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What is the ministry of Apologetics?
If you go to the Scriptural texts, Christians were called upon to refute error. The apologists in the early church were required to answer false charges against Christians. In First Peter, you have the classic verse for apologetics - always be prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope that is within you, yet do it with gentleness. That is an imperative in Greek, and it is not just applied to pastors and theologians. It is for everybody. It is a command.
The Church has always made a distinction between things that were most central and really worth defending and everything else. Or, fundamental and non-fundamental truths - the primary and the secondary. I am not going to go to the wall against the guy down the street who has a wrong interpretation of what it means to be baptized for the dead or that a woman is going to be saved by her child-bearing. But if you are talking about something that has to do with the plan of salvation or how a person is going to become righteous before a holy God, if we love people enough we will fight for that truth.
How did the Christians of the past practice apologetics?
In the Book of Acts, where you find the earliest preaching of the Apostles, there was a continuity between the preaching of the Gospel and the defense of the Gospel. If, for example, they were dealing with the Gnostics, they proclaimed the Gospel pointed out that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, and simultaneously pointed out that the position of the Gnostics was false. If you read or confess what the Nicene Creed says about Jesus "God of God, Light of Life, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father" - the Church said these things because the Jehovah's Witnesses of their day were taking the field. They taught that Jesus was God's finest Idea, and one day he made himself a son. He was not eternal. The Church went on record with the Nicene Creed to present truth and point out error.
It is not a part of our culture to take the sort of style that our confessors did when they wrote those early sixteenth century documents. They would say that we believe this, this, and this, and therefore we condemn that, that, and that. In contemporary American culture, as feminizes as it is, people do not view things - primarily at the level of truth. But rather, are they nice? Speaking against error does not sound nice.
The Bible says that a little leaven will leaven the whole lump. What does that mean?
You cannot say that just because there is a little leaven in a movement that it will always corrupt the whole thing. We don't have the mind of God to say that. But if you examine historically how this has gone, usually, given enough time, the leaven of unbelief has a way of getting at the central things. In other words, the old Lutherans would say, "What's this going to do to the doctrine of Christ's death. What's it going to do to salvation by grace alone?" If it starts to eat away at it, you've got deep trouble. In many ways, heresies, though they begin way out on the edges, have a way of munching their way to the center.
Every professor has to think about this, because he might be teaching something that is not in accord with truth, either knowingly or unknowingly. And for certain, his students are going to take it further. Students have a way of doing that. That is why there is a double standard of judgment for teachers. In some ways, I am responsible for what my students teach. That is the way it has gone throughout history.
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