|Vol. 13 No. 1 January 2011||
Among the earliest Christian writings appearing after the New Testament respond to attacks on Christianity by pagan and Jewish authors. These writings had a two-fold aim. On one hand they wanted to prove Christians innocent of false accusations made against them. On the other, their purpose was evangelistic; they wanted to lead others out of error and into truth. In Church History, these writings are known as the Apologists.
The Apologists took their cue from the New Testament (Gamble 84). The apostle Paul stated that he “was appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:17 NKJV). This word for defense in Greek was apologia, meaning “verbal defense, answer, reply.” To preach Christ included a defense of the truth. The Apologists followed the spirit of Peter as he said, “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” (1 Peter 3:15).
By the second century, Christianity was winning converts from the upper levels of Greco-Roman society. Some of these converts were educated in the philosophical schools of their day and were taught the rhetorical skills of formal debate. They put their learning to good use as they answered the critics of Christianity. They were firm believers that the “pen is mightier than the sword,” and they utilized writing as a way to make public defense of their beliefs and practices. Among these writers were Aristides, Just Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras and the great 3rd century apologists, Tertullian and Origen (Ferguson 17).
The Apologists proclaimed their innocence of criminal, social and political charges. They wrote that Christians were law abiding and peaceful. They prayed for the well-being of the emperor so that he might govern the empire in peace. The Apologists also boldly asserted the universality of the Christian religion. They affirmed that Christianity supplied the answer to the searching of the pagan religions and philosophies (cf. Acts 17:27-28).
The Apologists recognized the importance of a life that matched their doctrine. “Let it be understood that those who are not found living as He taught are not Christians – even though they profess with the lips the teachings of Christ” (Martyr qtd. in Bercot 128). In fact, it was this manner of life, which included how Christians faced persecution and martyrdom that would eventually lead to the triumph of Christianity over the pagan world. Tertullian boldly affirmed, “The more often we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow. The blood of Christians is seed” (428).
As we live in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, the writings of the Apologists can serve to inspire and stimulate Christians today to a clear and cohesive defense of beliefs and practices, if we will prepare ourselves for the task.
Bercot, David W. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998.
Ferguson, Everett. “Church History: Early and Medieval” Way of Ljfe Series. Abilene: Biblical Research, 1996.
Gamble, Harry Y. “Apologetics,” Encyclopedia of Early Christianity 2nd ed. Everett Ferguson, ed. New York: Garland, 1998.
There was a daddy who had nine big, strapping sons that formed the starting lineup of the best team that ever played baseball. The daddy was the manager, and he always found fault with anything his sons did. Let one of his sons hit a homerun, and he would say something like, “Boy, he put the ole’ apple right down the middle, didn’t he? Blind man coulda hit that one. Your grandma coulda put the wood on that one. If a guy couldn’t hit that one, there’d be something wrong with him, I’d say. Wind practically took that one out of here, didn’t even need to hit it much.”
If you think that was bad, you should have heard him when one of them made a mistake. It was obvious that this wasn’t “home on the range,” because there was always a discouraging word. His sons could never please him, and if they did, he forgot it. When his oldest son, Edwin Jim, Jr., turned and ran to the centerfield fence for a long fly ball and threw his glove forty feet in the air to snag the ball and caught the ball and glove, his daddy said, “I saw a man in Superior, Wisconsin, do that a long time ago, but he did it at night, and the ball was his a lot harder.”
Thought: Those boys could have used some encouragement. What is true of sons in general is true of sons of God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).