By Larry Ray Hafley
Acts 18:24-26 reads thusly:
And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
We are not told directly of Apollos’ response. We are left to infer that he readily recognized the way of God (cf. Acts 17:11,12), as surely he did, else the brethren would not have written that he should be received (Acts 18:27; cf. 1 Cor. 3:5,6). Suppose, though, that Apollos was not convinced by Aquila and Priscilla. What then?
Obviously, further study, debate and argument would have been essential. Paul reasoned for three sabbath days upon one occasion (Acts 17:2,3). He debated for two years and three months in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). At another time, the Athenians said, “We will hear thee again of this matter” (Acts 17:32). Paul warned some of hardness of heart and encouraged others to “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:40-43). Protracted and extended controversy often is necessary. Frequently, “much disputing” must occur as brethren weigh and sift through issues of difference (Acts 15:2,7). There must be a period of sober, sincere study as men seek to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). If this is not done, some will wrest the Scriptures “unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16), and they that be led of them shall be destroyed.
Each situation, person and issue will have to be considered individually on its own merits. Longsuffering forbearance (not indulgence of iniquity) must guard our hearts and guide our actions. Ultimately, one must use his best judgment, discerning good and evil. What is a “teaching opportunity” to one may be “casting pearls” before swine” to another. Whether the issue is circumcision and law (Acts 15; Galatians) or marriage and love (1 Cor. 7), a “thus saith the Lord” must be obeyed, and those who oppose must be exposed.
This very scenario was enacted in the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centuries in the dispute over societies and the instrument that eventually led to the formation of the Christian Church denomination. David Lipscomb, Benjamin Franklin and others were criticized as church splitters and vilified as Pharisees, men full of the party spirit. The “antis” and the “non-progressives” were chided and derided for their narrow-minded, sectarian bigotry. Debates, lectures and volumes of literature spewed forth as a mighty torrent. In the end, the “spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” were made manifest (1 Jn. 4:1,6). The same thing has transpired in the past forty years institutionalism and related topics. It will do so again on these questions.
Back to Apollos. Those he baptized with the baptism of John would have to be taught (Acts 19:1-5). If Apollos had continued making disciples with the baptism of John while he deliberated the issue of baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, his converts would have been objects of study, explanation and instruction. Some of the principles of Romans 14 would not have applied. But some would have objected, “You are seeking to question brother Apollos’ sincerity, destroy his influence and undermine the unity of the saint.” Beware of making error a martyr and truth a murderer. Beware of apologizing for the source of error and thereby sympathizing for its effects. An Apollos must be loved, taught, reasoned with and prayed for, but the error he espouses must be disputed and confuted.
Finally, what if Apollos, after much prayer, study, meditation and reflection remains wedded and welded to the baptism of John? The years hasten by. Our zealous, intellectual, eloquent brother, mighty in the Scriptures, writes fervently and speaks forcefully for the “things of the Lord,” but persists in the baptism of John. Do we welcome him as a faithful brother? Do we endorse him and his teaching? Do we promote him, defend him and excuse his error while believing the truth on baptism in the name of Christ? If Apollos has a kind, charming manner, he will sway many, drawing away disciples after himself.
However, if we oppose his insidious, damnable heresy, we will be pictured and portrayed as (1) ungrateful for the good Apollos does accomplish; (2) partyistic, sectarian; (3) judgmental, harsh, severe; (4) like unto Diotrephes, desiring prominence for ourselves over Apollos; (5) jealous of Apollos’ talents, abilities and influence; (6) inconsistent, for accepting vegetarians (Rom. 14) and would have a Timothy circumcised (while opposing circumcision), but will not “fellowship brother Apollos”; (7) giving occasion for Hymanaeus and Philetus to blaspheme (2 Tim. 2:16-18), as they point out “your unbrotherly treatment” of our beloved brother Apollos. (Thus, they imply that our opposition to them is but a further reflection of our unloving, hateful disposition. Never mind their error. Since we are so mean in dealing with Apollos, that must be why we oppose them, too.); (8) being more interested in destroying Apollos than in saving him. This ignores the years of study and debate that have occurred. It also impugns motives and borders on 44evil surmising” (1 Tim. 6:4).
These criticisms may be reversed, turned against the critics. Are the critics being ungrateful, partyistic, judgmental, like Diotrephes, jealous, inconsistent and unloving when they so criticize?
What is the result of all this? Truth is obscured. Souls are blinded. Error is allowed to increase “unto more ungodliness,” eating as doth a cancerous gangrene. What is the remedy? Preach the word. Speak the truth in love in love for Christ, in love for truth, in love for the souls of men.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 19, pp. 579-580
October 5, 1989