Today we continue a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative. Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of apologetics. Last week the focus was evangelism and next week will be focused on the work of pastoral ministry. We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.” Is that true or is that merely the tagline of an ultra tolerant inclusive culture that demands positivity and tolerance at any cost?
We live in a culture that paints an improper picture of Jesus as the “nice guy” on the right side of the Bible rather than the wrathful God on the left side. Perhaps people should read all of the right side of the Bible – especially the first four books of the New Testament along with the last book of the New Testament as a fitting assessment of the true Jesus. Jesus was often straightforward and He placed a great deal of emphasis upon defending the truth of God and the sacred Scriptures.
Apologetics is not the practice of giving an apology. It’s the act of defending the faith. Cornelius Van Til once defined apologetics as “the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”  One of the key words in his definition is the word, “against” which points to the negative focus that must be included in the work of apologetics. Perhaps the key verse in the New Testament regarding apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
The Greek term translated, “to make a defense” is ἀπολογία – from where we derive the word – apologetics. The fact that we must defend the faith once delivered to the saints is clearly laid out in the Scriptures, and it’s clearly practiced by the early church. The New Testament is filled with apostolic examples of apologetics from Peter’s sermon at Pentecost to Paul giving a defense of the faith before Agrippa. Likewise, we see the early pastors being mandated to practice the work of apologetics in their pastoral ministry (Titus 1:9). In short, all Christians are apologists at some level. In the home as Christian parents, at your place of employment, or on social media. You don’t have to be called to full-time vocational ministry before you engage in apologetics.
Practicing Apologetics and Being Negative
False teaching often lurks in the realm of evangelical circles. It’s one thing to refute the false teaching of Joel Osteen, but what about the individual who has crept into the church of Jesus Christ and is leading people astray? A.W. Pink once said:
False prophets are to be found in the circles of the most orthodox, and they pretend to have a fervent love for souls, yet they fatally delude multitudes concerning the way of salvation. The pulpit, platform, and pamphlet hucksters have wantonly lowered the standard of divine holiness and so adulterated the Gospel in order to make it palatable to the carnal mind. 
According to Jude 3-4:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Notice two specific statements in these verses. First notice that Jude says, “contend for the faith.” The word contend is translated from the Greek term ἐπαγωνίζομαι meaning “to extert intense effort on behalf of something, contend.” The command to contend for the faith with intensity does not always mean with a positive tone nor does it demand tolerance. The idea that Christians are to tolerate false teachers and false teaching within the church is on the same level as a momma bear tolerating wolves entering her den where her babies are sleeping.
Secondly, notice that Jude says such false teachers had crept inside unnoticed. Jude then argues that such false teachers should be noticed and the work of making people aware of such individuals is part of the work of apologetics. Anytime light shines in darkness, it reveals error. The best teacher in the New Testament who consistently revealed error is Jesus. In His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently put false teachers on notice and it wasn’t always positive.
One such example is found in Mark 12:18-27. In this text, the Sadducees approached Jesus with a theological question. They wanted to know Jesus’ position on the marriage law mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 – or did they? Actually they were setting a trap for Jesus regarding His position on the resurrection of the dead. That was their real issue. Their question wasn’t exactly sincere, it was more of a theological trap.
Jesus fielded their question and then point by point exposed their false religiosity. Jesus wasn’t about to allow these false teachers off the hook. Why didn’t Jesus just remain positive in hopes of gaining new followers from the community? Why didn’t Jesus merely tolerate their different interpretations on the Scriptures? Jesus responded with a catastrophic bomb, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24)? The reason Jesus exposed them was because of their danger to God’s people. Notice, Jesus exposed their ignorance of the Scriptures.
Negative is not Automatically Nasty
To be clear, as I stated in the first article on evangelism, I’m in no way insinuating that Christians should go around being rude, hateful, and harsh with everyone they come in contact with. All Christians are commanded to love sinners and treat people with respect – even people we disagree with. However, Christians are not to be spineless pushovers who allow anyone to say anything they want – especially as it pertains to the gospel.
