In with the New

Last time, I noted that we spend a great deal of time and emotional force on points of secondary concern, I believe we should perhaps spend a little less of each on Calvinism/Arminianism, millennial positions and other secondary points that, while important are not the main course of Christianity. Scripture tells us to mark and avoid those causing divisions among us, a policy our churches often do not practice, at their own peril. There is some danger when we begin to focus on these points of discussion, in part, because they take our time, energy and resources away from major conflicts, in favor of minor ones.

 

Jude tells us we are to “Earnestly contend for the faith.” In many cases, we tend to avoid thinking about this passage, we think of it in terms of being a “fundamentalist,” a term that I believe has been fundamentally misunderstood through the years.[1] I do not mean that we must be contentious (though we should be careful not to judge other believers on the basis of modern societies ideals)[2] but one does not necessarily need to be mean, cruel or insulting to stand up for the faith. I believe that the current state of the Church is dealing with those within and without and apologists must be ready to answer and deal with both.

Those Without

For those without we need to be able to do two things, first to defend the faith from the scorners and to provide grounds for evangelism. Many people object to the first, stating “I believe, does it really matter what others think?” I would agree with William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga – no, you don’t have to submit your faith in Christ to a jury of others to be rational. There is a difference, however, between “knowing” the faith and “showing” the faith;  between that knowledge of the faith we gain through the experiences of daily life, and the ability to use that to help others, such as younger believers, who are growing up in a world shaking their faith at every corner, whether through peer-groups, moral pressures towards sexual impropriety, or university pressures. While there come times in life, when being able to provide a rational defense to yourself is wise, I submit as I have in the past, apologetics is about ministry.

 

Similarly, the lost are not growing up in a world assuming Christianity’s truthfulness. This means evangelism is benefited by having apologetics tools. People no longer assume the Bible is true, they have heard it is a myth, or some ancient superstition, and providing grounds for why they should believe is only reasonable and hospitable. I do not mean to imply that we can argue someone into Heaven – rather the Christian apologist seeks to make His mind a means for the Holy Spirit to work on the heart.

Those Within

In our internal discussions, there is a tendency, over time, for Christians to forget the foundations of the faith, and over time heresy grows. I suggest Apologists and theologians are needed to deal with heresies, sects and unsound movements, to stand up for the fundamentals of the faith.

Passages of Doctrinal requirements for fellowship

So how do we define these fundamentals? I believe they come down to the commands of Scripture. 2 John tells us that we are not to welcome those that do not bring the doctrine of Christ. The book of first John gives us a clue as to what is meant here – 1 John is the first book in New Testament to directly address a doctrine of Gnosticism.[3] On this basis, I would suggest, the points of interest should be the person and work of Christ; heresies such as denials of the trinity denials of the deity of Christ, and denials of the historicity of the gospel.

A second issue, and more controversial is drawn from Galatians, and that is that salvation is by Grace through faith. Paul states, if anyone preaches any other gospel, they are to be accursed; while the implication is that the person is headed for damnation, this has implications at the least for the reception of those people within the Church. Paul’s argument throughout the book includes the implication that those adding to the gospel (specifically those requiring gentile converts to Christianity to become Jews) are not to be treated as part of the Church. On these grounds, we oppose not only traditional, Christological heresies, but Roman Catholicism, those preaching a social gospel, liberation theology etc.

Grounds for those doctrines

A third issue that ought to be a dividing line is the Scripture itself. At some point the question of the grounds of theology will inevitably be a necessary discussion on these heresies. When discussing the gospel with unbelievers. The question of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture[4] is a secondary question in external matters.[5]; that is,

If Christ is risen from the dead and is God, then his testimony of the Old Testament is important, as well as his commissioning of the apostles. On these grounds, the infallibility,[6] and inspiration of Scripture is the final line I would suggest. On these grounds I would reject the King James only movement,[7] or those who seek to amend the Bible on social issues, such as homosexuality.

 

In the new year, then, I hope we can refocus our debates, majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors. Putting out the old and bringing in the new will make our discourse more profitable.

[1]As I discussed previously, I believe the Fundamentalist/Evangelical controversies are at this point an issue of history. Very few Evangelicals understand the underlying issues, and many Fundamentalists are either friendly now with Evanglicalism as a whole, or they are fighting their way towards obsolescence by focusing on distinctions that are ultimately unimportant.

[2]I sometimes wonder how some of the prophets such as Amos would fare in our society. Would we say they were not loving, or inclusive? Would we suggest that they should choose to be winsome? I believe we should be careful, some of those old, unwinsome, fundamentalists were very loving men in my experience, and many of those preachers we look at as terribly judgmental were soul winners, they understood that sin was the problem, and the unbeliever needed to be faced with their sinfulness to come to know Him.

[3]Other New Testament books, such as the Corinthian correspondence and Colossians might address Gnosticism, but there is nothing distinctly gnostic in these writings, and these could be directed towards a Jewish sect of Christians later known as the Ebionites, a group Paul had already dealt with in the book of Galatians.

[4]Inerrancy means the Bible contains no errors; infallibility means the Bible is true in all it affirms doctrinally.

[5]We do not come to faith because we believe the Scriptures to be true, we believe the Scriptures to be true because we have believed. This is why, with unbelievers, I focus no on the Inspiration of Scripture as a whole, but on the historical reliability of the text.

[6]I suggest infallibility not because I am open on the question of inerrancy. I firmly believe in the inerrancy of Scripture as statement in the Chicago statement on inerrancy. But even with the discussion of the Chicago statement, there is a murkiness in the application of inerrancy when it comes to hermeneutics, which means people who sound like inerrantists do not like the term.

[7]To be King James only, one must either argue that God did not properly inspire the Bible when it was written, that God’s Word was lost, or that the Greek and Hebrew perfectly matches the King James. Because the King James makes errors and adds contradictions into the translation, and because it is clearly not true the third is untenable, and the previous two are divergent doctrines.

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