A Thought on Defending the Faith

I’ve been reading through 1 Peter in my devotional time lately. This little letter in the New Testament grips me because it addresses the early church as it is beginning to encounter the full-on assault of a hostile culture. The Holy Spirit, through the pen of Peter, is answering the question – “How should we live as Christ-followers when it seems like all elements of society are opposed to us?” At the time he was writing, persecution was becoming a reality for the early church, starting with social marginalization. These first-century Christians were facing job loss, neighborhood shunning, and even violent attacks because of their claim that Jesus Christ is Lord and a lifestyle that matches the courage of their convictions. Sound familiar?

Right in the middle of that context I discovered a verse that I am guilty of taking out of context. In fact, if you’re a Christ-follower who grew up in the youth groups of the 1970’s and 1980’s you probably have heard or used the verse out of context, too: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). It is the “Apologetics” verse. Apologetics comes from the Greek work in that verse that we translate “defense.” Clearly the verse (really a part of a verse) is telling Christians that we have a duty to be able to give a verbal defense as to why we believe the things that we believe about Christ. During my crisis of faith in college, the Lord used books that were classified as apologetics books to help me really understand why I could trust the Bible and why the claims of Christ are true. I am grateful that in His providence and grace God directed me to such helpful material.

But when I read the bigger context of this call for apologetics, I get a bigger picture of what Peter is suggesting about defending the faith:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17 ESV) 

Do you see it? Peter is suggesting a posture that is far greater than just knowing facts about the reliability of the Bible or the different theories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter is saying this: Your conduct is your greatest apologetic. When you suffer as a consequence of your faith, earn a hearing for what you believe by how you behave. This is sobering!

Recently, James Emery White said “Old school apologetics are out. New school apologetics are in.” As one in the old school his words caused me tension. Yet I believe he’s right. Too many times I’ve been more concerned about winning the argument about Jesus than winning the person to Jesus. As we face more opposition by the norms of culture and the laws of our governments, Christ-followers will have more opportunities to show the difference that being a disciple of Jesus makes in our lives. It’s what an increasingly non-religious world needs to see before they will want to hear.

As Christianity becomes the minority culture in America we will have more opportunities to defend our beliefs. We will do so by faithful conduct in the midst of opposition that an unbelieving world will find unbelievable. Now that’s really old school!

 

 

When the Church Loses Her Zeal

The handsome Moldovan couple had been married for 52 years. Upon meeting them you wouldn’t know they had been persecuted for their faith. Despite being raised in then-communist Moldova, both Mikhail and Olga were raised in Christian homes and came to a personal relationship with Christ as children. As a young man serving in the Soviet army, Mikhail faced ridicule and beatings from his comrades because of his faith in Jesus while two of his brothers spent time in prison for their roles as pastors.

Olga’s English was excellent, and during my recent visit to Moldova I was able to talk with her about the old days before the Iron Curtain fell when the church was persecuted. Every day, she said, they lived with the prospect of the KGB coming and taking them away. Every day, she said, they would ask God to bring freedom to Moldova. Olga went on to tell me how excited they were when independence came to Moldova in 1991.

After twenty years of freedom, Olga said she still thanked God for delivering them. Nevertheless, she did say that freedom had one negative effect for the church. She struggled for a moment to find the right English word to express her thoughts, but then it came to her. She said, “we have lost our zeal.” Olga explained that when the church was persecuted they experienced the fire of the Holy Spirit constantly. They had to rely on God when social ostracism, prison, or even death were potential realities. Now, however, a real consequence of freedom was apathy in the church.

Olga’s story stuck with me. I was convicted because I don’t know that I have ever had the same kind of “zeal” as an American Christian that Olga missed in the Moldovan church. I’ve never had to live daily with the prospect of punishment or persecution because of my faith.

In Titus 2:14 we are told that Jesus Christ gave Himself to redeem us and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. The idea behind being “zealous” is to be eager or enthusiastic. As a disciple, being zealous to do good works is the only fitting response to the grace of God that saves. It shouldn’t take a totalitarian regime and an underground church to make us zealous. Zeal for Christ ought to be the normal mindset of the disciple.

Flying home, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean a question came to my mind. When, I wondered, did the church in America lose her zeal? But then I asked myself, did we ever really have it?

So, are you “zealous” for good works? Are you eager and enthusiastic to live out the life of a disciple? What would it take to drive you to depend daily on God’s grace? Pray for revival in the American church. Pray for a spiritual awakening that will restore that same zeal back to Olga’s church, too.

Read more about the NC Baptist partnership with Moldova.