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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tertullian, Opposition, and the Criminal Name

Tertullian (AD 145-220) wrote winsomely and with great wit in his Apology in which he argued for the reasonable treatment of Christians, their innocence, and the fallacy of the opposition’s argument as well as the baseless nature of their charges. Chief of their charges was that it was criminal to be called “Christian”. Early in his Apology, Tertullian addresses his opponents about their ignorance and prejudices against Christianity. I would like to share four quotes from Tertullian which I think are important to consider (emphasis mine): “They like to be ignorant, though to others the knowledge has been bliss . . . Because they already dislike, they want to know no more. Thus they prejudge that of which they are ignorant to be such, that, if they came to know it, it could no longer be the object of their aversion; since, if inquiry finds nothing worthy of dislike, it is certainly proper to cease from an unjust dislike, while if its bad character comes plainly out, instead of the detestation entertained for it being thus diminished, a stronger reason for perseverance in that detestation is obtained, even under the authority of justice itself. But, says one, a thing is not good merely because multitudes go over to it; for how many have the bent of their nature towards whatever is bad! How many go astray into the ways of error!” (chapter I, 18). “ . . . It is made perfectly clear that there is no crime of any kind in the case, but merely a name which a certain system, every working against the truth, pursues with its enmity, doing this chiefly with the object of securing that men may have no desire to know for certain what they know for certain they are entirely ignorant of. Hence, too, it is that they believe about us things of which they have no proof, and they are disinclined to have them looked into, lest the charges, they would rather take on trust, are all proved to have no foundation, that the name so hostile to that rival power—its crimes presumed, not proved—may be condemned simply on its own confession. . . . In our case alone you are either ashamed or unwilling to mention the very names of our crimes. If to be called a “Christian” does not imply any crime, the name is surely very hateful, when that of itself is made a crime.” (chapter II, 19-20). “They praise what they know, they abuse what they are ignorant of, and they inspire their knowledge with their ignorance; though in fairness you should rather judge of what is unknown by what is known, than what is known from what is unknown.” (chapter III, 20). “Before, therefore, taking up a dislike to the name, it behoved [sic] you to consider the sect in the author, or the author in the sect. But now, without any sifting and knowledge of either, the mere name is made matter of accusation, the mere name is assailed, and a sound alone brings condemnation on a sect and its author both, which of both you are ignorant, because they have such and such a designation, not because they are convicted of anything wrong.” (chapter III, 20). I share these at this time because, while being called a Christian is acceptable, being named a Calvinist is not. Rather, to be a Calvinist is criminal among most Southern Baptists. And for what reason? What crimes have Calvinists been guilty of in regards to Scripture, salvation, and the Church? There is the charge that we are not evangelistic or loving the lost or concerned about kingdom growth. But this could not be further from the truth!!! What they have is a family tree of straw men which they refer to and demolish. What Tertullian has said about being named Christian, the same attacks are being made against Calvinists. Most Calvinists I know have grown to refrain from using the name because of how loaded and misunderstood Calvinism has become. In my case, most who speak against Calvinism do so out of emotional appeal or popular opinion rather than personal investigation on the truthfulness of the doctrines. Appeal is made not to Scriptural exegesis but sentimentality and theological constructions centered on the autonomy of man with views scarcely supported by Scripture, much less with consistency and clarity. I think we can learn from Tertullian in his great apologetical style to defend God-centered doctrine and supremacy of Christ over all things – especially our boxes.

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