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The Call to Hard Case Witnessing


The ancient Greek philosophers discovered that three elements were required to win someone to an intellectual position: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos means that those with whom we dialogue see us as ethical; we are believable, our motives are seen as pure. Pathos means we are seen as caring about the persons with whom we are discussing our differences; they perceive us as genuinely interested in their well being, not simply interested in winning an argument or gaining a convert. Logos means the proposition we are espousing is logical, factual and viable; we have truth on our side. When all three of these elements come together, people are most likely to believe what we are saying and accept our proposition.

Those who choose to engage in hard case witnessing must examine their motives. Any motive other than a sincere desire to see someone reconciled to God in Christ will be quickly recognized. Those who confront error out of anger or frustration are doomed to the further frustration of seeing their message obscured. Our arguments must, therefore, include both truth and love. We must "always be ready to give a defense "with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15). No matter how right our motives are, they will often be seen with suspicion. Obviously, those the devil holds captive will find us threatening, unloving and self-serving. Cultists, for example, tend to be paradoxically blind: When they proselytize Protestants and Catholics, they are exercising their religious liberty; but when we evangelicals approach them, we are attacking them. I'm always amazed that the Mormon Church, for example, feels persecuted when it is targeted by evangelicals. Yet Mormonism fields more than 60,000 full-time missionaries to approach Protestants and Catholics because Mormon scripture says "all other churches are wrong, all their creeds are abominable and all their professors are corrupt."

The most difficult opposition for the apologetic evangelist, however, comes not from those to whom he is sent by God to evangelize, but from other Christians. Remarkably, those who seek to win converts to Christ from secularism, occultism and the cults will often be resisted by fellow Christians! This troublesome opposition stems from three primary sources:


First, too many would-be confrontational evangelists have conducted themselves insensitively; they come on too strong and establish their points mainly through emotion, rather than logic.

Second, as I have stated, confrontation is inherently painful. Many people who want to avoid confrontation are threatened when they see witnessing activities they view as embarrassing and are fearful to emulate them.

Third, in our pluralistic society, many Christians assume a person's right to religious freedom means that he can never be challenged. We must not lose our Master's own perspective. Christianity is not one of several good ideas about God. Jesus Himself clearly declared He is the only way to God. He has called us to go into every nation and make disciples. As Christ's ambassadors, we must witness to Him in spite of the world's protests.

The Risk of Being Misunderstood

As we witness to hard cases, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are in a spiritual battle led by a sophisticated, tireless opponent. The devil opposes everything we do in an attempt to frustrate us and weary us, to defeat us in order to prevent us from accomplishing our goal of liberating those he has deceived.

We may not want to fight error, but those of us who are called to this battle must go. The apostle Jude said he preferred to write about the Christian's common salvation in Christ, but he "found it necessary" to challenge Christians to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." This he had to do because ungodly men had crept into the Church preaching heresy.

Walter Martin, the late apologist, exemplified a man who continued steadfast in his opposition to error. I knew Walter to be gentle and sensitive, listening patiently to individuals as a minister of Christ. But Walter was also able to mount compelling arguments with gusto because he knew men's souls were at stake. Once when Walter was on a TV talk show the host handed him a card, just as the cameras came on, that said, "Please don't mention Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses or Christian Science." Walter was shocked by the directive. Looking into the camera, he said, "I am an expert in Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Science. Presumably that is why I have been invited to be on this show. Now I have just been handed a card and asked not to mention those groups." Turning to the woman host he asked, "Why is that?"

She rose to the challenge by saying, "Because it's so negative. Jesus was never negative!"

Walter said, "Well, I disagree with you and if you'll give me two minutes I'll tell you why." Walter then recited excerpts from Jesus' continuing and blistering attacks on the Pharisees, calling them "whited sepulchers, serpents, graves covered over, children of hell, sons of the devil" and other equally distasteful epithets.

When he finished she said, "Well, could you at least smile when you say it?"

Walter said, "Sure." And, smiling widely, proceeded to go through the list again in its entirety. When he was through, they were both laughing and he had made the point that Jesus was relentless in the face of religious error.

