From Voice, Jan/Feb 2015. Used by permission.
I have always found it compelling that in the letter designed to instruct Timothy in how to be a pastor of a local church, the first and last words had to do with defending the faith. At the epistle’s beginning, Paul instructed Timothy to guard the truth in opposition to false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3), and at the epistle’s ending, Paul commanded Timothy to guard the truth that was committed to his trust (1 Timothy 6:20).
In his exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Paul urged them to guard the flock of God from false teachers (Acts 20:28-30). Peter warned against false teachers who would secretly bring in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1-3) and who would mock God’s promises (2 Peter 3:3-4); he cautioned his readers to beware and not fall into the error of the wicked (2 Peter 3:17). Jude commanded us to contend earnestly for the faith against false teachers who would attempt to creep into our churches unnoticed (Jude 3-4). And the Lord Jesus taught about the nature of our Adversary who would seek to destroy God’s work in the lives of people (Matthew 13:19) and to deceive everyone possible through his implanted agents (Matthew 13:36-43).
Defending the faith is an essential part of the ministry of pastors and churches!
Some may shrink back from this, but defending the faith is a rapidly growing reality that every one of our churches must face today. Just look at the threats spinning out of control all around us today. There are theological threats we need to defend against:
- Inerrancy questions against the Bible and denials of the historicity of the Bible’s accounts
- Denials of eternal retribution and the growing embrace of universalism
- Social justice’s growing primacy over gospel-centered evangelism
- Mysticism, aberrant and extreme views on the Holy Spirit, the Prosperity Gospel
- Ancient Future Faith and the road back to Rome for misled Protestants
- Churchless Christianity in favor of fellowship at coffee shops and on iPads, etc.
- And sadly, there are many more
There are cultural threats we need to defend against:
- Ignorant welcoming of radicalized Islam
- Embracing Postmodernism, rejecting authoritative propositions in favor of relativism, seeking hyper-tolerance, capitulating to atheism
- Surrendering to the aggressive homosexual agenda
- Swallowing the philosophies of Pragmatism, Humanism, Consumerism, Hedonism
- Sliding toward Gomorrah with the family under attack through a porn saturated culture, divorce, violence, radical feminization
- And sadly, there are many more
It seems as if our Western cultures are descending into a new Dark Age and, whether we like it or not, we need to present a vigorous defense of the Christian faith. But what exactly do I mean by defending the faith?
What does it mean to defend?
I believe that defending the faith and presenting the gospel are two different activities but they are inextricably intertwined and will often happen at the same time. Yet you have probably heard it said that a Christian should never argue with an unbeliever, especially when trying to lead the unbeliever to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Is that a correct understanding of evangelism and defending the faith?
If by “argue” you mean sarcastically hurling insulting putdowns and invectives like you are the star of your own cable network talk show, then absolutely, that is most definitely what you should not do when defending the faith or sharing the gospel. The Lord Jesus never stooped to such debating tactics even when He was most shamefully treated and mocked and murdered. Peter says that when Christ “was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). Isaiah prophesied this about Messiah: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:5,7). Paul commanded Timothy that “the servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24). Arguing with unbelievers in the sense of exchanging loud and angry words is never a godly activity!
But if you go to any dictionary you’ll see two senses behind the definition of the word “argue.” One idea is what is presented above: “to exchange or express diverging or opposite views, typically in a heated or angry way” with synonyms like “quarrel, squabble, bicker, fight.” But the second idea for “argue” is something totally different: “give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view” with synonyms like “contend, assert, maintain, insist, hold, allege, reason.”
We are not to quarrel and fight with unbelievers by using angry words. But we must seek to persuade them, even debate their ideas, by reasoning with them from the Bible.
Jesus did. He debated with the Sadducees about the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-32). He debated with the Herodians about paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:16-22). He debated with the Pharisees about the person of the Messiah (Matthew 22:41-46). He reasoned with Nicodemus about how to get to heaven (John 3:1-21). He reasoned with a Samaritan woman about true worship (John 4:7-26). If Jesus is our example, we should reason and debate with unbelievers.
Now, you may say that Jesus is also God and we are not. Perhaps only God should debate with unbelievers?
But note that Paul debated with unbelievers. He debated and reasoned with his fellow Jewish people over whether Jesus was the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (Acts 13:14-43). He debated with the Gentiles and asserted that God demanded they repent from idolatry and worship the One True God (Acts 14:15-18; 17:16-32). If Paul is our example, we too should reason and debate with unbelievers.
Of course, Paul was an apostle, and we are not. Perhaps only apostles should debate with unbelievers?
But note that Elders are to debate with unbelievers. Paul told Titus that an elder should “hold fast the faithful word…that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Presumably this is the way that church leaders must “silence” the “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10-11).
Of course, not all of us are elders. Maybe only elders should debate with unbelievers?
Peter, however, wrote that all believers should reason and debate with unbelievers. Speaking to Christians, he wrote in 1 Peter 3:15 (my translation):
But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being always ready to answer everyone who asks you for a reason concerning the hope in you.” Therefore, each believer is to prepare himself or herself to be able to debate effectively and reason carefully with those who are unsaved, praying that indeed the Lord may “grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25)
By “defense” I mean a careful explanation of the Bible, clearing away the misrepresentations of those people and philosophies which attack the truth presented in Scripture. I also mean by giving a reasoned defense that we should simply present what the Bible says regarding any given issue, demonstrating God’s thoughts on the issue, letting the Bible defend itself (the self witness of Scripture).
The Bible is the self-authenticating written revelation of God. This means that the demonstration of the Bible’s authenticity is internal to it and externally verified by the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of the readers or listeners. As has often been said, you don’t defend a lion—you just turn it loose. That’s what I mean by defense; just turn the Bible loose by careful and accurate and patient teaching.
(Tomorrow: Defending the Faith—The Problem of Human Nature)
Les Lofquist earned his BA at Grace College, and his MDiv at Grace Theological Seminary. Over his years of ministry, he has served as a missionary church planter, Bible college instructor, youth pastor and senior pastor. He has served as Executive Director of IFCA since 1999. He and his wife Miriam have been blessed with several children and grandchildren.