It has been said that there are no new heresies. In light of that, apologists have a wealth of scholarship to draw upon in the works of the apostolic fathers. One such early leader, Polycarp, died for his faith when he refused to treat the emperor as a god. It is interesting to note that Christians were called atheists by the Romans because they denied their pantheon of gods. Polycarp was martyred February 22, 156 when he would not renounce Christ. Here is an excerpt from the very oldest of Christian martyrdom accounts, The Martyrdom of Polycarp:
‘Swear by the genius of Caesar; change your mind; say, “Away with the atheists!” ’ Then Polycarp looked with a stern countenance on the multitude of lawless heathen gathered in the stadium, and waved his hands at them, and looked up to heaven with a groan, and said, ‘Away with the atheists.’ The Proconsul continued insisting and saying, ‘Swear, and I release you; curse Christ.’ And Polycarp said, ‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’
In my study this week, I was researching the arguments concerning John’s epistles 1, 2, and 3 John. One of the supporting arguments for the Johannine authorship of 1 John is that it was quoted very early in second century by his disciple Polycarp. Polycarp was an inspired apologist who fought vigorously against heretics. He quotes 1 John 4:2-3 in reference to the Antichrist and false teachers. When it came to refuting heresy, neither John nor Polycarp minced words or bothered with pleasantries.
As I read Polycarp, it occurred to me that these words certainly travel across the many years and cultural conditions and can still find application today. I teach a Sunday school class of single adults. A year or so ago a visitor told me that, “Not everyone believes in atonement theology.” I replied with something along the lines of, “I don’t see how anyone can call themselves a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word without believing in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.” A week or so later I saw him carrying a book by the Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, Jesus For the Non Religious.
It is without a doubt that my visitor’s aberrant “non-atonement theology” was fueled by Spong’s book. Unfortunately, I think Spong convinced him. He no longer attends our church. I believe Spong is a prime example of the sorts of teachers that John was warning the first century church of. Notice the denial of classic Christian doctrines set out in the preface of his book,
The second stream flowing through both my professional life and my writing career was the recognition that the expanding knowledge of my secular world had increasingly rendered the traditional theological formulations expressed in such core Christian doctrines as the incarnation, the atonement and even the trinity inoperative at worst, and incapable of making much sense to the ears of twenty-first-century people at best.
The incarnation, atonement, and trinity are not exactly negotiable doctrines. Under the classical definition, without them, the word “Christian” is unintelligible. But he errs in that this skepticism is not a product of the twenty-first century. It’s nothing new; I think Paul addressed it especially well in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25. While there are many sound refutations of Spong’s work available online, I thought I would put Spong up against Polycarp, who warned the church in Philippi concerning the spirit of antichrist and false teachers.
The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians
7. For everyone “who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist”; and whoever does not acknowledge the testimony of the cross “is of the devil”; and whoever twists the sayings of the Lord to suit his own sinful desires and claims that there is neither resurrection nor judgment—well, that person is the first-born of Satan. Therefore let us leave behind the worthless speculation of the crowd and their false teachings, and let us return to the word delivered to us from the beginning; let us be self-controlled with respect to prayer and persevere in fasting, earnestly asking the all-seeing God “to lead us not into temptation,” because, as the Lord said, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Polycarp, Phil. 7) 
Polycarp presented three criteria based on three essential Christian doctrines: 1) The Incarnation 2) The Cross 3) The Resurrection. He first quotes 1 John “For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist” (1 John 4:2–3). This refers to the incarnation, the doctrine that God incarnated into human flesh, Jesus Christ (Phil 2:6-8). While Spong previously expressed his incredulity in the preface, he makes his position on this doctrine crystal clear later in the book:
Therefore, when I say that God was in Christ or when I assert that I meet God in the person of Jesus, I mean something quite different from the theological definitions of the past that forged doctrines like the incarnation and the trinity, both of which depend on a theistic definition of God. So in order to get to the essence of who Jesus was and even who Jesus is, I must get beyond the traditional theistic definition of God that I now regard as both simplistic and naïve, to say nothing of being wrong.
Thus, he has qualified himself by Polycarp’s first criterion. Polycarp’s second qualification is, “Whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil;” Spong writes:
This means that anyone seeking to discover the meaning of Jesus today must be prepared to acknowledge that this story of the crucifixion is not history. While Jesus was undoubtedly crucified by the Romans, the familiar details that accompany the story of the cross are not literally true and did not actually happen. 
Thus, he denies the testimony of the cross meeting criterion two. Polycarp’s third warning was, “and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the first-born of Satan.” According to Spong,
The resurrection language of the gospels is literal nonsense. Earthquakes do not announce earthly vents. Angels do not invade time, space and history to roll back a stone, to make a historic resurrection announcement. A resuscitated Jesus does not walk out of his tomb in some physical form that can eat, drink, walk, talk, teach and expound on scriptures. 
Thus, we see Bishop Spong abundantly meeting all three of Polycarp’s criteria. Making Spong, in Polycarp’s words, the antichirst, of the devil, and first born of Satan. I suppose Spong can be grateful that modern apologists are not usually so blunt… 😉 In closing, I will defer to Jude: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ” (Jud 3–4)
James Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337 (London: SPCK, 1987), 25.
 John Shelby Spong, Jesus For the Non Religious,(New York: Harper Collins, 2007), ix.
Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers : Greek Texts and English Translations, Updated ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999), 213.
 Spong, Jesus, 214.
 Spong, Jesus, 112.
 Spong, Jesus, 122.