Contending For The Faith
The Historical Roots Of A Watchman
By William Handschumacher
Rock of Offence Commentary
Three days after the crucifixion
of Christ, Matthew's Gospel
describes the appearance of an
angel at the tomb - who delivered
an extraordinary announcement...
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. HE IS NOT HERE; FOR HE IS RISEN, AS HE SAID. COME SEE THE PLACE WHERE THE LORD LAY. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:1-7)
The resurrection of Christ represents one of the most important events in history. Some Christians tend to miss the fact that the Bible refers to Jesus Christ as “The Last Adam”. Jesus (as the “Last Adam” – 1 Corinthians 15:42-57) was sent by our Heavenly Father to forever reverse the sin curse that the first Adam brought upon the human race through his act of disobedience. Few truths from the Bible are attacked by religious critics, secular humanists and atheists ... more than Christ’s physical resurrection from the grave. However, the more important the truth ... the more viciously it is attacked. The news of Christ’s resurrection wasn’t but a few hours old before efforts were underway to explain away this miraculous event by the religious elite.
".... behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day." (Matthew 28:11-15)
Several years later, the
Apostle Paul gives us
the reason Christ’s
resurrection is so crucial.
"Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)
In this amazing discourse, Paul explains that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we remain in our sin (this is another way of saying “destined for an eternity in hell”). However, Paul goes on to say, “ ... But now is Christ risen from the dead” and because of that fact “all shall be made alive” (another way of saying, the sins of all those who place their faith in the risen Christ are forever removed and we are saved from hell).
I find it interesting that Paul was compelled to speak these words to refute the false teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead (read 1 Corinthians 15 verse 12). I’m sure this angered and offended the ones who were preaching this kind of false theology. Some of them were probably professionally trained spiritual leaders. It’s clear from Scripture that those who opposed Paul’s words were members of the Corinthian Church that he was speaking to at the time. Paul considered it unacceptable to allow this kind of dangerous doctrine to go unchallenged. Why? It causes casual listeners and inexperienced Christian believers to go astray in their faith. Answering and confronting critics and false teaching is a vital and ongoing part of preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Saint John And Polycarp
Church History records some interesting things about a man named Polycarp, who was one of the Fathers of the early Church. He spent his entire life defending the Christian faith against the popular heresies and false teachings of his time. Polycarp was a disciple of John (one of Christ’s original disciples) and was martyred in 156 A.D for refusing an order to confess the Roman emperor as god -- and denounce Christ as God. Polycarp’s defense of the Christian faith consisted of three Biblical truths:
1. The Incarnation - Jesus Christ is God and was born on earth in human flesh.
2. The testimony of Christ’s crucifixion - Jesus was crucified for our sins.
3. The resurrection – God physically raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
Both Saint John and Polycarp taught that anyone who denied these three foundational truths was not a real Christian believer - even if they claimed to be. John and Polycarp didn’t refer to these unbelieving people as a “brother or sister in God’s family” who just had a different perspective. There are many professing Christians and their leaders that both John and Polycarp would confront and condemn if they were alive today. Neither of these holy men was known for their diplomacy and soft soothing speech when it came to threats against the truth of the Gospel. They had such a love for God and the truth that they didn’t care if you were offended.
Here is the first and most important New Testament truth that got Polycarp into trouble: Jesus Christ is God and was born on earth in human flesh. This truth originally came from his teacher, Saint John, who penned the following words that later became part of the canon of Scripture. Speaking of Jesus Christ, John wrote ...
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, AND THE WORD WAS GOD. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men." (Continuing down in verse 14) ....
"AND THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH, AND DWELT AMONG US, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:1-4, John 1:14-18)
And again John writes ...
