Apologetics defined. Let’s begin by first defining apologetics: Christian apologetics is the field of study concerned with the systematic defense of the Christian faith. Paul specifically used the Greek word for apologetics in his appearance before Agrippa in Acts 26:2.[i] I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews…
In First 3:15, we are encouraged, if not commanded, to always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in us. In defending the faith, we are to be gentle and reverent. The NASB Study Bible states, “Our apologetics (defense) is always to be given in love, never in degrading terms.” Again, why? Verse 16 in First Peter 3 assures us that by defending our faith, those who revile our good behavior will be shamed. The shame will not necessarily come from the Christian community, but it will certainly come from God. Our defense of the faith, then, is not shameful nor will it lead to the believer being shamed. Ultimately, our hope (that is in us!) is that the unbeliever will be brought to God, as First Peter 3:18 suggests.
During a recent visit to our state capital, the keynote speaker at the prayer breakfast gave us a concise outline on Biblical leadership from First Peter, chapter 5.
- There’s a SUBJECT that matters in leadership.
- A SACRED TRUST must be embraced in leading.
- A believer has a SOLEMN DUTY to know and defend Biblical leadership.
- The SIMPLE TRUTH of Biblical leadership has humility as a prime feature.
- God reveals His STRATEGIC MOVE in raising up leaders.[ii]
There’s so much more to Biblical leadership but I think the outline above deserves our attention. Can you match the leadership characteristics above with verses in First Peter, chapter 5?
Although curriculum is a necessary part of Christian Education, the Bible is our sole authority. The Teachers Covenant in use at the church I serve (and which teachers sign annually) has this reminder:
…To prepare theologically and doctrinally sound lessons using The Bible as the sole authority in the discovery and application of the truth of Holy Scripture, and The Baptist Faith & Message (2000) as a guide for doctrinal accountability…
The Baptist Faith & Message says this about the Scriptures:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.[iii]
What is the Bible? Wayne Grudem answers this question by outlining four points:
- The authority of the Bible
- The clarity of the Scriptures
- The necessity of the Scriptures
- The sufficiency of the Scriptures[iv]
THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE rests in the fact that the words themselves are the very words of God. Wayne Grudem states, “(T)he words of Scripture are more than simply true; they are truth itself (John 17:17). Those things conforming to God’s word are true. Things not conforming to God’s word are not true. God directed men to write His truth in forms that used ordinary language and literary style common to that author’s life and times. For example, incorrect grammar in the original writings (called autographs) doesn’t mean that the word of God is untrue. The author was simply expressing his own literacy while imparting a truthful message, or word, from God.
The Bible never contradicts itself. To put it another way, God never contradicts Himself in His word. We trust the Bible to be God’s truth, and therefore we trust in God. If the Bible is not trustworthy, then God is not trustworthy. Grudem writes, “We are to seek to trust the words of Scripture, for in doing so, we are seeking to trust God him himself. And we are to seek to obey the words of Scripture, for in doing so, we are seeking to obey God himself.”[v]
THE CLARITY OF THE SCRIPTURES is the second point in answering what is the Bible. Herschel Hobbs explained that the Bible may not tell people all they want to know but it does tell them all they need to know about their moral duty and spiritual destiny.[vi]
The clarity of Scriptures, then, depends on one’s pursuit of a moral and spiritual destiny; that is, on one’s pursuit of faith in Jesus (in Hobbs’ context of the quote above). Intellectual ability is not needed to clearly know the Word, for the Word will appear as foolishness to those are not seeking after God (II Corinthians 2:14). God gave us His Word to be simply and clearly known, but it will not be clear to anyone who ignores and rejects Him.
However, even good, moral, Christian people can misunderstand the Word of God. Wayne Grudem reminds us that “the disciples (often) misunderstood what Jesus was talking about” (e.g., Matthew 15:16). He notes that sometimes it was a matter of the heart, or the need to wait for further events to unfold that would bring understanding.[vii] Grudem further notes that Scripture is never at fault for individuals disagreeing on its proper interpretation. “God guided its composition so that it could be understood.”
A prayerful approach to Bible-reading is essential. Clarity of the Scriptures should always be an exciting expectation when we open the Word, and open it prayerfully.
