Apologetics and Polemics

In this article, I wish to make clear the differences between apologetics and polemics. How often have we or our Christian beliefs come under fire from people claiming to be apologists? I don't know about the person reading this paper, but I would need an abacus to add up all such encounters. Some so-called apologists pretend to be friendly and interested in learning more of what we hold as God's revealed truth. More often than not, however, the self-styled apologists come in loaded for bear and, though opening in an agreeable humor, soon become aggressive, attacking what we believe to be true. Such folk are not apologists, for apologetics has precious little to do with attacking the belief systems of others. My electronic dictionary defines apologetics as:

1. The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines.
2. Formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system. -- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 Houghton Mifflin Co. Electronic version lic'd from and portions © 1994 InfoSoft Int'l, Inc.

"Defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines." That is what apologetics is about. Doctrinal truth is the issue in apologetics; not feelings, not techniques, not promises nor even threats. Apologetics isn't about technique or style. It is not a process for protecting people from emotional distress resulting from exposure to doctrinal truth that does not agree with their own belief system. In fact, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with feelings.

Some people, Catholics in particular, appear not to understand that the apologist is not acting as evangelist. He is not dealing with ways to share the Gospel. Quite the contrary.

Perhaps the difficulty lies in the Roman Catholic understanding of apologetics. One Jesuit apologist offers these definitions:

Apologetics is the systematic defense of the Christian Revelation. Arguments in Apologetics are drawn from philosophy and history. -- Francis X. Doyle, The Defense of The Catholic Church, Benziger Brothers, Inc, (1927), p. xiii

Did you notice? The Catholic apologist seeks to defend "Christian Revelation" by drawing arguments from history and philosophy. The Christian apologist, on the other hand, seeks to defend or prove the truth of Christian doctrines and the authority against measuring his efforts against the one valid standard - the Bible. The Catholic looks to man for truth. The Christian looks to God. It seems to me that Doyle's reference to philosophy and history is simply another way of saying Tradition, that illusive and variable source of doctrine that Catholics consider to be on a par with Scripture and the Teaching Authority of the Church.

95. It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. -- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

The Roman Catholic Church, and her apologists, surely do like to call on what it calls Sacred Tradition. Rare indeed is the encyclical, bull, constitution or motu proprio that is not liberally salted with citations from and references to the writings of the Early Church Fathers (Tradition).

Did the Fathers all look to philosophy and history for doctrinal truth? Here's one example of the opinion of one of the Fathers on this matter:

I do not want you to depend on my authority, so as to think that you must believe something because it is said by me; you should rest your belief either on the canonical Scriptures, if you do not see how true something is, or on the truth made manifest to you interiorly, so that you may see clearly. -- Augustine (354-430): Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, Saint Augustine Letters, 147. Augustine to the noble lady Paulina, greeting, Chapter 2 (Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953), p. 171.

Another of the Fathers had similar thoughts:

Sacred Scripture, though, whenever it wants to teach us something like this, gives its own interpretation, and doesn't let the listener go astray. . . . So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm of Sacred Scripture. -- Chrysostom (349-407): Fathers of the Church, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, 13.13 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 175.

In the above quotations, both Augustine and Chrysostom point to the authority of Scripture in doctrinal matters. Despite what it may say in the Catechism, The Roman Catholic Church does not have such a high view of Scripture. In fact, as the Catechism clearly states, God-inspired Scripture is but one element of the triune source of Catholic doctrine. The other elements, Tradition and the Teaching Authority of the RCC, are man-inspired. When I write as apologist – or polemicist – my purpose is to show how the man-centered sources of Catholic doctrine have and are shouldering aside the God-centered source.

It is true that I sometimes do write or speak as an apologist. However, at least in so far as the Doctrine and practices of the Roman Catholic Church are concerned, I consider myself better described as a polemist.

polemist: one skilled in or given to polemics especially as the advocate of a partisan cause . . .Bottom of Form - "polemist." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. © Merriam-Webster, 2002.

What is polemics?

polemic    noun 1 a : a controversial discussion or argument : an aggressive attack on or the refutation of the opinions or principles of another . . .
b : the art or practice of disputation or controversy . . . -- usually used in plural but usually sing. in constr. . .
2 : one that controverts an opinion, doctrine, or system : an aggressive controversialist . . .
3 polemics plural but singular in construction : the branch of Christian theology devoted to the refutation of errors

When I examine Roman Catholic doctrine or practice, I do so as a polemist – a person who aggressively attacks, controverts and refutes the errors of heretical religious systems.

If the intention is to demonstrate that a particular teaching is heretical and cannot in any way be found to conform to biblical authority, what godly purpose would be served to dress it up in party clothes? Would God be served were I to so water down my arguments with politically correct generalizations and sweet words that the content would be lost in euphemisms? I find no instruction in Scripture telling me to carefully choose my words in order that those of whom and to whom I am speaking might not be offended. Quite the contrary, in fact.

What I provide, as the Lord grants me light, are close looks at the inconsistencies and heresies that are so much a part of Roman Catholic theology. In doing this, I do not state my opinion and rest my case, as it seems just about all Romish apologists are wont to do. What I do is draw from RCC documents, the writings of Catholic theologians, church historians and others in preparing my case against a particular Catholic doctrine or practice. To flesh out my argument, I may draw upon the writings of Christian researchers and theologians and even secular writers. In all cases, I am careful to identify my sources so that the serious reader might go to them and read in context what I have cited. When I declare that a Roman Catholic dogma that is to be believed by all Roman Catholics de fide definita cannot be supported from Scripture and is, in fact, quite contrary to Scripture, I am not forcing anyone to accept anything. What I am doing, quite simply, is stating fact. A fact is just that, a fact. A fact of itself has neither positive nor negative connotation. It simply is. Period.

