Is apologetics a requirement for every church? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
This morning, I went out to the mailbox and found inside a note that was hand-written, but also looks like it was copied for everyone on my street. I first thought it was one of the neighbors but then opened it up and found something different. I am going to exclude names for personal safety of people involved, but I would like you all to know what it said. I will start by saying at the top in a larger print was the word “Revival.”
It starts on the upper left with saying “Please come and bring your lost loved ones so they may be saved at”, and then on the upper right next to “Revival” says “Time may be shorter than you think to get them saved before its too late.” (Yeah. I know the grammar is bad there. Don’t shoot the messenger my Grammar Nazi reading friends.) Going back to what was on the left, it reads as follows:
“at XYZ church starting on day A at time B nightly. Rev. C and D will be doing the preaching. The church is located at E, pastor F. Everyone is cordially invited and welcomed to an old-fashioned, country revival. We are just a small church, common people, saved by grace, trying to get the lost in and around the community saved.”
I thought about this while thinking about a post I wrote earlier on Why Apologetics Should Be A Requirement For Every Pastor I had planned to write today about apologetics for laymen, but this message I got in the mail is the perfect opening to why every church should have some apologetics in it.
I won’t deny that I highly admire the zeal of this church. I have no doubt these are good people who really are doing what they think is best. The fact that this was being hand-delivered rather than using the mail made me think a coordinated effort had been planned to reach the community, to which the community I live in is indeed a very small one. It would not be too hard to do, but it was still work.
Yet as I looked, the first big problem I had with what I saw was that it was assuming I was a Christian at the start. Fortunately, I am, but what if I had not been? I am quite skeptical in a community with a deep respect for religion like the one I live in, that there are people here who have honestly never heard the gospel. Now I realize that it is possible, but color me skeptical of it. The ones who have not heard it are those who disbelieve in it and I thought “If I was one of those people, what would I think of this message?”
Rightly or wrongly, I was sure I would think “Just a bunch of religious fundamentalists.” It would have been dismissed with a thought on how religion is the opiate of the masses and hopefully these people will pick up a book on science one day.
My second problem was with the emphasis on getting people saved. Now some of you are saying “But didn’t Paul have the same emphasis?” Yes he did. He was also a teacher who was writing regularly to churches making sure they were staying in line and setting up people who could teach the church after he was gone as well as having those who worked with him regularly go to churches and see how they were doing. Paul realized that he could not be everywhere and wanted to make sure a church had effective leadership when he left.
In our culture, we don’t do that. We place a big emphasis on conversion. I have shocked a number of Christians by telling them I have no interest in making converts. I don’t. The Bible never once tells me to go out and make converts. In the Great Commission, I am told to go forward and to make disciples. With what we do, it would be akin to Adam and Eve being told that since they were to go forth and multiply, that that means to have a kid, leave it there, and then go on their way to making the next one.
We do all that we can to get someone to the altar and then once the altar is passed, the work is done. We have won the battle! Let’s go on our way! At this point, I don’t care if you’re a Calvinist or an Arminian. Let’s consider that this person gets no training and then later on encounters those who are opposed to Christianity and then abandons their faith. If you’re a Calvinist, you would say it was not a real faith that they had to begin with. If you’re an Arminian, you’re going to say that they lost their salvation.
Either camp excludes you from the faith.
Getting them to the point of recognizing Jesus as Lord is important, but then we need to emphasize what it means to recognize Jesus as Lord. It is not just a simple proposition, but one that colors all of life. Imagine, for instance, how your life would be different if you believed that washing in water spread disease rather than removing germs. Your life would be drastically altered, and frankly so would the lives of everyone who had to be around you. Imagine still how much greater it would be if you thought all water was poisonous. At least those around you would not have to put up with the smell for too long!
Now take the proposition that Jesus is the Lord of all the universe. Surely it should affect your worldview even more than those beliefs! Here in America, we are about to have an election. Imagine how different this election might be if we realized that in some bizarre way, after the election, God would take our elected president and install him on His right hand to rule the cosmos. Frankly, as conservative as I am, I still would not like that prospect. The right hand of God already has Jesus sitting there. Let’s keep it that way.
If the scenario was the case, we would think even more about who we’re electing. This person is the ruler of the universe then. Do we want to make sure we know who that is? Do we want to make sure of what it means to have this person ruling over us? Many of us today will pay more attention to researching the candidates we are going to vote for to lead us for the next four years instead of studying who the person is who we claim is our Lord to lead us for the rest of our lives, even lives after death.
Once a person recognizes Jesus as Lord, we need to have them involved in learning what all that means for their daily life. What does it mean to say Jesus is Lord when the bills start pouring in and you don’t know how you’ll pay for them? What does it mean to say Jesus is Lord when you make your wedding vows to the person you love? What does it mean when you have a new child being born? What does it mean when you lose your job? What does it mean with how you budget the family income? Everything is touched by this first proposition.
It’s bad enough that most Christians don’t really know what they believe and why it matters, but they have even less knowledge usually of why they believe. This includes pastors. There are too many pastors out there who have no business being pastors because they have no clue why they believe.
I recently met one at a local concert going on here at a small baseball park, an outdoor one I used to play T-ball at. It was a simple event with a Christian group singing and food being given out. I was asking to find the pastor. Eventually, I found him and asked what the church was doing with apologetics and heard “Nothing now.”
“Well we’re just preaching the Word of God.”
“And how do you defend that Word of God when it comes under attack?”
“It’s the Word of God. It can’t be refuted!”
“Muslims tell me the same thing about the Koran.”
“Well the difference is we serve a living God and they serve a dead one.”
