The Importance of Contending for the Faith

 

By Bill the Cat

 

 

            For the past 2000 years, many factions have come into existence with the single goal of trying to either degrade or usurp the title “Christian”.  Christianity is being attacked from every side, from skeptics to cults and heretics, and sometimes from the person sitting next to you on Sunday morning.  So what are we Christians to do?  We must contend for the faith!  Jude expresses this desire for his readers by saying “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jud 1:3 NASB).  Peter also informs us that we should “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”(1 Pet 3:15 KJV)  But Jude’s longing and Peter’s admonition did not die in the first century with their target audiences; these verses also apply to the Church today.  The ability to contend for the faith affects our discipleship, evangelism, and preaching.  Changing the way we operate as Christians can be a daunting task.  It requires more than a few memorized Bible verses and a once-a-week visit to church.  Being a serious contender for Christ involves study and patience.  It requires a very healthy respect for the Word of God…and a chip on your shoulder doesn’t hurt either smile… but we, as the body of Christ, are honestly failing miserably when it comes to being properly equipped and correctly focused on the right ways to contend for our faith.

            The formal title for defending your faith is called apologetics.  No, it doesn’t mean you walk around saying you are sorry for being a Christian all of the time.  The term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia (apologia), which means "defense" or "answer."  Apologetics is the task of defending a particular idea or belief system and answering its critics.  It is a method for handling the Biblical texts in their context, genre, and socio-historic setting.  Without it, there is no true defense or proper understanding of the passages.

History has provided us with many great apologists.  Ancient history gave us Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen.  Unfortunately, many do not know these great names, or the fantastic foundational work they did.  Most Christians would have difficulty naming one of the seven major ecumenical councils, much less being able to define what one is.  More Christians today are aware of later apologists, like John Wesley and John Calvin, but struggle to explain what their contributions to Christianity were.  These men of God and these councils were instrumental in forming the basic arguments for orthodox Christianity.  They provided us with framework in which to base our defenses of the Christian faith against heresy, cult, and skeptic alike.  Biblical examples of apologetics are just as important.  Paul went before the learned Greeks of the Areopagus in Acts 17 and used apologetics to preach to them on Mars Hill.  All of these examples show the great value of apologetics and the necessity of it in contending for the faith.

            A key component of contending for the faith is debate and reason-based evangelism of people who do not claim to follow Christ at all.  As Paul did with those on Mars Hill, we must be prepared to speak the truth and accept that some will not come to Christ.  The evangelistic efforts of Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles were characterized by apologetic pleas to non-believers.  They relied on the verifiable evidences of the crucifixion and the empty tomb.  They never did things for others just to give themselves something to so on Saturdays, and they never served others without involving a clear presentation of the Gospel message including the hard facts.  Even faith itself is referred to as “substance” and “evidence” in Hebrews 11:1.  These tangible proofs are the root of the apologetic arsenal and the heart of the way the Apostles did evangelism, and by default, contended for the faith.

Outside of the Biblical text, perhaps the best example of an apologetic discussion with someone who does not claim to follow Jesus is Justin Martyr’s Dialog with Trypho the Jew.   The dialog is a discussion between Justin, a Christian, and the Jew Trypho with his associates, who were also Jewish. Justin used apologetics to explain why Jesus is the Messiah and why all of the Law and its regulations point to forgiveness in the blood of Christ.  It was important to Justin to clarify why the Jews had it wrong.  It is just as critical for us today to proclaim the way of Jesus Christ to the world of unbelievers in a manner that uses reason and unchangeable evidence instead of subjective feelings, which have faded by Monday afternoon.  The internet has become one home for these types of debates to take place, but we must not neglect our day to day conversations and the need to contend for the faith.  Reason and apologetics must be integral parts of our witnessing to the lost.