THE NECESSITY OF THE SCRIPTURES, the third point in inquiring about what is in the Bible, is succinctly answered by Grudem: It is necessary to read the Bible or have someone tell us what is in the Bible if we are going to know God personally, have our sins forgiven, and know with certainty what God wants us to do.[viii]
The Scriptures are clear in this. Paul reminded Timothy that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (II Timothy 3:15). What is necessary to know about God is revealed in Scripture. This is called special revelation, not to be confused with general revelation, that is, God revealing His glory through His handiwork (Psalm 19:1) or by the mere “sense” of morality (Romans 1:28-32).[ix]
The necessity of Scripture is not to be handled or discussed lightly. Mark Coppenger calls this “happy talk.” He surmises that apologetics demands aggressive, cutting-edge engagement, not trifling, compromising appeasement. On Biblical matters and the necessity of believers taking a stand, he notes, “(O)ne should expect reasonable defenders of the faith to reach beyond diplomacy to invective at times.”[x]
THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE SCRIPTURES means that the Bible, alone, “contains all the words of God that a person needs to become a Christian.”[xi] The Scriptures are sufficient, too, in instructing and equipping believers in every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). We might not find ‘word-for-word’ answers to our questions but the Bible will guide us to those answers. Sometimes that means we must mine them out. Grudem warns us, however, that “(w)hen we don’t find the specific answer to a specific question in the Bible, we are not free to add to the commands of Scripture what we have found to be pragmatically correct.”[xii] The Scriptures are sufficient.
- A. Criswell told the story of a conversation he had with a Catholic monk many years ago in Germany. In discussing proof of their differences in faith (of which the monk asserted his proof rested in the “so-called infallible Pope”), Criswell proclaimed to him, “All of the truth that is necessary for the church and all of the doctrines upon which the church is built are faithfully and infallibly recorded in the Bible.”[xiii]
Baptism is one of two ordinances observed by evangelicals (the other ordinance is the Lord’s Supper). James Draper defines an ordinance as simply a decree or command.[xiv]
There is a difference between symbols and sacraments. Non–evangelicals and faux-evangelicals teach a sacramental belief system which includes other things like confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and marriage. A sacramental belief system holds that sacraments, including baptism and the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper), “confer grace on a person, changing the person inwardly through spiritual empowerment. In other words, (it is believed) that salvation is available through the sacraments.”[xv] Evangelicals reject this doctrine of sacraments.
Baptism is an indication of repentance. As one of the two ordinances embraced by evangelicals, baptism is an outward symbol – an expression or sign – of an inward change. The change is through Jesus alone, not by sacrament. Paul refers to this as likeness (Romans 6:5), the Greek word meaning resemblance. There is no divine conveying of salvific grace in baptism. There is conveying of a believer’s obedience and Christlikeness. It is His example for us to follow, as told in Matthew 3.
Baptism is practiced by complete immersion. As a symbol, this means completely immersed in water. As salvific, this means complete “immersion in,” or filling of, the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.
Draper reminds us of other features of baptism:
- It is carried out in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: “(A)ll three members of the Godhead are involved in bringing an unsaved person to salvation.”
- Baptism allows a believer to publicly and personally testify to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. (I Corinthians 15:3-4)
- It is a picture (likeness) of the spiritual baptism a believer receives at the moment of new birth.
- It signifies church membership (I Corinthians 12:13).[xvi]
The Lord’s Supper
Along with baptism, the Lord’s Supper, as it is called by Paul in I Corinthians 11:20, is the only other church ordinance practiced by evangelical churches. Many evangelicals also call it communion, based on Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 10:16-17. In these verses, the word is translated communion in the KJV and NKJV, sharing in the CSB, NASB, and NLT, and participation in the ESV and NIV. Interestingly, the Amplified Bible uses participate, share, and fellowship, with a parenthetical suggestion of communion. In all cases, the Lord’s Supper should be observed as a fellowship of believers. Scripture does not record the Lord’s Supper as being a private observance.
Draper outlines different views on the Lord’s Supper:
- Transubstantiation is the belief that the elements become the literal flesh (bread) and blood (juice) of Jesus at the moment a priest prays over them in Mass. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox maintain this view.
