"Paul Disputed..." Acts 17:17, etc.
By Dave Hunt
One need not read far in the Bible to realize that it is definitely not an ecumenical book. In "the Great Commission," Christ commanded His disciples to make disciples of "all nations...teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Mat:28:19-20). This is a sacred trust from Christ himself that places a grave responsibility upon everyone who claims to be a Christian.
If language has any meaning, then every true disciple today must be a disciple of a disciple of a disciple...all the way back to the original disciples, and obligated to obey the same commands Christ gave to them. No one was ever authorized by Christ to change this commission--and certainly not to change the gospel--yet this has been and is being done. What must our Lord think of church leaders despising His Word?
Truth is independent of time, space, and matter, and never changes. It has no location in the physical universe; it exists in the nonphysical realm of the soul and spirit. The indisputable fact that the brain is not the mind, with which we understand truth, provides one of the simplest proofs that we are nonphysical and eternal beings living temporarily in physical bodies. This solemn fact raises a question that most do not like to face. Preferring to give their attention to pleasures and plans related to this temporal world of the five senses, that which is of paramount importance is put off to "a convenient season" (Acts:24:25), which never comes. Every person must answer the great question: Where will my soul and spirit (the real "I" that is my unique self) be when this temporary dwelling in which I have lived these few years lies "moulding in the grave?"
To deny the existence of soul and spirit, materialists (which all atheists are) attempt to identify mind and all thought and ideas with the physical brain. Declaring that "materialism is dead," physicist Sir Arthur Eddington proves that fact quite simply:
In science...law...means a rule which is never broken....Thus in the physical world what a body does and what a body ought to do are equivalent; but we are well aware of another domain where they are anything but equivalent. We cannot get away from this distinction....The laws of logic do not prescribe the way our minds think; they prescribe the way our minds ought to think....However closely we may associate thought with the physical brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as soon as we consider the fundamental property of thought--that it may be correct or incorrect.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is "the way, the truth, and the life." Truth does not change, thus "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Heb:13:8). Yet many church leaders in our day (like multitudes of others throughout history) have taken it upon themselves to change almost everything. Some have done so by rewriting the Bible, as did Eugene Peterson in The Message ; others, such as Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller, by "positivizing the gospel," and others by "modernizing" Christianity. The Emergent Church movement has done so under the guise of restoring "original Christianity." They have only restored earlier traditions of men, which, in the days of the apostles, were already far from the truth. Only the New Testament--not "early church history"--gives the record of true biblical Christianity.
There is no justification to say, "Times have changed" so we now need "new truth" to meet the challenges of today's post-modern world. It is a delusion to imagine that going back to the thought and practice of the "early historic church" will make us more spiritual or restore first-century Christianity. Searching through "ancient church history" is not going back far enough. We need to go all the way back to the Bible.
Each true disciple has been given a sacred trust, having received in an unbroken line of succession through earlier disciples Christ's original "commission" to His first followers: to obey and to teach others to obey everything Christ taught them. No research is needed--only a simple understanding of, and faith in, God's Word-to recognize the brazen revision of the Great Commission underway. This is seen in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of many Protestant denominations, and especially in the Roman Catholic system, which the original humble fishermen-disciples would denounce were they here today.
Incredibly, John Hagee, in a letter dated May 12, 2008, to Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, "apologized for calling the Roman Catholic Church 'the apostate church' and 'the great whore.'" But that's what Luther and all the Reformers called it in keeping with God's Word! Nor was this a recent off-the-cuff remark but a consistent declaration over many years. In a shameful "about-face," Hagee declared, "I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful." Isn't Christ a "rock of offence" (Rom:9:33) and His cross an "offence" to unbelievers? Must we apologize for offending with the truth? Must we withhold the truth of the gospel to avoid offending those who need it? Isn't the Bible (not the hurt feelings of sinners) our unchangeable standard?
Let's be honest--Hagee's apology that denied the truth was political fence-mending by "one of John McCain's highest profile supporters from the religious right." It was not for the sake of Christ but for the presidential hopes of McCain. In apologizing, Hagee called the use of these terms in Revelation "a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary." Now he must apologize to the Lord for calling "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him" (Rev:1:1) "anti-Catholic rhetoric"! It is only fitting that on May 22 McCain distanced himself from Hagee, who then withdrew his endorsement.
Instead of remaining true to Christ's commands, many of today's church leaders teach and practice "Christianity" as though the Great Commission were, "Go into all the world and try to find as much agreement with the major religions as possible, being careful not to criticize any 'faith,' but join with them in ecumenical union to abolish poverty, hunger, and disease." That sounds so appealing and it seems such a worthy cause that entire denominations have been swallowed up by this satanic heresy.
Isn't "satanic" a bit strong? No. Satan was the first to ask, "Yea, hath God said?" His followers are identified by ignoring, defying, or changing God's unchangeable truth. One might be put in jail for such harsh language. Not now, but that day may yet come sooner than we imagine.
To claim to know what God has said, to follow it, and to boldly oppose the errors taught by those who diverge from God's truth, is today's unforgivable sin both in the world and in the church. The mood worldwide is definitely toward both political and religious unity at any cost. As this movement gathers increasing momentum, anyone who has the moral and spiritual integrity to uphold the Bible will be seen as worthy of imprisonment and eventually death for standing in the way of global unity, the one hope to which the world and church still cling in desperate partnership.
