Today's lesson examines the smooth and fair speech of those who are seeking to lead the Lord's church into the apostasy of denominationalism. If you find this lesson to be informative and helpful, by all means forward to to others. Every member of the church needs to be forewarned.
SOPHISTS STILL WALK AMONG US
Among the ancient Greeks was a class of teachers and orators known as "Sophists." The first of their order was Protagoras of Abdura who flourished in the 5th century B.C. Their primary function was to instill worldly wisdom in the sons of the wealthy. Among their beliefs, they denied that man was capable of reaching objective truth. So for Sophists, the search for truth was never a high priority. Their interest was to persuade people to believe what they (the sophists) desired for them to believe. "They boasted of their ability to make the worse appear the better reason, to prove that black is white." To attain their end in arguments, they resorted to quibbling and by applying new or different definitions to words they used. "They sought to dazzle by means of strange or flowery metaphors, by unusual figures of speech, by epigrams and paradoxes, and in general by being clever and smart, rather than earnest and truthful." To win a dispute they would try to entangle, confuse or entrap their opponents with their specious arguments. The sophists were very successful at their profession. Great crowds received them with enthusiasm. (All the above quotes are from the International Encyclopedia of Philosophy, art. Sophists).
From the Sophists and their methods have come down to us a number of words. A "sophism" is an argument correct in form or appearance, but actually invalid "...especially one used to deceive." Sophisticate means "to alter deceptively...to make complicated or complex." "Sophistry" is deceptively subtle reasoning or argumentation" (Webster). It is "a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning."
Sophistry is widely used by American politicians, and lawyers. When politicians are faced with difficult or embarrassing questions, they "spin" it, providing a response but not squarely addressing the question asked. It is intended to avoid having to answer that would be to their disadvantage. The defense lawyer, tries to make the jury believe the evidence that convicts their client really does not do so. Some are able to make the victim look like the guilty party and their guilty client look like a victim of evil prosecutors.
While this information about Sophists and their sophistry is interesting, it is pertinent for this study only because in every generation there are false teachers in the church who resort to sophistry to make people think that error is truth and truth is error, that right is wrong and wrong is right. Isaiah encountered such teachers. Thus he warned, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil..." (Is. 5:20). Paul had to deal with similar men. He warn the Ephesians Christians, "Let no man deceive you with empty words" (Eph. 5:6). He warned of men who "by their smooth and fair speech ...beguile the hearts of the innocent" (Rom. 16:18). Peter foresaw a band of men who "with feigned words make merchandise of" Christ's people (II Pet. 2:3). Jude wrote of teachers whose mouths spoke "great swelling words" (Jude 16).
Today, sophists are busy trying to convince our brethren that it is unreasonable and unnecessary to try to conform to the Scriptures in all matters of our faith and worship. Consider the following sophisms:
- Paul says, "I suffer not a women to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (I Tim. 2:12). The sophist seeks to prove this really means that women have the right to be public teachers in the assembly with men present.
- Jesus says, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved..." (Mark. 16:16). The sophist says, but this really means we are saved by grace through faith, before and without water baptism. We are baptized to declare our salvation.
- The writer of Hebrews says that Christ is "the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:9). The sophist says, "to stress obedience in all things is legalism. We are to walk by faith and trust in his grace."
- Paul told Timothy to hold the pattern of sound words which had been given to him (II Tim. 1:13). The sophist says, "actually there is no pattern for us to hold. Our freedom in Christ means we are free to be creative in our faith and worship. A fixed pattern would force the 21st century church to follow a pattern frozen in time nearly 2,000 years ago."
- To the Ephesians Paul wrote that there is one body, just as there is one Lord and one God (Eph. 4:4-5). He also said the one body of which he wrote was Christ's church (Eph. 1:22). But the sophist says, "oh no, you misunderstand. There is one mystical body, but many different varieties of denominations that make up the whole."
- Paul instructed the Ephesians to sing and make melody in their hearts unto God (Eph.5:19). John warns us not to add to or take away from God's message (Rev. 22:18-19). Our sophists tell us, that really these words means to play the harp and sing. They reason that God actually has given us the freedom to sing, have a chorus, play an instrument, have a band or even interpretive dancers when we offer our praise to God.
- Other examples of sophism could be cited.
John Waddey, Editor
Christianity: Then and Now