Archives For Apologetics

June 10, 2014

Upon This Rock

by Nathan Busenitz

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said to Simon, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

Roman Catholics interpret Matt. 16:18 to mean that Peter is the rock upon which the church is built. That interpretation then becomes the basis for the doctrine of papal succession. If Peter is the rock on which the church is built, and if the bishops of Rome are Peter’s successors, then it follows, they say, that the papacy remains the foundation of the church.

But that is not at all what Matthew 16:18 teaches.

The name “Peter” was a nickname given to Simon by Jesus, all the way back in John 1:42 when Peter first met Jesus. Coming from the Greek word petros (or the Aramaic word “Cephas”), the name Peter means “Rock” or “Stone.” To use an English equivalent, Peter means “Rocky.” Continue Reading…

Clement of RomeClick here to read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

The gospel of grace was both proclaimed and preserved in the earliest decades of church history. It was overwhelmingly affirmed by the apostles at the Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15), such that Paul could later tell the Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

Shortly after the Jerusalem Council, Paul wrote a letter to the churches he had planted on his first missionary journey. That letter, known as the book of Galatians, admonished its readers not to acquiesce to the works-righteousness of the Judaizers. To do so, Paul stated, would be to embrace another gospel—one which was not really good news at all (Gal. 1:6–9). The apostle went on to clearly explain that justification is not based on keeping the law, but is only granted by grace through faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:1–14). Given the theme of that epistle (justification by faith vs. justification by works), it is not surprising to learn that Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite book of the New Testament, because in that text he found the gospel of grace so clearly revealed.

The New Testament emphasis (on a gospel of grace apart from works) became the foundation for the Protestant Reformation and its central tenet of sola fide. The biblical teaching on that issue remains the authoritative basis on which an evangelical understanding of the gospel is built. But while modern evangelicals rightly conclude that the doctrine of sola fide is founded in Scripture, many wrongly assume that there is relatively little support for that position in pre-Reformation church history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue Reading…

File:Paul Apostle.jpgClick here to read Part 1 or Part 2.

When we talk about “the gospel in church history,” it is necessary to start at the beginning of church history—in those initial decades recorded for us in the book of Acts. Significantly, the essence of the gospel was the central issue at the first major council in church history.

The Jerusalem Council met around AD 49 or 50, nearly twenty years after the church was established on the Day of Pentecost, and 275 years before the next major church council—the Council of Nicaea (which convened in 325). The Jerusalem Council, which is recorded in Acts 15, assembled to answer one primary question: “What is the essence of the gospel?” But to fully understand what was at stake, we need to begin with Paul’s first missionary journey, found in Acts 13–14.

The Proclamation of the True Gospel (Acts 13–14)

In the first few years of church history, immediately following the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the church was composed entirely of Jewish Christians. It wasn’t until the conversion of the Samaritans (in Acts 8) and Cornelius (in Acts 10) that non-Jews began to be incorporated into the body of Christ. After highlighting Cornelius’s conversion, Luke detailed the spread of the gospel into Gentile lands (in Acts 11:19–24), culminating in the formation of a predominantly Gentile church in Syrian Antioch.

The inclusion of Gentiles into the church represented a major paradigm shift for Jewish Christians. For the previous 1500 years of Israel’s history, since the time of Moses, God had been specifically working through the nation of Israel. But now, in the church, Gentiles were being saved without having to first become Jewish proselytes. Of course, God had prepared the apostles for this by saving Cornelius while Peter was present. Continue Reading…

File:John Wycliffe at work.jpgClick here to read the first installment in this series.

Many people think of the Reformation as something that started with Luther in 1517. But the reality is that the Reformation was a movement that had begun to gain momentum much earlier than the sixteenth century.

Back in the 1100s, 350 years before Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, a group known as the Waldensians began to teach that the Bible alone is the authority for the church. They defied papal authority, committed themselves to preaching the gospel, and even translated the Word of God into the common language of the people. They were severely persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church, and as a result often found themselves hiding in the Alps. In the sixteenth century, during the lifetime of Calvin and Knox, the Waldensians officially joined the Reformed Movement; because they recognized that the sixteenth-century Reformers valued the same truths that they had been committed to all along.

In the 1300s, still two centuries before Luther, an English scholar named John Wycliffe began teaching that the church was in desperate need of reform. Wycliffe has been nicknamed the “Morning Star of the Reformation” because he affirmed essential Reformation doctrines like sola Scriptura and sola fide; he was also the first to translate the Bible into English. The Oxford scholar opposed the papacy, calling the pope the “antichrist.” Instead, he taught, Christ alone is the Head of the church. Wycliffe denied baptismal regeneration, opposed the mass, criticized indulgences, and taught that the clergy should be able to marry. The Roman Catholic church became so angry at John Wycliffe that, after he died, they dug up his bones and burned them in effigy. Continue Reading…

crown_2Did the early church believe in the deity of Christ?

Ask your average Muslim, Unitarian, Jehovah’s Witness, or just about any non-Christian skeptic who has read (or watched) The Da Vinci Code, and they’ll try to convince you the answer is noFrom such sources we are told that the deity of Christ was a doctrine invented centuries after Jesus’ death – a result of pagan influences on the church in the fourth century when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion.

Emperor Constantine, in particular, is blamed for being the guy who promoted Jesus to the level of deity, a feat of cosmic proportions that he managed to pull off at the Council of Nicaea in 325. As Dan Brown put it (through the lips of one of his literary characters): “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea. . . . By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable” (The Da Vinci Code, 253).

So how can believers answer such allegations? Continue Reading…

isaiah_scrollHave you ever looked at your Bible and wondered, “Why do we regard these 66 books, and no others, as comprising the inspired Word of God?”

That is a critically important question, since there are many today who would deny that these 66 books truly make up the complete canon of Scripture.

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, claims that the Apocryphal books which were written during the inter-testamental period (between the Old and New Testaments) ought to be included in the Bible. Cult groups like the Mormons want to add their own books to the Bible—things like the Book of Mormon, The Doctrines and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. And then there are popular books and movies, like The Da Vinci Code from several years back, that claim later Christians (like Constantine) determined what was in the Bible centuries after these books were  written.

So, how do we know that “all Scripture” consists of these 66 books? How do we know that the Bible we hold in our hands is the complete Word of God?

There are a number of ways we could answer such questions; in fact, we could spend weeks studying the doctrine of canonicity, carefully walking through all of the relevant biblical and historical details. And there are many wonderful books available that can guide you through that wealth of information.

But in this post, I want to give you a simple answer that I think will be helpful – because it gets to the heart of the whole matter. This answer takes less than 30 seconds to articulate, yet I have found it to be the ultimate answer for just about every question related to the doctrine of canonicity. Continue Reading…