“They say the same about you.”
“Well we’re right and they’re wrong.”
“They say the same about you.”
“Well I guess we’ll just see in the end who’s right and who’s wrong.”
At this point, I said something about the blind leading the blind and walked off.
This is a pastor who doesn’t know why he believes what he believes, but he wants everyone else to believe it. We would not tell someone to vote for a political candidate without having a reason. We would not tell them a TV show they should watch without having a reason. We would not tell them about a place that they should invest their money in without having a reason. We would not tell them about how to raise their children without having a reason. We would not tell them to marry or not marry someone without having a reason.
Yet we expect to do that with what we claim is the most important decision of all?
Now some of you will say that what you feel and experience is the reason. To which, I ask why aren’t you Mormon? They all claim to have an experience and a feeling, yet there are several who will say they know Jesus is real because they feel Him in their hearts, but will think the Mormon claims are obviously false and don’t buy into the burning in the bosom. With this, it is just special pleading. Why should your case automatically be the right one?
I wonder how many like this will talk about how foolish they think Muslims are for so blindly being willing to fly a plane into a tower and thinking how people will believe such bizarre things without stopping to realize that in many ways, we believe even more bizarre things. We are the faith that says the second person of the triune God took on the nature of humanity, died on a cross for the sins of the world, and then rose again.
What the church needs is to know what they believe and why they believe it and the presentation of “Just give them the gospel” doesn’t work the way it used to. People are no longer in a position where they already believe many things Christians believe and just need a little information about the claims. If anything, most people are in a position where they are opposed to the Christian faith even if they don’t realize it.
How about if the flier I got in the mail instead said something like this?
Come to church X tonight led by pastor Y to hear speaker Z who is going to be giving a talk on the historical case to demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead. He will then be taking questions from the audience. Bring your skeptical friends to hear a presentation that is sure to give them something to think about.
I suspect that this would have much more interest as people generally do like to see something that is controversial and could think “I’ve never heard such a claim before. This is really intriguing. I need to go check it out.”
Consider another one.
“Come to church X tonight led by pastor Y to hear speaker Z on why marriage should be between a man and a woman. After making the case, Z will be taking questions from the audience. Bring those who are for and those who are opposed and come to hear an interesting presentation.”
In our day and age, this could be something that would attract even more people as this is really water cooler talk. The church needs to be talking about the issues that people are talking about.
Now some of you might think you won’t get as many numbers if you go that way. Possibly, but so what? Numbers are not everything. We have often turned churches into number games where you will have thousands of people in a church, but none of them know what they’re doing there. Instead, they are simply being sheep led to the slaughter. If you’re a shepherd and you have no means of defending your flock, it is actually worse for you to have a larger one. That is a flock where the wolves have even more targets they can go to.
When churches that have no defense face trouble, two things usually happen to the members. The first is that members can apostasize. Often, these apostate Christians are the hardest to talk to as they have a large chip on their shoulders that tells them that the Christian faith lied to them and they will not be duped again. The second that can happen is that the Christians will respond to intimidation by isolating themselves from the world. They’ll be very good at giving emotional assurance to themselves, but they will split themselves off intellectually from the world and will cease to be salt and light.
Only on the rarest of occasions will they actually seek to study their faith and learn how to defend it.
Here’s my suggestion.
First, every church needs apologetics. This does not mean that it has to be specifically mentioned, though I would have no problem with it, but it does mean that it needs to be brought up. The pastor in the midst of this sermon can give a historical background to a text and explain how we know some of what is said and even mention a book on the topic that someone can read if they want more information.
Second, the pastor should never ever discourage the life of the mind. The pastor needs to be clear that there is to be no separation between the Christian life and the intellectual life. What we feel and what we experience should work in tandem with what we think. The pastor should never reach a point where he says we have investigated a biblical claim enough or that we should not read such and such an author or that we should just ignore intellectual problems.
Third, the pastor should set up groups as well for those who are more interested. Not everyone in the church will have total interest in apologetics, but some will, some even more than the pastor. That’s fine. What he needs then is to set up a small group of some sort where these people can come together and learn and he should let everyone in the church know about this group. We have groups on learning how to budget your money, how to have a good marriage, how to raise your children, how to make a quilt, etc. We don’t usually have groups on understanding what you believe, why you believe it, and how to defend it, and this from an institution that claims to make an emphasis on belief.
Fourth, the pastor should have a well-stocked library for the church to use including books on apologetics and the church needs to know about this library. I can go to many church libraries that unfortunately I have to search high and low to find even one book on the topic of apologetics. I can find several good country novels or find the Left Behind series or books on dealing with your feelings and such, but to find a book that actually tells Christians about what they claim is the most important truth of all? Forget it.
Fifth, the pastor needs to be able to show the kind of lifestyle the church should have. The pastor should be a reading pastor seeking to study. The pastor should show in his sermons that he has done his homework and refer to experts and such that agree with him. The pastor should show involvement with the world around him and talk about the issues that are being talked about by his congregation and by the world at large.
Not everyone will be thrilled. That’s okay. We’re not out to please people but to please God by spreading His kingdom. Not everyone is ready for advanced material. That’s fine, but we need to get them started somewhere at least and the aware pastor will know all levels in his congregation and will include something for everyone. The pastor might not have as large a congregation, but he will have an effective one, and it will be better to have a dozen who know what they’re talking about and why than 1,000 who don’t.
A dozen is better? What can be done with such a small amount?
Perhaps we should ask Jesus. He spent three years training such a group and changed the world through them. Why can’t we train our Christians and change the world today?