For example, one dogma of the Roman Catholic Church is that:

Adam's sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation, but by propagation (or descent). -- Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th Ed., Tan Books:Rockford (1960), p. 109f

That this indeed is a dogma of the RCC, defined by the Council of Trent in the Decree on Original Sin (1546), can be verified by reading Denzinger 789-91. (BTW, I use the 30th Edition of Denzinger -- the last edition not corrupted by the addition of material that is neither authoritative nor universal)

I have no trouble at all with this dogma of the RCC, for it indeed can be supported from Scripture:

Romans 5:12, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned

1 Corinthians 15:21-22, "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

When I direct my readers' attention to the inclusive modifier "all," I am asking people to read what God's Holy Scriptures say. And, so far as I have gone, there is no reason why even the most devout Roman Catholic should object to reading Scripture that his own cult leadership cites in support of this dogma. All I have done thus far is accurately quote a Roman Catholic dogma, providing sources, and two passages from Scripture. Just facts. However, everything changes, it would appear, when I cite another dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that all Catholics must assent to de fide definita:

Mary was conceived without stain of original sin. -- Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th Ed., Tan Books (1960), p. 199); Pius IX, bull Ineffabilis Deus, (1854); Denzinger 1641

When I point out that this Marian dogma cannot be supported from Scripture, something even respected Roman Catholic theologians admit, I am uncovering a Catholic heresy, but I am not forcing anyone to accept what I write.. "The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not explicitly revealed in Scripture..." -- Ludwig Ott, Op. cit., p. 200

So what do we have now? We have one RCC dogma that tells us Adam's sin is transmitted to his posterity by descent, calling upon two passages of Scripture that clearly tell us that all men have inherited that sin and its consequence, which is spiritual death.

And then we have another Catholic dogma, of equal weight with the first, that tells us that not all Adam's posterity -- specifically the vessel used by God to incarnate Messiah -- bore the stain of Adam's sin. When I point out that the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception not only conflicts with Sacred Scripture but also Roman Catholic dogma, I am doing nothing the Apostle Paul would not have done:

Simply put, the apostle addressed Doctrinal Deviation head-on. Paul didn't mince words. He refused to back down from controversy. He also was not afraid to call names and be specific with the nature of error. Throughout his letters he made it clear that the way to silence error was to teach doctrine and to instruct. By the power of the Holy Spirit and sound words, Paul felt the mind had to be changed by the input of new spiritual truth.

-- Mal Couch, The Doctrines That Cannot Be Compromised, Tyndale Theological Seminary (1996)

After pointing out the heretical nature of some RCC dogma to the Catholic faithful, I usually close an article by referring my readers to the Sacred Scriptures. If God's Word is not sufficient guide for the reader, then I suggest he is submitted to his flesh and not to God.

Those who know me even a little know that I rarely 'evangelize' online. I do not consider the Web to be a tool that I personally am able to use to that end. When I share the Gospel, I do it eyeball-to-eyeball. I am not saying this is the only way to share the Gospel, or even the best way. All I am saying is that I prefer to open the Gospel to someone in a situation where I am able to observe his reaction and respond to his doubts and questions at once. This is what works for me. Something else may work better for others.

On the other hand, I believe the Web is the ideal medium for doing what I do: laying bare the many heresies and blasphemies that make up the dogma and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. By having time to research and write, I am able to present an accurate document, complete with source citations so that readers might verify my claims. For those who do not wish to know the truth, I imagine some of my postings can be very bitter pills indeed. That is not my problem, but theirs.

I have encountered a number of people who seem to prefer a kinder and more gentle way, as compared to my approach. Let's take a moment to examine their favored way in a realistic setting.

Is it indeed kinder to stand by idly, knowing that someone is bound to a false doctrine? Is it gentler to permit someone to hold heretical or blasphemous beliefs in order not to injure their sensitivities? Is it godly behavior to see someone walking the path that leads straight to Gehenna and do nothing? I think not. In fact, I think it the cruelest of acts toward the lost -- to stand back and watch them drowning in the muck of false doctrine without doing anything to help them cast off the ballast that is dragging them under.

It has been said of one of the popular "conservative" evangelical writers in the area of spiritual warfare that reading his books is like eating steak laced with arsenic. The steak tasted great and makes up the major portion, but the arsenic, imbedded throughout, will kill you. I can't think of a better analogy of what is going on in evangelicalism today. "Speaking the truth in love" is no longer "popular" or "politically correct" so many in the evangelical world have lost their taste for it. Thus, one of Satan's most effective weapons against Christ's Church is tearing away at the very core of Biblical Christianity. That weapon being, teach a lot of truth and mix in a little bit of error. Once we have developed a taste for error the dosage can and will be elevated!

One of the problems is that we have bought the lie that to confront error is not showing love. We have redefined love! In the context of Scripture it is not the one who allows his brother to continue in sin and error who is showing love but the one who confronts is showing love (Matt. 18:15). Love and truth can no more be separated than can God, who is Love and Truth by His very nature! -- Mal Couch, Op. cit

Could Peter have been describing the Catholic Church when he wrote the following? He may well have been:

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.-- 2 Peter 2:1-3

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