Posted by Edwin M. Cotto
I was worried about what was coming next,
“Now let’s look at some difficult texts that seem to say the opposite of what we just learned,”
I told them, but it’s been years since I’ve studied those texts, and I was not prepared. Those eyes from across the table pierced my soul as I struggled to explain just one of those seemingly difficult verses. “I know!” I thought to myself, “I’ll tell them we can look at it next time!” But there never was a next time. We never had another bible study. My bible contacts did not look convinced. In fact, it almost seemed like they looked at me with suspicion. Things quickly got awkward, and I forever lost the opportunity to win them to the truth. In all my efforts to evangelize them, I was missing one very important element, that of being “ready to give an answer.”
For two months I had been studying with Yessi and James. They were mom and friend of my co-worker Debbie.(1) Debbie, who was baptized as a result of our own personal bible studies, asked me to give them bible studies as well. So we studied everything from the cross of Christ to the Sanctuary message, and oh, how they loved that last one! It was clearly seen from the altar to the Most Holy Place the work of redemption done on their behalf, and I will never forget the sigh of satisfaction that they both breathed, nearly simultaneously, at the conclusion of that study. I sat there with them in the living room, watching what God had just done. I was amazed. He really touched their hearts that day.
Naturally, the study led to the topic of the Law of God and the Sabbath, as they would visualize Christ entering into the presence of the Father who sits upon the ark of the covenant. So at the next meeting, we began. I knew this was a hot topic, but they took the study of the state of the dead so well, that I was confident this will go just as smoothly. Prayerfully we opened the Word, and started looking at various texts concerning the Sabbath. Enter the various proof texts used by people who do not believe in keeping the Sabbath, and things started changing. I noticed it. Now I’ve studied this topic numerous times, and have probably heard all the counterarguments. I have been engaged in numerous debates and have read many books as well on this issue. God is my witness, I cannot be convinced otherwise, and I often pray to be as open-minded as possible. But, I got so tired of the debates, so tired of trying to convince people of it, and so tired of being insulted (yes, some people will get to that point, unfortunately), that I decided to leave the topic alone for a while, and by this time I was rusty.(2) So when a difficult and easily misunderstood text came up, I gave a brief explanation so far as I remembered, and said,
“let’s get deeper into that text on the next study.”
But as you now know, that “next study” never took place. What a tragedy.
What happened? Why wasn’t I prepared? I was well studied in this topic; why couldn’t I deal with this in a more convincing manner? I will tell you why. I was not prepared. I was not trained well. I left the topic alone to focus on evangelism but forgot that I needed to be prepared for such questions when they should come up throughout my evangelistic efforts. I also started wrong many years prior. I was very zealous for the truth, so with boxing gloves on I fought my way through the Word, and debated Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and a host of other brethren just to prove my point. I swung the pendulum to one extreme, engaging in mostly arguments and debates. But when I got overwhelmed, I swung it to the other extreme, left studying the topic altogether, to focus mostly on evangelism. I lost my desire to be submerged in the doctrine (which, contrary to popular opinion, is not a bad thing if done right and for the right reasons), and forgot some important points. When the moment arrived and I was forced to give an answer for my faith, I flunked.
You can see why apologetics is important, but you can also see why it must be done correctly. Apologetics means to give a defense.(3) When Jesus came into the scene, He did not engage Himself in apologetics per say, but He was prepared! The Bible prophesied that every morning, God would give Him both what to say and how to say it, “The Lord has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.”(4) Our Lord warned against false doctrine (see Matt. 16:12), and although He didn’t look for the fight, He quickly shut it down when it came to Him! And did you know that the Bible actually tells us to do the same? In Col. 2:4, Paul said that our speech should always be “with grace, seasoned with salt.” But why? So that, “you may know how you ought to answer each one.” And as Jesus did, the scriptures are to be used for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (see 2 Tim. 3:16, NIV). Peter also urged his readers to constantly be prepared to give a defense, or “apology” as the Greek says, to everyone who “asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”(see 1 Peter 3:15). To give an apology, however, does not necessarily mean to engage in formal debates. It simply means to give a “verbal defense, speech in defense, a reasoned statement or argument.”(5)
But these texts prove how much of a bad idea it was for me to swing to either of the two extremes. Note carefully, Col. 4:6 says that my words need to be graceful. Were they? 2 Tim. 3:16 says that the Word is to be used for rebuking and correcting, but was I letting it rebuke and correct me? 1 Peter 3:15 urges us to engage in apologetics when questioned, but look at the text again, along with the next verse:
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
Was God sanctified in my heart? And when I give my defense, am I doing it with “meekness and fear?” And what of the result? Am I shaming people because they differ from my own beliefs, or are they being ashamed because they see my “good conduct in Christ?”
