Thursday, 10 May 2007

Problems Facing Apologists

As a former Mormon involved in apologetics and evangelism I am aware of how many former cult members approach the business of reaching out to the lost. There are three problems I have identified that can become real obstacles to effective witnessing in this area.

Confirming yourself by converting others

When I became a Christian I was given the best advice ever. "Don’t go on the circuit, giving your testimony as an "ex-Mormon", it will ruin you. Settle down in your Christian faith for a few years and if God wants you in that ministry he will call you in due course." Unfortunately, most people simply don’t do this. Instead they throw themselves into ‘ministry’ before they have a chance to put down roots. They try and get confirmation by making converts, using apologetics to convince themselves all over again rather than resting in the sure knowledge that comes from Jesus.

I am reminded of Paul’s Apologia for his ministry, "I want you to know, brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). He also wrote, "We speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor.2:6-10).

Spurgeon once said, "You can sin in company, you can go to hell in company, but you come to Christ alone." Have you a revelation of Jesus Christ and do you stand on the sure promises of Scripture – no matter whether others come or not?

Confirming yourself by condemning others

Others take great comfort from comparing themselves favourably to others – the Pharisee and tax collector syndrome (Luke 18:10-14). Apologetics is all about winning arguments to them. They boast of sending the JW packing "with his tail between his legs". It is not simply about ‘being right’ but about being right with God – and for that you can take no credit. It is easy to look back at what we were and feel superior. It is more challenging to share the good news patiently, lovingly and without judging. Peter writes that we should witness "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15), and Paul reminds believers that we once were "dead in our transgressions and sins,,,like the rest" and only know the truth "because of his great love for us" (Ephesians 2:1-4). In light of this we should be humble and patient not haughty and strident in our witnessing.

Confusing the issue by condoning others – the world’s view

There is a world-view that sees religion developing, beginning with nature spirits, through polytheism to the monotheism of the world’s great religions. Man is seen to have ascended from the simple to the complex, the primitive to the sophisticated. This puts man generally in a good light as he struggles to ascend spiritually and creates problems for us as we look at our non-Christian friends whose false religion nevertheless seems to lead them to do much good.

We are tempted to see good as relative to growth and say things like, "We admire the family-centred nature of Mormonism", or, "You must admire the JWs for faithfully knocking doors." This may be true and there may be lessons in such values, but we must realise that good is relative to God not to growth. People’s hearts have no redeeming features and nothing to commend them to God and we must face the fact that such hearts, the hearts of the unsaved, are capable of every type of depravity. There is no such thing as a respectable error, an excusable falsehood, or acceptable version of a false religion.

The Bible does not see man ascending. There we discover a monotheistic beginning for man’s religion, deteriorating into nature worship as man rejects God. Man descends from truth into error. Paul describes this process very clearly:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator – who is forever praised, Amen."

It is this fallen man that Christ came to save and we need to see false religion for what it is, i.e. the outworking of man’s fallen state. We need to see our former ways, and those still following them through God’s eyes. That "every inclination of man’s heart is only evil all the time" (Gen.6:;8:21)

Common Grace for Sinful Man

Having seen fallen mankind through God’s eyes of judgement we must also see him through God's’ eyes of grace. Christ sat and ate with sinners and publicans, and we must too. He had compassion for the lost and brought mercy to those who most needed it, and we must bring those same gifts to sinners. He did not, however, excuse their sin.

The Mormon prophet has said that his church’s mission is "to make bad men good and good men better." This not how God sees mankind, it is a message that mocks the Cross. It is not people who need self-improvement he came to help. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt.9:13). There is no one, however good they may seem in man’s eyes, who "would make a good Christian". God makes good Christians, but man makes more wickedness.

Seeing this we begin to understand that false religion has the same root – rebellion against God, that we bring a message of salvation, not commendation or consolation. Men are capable of great good, even in their sins, because of common grace. But man is still an object of wrath until he comes to the foot of the Cross- because he is "by nature" sinful and rebellious.

Grace and Salt

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."(Col.4:6)

As Christians we bring the message of grace. But, if grace is to have its full effect, we must season the message with salt so that people discover their great need of a gracious Saviour. Salt in a wound stings, but any attempt to compromise its properties, or avoid its application, only deprives our lost friends of its healing properties. Here is the balance we must achieve – grace and salt, love and truth.

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