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THE CELL LEADER’S MANUAL

An Apologetics Primer:

Caribbean Apologetics Issues, No. 1

GEM ’85, this rev. Aug. 2002a

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect . . ."     (1 Peter 3:15)


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3.1       The Sectarian Civil War

Too often in the Caribbean, church is pitted against church in a vicious war over doctrine and over followers.  As a direct result, many simply dismiss the church as a whole, and the gospel — "If you Christians can't even agree among yourselves, why should we believe any of you?"

I suppose this is part of why Jesus prayed that we would "be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."  (John 17:23.)  Clearly, we have to learn to accept one another in Christ, and to show the love that is the proof of the discipleship we profess.  (John 13:35.)  Thank God that the UCCF, YFC and many other groups, over the past several decades, have (however imperfectly) modelled a framework that can show the way forward:

§       Unity in essentials (such as our understanding of God as Creator and Sovereign Lord; the Person and Work of Christ; the Scriptures; the Gospel and why and how we must be saved — cf. the UCCF Statement of Faith);

§         Respect for diversity, and room for dialogue and personal convictions on other important (but less essential) concerns and issues;

§         Balanced by a stress on faithful discipleship under the Great Commission, that leads to a life of service, love and purity in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

If such a model is to work out on the ground across the Caribbean, the area of Bible study will need much attention.  For, many of our doctrinal and practical quarrels, frankly, are rooted in sloppy interpretation that does not understand or respect context, language, logic or the culture gap between two or three thousand years ago and today.

For example, some sects reject the historic Christian understanding of Jesus’ claim to be the Incarnate, unique Son of God: that is, that Our Risen Lord is the Second Person of the Trinity.  What is sad is that members of such groups often fail to realise why the Church, upon much careful reflection, has come to see that the real alternative would be to conclude (with the Jewish leaders who put him to death) that he was a blasphemer.

Mark 2:1-12 will make this point clear.  Jesus is teaching in a house, and a paralytic is let down, through a hole in the roof.  He pauses and says to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Some teachers of the Mosaic Law were present, and reacted sharply, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that?  He's blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus knew what they were thinking, but did not respond: “No, you are mistaken,[14] it is not God alone who can forgive sins — so can I.”  Rather, he healed the paralytic as a visible sign of this power.

Some may object that an account of a miracle cannot record an event that actually happened in a certain house in Capernaum some time around AD 30; it “must” be a pious myth.  To such, we must ask on what grounds they reject the possibility of miracles?  If the response is that they violate laws of nature, we must point out that the God who made nature plainly has power to act beyond the usual course of nature. 

Others may feel that, perhaps Jesus did say such things; but, although a great teacher and reformer, he was clearly mistaken.  The problem with this objection (as C. S. Lewis so often pointed out) is the sheer magnitude of the “error” — it would immediately call his sanity into question; or worse.  And, that simply will not wash.

Yet others, perhaps influenced by the Jesus Seminar, may feel that the whole story is made up by second century church leaders to respond to their own times. 

To these, we point out that: (1) there is no solid evidence for such a charge; (2) the canonical gospels simply do not play to the debates of the second century (or even the later First Century); and (3) the history of the Church, from the First Century on, knows of no other Jesus than the one who worked miracles, made amazing claims about his Person and Work, who died on a cross for our sins, and who rose from the dead in power and glory.  This is attested, not only by the New Testament documents — for which we now have significant manuscript evidence and citations dating to the very edge of the First Century — but also by the early and later Church Fathers, by opponents, and by secular historians and commentators. 

We then see a stark choice: is Jesus our Divine Lord, a demonic Liar, or a crazed Lunatic?  No other significant option exists — Jesus saw to that.

In the text we are examining, this is very clear: either Jesus is able to exercise a prerogative that belongs only to God, or else he is a crazed or demonised blasphemer,[15] for he clearly claims that his ability to heal, in this case, is a proof of his power to forgive sin.  And, in the end, only God can have this power. 

In our dealing with such doctrinal controversies, then, we should use the power of inductive Bible study to unearth what the Bible actually says, as opposed to what people may claim it says.  Once we clarify the significance of what happens or is said, we can apply it to our own situations.  As is clear from the above, this approach can yield startling insights and forces momentous decisions. 

But also, we must go beyond mere arguments and controversies, so that “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  [Eph. 4:15 – 16.]

If we do otherwise, we will simply be to be traitors to the church and its message in the wider community, contributing to its rejection of the true Messiah, resulting ultimately in ruin.

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NOTICES: This course module was originally created by Gordon Mullings, in 1985, for use as part of a manual for Cell Group Leaders for the UCCF, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. It has been subsequently revised and developed, to date. (DISCLAIMER: While reasonable attempts have been made to provide accurate, fair and informative materials for use in training, no claim is made for absolute truth, and corrections based on factual errors and/or gaps or inconsistencies in reasoning are welcome.) FAIR USE: The contents of this module are intended for use as a support for learning about responding to the typical intellectual challenges to the Christian Faith and gospel that are commonly encountered in the Caribbean, especially in tertiary education and in commentary in the regional and international media. Permission is therefore granted to link to this page for fair use under intellectual property law, and for reasonable citation of the linked content on this site for church- or parachurch- group related training and/or for personal or academic use; this specifically excludes reproduction, linking or citation for commercial, controversial or media purposes without the Author's written permission -- especialy where matters relating to the validity and value of Faith/Religious/Atheological Commitments and Truth-Claims are being debated or disputed. PDF version available, under similar terms. COPYRIGHT:GEM 2002. All rights are reserved.


FOOTNOTES:

[14] Sin is at its root an offense against God, so indeed it is God who ultimately must forgive it.

[15] Indeed, it was on the charge of blasphemy that Jesus was put to death [John 5:17 – 30; Mark 14:53 – 64], and Christians have always viewed the resurrection as a vindication of his claims to be the Son of God [Acts 2:31 – 41; Rom. 1:1 – 4]. (The Talmud, written by later Jewish leaders, is inadvertently consistent — it accepts that Jesus indeed performed miracles in First Century Palestine, but explains them by accusing him of deception and magic. And even these accusations confirm the Gospel reports: cf. Luke 11:14 – 28, Matt 12:1 – 45, John 10:22 – 42, nb. Jesus’ challenge in vv. 37, 38.)