"And we know that the Son
of God is come, and hath
given us an understanding,
that we may know him that
is true, and we are in
him that is true, even in
his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God, and
eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
Polycarp along with many of the early church Fathers, sacrificed their life in defense of this truth. Both Saint John and his student maintained that no one could be truly saved unless they believe that Jesus Christ is “God in human flesh” as the Holy Scriptures teach. Why? If Jesus was just a normal human being, born in sin like the rest of us ... he could never provide the salvation that the human race needed. Our salvation and redemption required the sacrifice of a perfectly sinless, holy and spotless person - and no “regular” human being can ever meet those qualifications. God is the only one that satisfied these requirements (Hebrews 4:15-16). This is why no one can be saved if the Christ they claim to believe in isn’t “God in human flesh”. Many religious people claim to believe in Christ. Yet, the Christ they claim to believe in isn’t the one found in the New Covenant. Millions of church-going people claim to be “good Christians”, yet openly deny Christ’s Divinity.
"This cup is the New Covenant
in My blood, which is shed
As I read about the early church leaders such as John, Polycarp, Paul - and our Lord Jesus, it makes me wonder where we get the idea that it’s improper or “disrespectful” to upset those who constantly teach false and misleading doctrine - often presented in the name of Christ. Just attaching Christ’s name to anything gives it the power to mislead those who refuse to practice any kind of spiritual discernment. Yet, we are told over and over that arguing about these things is wrong because it 'upsets' Christian unity ... or it’s a failure to “walk in love” and it hinders the progress of the Gospel.
But...who wants a man-made unity
(the new name for this is
"Christian tolerance") that leads
us down a destructive religious
path? And, more importantly...
who wants a corrupt and misleading
gospel that could eventually lead
us to hell instead of heaven?
The following is an example of how strongly Saint John felt about these truths ... and illustrates just how far we’ve fallen from the truth of Scripture. We’ve strayed so far that we’re willing to accept almost anything that remotely sounds “Christian” in order to avoid offending people, to advance “Church Growth” programs - or to be “Seeker-Sensitive". Yet, God sees things differently. Saint John wrote:
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 1:7-9)
Our opening comments only partially touches on this complex problem. The countless brands of false theology that threaten the Church today are much more detailed, hidden and go way beyond some of the basics found in the defensive writings of the early church Fathers. However, many of the modern forms of Christian error are nothing more than derivatives (redefined doctrine using new names and terminology) of the old heresies and erroneous teachings condemned by the apostles of the early Church and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some Present Day Examples
I only occasionally listen to “talk radio”. However, one day while driving home a popular talk show host was on the air - and I wanted to hear what he had to say. Most readers would immediately recognize his name. A caller phoned in with some comments about the erosion of “religious liberties” in America. While explaining his position, he took the opportunity to share with the audience that Jesus Christ was the only way of salvation. Immediately, the host interrupted and within seconds ended the call. He didn’t hang up - just ended the dialogue and quickly moved on. Most of these shows have call “screeners” to prevent this sort of incident. One of the unspoken rules of talk radio is not to allow religious discussions because they always get emotional and out of control. But, something disturbing happened a few minutes later. After ending the call, the host explained (I’m paraphrasing);
“I am a Catholic and consider
myself a good Christian. But,
I personally believe there
are many ways to God and this
extreme belief held by the
last caller that 'Jesus is the
only way', is just wrong."
On another program -- a television talk show host (again, you would immediately recognize their name) was taking questions from her studio audience. One lady stood up and was asking about the host’s religious beliefs. While asking the question, the woman from the audience admitted she was a Christian and had always believed that Jesus Christ provided the only true path to salvation. Smiling, the host responded (I’m paraphrasing);
“I was brought up in a Baptist
family. But, I now believe
that it’s wrong to think that
Jesus Christ offers the only
way to be saved. I personally
believe that there are many
ways to God.”
Some church leaders have criticized this popular talk-show host by saying that her beliefs are, "absolutely contrary to the true teaching of Scripture and historic Christianity." Yet, she influences millions of people who are disillusioned with the corruption within organized religion. Her message of “self redemption” and that everyone is basically “good” strikes a cord with many hurting people. Her theology is a conglomeration of “Christian sounding”, yet humanistic and “New Age” ideologies that appeals to a large segment of our culture. Unfortunately, God doesn’t see things her way and His viewpoint is the only one that counts.
