Notice in his epistle to the Philippians how Paul was clear of his role as a preacher and an apologist when he said: …since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of Grace with me (v.1: 7) and “knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel (v.1: 16). Paul always bothered to proclaim and defend what was entrusted to him. He is clear at our responsibility to “not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them. (Ephesians 5:11) If one was to read the epistle to the Colossians with any sort of historical background, it becomes quite clear that Paul was refuting the Judaizers & Gnostics teaching and defending the truths entrusted to him by God.
I have already, in a previous post, spoken of the apostle Peter’s statement in his first epistle to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15) hence I will not reiterate this and move on to the apostle John whom showed in his first epistle the importance of responding to heresies. While addressing the teaching of the Gnostics, John was clear to point out to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). John refutes the idea of Gnostic belief of dualism in v. 2 when he states that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” If John wouldn’t of bothered with these believers and refuted the Gnostics we can only imagine the outcome of this historical and spiritual situation.
Jude also made it clear in his epistle is necessary to write to the believers to “content earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the Saints”. He warns these saints of “ungodly persons who run the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ (v. 4) W. McDonald writes:
“Attacks were being made on the sacred deposit of Christian truth, and efforts were already launched to whittle away the great fundamental doctrines. God’s people must stand uncompromisingly for the inspiration, inerrancy, authority and the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word. (Believers bible commentary, p 2340)
Those truths that were written by the inspiration of God are entrusted to us to not only proclaim but as the Lord Jesus & His apostles before us to defend as well.
The Early Church
Believers, even in the earliest times of Christianity, were subject to attacks by non-believers and heresies were constantly creeping into the assemblies. These threatened the very foundation of the faith as well as the reputation of the believers. I will point out but two instances were the believer needed to put the apologist’s hat on in order to defend God’s truth and Christian’s reputations as well.
Firstly, I will begin with the charge of Atheism against early Christians. The refusal to worship Roman gods brought much anger by the Romans. Polycarp, the great bishop of Smyrna, was brought before the emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, to answer for the Christian faith. Aurelius brought the elderly Bishop in an arena in front of the Roman people and said he would spare his life if he denied Christianity by saying “away with the atheists”. Polycarp then pointed to the crowd and with a great cry said “away with the atheists”. Unfortunately, his standing up to defend the believer’s reputation cost him his life since Aurelius ordered his execution. Justin Martyr wrote about the charges of atheism and refuted them in his “apology”.
Another aspect in history where apologetics played an important role was during the Arian crisis. Arius, a presbyter, began teaching that there was a time when the Lord Jesus didn’t exist and was created by the Father. At the council of Nicea, when many had embraced the heresy, Alexander accompanied by Athanasius defended the truth of the eternal nature of the Lord. Athanasius was constantly defending the truth of the Trinity even while being banished over 5 times from Alexandria. If one is to read “the world against Athanasius”, one will see apologetics at it’s best.
These are just a few examples from the early church; obviously the reformation was an era where apologetics were needed to triumph over the traditions and heresies of Rome, particularly there teaching of salvation via indulgences. Obviously Apologetics has played a crucial role in the defense of historic orthodox Christian teachings!
I think Jackson’s article should resonate to the churches in Moncton and that we should be prepared to answer the tough questions especially from young individuals seeking some truth and logic in our day and age. It is a task that is not always easy to take on and it can be very time consuming however while we must be firm in our answers, we must also give our defense in love and honesty so that God is glorified through us.