- Consubstantiation is taught by most Lutherans. They hold that Jesus is actually present with the elements at the time of observation.
- Mystical views claim that special grace is received from partaking of the elements.
- Symbolism, as taught by Baptists and other evangelicals, sees the elements as a picture or symbol of the body and blood of Jesus. Draper writes, “The bread and juice could not have been Jesus’ literal body and blood, because His physical body was present when He spoke these words. Furthermore, His words ‘Do this in remembrance of Me’ (Luke 22:19) convey the idea of a figurative memorial.”[xvii]
A defense for the view of symbolism can be found in Jesus’ words, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). From this, we can make a case that the Lord’s Supper is for a fellowship of believers using the symbolic elements of bread and juice – Jesus is not present in form, nor present in body and blood. He is in heaven, awaiting the saints to do this anew.
The Lord’s Supper bread is traditionally considered unleavened. The juice is not identified as wine in Scripture, but it is called the fruit of the vine (Mark 14:25). In its freshest form, the fruit of the vine is juice which is used by nearly all evangelicals. It would be disastrous to serve wine (alcoholic) to a believer who struggles with, or has struggled with, alcohol consumption.[xviii]
Finally, Paul called out Corinthian believers who were making the Lord’s supper an occasion for gluttony or drunkenness while others were going hungry. In I Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul teaches that the Lord’s Supper was (and is) to be observed at church. “If you’re hungry, eat at home,” he essentially says, “And don’t despise coming together in fellowship at church.” The passage also encourages the Lord’s Supper to be taken in a conservative manner. A small piece of bread and a small sip of juice not only should symbolize the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus, but they serve as a humble reminder for each participating believer to prepare to partake of the elements. Extravagant elements would certainly be distracting.
Most New Testament churches practice two types of ordinances: baptism and The Lord’s Supper. These are things Jesus commanded us to do, with words like: Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them; …as many of us were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death (Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3); and, Take, eat… drink; Do this in remembrance of Me (I Corinthians 11:23-25; Luke 22:19).
Baptism is symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is symbolic of His broken body and His poured out blood. Notice that both ordinances are done to symbolically remember something special about the body of Jesus. Believers, then, do these ordinances to identify with Jesus. It’s a personal experience and you can’t get much more personal than reenacting His death, burial, and resurrection, and symbolically ingesting His body and blood.
Some denominations practice foot-washing as an ordinance. Granted, Jesus did it and said to His disciples, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). However, the foot-washing Jesus performed was an example of an act of service, a suggestion of perhaps one of many things a believer “ought” to do. As mentioned in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, believers and unbelievers did it as a way of remembering to care for and minister to others (several times in Genesis, Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9; Luke 7:44-46; John 13:15-17; I Timothy 5:10).
If one considers foot washing a church “ordinance,” it is something that anyone can do as a reminder to serve others. It is an act of self and is not symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. There is certainly nothing wrong with foot washing but it is not an ordinance of the church as taught by Jesus in Holy Scripture.
On the other hand, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be observed only by believers as memorable ways to identify with Jesus.[xix]
[i] Phillips, Rob. (2016). The apologist’s tool kit: resources to help you defend the Christian faith. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Baptist Convention.
[ii] A Prayer Service for Missouri Government Leaders. January 3, 2018. Concord Baptist Church. Jefferson City, MO. Comments made by CH (COL) Gary D. Gilmore, Missouri Army National Guard Joint Forces Chaplain.
[iii] The Baptist Faith & Message. (2000). Nashville, TN: LifeWay Church Resources.
[iv] Grudem, W. A., Grudem, E., & Grudem, W. A. (2005). Christian beliefs: twenty basics every Christian should know. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[vi] Hobbs, Herschel H. (1971). The Baptist faith and message. Nashville, TN: Convention Press.
[x] Coppenger, Mark. (2011). Moral apologetics for contemporary Christians. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic.
[xiii] Criswell. W. A. (1969). Why I preach the Bible is literally true. Nashville TN: Convention Press.
[xiv] Draper, James. T. (2003). We believe: living in the light of God’s truth. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Church Resources.
[xviii] This is a personal apologetic by me against any form of the use of alcohol by believers.
[xix] This is my personal apologetic in defense of the church practicing only two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.