            There is also a need to defend orthodox Christianity against heresy and cults.  Many groups have come along claiming to follow “Christ” but introduce notions about Christ that have either no Biblical warrant, or worse, completely contradict what Scripture and history have revealed about Jesus.  These groups attempt to usurp the title of Christian, but Paul proclaimed what a danger these groups are to Christians.  In his second letter to the Corinthians, he said “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  For if one comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” (2 Cor. 11:3-4 NASB).  Those who are not well grounded are easily swayed when these groups come along and proclaim these other Jesuses.  Peter proclaims that there are heresies which must be fought when he says, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words…” (2 Pet 2:1-3 NASB).  Learning how to properly contend for the faith will make us, and those we help, better able to stand against and expose the false teachings of heretics and cults.

During the time after Jesus’ ascension and before the first two centuries A.D. came to a close, the main heresy of that day was Gnosticism.  The New Testament epistles are replete with examples of contending for the faith against Gnosticism, as is the early apologetic works of the early church fathers.  One of the most influential writings is by Irenaeus, entitled Against Heresies.  Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was himself a student of the Apostle John.  In it, Irenaeus spent half of the 5 books showing how the cultic Gnostics were claiming to be Christians with “higher knowledge of the truth” but were in reality not Christians at all, and the other half he devoted to an extensive defense of the Christian faith.  This masterpiece is an example of how valuable apologetics is to defeating heresies and preserving the orthodoxy of Christianity on such issues as the divinity of Christ, the human nature He assumed, and the triune nature of God.  Without a good understanding of how to contend for these points of our faith, Christians will be susceptible to all manner of false doctrine and will be like the one who built his house on shifting sand.

            Fellow Christians are not above our concern of contending for the faith.  The Bible says that all scripture is profitable for correction, rebuking, teaching, and training… all four areas that are necessities in apologetics.  We are instructed to accurately handle the word of truth as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Tim 2:15.  We are also told to hate false teachings wherever we find them, as Jesus commended the Church at Ephesus in Rev 2:6.   A problem in the church may not be heretical, but still needs correction.  We face this dilemma today more than ever.  The Church is growing ever more afraid to confront sin in its members.  Apologetics is a good way to counter these issues.  With a good bit of knowledge and the ability to defend the faith, this watered down gospel being peddled by some Christians can be shown as deficient.  In these cases, we need to be prepared to correct our brother or sister in love.

We are also not above correction either.  The Proverbs show in several places the value of taking rebuke and correction.  Not one of us leads a perfect life.  All have sinned and fallen short.  We must not allow our pride to make us unfit to correct.  We must take care to listen to wise correction and shun foolish heresies.  The writer of Ecclesiastes explains that “it is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools”.   The desire to contend for the faith must rise up in us any time anyone takes a verse out of context, any time a brother, sister, or even ourselves need correction, or any time orthodoxy or Christianity comes under fire.

Unfortunately, as western society gets away from an apologetics based discipleship focus and more into seeker sensitivity and “loving them into the Kingdom”, the depth of ability to debate and recognize interpretational error is diminishing, and as a result, less ability to contend for the faith.  We are now more selfishly concerned with “living our best life now” and “finding our purpose” and not nearly as concerned with learning the form of evangelism that the Apostles practiced; evangelism that always carried the Gospel message with it.  Our evangelism is misplaced as “doing just to do” with no true gospel presentation attached, which lends to the perception that God is an ATM machine.  The focus of evangelism is no longer on the evidence of the truth of the Bible.  We are more concerned about what bill God has paid for us and less with giving the lost the only thing they truly need - Jesus Christ.  We mistakenly think that an outward emotional response is a sign of spiritual maturity, when the Bible clearly shows that the knowledge and wisdom of God are the indicators.  We rip out proof texts for our own selfish need and divorce the verse from the intended context, not realizing that this tactic was what the Devil used to tempt Christ.  We are sorely lacking the basic tools to rightly divide the Word because we are more concerned with a wrong understanding of love, hope, charity, and kindness.  We can not correctly share the truth nor contend for the faith if we do not have the knowledge and ability to handle the truth in these circumstances.  We must value learning about Jesus Christ and Christianity above all else.  In a world filled with misinformation and wrong-focus, we MUST follow Jude’s urging and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jud 1:3 NASB)