Christians frequently feel uncomfortable in the presence of confrontive ministry. Once, after D. L. Moody preached a particularly fiery sermon, a listener—a Christian—came up to him and said, "Brother Moody, I don't like the way you get people to come to Christ." He objected to Moody's graphic portrayal of hell and the immediacy of the judgment.

"I don't much like it myself," Moody said. "How do you get people to come to Christ?"

"Well, I don't have a method."

"Then," said Moody, "I don't like mine less than I don't like yours!"

A special reluctance to accept hard case witnessing is evident in the Church today. Apologists often find themselves misunderstood. I can remember when my friend Ed Decker, founder of Saints Alive! and co-author (with Dave Hunt) of The God Makers, was canceled from a television show because the owner of the network said he did "not want to offend my Mormon viewers." This is an example of "foggy thinking." As noted seminary professor Howard Hendricks says, "A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew." I am fearful that we are not preparing Christians with adequate doctrinal foundations. If that is true, not only will they be unable to win their neighbors, they are in danger of falling to the devil's deception themselves.

Paul and Hard Cases

When I think of apologetic witnessing, I think immediately of the apostle Paul, doubtless the world's greatest evangelist. I think of his confronting the Epicurean nature worshipers and Stoic pantheists on Mars Hill in Athens. He quoted their own poets and directed the conversation to their foundational world view. Recognizing these men as secularists, he did not quote one verse from the Old Testament, but reasoned with them about the evidence for God from nature. He held his own so well with them that they were impressed enough to listen to him tell of Christ's redemption. It is true that "some mocked." But others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." A woman named Damaris, a philosopher named Dionysius and several others—in the midst of this spiritual warfare—believed Paul and accepted Christ (Acts 17:16—34).

Likewise, in Corinth, Paul went to the synagogue every Sabbath and reasoned with the Jews and Greeks. He was "constrained by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ." When they blasphemed he "shook his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean.' "Nevertheless, in the heat of those arguments, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was won to Christ and Paul established what would eventually become a great church (Acts 18:4—8).

In Ephesus Paul reasoned and persuaded in the synagogue for three months and reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years. He disrupted the whole city, burning witchcraft books in the center of town, and so disturbed the idolatry and trafficking in idols that the priests of the temple of Diana tried to have him prosecuted. A riot ensued and Paul barely escaped with his life (Acts 19:8—10, 19—40). In Ephesus, too, Paul established a mighty work for God.

Paul not only believed in confrontation, he exhorted others to it. His admonition to the young minister Timothy was:

"Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).

Paul said Christian leaders must hold "fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doc trine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).


The Biblical Mandate

Hard case witnessing has always required a reasonable declaration of the faith. More often than not, that reasoned statement is delivered in the face of a devilish philosophy. The Bible is replete with examples of hard case witnessing:


• Jesus demonstrated a tough, confrontational ministry, especially when encountering the religious errors of groups like the Pharisees. He warned us that in the last days false christs will come in His name to deceive many. Employing great signs and wonders, these false prophets will deceive even the elect if God doesn't bring the world to an end. (See Matthew 24:5, 24.)

• Peter condemned false teaching and false teachers emphatically, saying they, like "natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand.... They promise ... liberty," he said, but "they themselves are slaves." They "secretly bring in destructive heresies." (See 2 Peter 2:1, 12, 19.)

• John warned that an antichrist spirit was in the world, which would rise up from within the Church. False prophets would introduce a "spirit of error." (See 1 John 2:18—19; 4:1—6.)

• Jude said he was compelled to urge believers to contend for the faith because certain men had crept into the Church who served only themselves and attempted to take advantage of Christians. (See Jude 3—4, 12, 16.)

• And on the issue of false doctrine Paul warned repeatedly of the threat: "After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29—30). To the young minister Timothy, Paul said: Charge men that they should teach "no other" doctrine, because "the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." (See 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1.)


Winning hard cases is a difficult assignment. Rising to the challenge takes courage, but the reward of seeing a hard case come to Christ is immense, as is the relief of the one reached. As one woman exiting a cult said to me, "Pastor Spencer, when the scales fell off my eyes, I heard them hit the floor!"

Let's look more deeply at how we can help replace bondage with liberation.