The Christian community is often quick to press fellow Christians on the idea that we need to follow Jesus’ example of love, but what about His apologetic? Are we to employ the WWJD principle in the area of love only, or should we actually defend the gospel too? According to 1 Peter 3:15, we are to defend the faith “with gentleness and respect.” I can recall times when I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been in my attempt to defend the faith. There is a difference between gentleness and negligence. Exposing error necessitates negative facts, but it always has a positive goal rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The very moment we claim that pluralism is wrong, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being negative. We speak with the goal of pointing people to the exclusivity of Christ. When we call out the errors of LGBT inclusivism, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being a hater of LGBT people. To the contrary, we do so with the goal of pointing people to faith in Jesus Christ and protecting the church from such false teachers who would press the church into an inclusivist position. Apologetics involves exposing negative error with the positive goal of pointing people to Christ and guarding the gospel from perversion. Vance Havner once said, “The early Christians condemned false doctrine in a way that sounds almost unchristian today.”
Next week, we will look at the need to be negative in the work of pastoral ministry.
Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 1.
A.W. Pink, Sermon on the Mount (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2008), 344.
As you know by now, Pope Francis has visited the United States within the past week, and prior to his visit, the most recent papal visit came back in 2008. In a lengthy and politically charged visit by Pope Francis, we have all had news streams filled with images of the Pope being adored by people as they gathered in large crowds to get a glimpse of him. As he paraded along in his “Pope Mobile” he offered blessings in the sign of the cross to crowds. You can get a glimpse from one person’s video they took on Fifth Avenue in New York as they captured footage of the Pope riding through the city.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article asking the question, “Are Roman Catholics Christians?” Today, I want to focus upon the doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church. With approximately 69 million Roman Catholics in the United States, this is an extremely important subject to consider. Suppose a person asked, “Pope Francis, what must I do to be saved?” How would he respond?
The False Salvation of the Roman Catholic Church
According to official Catholic doctrine, in order for a person to be saved, it’s quite a tedious task. It involves steps such as actual grace, faith, good works, baptism, participation in the sacraments, penance, indulgences, and keeping the commandments. In short, the doctrine of soteriology taught by the Roman Catholic Church is a works based system where a person must work their way to God. Below you will see some citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Necessity of Faith (not alone)
Faith is central to Christian theology, but according to the Roman Catholic Church, it’s merely one aspect of the system of salvation. According to their Catechism, they write:
“Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned,’ (Mk 16:16)” (CCC 183).
According to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, faith is necessary for salvation. That’s good, but they don’t stop there. Faith, in Catholic theology, is merely the starting point. They build from there adding to faith other works of man – including involvement in “the Church” and tradition.
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).
The Necessity of Baptism
“Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy” (CCC 2020).
“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257).
As you can see, according to the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is necessary for salvation. In a blasphemous way, they claim, “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.” Their reference to “The Church” is a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. They don’t recognize any other church as legitimate. The basis of their claim is centered on their belief that “baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin” (CCC 405).
The Necessity of Good Works and Power of the Human Will
“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Notice how they place “faith alone” in the direct cross hairs of their teachings. They vehemently oppose the teachings of Scripture that salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they likewise teach that human will prepares us and cooperates with God in order to bring about justification. This stands in contradiction to the teachings of Scripture.
True Salvation in Jesus Christ
The Scriptures are clear regarding the doctrine of salvation. In fact, that was the central issue of the Reformation – salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the remission of sins. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. Luther said, “If any man ascribes anything of salvation, even the very least thing, to the free will of man, he know nothing of grace, and he has not learned Jesus Christ rightly.” The 5 Solas of the Reformation were based on this clear teaching – salvation is a gift of God.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide” (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Right from the beginning, the Reformers stood upon the sole authority of the Bible as opposed to the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church. The Bible is God’s Word and we must stand upon it alone as our authority.