On the other hand, am I “ready to give a defense” as commanded in this text, or am I slacking in that department? Am I studying the Word to show myself approved unto God, “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15)? And perhaps more importantly, am I doing it the right way? The winnable way? The way the Bible says it should be done? Have I swung the pendulum to the other extreme, and left myself unprepared to meet error and teach truth?
I am afraid, dear reader, that many of us as Seventh-day Adventists, who have the truth, and know what the Bible says on this and other topics, have also swung the pendulum to one of these two extremes. We look down upon apologetics as something to be avoided, or as something to worry less about, and when the moment comes, we have no answers. We stay clear of “doctrine” and “prophecy” while the Lord himself preached both.(6) We used to be known as “the people of the book.” What happened? Have we gone too far to the right in our efforts to engage in evangelism? Or have we gone too far to the left in our zeal, and neglected the all-important work of winning souls? Let me tell you that apologetics is not subordinate to winning souls. It is necessary. When Jesus preached the gospel, He met counterarguments with sound reasoning and scripture. And had not Peter, John, Paul, James, and others so manfully fight off the errors of Judaizing legalists and spiritualizing Gnosticism in the first century, their message would have been hindered, and Christianity would not have survived. Error forces us to have to respond, or it will plague the church until it becomes nothingness. Not only does the Bible command apologetics my brethren, but how will the people triumph against the Goliath, if there is no David?(7) Not that my two bible contacts were Goliaths. Actually, they were (and still are) sincere people who believe in the Bible and believe in Christ. But I never got the opportunity to see them take that ultimate step to get baptized, just because I wasn’t “ready.” Perhaps there is much more to the story. But my prayer is that God reaches them somehow and that my fellow church brethren do not make the same mistake that I made.
Let me be clear that we are not called to debate. Our Lord has called us to preach the gospel, as we read in Matthew 28:18-20. But the same text tells us to “teach,” and we better be prepared to do that effectively. The winning, the touching of the heart, the luring of the fish if you will, is done by the power and the Spirit of the Lord.(8) But let us learn the doctrines well. Let us be ready to defend the truth. And let us thereby help spread that truth throughout the world. We are the hammer and God is the workmen. But the hammer better not break under pressure, or the nail won’t be driven through.
1) Names have been purposely changed.
2) As a side note, I also had a personal and traumatic experience during this time. But that is for another paper.
3) See: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apologetics
4) Isaiah 50:4. Note verse 6, where we read evidence that this particular chapter is about the suffering servant, the coming Messiah.
5) See the greek definition at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G627&t=NKJV
6) Matt. 22:33, Luke 4:18, Matt. 24.
7) I call this the “David and Goliath Method.” While formal debates may sometimes be necessary, it is not always the best option. Debates should be done to silence only that which is causing serious damage to the work. Ellen White puts it this way, “Israel did not defy Goliath, but Goliath made his proud boasts against God and His people. The defying, the boasting, and the railing must come from the opposers of truth, who act the Goliath… If they, like David, are brought into a position where God’s cause really calls for them to meet a defier of Israel, and if they go forth in the strength of God, relying wholly upon Him, He will carry them through and cause His truth to triumph gloriously. Christ has given us an example. ‘Yet Michael the Archangel, when contending with the devil He disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.’” (Testimonies to the Church, C. III, pp. 218, 220).
8) See verse 18, and also Zech. 4:6.