Comments regarding the way to deal with persons sceptical of the fundamentals of the Christian faith

            In order that one can present the glad tidings of God’s grace to persons one must be satisfied that they believe in the one God and accept that He is the creator and the judge of all the earth (Genesis 1:1 and 18:25). From one’s own experience most Gospel preachers assume that their hearers accept this as they are preaching to persons who live in countries where the majority are, or were, baptised (or Christened) into the Christian faith. Preachers are therefore mainly targeting persons who make some sort of a Christian profession, but are not noticeably real believers.

            In order that a person will believe in the fundamentals of the Christian faith he (or she) must give credence to Scripture and accept that it is authoritative in such matters. Because a person believes the Old Testament it does not necessarily mean that such an one is a Christian. However it does mean that one has something which can be used in speaking to persons. In the Acts when speaking to Jews the Old Testament was quoted (see Acts 2, 3 and 13), but when speaking to the heathen Greeks their poets were referred to (Acts 17, particularly verse 28). Paul gave King Agrippa credit for believing the prophets (Acts 26:27), though that of itself did not make Agrippa a Christian.

            Turning to the case of sceptics, one would find that there are various sorts; from the out and out atheists (those who deny the existence of a God), through the agnostics (those who say they don’t know whether there is a God or not), on to the professing Christians who give some credence to the Bible but who only believe its teachings if they do not conflict with their own ideas.

            The Sadducees would come under the latter heading. The Lord had to deal with them in his life here, though they had a more prominent place as opposers of the Gospel after Christ’s resurrection, because they denied the resurrection (Mark 12:18). One has never yet found a case mentioned in the Bible of a Sadducee being converted. Pharisees believed, notably Paul, but there were others also (Acts 15:5). One wonders if the conversion of Saul (“a Pharisee, son of Pharisees” - Acts 23:6) led to others believing. It could well have been a shock when such an one as Saul became a Christian. It is worth noticing that the Pharisees maintained some correct doctrines such as belief in the resurrection and angels and spirits (Acts 23:8) and Paul maintained this. However, those who believed retained some of their Pharisaism as we learn elsewhere (Acts 15:5). We have to be careful when rejecting error that we, on the one hand, do not throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak, that is, the truth with the error or, on the other hand, retain the doctrinal leaven of those we were previously influenced by (Matthew 16:5-12).

            However, how are we to meet the sceptics ? Firstly, as with all problems, go to Scripture. How did the Lord deal with them, that is, those known as the Sadducees ? If we turn to Mark 12 we find Christ saying: “Do not ye therefore err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God ?” (verse 24 ). The underlying defect is that the Scriptures and the power of God are not known. Therefore, the persons should be challenged to read the Scriptures, not just cursorily, but daily like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). It is not a matter of getting hold of odd passages. The Sadducees did this, but they did not know the Scriptures as a whole. Secondly they should be challenged to consider the power of God. This is seen in creation: “ eternal power and divinity” (Romans 1:20). If anyone cannot see this advise him to go out at night when it is starry; get away from lighted streets, and look towards the heavens. This is what Scripture says: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see! Who hath created these things, bringing out their host by number? He calleth them all by name; through the greatness of his might and strength of power, not one faileth” (Isaiah 40:26) (italics mine). Read also the rest of the chapter and Psalm 8. If people were to look heavenward as Isaiah says then a real impression of the greatness of God would be obtained, that is, his power. The importance of the passage in Mark is demonstrated in that it is also found in Matthew 22:23-33 and Luke 20:27-38. Apart from the Sadducees we know that there were heathens that did not believe in the resurrection - hence some mocked (Acts 17:32) and there were those in the Corinthian assembly that denied it (1 Corinthians 15:12).

            Christ not only dealt with the actual question raised by the Sadducees, but also what underlay it - their disbelief in the resurrection. He also mentions the angels which they did not believe in. There are also other passages that imply the necessity of a resurrection for them to be true. The Psalms speak of things which would not be true if there was no resurrection (see Psalms 23:6 and 121:8).

            As to the Sadducees case of the woman who had seven husbands, (itself a very unlikely scenario) it may be noted that there is no Old Testament passage saying, as far as I know, what would be the situation regarding earthly relationships in the resurrection. The Old Testament is silent on the matter, so the Sadducees should have been. What Scripture does not say is in a way as important as what it does (see Hebrews 1 where it says a number of times such things as “to which of the angels said he ever” (verse 5 and 13)). Christ was able to throw light on the matter so that the Sadducees question meant that we now have a greater understanding today of the condition of saints in the resurrection than is found in the Old Testament.

            What all this leads to is the fact that by inventing difficulties the Sadducees put themselves in a position where Christ could say to them: “Ye therefore greatly err” (verse 28). Note the word greatly. The point for us is that we should stick to what we know as the blind man who received his sight (John 9:25) and not speculate regarding things that may well be beyond our understanding while we are in these mortal bodies (Psalm 131:1 and Proverbs 30:18).

            If people realise the folly of their scepticism they will be in a state where than can be reached by “the glad tidings of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

August 2008