The Necessity of Faith Alone in Christ Alone
Was it our works or the work of Christ that satisfied God? According to passages like Isaiah 53 and 1 John 2:1-2, it was the work of Christ. Paul makes it abundantly clear that our salvation is a gift of God and not of works as he writes to the church at Ephesus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
John Calvin comments:
This passage affords an easy refutation of the idle cavil by which Papists attempt to evade the argument, that we are justified without works. Paul, they tell us, is speaking about ceremonies. But the present question is not confined to one class of works. Nothing can be more clear than this. The whole righteousness of man, which consists in works, — nay, the whole man, and everything that he can call his own, is set aside. We must attend to the contrast between God and man, — between grace and works. Why should God be contrasted with man, if the controversy related to nothing more than ceremonies?
There will be no boasting before the Lord of our works. The work of attending and joining a church is insufficient. The work of the “sacraments” is insufficient. The cooperation of the human will is insufficient. All of these acts and deeds are nothing more than frail attempts to please God. We can’t please God in our flesh. We have nothing to offer Him that would impress Him or satisfy His holy justice. That’s why Paul makes the clear point – “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9).
The Frailty of the Human Will
The Bible teaches that before salvation, our human will is dead (Eph. 2:1). According to John 1:13, we are not born again by our human will. If the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), how does the Roman Catholic Church teach that we must cooperate with God in order to receive justification? Commenting on Ephesians 2:10, John Calvin writes:
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle’s words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good.
Therefore, we must conclude that salvation is a gift of God and is bestowed upon guilty sinners out of sheer mercy and love – not based on any performance or work that we offer up to God. Everything we do in our worship and service to God is by means of a changed heart that God wrought in us and willed to do before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-7).
I’ve had Roman Catholics claim that they don’t actually believe in a works based salvation and that they cling to Christ alone. My question to that individual is very simple – why do you remain committed to a church that teaches a doctrine of salvation that is blasphemous to God, robs Him of His glory, and devalues the work of Christ on our behalf? Why not break from Rome? Unless you’re committed to their “true Church” theology, you should break from Rome immediately once you come to see the false salvation of the Roman Catholic Church. Charles Spurgeon, the well known English Baptist preacher, once said:
It is the bounden duty of every Christian to pray against Anti-Christ, and as to what Anti-Christ is no sane man ought to raise a question. If it be not Popery in the Church of Rome there is nothing in the world that can be called by that name…because it wounds Christ, because it robs Christ of His Glory, because it puts sacramental efficacy in the place of His atonement, and lifts a piece of bread in the place of the Saviour, and a few drops of water in place of the Holy Ghost, and puts a fallible man like ourselves up as the Vicar of Christ on earth; if we pray against it, because it is against Him, we shall love the persons though we hate their errors; we shall love their souls though we loath and detest their dogmas, and so the breath of our prayers will be sweetened, because we turn our faces towards Christ when we pray.
Yesterday, thousands of people packed into Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California for the 2015 Summit on Biblical Inerrancy (aka – 2015 Shepherds’ Conference). Many people are questioning the reason for such a summit while others insist that the “Battle for the Bible” is over. It only takes a brief review of the current news regarding the Bible to see that the battle over inerrancy is far from over, and if history is any indicator, it is likely to repeat itself.
Rob Bell, a former megachurch pastor (Mars Hill Bible Church), has now departed from the church and is now “churching” with a group of friends as they now journey through life together and serve their community. Bell has turned into somewhat of a spiritual advisor for Oprah Winfrey and she is promoting Bell as a spiritual leader, coach, and expert on spirituality. Oprah has herself stirred up a dust cloud with her troubling beliefs about Christianity. Oprah’s views about God have been raising eyebrows for years. A video posted on Youtube titled, “The Church of Oprah Exposed” has been viewed literally millions of times. In that short video, Oprah denies the exclusivity of Christ. Bell, like Oprah, has been creating quite a cloud of controversy with his bold inclusivism and a clear departure from the church and the Bible as the Word of God. His book, Love Wins, created quite a stir in the evangelical world. In his book, Bell basically argues for a form of Universalism (Tim Challies’ review of his book was helpful). In his teachings on the Bible, Bell writes:
First, circular arguments are not helpful. For example The Bible is divinely inspired because it says it is. Any book could say that. Not only is this argument not helpful, but it’s terribly confusing for people who have never read the Bible.
