When liberalism took hold in the early part of the twentieth century, fundamentalism was the proper reaction: a return to the fundamentals of the faith. When the evangelical movement in the mid-twentieth century took a turn toward liberalism due to an accommodation on the part of evangelical academicians and their desire to be viewed as relevant by theological liberals, fundamentalist leaders rightly pointed out the error. And yet, fundamentalism itself developed problems of its own including its tendency toward belligerent rhetoric that often turns people away. In light of that unbiblical tendency, some are now saying that Christians must never be polemical. Are they right?
The reality is that Christians are called to offer an apologetic, that is, a defense of the faith, as well as a polemic, that is, an argument against the false systems that seek to carry us away. At the bare minimum we must confront false truth claims and false religious systems. In all cases we are to speak the truth in love and make a dash to the cross that Christ might be proclaimed above all. A question has been raised however: what can we expect when we confront the false systems of the world?
First, when we confront the false systems of the world, sometimes we may have to do so alone. For example, when Elijah confronted the false system of Baal worship in the land, he did so alone: “Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men (1 Kings 18:22).’”
We can find ourselves in a situation in which we have no allies; in which we are the only spokesmen for the Lord. We may find that other Christians are afraid to say anything even though they should. We may find that many Christians are ill-equipped to discern what’s wrong with a particular view let alone give a positive witness for Christ in such a situation. We may have to go it alone.
Too many Christians think they will never have an opportunity to confront a false system or even error in the church. More often they feel no sense of obligation in this area though too many such opportunities present themselves these days. Consider the popular singer Derek Webb. He explains that he left Caedmon’s Call for a time because he wanted to speak against the gospel-free message that is so prevalent in the church today. His band members demurred, though they agreed with his position, and he had to go it alone.
That’s not unusual. I was the only one in my Christian school as a teenager who believed the historicity of Genesis 1-11 despite the fact that the Episcopal teacher/priest taught us otherwise. Years later in a class on Psalms I had a seminary professor assert that no one believed we were conceived in sin. Another professor denied the necessity of the virgin birth of Christ and affirmed evolution. In each case I felt compelled to speak for Christ, and I did. As a teenager and then as a young man trying to find his way in the ministry these were daunting moments. But such is the call that God has placed upon us. The Lord gives grace to help in time of need that we might be witnesses of Him.
Second, when we confront the false systems of the world, it is likely that we will be outnumbered. Not only was Elijah alone as he faced the prophets of Baal, but he faced four-hundred and fifty of them. When God calls upon us to confront false systems, it may be that we must face a great number of people. In fact, we will indeed constantly find ourselves in the minority.
By way of example, the fact that most secularists say that evolution is science and creationism is religion and therefore evolution should be taught in school and creationism should not be taught in those same schools is inconsequential to me in one sense. While neither system can be proven scientifically and while both are faith commitments, the astounding reality is that the scientific evidence does in fact point to creationism and not evolution. The universe exhibits order and design, not random chaos. In what sense however, do I mean that the secularist position as stated above is inconsequential? I mean that the fact the majority view that evolution is science and creationism is religion doesn’t keep me from knowing what I know or confronting the false system of evolution because that’s what it is: a false system. The majority is wrong in this case!
Third, when we confront the false systems of the world, we do not vie for equality but exclusivity. Elijah issued a challenge to the prophets of Baal. “’Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.’ So all the people answered and said, ‘It is well spoken (1 Kings 18:23-24).’” Elijah was not calling for God to be viewed as equal with the false system of his day. He was calling for the exclusive existence of the true and living God.
Let me offer four implications for us concerning the claim of God’s exclusivity as revealed in Jesus Christ.
1) God alone is God despite the claims of false gods. Baal was the storm god or the god of fire and rain. Elijah gave the Baal prophets opportunity to call upon their fire god to bring down fire knowing that he could not because he did not exist. Moreover, the people wanted to worship Baal along side God. Elijah would not tolerate such because God would not tolerate such. He vied for God’s exclusivity.
Why would those who claim Christ deny His exclusivity? Why would St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago invite Louis Farrakhan to speak in their services? Of course he claims to believe in Christ. But he does not believe in the Christ of Scripture. The Christ of Scripture claims to be the sole, sufficient Savior and Farrakhan rejects that. He and the church that invited him are no different than those Elijah confronted.
There are dozens of subtle ways that the culture seeks to undermine the exclusive claim of Christ. We must be aware of such deception and affirm that the Christ of Scripture is the only way to salvation.
2) God alone is God despite the appearance of spiritual power. As Elijah confronted error, not only were there four-hundred prophets of Baal, but, Elijah told them to call upon their gods. Multiple prophets and multiple gods certainly gave the appearance of spiritual power. But, there was none.
It is no different in our day. The world is filled with claims of spiritual power ranging from signs and wonders to the power of ecumenism to self-deifying new age theories. It doesn’t matter what we see or hear; we must have a source of objective truth that is itself objective. Hence, the apostle Peter notes that though he heard the voice of God, we have a more sure word of prophecy that we must heed (2 Pet. 1:18f). The bible alone teaches that salvation is by grace alone. We cannot save ourselves; we must have a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
3) God alone is God despite the confidence of pagan people. The Baal worshippers thought Elijah’s idea was a good one. They had great confidence in their idols. Their confidence was unfounded.
In 1985, Gorden Stein, the well-known atheist, was confident that he would embarrass Greg Bahnsen in a debate concerning the existence of God. It became known as “The Great Debate.” Bahnsen set forth the transcendental argument for God’s existence and Stein answered by setting forth eleven common arguments for the existence of God and attempted to point out why they were not good arguments. Aside from doing a poor job there, he did not answer the argument Bahnsen set forth, that is, the transcendental argument. Bahnsen pressed him on this point and Stein had no answer. It was Stein himself who was embarrassed. He admitted later that he was not prepared for that argument and over twenty years later neither he nor anyone else has set forth a satisfactory refutation. When we are called to stand, let us be undaunted by unfounded, pagan confidence.
4) God alone is God despite the majority who claim otherwise. Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to call upon their gods first. He gave them the opportunity saying, “for you are many (v. 25).” The fact that they were many was irrelevant.
Sadly, most people worship a false god or gods or adhere to a false belief system. Why? “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matt. 7:14).” But, if anyone is to have life, she must come to faith in Christ: nothing else will save. The reason we vie for God’s exclusivity is not to be hard or contrary. The reason we vie for Christ’s exclusivity is not only for His glory, but because it’s a matter of life and death.
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