Here's yet another example. A local politician was making some general comments on a news program about the national election taking place at the time. For some reason, the interview shifted to religion and it was obvious that this person had some “issues” with a few of her constituents. Someone offended her and she used this opportunity on the radio to make a public statement.
She voiced her frustration at some of the Christian voters who believe that salvation is only obtained through Jesus Christ - and how this belief wrongly influenced the way they voted. She said; “I am also a Christian and attend a local church, but would never take the position that believing in Jesus Christ was the only way to be saved.” She continued, “I consider these people’s beliefs “extreme and improper” because there are many ways to God - and Jesus is only one of many ways.”
More illustrations could be given. All the people in these examples claimed to be a Christian. Yet, our Lord Jesus Christ said...
"I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one comes
to the Father (God) except
through Me." (John 14:6)
There are literally millions of people who claim to be “Christian”, but openly and publicly suggest that Jesus was lying when He made this statement. There’s no other way to interpret their words. Jesus made it very clear when He said, “No one comes to God the Father except through Me”.
Yet, these people blatantly
insist...“No, I don’t believe
what Jesus said - I choose
to believe there are many
ways to God”.
This is openly and publically claiming that the Lord Jesus lied - but doing it in a religious, socially acceptable way. Most evade these issues by saying something like ... “Well, my church interprets this a different way - and that’s what I choose to believe”. Or ... “Yes, I understand what you are saying, but this is what I believe ...” One disturbing response came from a Sunday School teacher who said;
“I’ve always believed it my way,
and Bible or no Bible, I’m going
to keep believing it my way.”
(Keep in mind that this comment
came from a Sunday School
teacher. Would you want her
teaching your child about the
things of God?)
Falsely religious people can
avoid facing Scriptural truths
by using countless different
diversion tactics. Yet,
these are all ways of
“denying Christ”, while
maintaining an illusion of
being a true Christian
Those of us who attend churches that embrace the Bible can, over time, begin to think that the rest of the professing Christian Church believes the same way we do. Yet, this is both a wrong and a dangerous assumption to make. Thank God for the pastors and their congregations, who are walking in the light of Christ’s New Covenant (See Luke 22:20 and Hebrews 8:6-13). However, we should not make the mistake of thinking that our fellowship group represents the majority of the professing Christian Church. When the end of the Church Age takes place at the rapture - we will be shocked at the millions of people who professed to be authentic Christians, but were found to be what the New Testament calls, “false brethren or counterfeit Christians” (2 Cor. 11:23-29, Gal. 2:4-5). Always remember that a counterfeit of anything looks nearly identical to the original. These folks regularly attend church, pray, quote the Bible and act like a real Christian should act.
Yet, as more Biblical knowledge is acquired - we discover a terrible truth that the leadership of the early church knew all too well.
Many who claim to represent Christ and His Kingdom, no matter how sincere, godly or loving they appear to be - are actually not from Christ at all. Saint John referred to this influence as “the spirit of anti-christ”. A majority of believers today fail to understand that this “anti-christ” spirit is not something that approaches us as being “opposite to Christ”. Rather, it appears as a “look-alike” or counterfeit of Christ. Paul used the term, “false brethren” to describe this dangerously deceptive influence. False brethren appear, on the surface, to be our true brothers and sisters - but are actually “false” or counterfeit believers (See Galatians 2:4-5 and Galatians 1:6-8).
All of these overwhelming
issues underscore the need
to always be on guard.
"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. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3:15-17)
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9)
More information about the great
salvation of Jesus Christ is
available at the following links:
Jesus is Lord
The Fall of the Human Race &
Why We Need a Savior
Jesus Christ as the 'Last Adam'
Reverses the Curse of the
First Adam's Sin
5 Biblical Truths that Lead
to Eternal life