As for true Christians, any compromising ecumenical agreement is rendered impossible by Christ's firm declaration, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (Jn:14:6). There is no way to soften that statement. True to their Lord, the apostles declared: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts:4:12). As their successors, we must proclaim the same.
In contrast, Satan's religious lackeys, true to their master, cry, "You can't say that!" His many other servants in legislative bodies and courts are determined to make it an international crime to suggest that any recognized "faith" (no matter how contradictory to every other) could possibly be in any error. The Bible could soon be outlawed as condemnatory of all non-Christian religions. But this is the nature of the Bible, and for that we make neither apology nor "religiously correct" adjustments. Simon Greenleaf, one of America's greatest legal minds, who turned from agnosticism to faith in Christ, declared nearly 180 years ago:
The religion of Jesus Christ aims at nothing less than the utter overthrow of all other systems of religion in the world; denouncing them as inadequate to the wants of man, false in their foundations, and dangerous in their tendency....These are no ordinary claims; and it seems hardly possible for a rational being to regard them with [merely] a subdued interest; much less to treat them with mere indifference and contempt.
We do not follow anyone except our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles. Paul declared, "Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me...even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor:4:16; 1 Cor:11:1). Our Lord continually referred to and quoted the Old Testament, the only Scriptures that existed in His day and all that was needed to proclaim the gospel then and now: "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk 24:27).
We should follow His example in witnessing for Him, as Paul did. He preached "the gospel of God (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom:1:1-4). The true gospel is founded upon hundreds of prophecies that cannot be changed. Woe to those who tamper with "the gospel of God"!
Declaring that the gospel he had preached was "according to the scriptures" (1 Cor:15:3-4), Paul affirmed once again that the gospel is so firmly founded in the entire Old Testament that it could not be altered without destroying the Scriptures. This is the testimony of the entire Bible. Those who dare to change God's Word in any way have denied God himself. They are saying that God did not know the future, that His plan of salvation is no longer adequate for modern man, and that today's theologians must patch up the mess in which Christ has left His church. In other words, the God of the Bible is not the true God. As T.A. McMahon has pointed out (02/08 ; 03/08 ), the Emerging Church leaders have declared that everything must "be reinvented" to arrive at a new theology adequate for our day.
Paul did not seek religious or political rapprochement with anyone. He and Silas were accused of having "turned the world upside down" (Acts:17:6). The apostles made no alliances; they followed the orders Christ had given them. They knew and uncompromisingly proclaimed "the truth [as it] is in Jesus" (Eph:4:21) with boldness and great power and with much disputation.
Disputation? Yes! That word describes much of the apostles' life and ministry, and especially Paul's, but is being trampled under the boots of the marching "seeker friendly" ecumenists. The fact that Paul and the early church leaders and martyrs spent so much time publicly disputing tells us much about what is lacking among Christians today, or shall we just call it Christianity Today ? Consider these religiously incorrect, uncompromising, "negative" declarations-founded upon prophecy:
STEPHEN: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost....[w]ho have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it." (Acts:7:51)
PETER: "Thy money perish with thee....Thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness...." (Acts:8:18-24)
PAUL: But Saul...confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. (Acts:9:22)
PETER: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts:10:43)
PAUL: "Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus....For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day...fulfilled them in condemning him.... And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree...." (Acts:13:23-29)
PAUL, as his manner was...reasoned with them out of the scriptures...(Acts:17:2); Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him (Acts:17:17); He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and Greeks. (18:4; Acts:18:19)
APOLLOS mightily convinced the Jews...publickly, shewing [proving] by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts:18:28)
PAUL went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading..." (Acts:19:8); ...disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus [for] two years; (Acts:19:9-10); "I...by the space of three years...ceased not to warn [about coming apostasy] every one night and day with tears" (Acts:20:31); And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled (Acts:24:25); Persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets." (Acts:28:23)
I recently engaged in three debates in Toronto: with a Hindu leader of a large temple, with an atheist philosophy professor, and with a Muslim imam, who debates Christians worldwide. Is this what Christians are supposed to do? Is it productive? How can we obey "live peaceably with all men" (Rom:12:18) while disagreeing with opposing beliefs? (The DVDs will be offered in July for August delivery.)
The scriptures above show that disputing with unbelievers was Paul's life and ministry. He said we are to follow him. How else can we faithfully fulfill our commission?
There is no revelation more affecting than this, that God is of such a nature that the misery of fallen man has constrained Him to lay aside His heavenly glory, to become man, to bear all our sin and sorrow, and by death vanquish death and give to dying sinners eternal and divine life. Everyone who by faith receives this life is under the same necessity as He from whom he derives it, so that, on this account, every Christian is naturally a missionary. He hears in his soul as an impelling command, the words: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (E.M. Broadbent, from The Pilgrim Church)
Each true disciple must heed the Great Commission to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Pt 3:15). The Lord will give those with willing hearts the opportunities, wisdom, humility, grace, and power to be true to His calling. TBC