Second, insisting that this book was written by God is not helpful. It was written by actual people. For people who are new to the Bible, telling them that it wasn’t written by people is terribly confusing as well. Start with the human, claim that first, then work your way to the divine.
Third, the Bible is not an argument. The people who wrote these things down had very real experiences of the divine and did everything they could to put those experiences in words. Those experiences were filtered through their consciousness, culture, worldview, and personal history. The stories in the Bible were told because they meant something profound to the people who first wrote them.
All doctrine and dogma and theology was first mystical experience. Someone had an encounter with the divine. And then they set out to articulate what happened.
What is really confusing and unhelpful is to suggest that all theology was first a “mystical experience” that was later written down. Theology is the study of God and it begins with God – not experience. God is revealing Himself through His Word, and the Bible is not the product of mystical experiences as Bell suggests.
In a recent interview with Oprah, Bell issues a warning to the churches that refuse to accept homosexuals into their membership. He said:
I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.
The point is clear, in a world full of progressive thinking, shifting politics, and a combination of postmodern and new age mysticism, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy matters. For those men and women who have never known what it means to battle for the Bible, it’s important to know the issues at hand and to be able to give an answer to the skeptic who asks, “Why do you believe that book – the Bible?” The doctrine of inerrancy is directly connected to the core of Christian truth. Is Jesus the only way to be reconciled to God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead on the third day or is that just a nice little story for children’s church?
In Paul’s final letter before he was beheaded for preaching the gospel, he took time to address Timothy – his son in the faith. As you read Paul’s letter, he doesn’t sound anything like Rob Bell. There is conviction and urgency in his tone. Before he arrived at the climatic passage in his letter found in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, he wrote these words in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Greek term, “breathed out by God” is “θεόπνευστος” and it’s a unique word that contains “θεός” (God) and “πνέω” (to breathe or blow). The literal rendering could be – “the breath of God.”
Paul instructs Timothy by using this word, which was found only in that one place in the New Testament and no other place in all of Greek literature prior to Paul’s usage. Many scholars believe that Paul coined the term himself. Nevertheless, the point was clear to Timothy and has remained so through church history. From Clement to our present day, the term “θεόπνευστος” has been used as a technical term to describe the divine origin of the Bible.
To “tone” down our preaching and to become more inclusive in our approach as opposed to quoting “letters from 2,000 years ago” would be tragic. Yet, that very thing is playing itself out in the American culture today. It’s more than homosexuality. That is merely one issue among a lengthy list of ideas that are standing in line to test the waters among the evangelical church. Will the pastors today have the backbone to remain steadfast and immovable in the face of growing hostility? We must remember the conviction for God and His Word that men such as William Tyndale and John Rogers once possessed. Where are those faithful men and women who would rather be stoned or burned at the stake for God’s Word than to compromise in one jot or tittle? Once upon a time such men roamed the earth. As I stated in my sermon in the 2015 G3 Conference, we can trust our families, our churches, and our souls to the truth of the Bible. Rob Bell’s world may be increasing, but the promise of God delivered to us by Isaiah remains true, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Rob Bell’s world may seem far away from your world, but just a glance at the evening news or a conversation with a teenager will reveal why inerrancy matters.
B. B. Warfield writes, “θεόπνευστος is ‘God-breathed,’ produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. And Scripture is called θεόπνευστος in order to designate it as ‘God-breathed,’ the product of Divine spiration, the creation of that Spirit who is in all spheres of the Divine activity the executive of the Godhead…What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.“1
Throughout the history of the church, the high charge of heresy has been pasted upon people undeservingly, and the outcome has been tragic. Pastors have been ran out of their churches on the charge of preaching heresy. Missionaries have been burned at the stake for the charge of preaching heresy. Apostles have been martyred for the charge of preaching heresy. While there have been true heretics throughout the history of the church, unfortunately, many have been charged and condemned as heretics who were nothing even close to being a heretic.
Defining Terms Properly
When calling someone a name, it is important to understand the correct definition of the term. Two terms are specifically related to heresy and should be properly defined:
1. Heresy: Is a deliberate denial of revealed truth coupled with the acceptance of error (Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology).
