Voices from the Past

The Polemics of Christianity

Cled E. Wallace
Gospel Guardian (1935)

Christianity was born and has triumphed in the heat of controversy. It claims and demonstrates divine origin. It treats all opposition as rebellion against God, and every manifestation of "Anti-Christ" as a huge and destructive lie. It spurns all offers of compromise or fellowship with rival religions. He that exalts himself against its perfect and exhaustive principles of truth is called a "son of perdition" and is denied the salvation that can be found only in Christ. This sure and dogmatic attitude precipitated a conflict that loosed tidal waves of persecution and drenched the earth with blood.

Jesus, the Christ, is called "the author and perfecter of our faith." He came down from Heaven with the expressed purpose of doing the will of God. He propagated no opinions of his own. He was the mouthpiece of supreme authority. "For I spake not from myself; but the Father that sent me, He hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life eternal; the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak." (John 12:49-50)

Jesus, The Invincible Polemic

There could be no compromise of this perfect revelation of truth out of consideration for any conflicting system of doctrine or philosophy, however respectable it might be. The stage was all set for bitter and ceaseless conflict until error was banished and the will of God held undisputed sway. Jesus, the Apostle of God, to wrest a world of humanity from the dominion of Satan, must be a strong contender, and invincible polemic. As a matter of fact He was the greatest fighter and the most successful debater the world ever saw.

The first great conflict was with the devil himself, the commander-in-chief of the forces of evil. A compromise would have been a victory - for the devil. The truth of God would have been crushed to earth to rise no more. Without the aid of even one angel, and he had legions of them at his command, Jesus emerged from that contest in sole possession of the field. The devil left him. The only weapon Jesus used was the Word of God. He repelled three major attacks with an "it is written." Jesus entertained supreme respect for the written word of God, something that many of his professed followers sadly lack.

The War With Tradition and Hypocrisy

The fight was not over when the devil left Jesus "for a season." He was deeply entrenched in the organized religion of the day. It was organized rebellion against God in the sheep's clothing of piety. They paid the Almighty a lip devotion while they worshipped tradition and taught "as their doctrines the precepts of men." Jesus was not deceived, as the people were, by the long faces and long robes of Pharisaism. He clearly discerned the trail of the serpent beneath it all and was unimpressed by sad faces and street corner prayers. He quickly joined issue, and started a fight to the finish, with the lovers of money, power and popular applause, whose highest ambition was a position of influence in an earthly kingdom ruled over by a speculative Messiah.

They quickly and instinctively recognized Jesus as the enemy of their cherished ambitions. They were jealous of his influence over the people. The war was on with no thought of compromise on either side. The enemies of the truth used traditional weapons and used them skillfully. At first they hoped that it would be effective to ignore Him. His spreading fame put an end to that. He was active and persistent in a most tantalizing way. He clearly held them in contempt and was getting it over to the people. That the people might have a clear right of way for fellowship with God, their leaders must be utterly discredited. They tried ridicule. He came from Nazareth. His family was poor. He did not enjoy traditional training. He was not orthodox. In fact he was just a plain nobody. His company was bad. He associated with publicans and sinners. This line of attack failed. Something must be done to stop this young prophet. They put forth their shrewdest to meet him in debate. He made fools of them. It came to the point where they did not dare to ask him even a question. He carried the war to the courts of the temple and branded them "blind guides," "hypocrites," "strainers of gnats and swallowers of camels," "whited sepulchres," "serpents," "offspring of vipers," "fools," and "sons of hell." There was one weapon left and they used it. They said, "Let's kill him," and they did. They mocked him and scourged him and crucified him.

Contending For The Faith

The triumph of falsehood was brief. A guarded and sealed tomb could not hold Him. He arose from the dead. Seated at the right hand of God with all authority, He began His reign. Chosen and inspired ambassadors in Jerusalem launched a world wide campaign to bring all nations into captivity to the law of Christ.

The law of the Kingdom of Heaven is found in the "Apostles' doctrine." The Holy Spirit came to guide them in "all truth." The truth that they preached, defended and died for we now have in the New Testament. It is "the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" and Christians are commanded to "contend earnestly" for it.

Politics is a game of compromise and party platforms are constantly changing. There is room for a broad tolerance in the realm of opinion. But it is not so with faith. Faith must believe what God says and do what he commands. Faith must not go beyond what is written.

When Judaizers sought to bind the customs of Moses on the Church, Paul and Barnabas resisted them. When the matter was carried to the Apostles in Jerusalem, they severely censured the schismatics and curtly disposed of them by saying, "We gave no such commandment."

Paul warned the Galatians that the gospel that he preached came to him "through the revelation of Jesus Christ." Trouble makers who were perverting it were rushing in where angels feared to tread. They were guilty of a sin that would curse the angels. He resisted them, rebuking them sharply.

Paul refused to give place to men of influence even for an hour "that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." When he saw that even Peter and Barnabas on one occasion "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" he resisted them to the face and reproved them before the whole church.

Issues Not Settled by Prayer

There is a place in the life of the Christian for prayer. But doctrinal issues are not settled by prayer. A schismatic might be talking so volubly to God that it might be in order to tell them to hush and let God talk awhile. Doctrinal matters are settled by the written word of God, not by an impression that some mystic receives in answer to prayer.

A prominent feature of the Christian's armor is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." False doctrine is the chief means that Satan uses in deceiving men and keeping them from obeying the truth. It is the duty of the disciples of Christ to meet it and expose it.

Sectarianism with its false doctrines, in and out of the church, today, presents a challenge to the defenders of the faith. As distinct as that which paganism, Judaism and philosophy presented to the early disciples. We should meet our challenge with the same courage they did theirs. We are set for the propagation and defense of the Gospel.

[From the original Gospel Guardian, 10-1935.]
Reprinted in The Gospel Guardian, Vol. 24, No. 39, Feb. 8, 1973.

Editor's Comments:

We have submitted the above article with the hope that brethren, and others, will realize that Christianity is not peaceable with the world, sin, or error (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; 2 John 9-11; Ephesians 5:11). Yes, we seek to establish peace with God, brethren, and fellowman, but NEVER should it be at the expense of truth or even the impression of compromise with error (Ephesians 2:13-18; Romans 12:18; Galatians 2:11-14). The Lord said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:34-39).

As the article pointed out, debate, polemics, is an essential part of Christianity. The Lord debated the Jews (Matthew 22). The brethren, including the apostles, debated among themselves (Acts 15). The brethren debated with the religious leaders and philosophers of their day (Acts 9:20, 22, 29; 17:17). Instead of being a disgrace and dishonor, we see it is right, good, and necessary to dispute, argue, and debate others on matters concerning the faith.

Moreover, we must understand that when "trouble" arises around one who is promoting truth and condemning error, he is not to be criticized and looked down upon as a "trouble-maker." Rather, the ones who do not receive the truth are the ones who cause the trouble (1 Kings 18:17; Galatians 1:6-9). This was so from the time of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Who will charge God with being the cause of trouble in the garden? If "trouble" is not present around the one who teaches truth and condemns error, it is only temporary (Acts 17-19). Too, if this type of "trouble" is never present in the life of a Christian, they are not doing their job! "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). The Christian ought to be the one who has "turned the world upside down," rather than the one of whom "all men speak well" (Acts 17:6; Lk. 6:26).

Christianity is a system of extreme devotion to God and His truth, to the Savior and His gospel, to the Holy Spirit and His revelation (Mark 8:36-38). Therefore, let us "Test [prove] all things; hold fast that which is good," and challenge others to do the same (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

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