Anyone who has been in the life of the church for any significant period of time probably knows of at least several Christian apologists who operate outside the confines of the church. I’m not here to give names, but these folks are often supported by para-church ministries. In other words, they are not held accountable by the elders of a local church body.
I recently saw a video clip in which James White rightly condemns these apologists for flying solo. Dr. White is indeed part of Alpha & Omega Ministries, but his organization is under the oversight of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church in which he himself is an elder. As he stated in the video, apologists get themselves into big trouble when they go off the reservation. Even something as simple as witnessing to unbelievers or handing out tracts shouldn’t be done unless that individual in question is part of a local church body in good standing.
I don’t write this to condemn para-church ministries outright, but simply to affirm that ecclesiology is important. God ordained the structure of the ekklesia for a reason. No matter how well-intentioned, practicing something as serious as apologetics outside of the government of elders and deacons will only lead to disaster. To be sure, I’m not talking about your day-to-day life in which you witness to people or share the Gospel with a neighbor.
Apologetics is a specific discipline in which the Christian offers a defense of the faith once delivered to the saints. All of us are required to be prepared to give an answer for what we believe, but serious apologetics goes beyond evangelism. Even with evangelism, that too requires church oversight. How we defend the faith and witness to others reflects upon the church as a whole. Oversight helps to protect the person engaging unbelievers as well as the witness of the church.
Finally, I recommend two brief articles on the para-church issue written our brother Darrell Fletcher from CRBC. Part 1 states the inherent problems associated with para-church ministries and Part 2 addresses problems as they specifically relate to defending a biblical ecclesiology. I hope my readers take all of this into consideration when trying to decide whether to support a particular ministry.