Friday, May 17, 2013

Truth Was From The Beginning

I voraciously read a lot of books on doctrine and theology in the first years of a 'personal' reformation. God was good to show me how to better know Him from His word, and those books helped clear up a lot of wrong notions. Nothing wrong with good, sound theological books.

But I see arguments about doctrinal things (mostly on the Internet) in which the arguments are being based on what this or that author has said, rather than on the Scripture. Some who are advocating for their views refuse to go back to Scripture for honest, heartfelt searching.

So, came across this quote from Matthew Henry this morning. It's in reference to Matthew 19, where the Pharisees were questioning Jesus on divorce. They had the same problem as do modern advocates for their pet position. Because of their hard hearts, the Pharisees didn't really want to hear what God has said about it.

"Corruptions that are crept into any ordinance of God must be purged out by having recourse to the primitive institution. If the copy be vicious, it must be examined and corrected by the original. Thus, when St. Paul would redress the grievances in the church of Corinth about the Lord's supper, he appealed to the appointment (1 Corinthians 11:23): 'So and so I received from the Lord'.

"Truth was from the beginning; we must therefore enquire for the good old way (Jeremiah 6:16), and must reform-- not by later patterns, but by ancient rules."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Jesus' Use of Apologetics

In Chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus has several encounters with the jealous Pharisees. They had taken issue with his hungry disciples plucking heads of grain to eat on a Sabbath, and with Him for healing a man's withered hand on the same day. Jesus, after reasoning briefly with them from the Scriptures, exposed their hypocrisy by showing them that their hard-heartedness was foreign to God's intentions. It is lawful, he showed them, to show mercy and to do good on the Sabbath. What is more, he made a startling claim: "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath".

Aware of their conspiring to destroy him for this, Jesus withdrew from there, but of course the crowds followed him and he continued to heal them all. When a demon-possessed man, blind and mute, was brought to him, he healed him too, and the amazing story soon reached the ears of the Pharisees. Their response to the story: "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons."

To this hard-hearted way of thinking the Lord is quick to reply. His reply was interesting to me this morning as I read, because I saw that he was willing to reason, to a point, with their words; but then quickly and surely came to the gospel warning that they needed. I think it may be a wonderful example of how we are to do apologetics.

"Knowing their thoughts, he said to them [reasoning now with them], 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no house or city divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan [as the Pharisees were claiming], he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

"'And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?'" [They probably had had no real success at casting them out, but the Pharisees couldn't afford to admit this. Oh, the brilliance of our Savior!] "'Therefore they will be your judges.

"'But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you!'" [First salvo fired over the bow, in mercy.] "'Or, how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house'" [as He'd just done in healing the demon-oppressed man].

[And now— again in merciful severity— the sober warning]: "'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come'" (Matthew 12:22-32).

See our Lord's use of apologetics. He uses logic in verses 25-29 to expose the fallacy of the Pharisees' accusation. He does this in mercy, surely. The text doesn't tell us whether this mercy is extended toward the Pharisees, or whether it is all for the benefit of the crowd standing about, or only for his disciples standing by listening (and later for us, reading). I'm sure that in some sense, it is meant for all. Surely this is what apologetics is for: the merciful use of logic and reasoning to soften hearts in preparation for what is next.

But then must come what is next: truth that warns. The Pharisees, sadly, were unimpressed by the truth that their words constituted a blasphemy for which they would never be forgiven. Jesus said it anyway, and he did not mince words. How could he, when his goal was the repentance and salvation of his hearers? He speaks in no uncertain terms, telling the stark and terrible truth that eternal condemnation is coming to those who continue to do and speak evil— in this case, who blaspheme God's Spirit. This is always the pattern of the Lord. In mercy he reasons, in mercy he warns.

I enjoy listening to and reading Christian apologists. I see from Scripture and from human nature that we need to learn to use logic, and to reason with people's wrong ideas about God. But I see from our Lord and from his apostles that biblical apologetics is a precursor to gospel warnings that must be spoken. I think this is where Christian apologetics may be falling short. I've never seen a debate where at the end, after all was said and done, the apologist for sound orthodoxy turned to his opponent and offered solemn warnings to them about eternity and the coming judgment.

Just an interesting thought and observation from this morning's reading. I'd be interested in hearing from others about this.