2. Orthodox Doctrine: The English equivalent of Greek orthodoxia (from orthos, “right,” and doxa, “opinion”), meaning right belief, as opposed to heresy or heterodoxy (Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology).
NOTE: To label someone as “unorthodox” is to call them a heretic in a round about fashion.
Consider the Apostle Paul (Acts 23-24)
Paul had been worshipping in Jerusalem. The Jews hated Paul for his preaching of the gospel. Therefore, when they saw him in the temple, they took him into captivity and had full intention of killing him. It was through the Chief Captain that Paul was spared of being killed by the angry mob. After being detained and standing before the Sanhedrin, 40 men took an oath to not eat or drink anything until Paul was killed. Paul was taken by escort in the night hours to Felix in order to get him out of Jerusalem and the looming danger that surrounded him.
As he stood on trial before his accusers and Felix – Paul was accused by his offenders (the High Priest and his entourage) of heresy. When Paul was allowed to speak, Paul admitted to being a follower of the “way” – which was a term referring to the gospel of Jesus Christ. What Paul was saying was that the High Priest and his Jews call it heresy – but it is no heresy at all. Paul said it was the gospel and nothing else.
Paul was labeled a heretic – but he was not a heretic. He was a gospel preacher – one who labored and defended the gospel from those who perverted it. Paul eventually died for the sake of the gospel.
Consider the story of Martin Luther
Luther was a Catholic priest who was saved by Grace and became aware of the errors in the Catholic system. Luther saw clearly that works based righteousness was no righteousness at all. When he called out the Catholic Church for their perverted practices and perverted gospel – he was labeled a heretic by the Catholic Church. Pope Leo X charged Martin Luther as a heretic who had proclaimed doctrines that were dangerous for the Catholic Church. He insisted that the writings of Luther should be burned and that Luther should be excommunicated as a heretic.
At the Diet of Worms (an assembly called for the purpose of hearing accusations of heresy against Luther), he was asked two important questions: (1) Did he acknowledge the books and writings as his own that were laid out before the august assembly? (2) Would he be willing to retract his teaching? Luther assembled the next day, April 17th, 1521 to answer the questions publicly. After much prayer and confidence in the Lord, Luther responded by saying, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if I have spoken well, why smitest thou me?” Luther modeled his defense after the defense of Christ and Paul as they were placed before rulers and falsely charged. Luther continued boldly before the Roman Catholic clergy by stating, “Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments, I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the Word of God: I can not and will not recant anything, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience.” Luther concluded by saying: “Here I stand. I can not do otherwise. God help me! Amen.”
Luther was falsely charged as a heretic. However, God used the boldness of a man who was charged with heresy to fuel the fires of reformation from within the Catholic Church. It was not the Catholic Church that Luther was fighting against, but it was the perversion of the gospel that he stood opposed to. Therefore, it was Luther who embraced the clear gospel – unadulterated – but yet he was labeled a heretic. Luther was a defender of the true gospel, but in that process, he was accused of the high charge of heresy.
The Need for Discernment
Today, the church is in desperate need of discernment. People continue to throw out labels of “heresy” and “unorthodox” doctrine to those who should never be labeled as such. The high charge of heresy and unorthodox doctrine should be reserved only for those that are guilty of perverting the gospel of Christ. Anyone who claims to be a Christian and labels others as heretics who are not guilty of that charge should have their mouths washed out with soap and called to repentance. Heresy is a serious offense. It is an offense that deserves church discipline. It is no word to be thrown around and used frivolously. Those who do use it in such a manner should be disciplined for their actions as well.
The reason that falsely labeling people is a dangerous offense is due to the fact that innocent people are greatly harmed in that process. When the scarlet letter of “H” is placed upon someone, their ministry is forever tarnished. Wives experience undue stress for those who mistreat their husbands. Children experience undue heartache as congregations turn on their parents like blood thirsty animals. Communities suffer when lost people see the church fighting because someone was accused of heresy when they were innocent of the charge. The church today is in desperate need of maturity, discernment, and a commitment to discipline heretics and those who falsely label people as heretics to further their agenda.
May God grant us wisdom and diligence to rightly divide the Word of God – For His glory and praise!