Should I challenge my friends’ beliefs?
You’re right about the need for apologetics even among fellow Christians. Sometimes I think of the visible Church itself as a mission field. It has always been like this; Jude writes, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (1:3, RSV). Paul agrees about the importance of “contending for the faith” in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (11:2, RSV).
Should you contend for the faith among confused Christian friends? The answer to that one is easy (as you knew it would be): Yes.
Your next question is more difficult: Must you strive to persuade them concerning every single error, or are some errors more important than others? But you’ve guessed my answer to that one too. The old formula is “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” So first distinguish what is essential from what isn’t, and second make sure that your speech is seasoned with gentleness and love even when you are contending for essentials.
But what are the essentials? The Church has labored from the beginning to make them clear. Some of the earliest statements of the essentials are right there in the New Testament. Throughout the book of Acts, for example, we see how the Church stood up for the essential that Jesus (not Caesar) is Lord. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, we find Paul describing another essential, the Resurrection, which he “received” from his own first teachers and “delivered” to the Corinthians. A good Bible study is to work through the New Testament, identifying and studying such statements of essentials.
Early in her history, the Church found it necessary to write creeds — to define the essentials more precisely, and in writing, in order to defend against them against errors. Each new heresy led to a new clarification of the essentials. So another good exercise is to gather and study the creeds adopted at early Church councils, the most important of which is the Nicene Creed.
If you scroll up to my reply to the previous letter, you’ll find the titles of several books which give clear and scriptural statements of the essentials and why we believe them. Start with Stott. I think you’ll find his book not only a good read, but a great aid in focusing your thoughts when you discuss the essentials with your friends. Some of them may even like to read it themselves; that’s what he wrote it for.
Remember, don’t quarrel. Speak gently and reasonably.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2002 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.