Posts tagged ‘apologetics’

May 30, 2012

The Three Simple Questions

Over the centuries Christians have made various attempts to explain to the world what they believe and why.  In this era it has become an entire industry – there’s a huge volume of books being written, speeches being given and ideas put online that set out the Christian faith to the world.  It’s called ‘apologetics’, and almost every Bible College has it as a subject.  The subject name is not because there is anything to be sorry for, it’s just the academic name for that field of theology.

If you go all the way back to bible times the first Christian apologist was the apostle Peter who had to explain what had happened on the day of Pentecost to the crowd that had gathered (Acts 2).  Stephen then follows in Acts 7, and Paul does the same thing on his missionary journeys.

After the bible was written one of the first apologists in church history was a man whose name we don’t know, but he wrote to his friend who was named Diognetus.  It was about the year 170 AD.  Both of them were obviously highly educated.  The document that this man wrote, the “letter to Diognetus”, is the first classic in Christian apologetics.

There were 3 issues that Diognetus had specifically asked his friend to address.  Firstly, Diognetus wanted to know what God the Christians worship since they reject both Greek gods and Judaism.  Secondly, Diognetus wanted to know about the “warm fraternal affection that Christians feel for each other”.  Thirdly, Diognetus wanted to know why Christianity had only arrived on the scene of history so recently.

More than 1800 years on the third concern doesn’t bother anyone that I have ever met.  The first concern is simply a desire to know the basics of Christian doctrine – it’s an evergreen concern of apologetics.  But just stop a moment and consider number 2 on that list.  He had to explain why the Christians loved each other so much.  He had been specifically asked to explain how it is that Christians have such strong bonds of love between them.

A church is surely doing something very, very, very right when those outside of it want to know why they so love one another.  Indeed this is the very thing that Jesus says will have power to win over those outside the church – “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

When I cast my mind forward to the present day I don’t think that this is a question that Christian apologists are getting asked much.  Right now everyone is excited about responding to the “New Atheists” led by biologist Richard Dawkins.  There is also no lack of books addressing the issue of suffering, even though the ancient world was much more acquainted with suffering than we are today.  I studied apologetics at Bible College and I’m sure that explaining Christian love was not in the syllabus.

In my time as a Christian and particularly as I have been involved in leadership at church I have often thought that getting people to attend Sunday services and other programs was the main goal.  But really all that counts for nothing – it is how loving we are towards each other that is the key.  Yes, God wants his church to grow.  But the verse quoted above shows how it will happen.  It’s not by better programming.  It is by helping Christians to grow in their love for one another.

When I attend church most Sundays often the first things on my mind are “was the music any good?”, and, “was the preaching any good?”  But what I need to be asking is did I share God’s love with those who I spent time with?  Was I warm to people?  Did I say things that helped people?  And if all of us can focus on those things week in, week out, year in, year out then we will be fielding questions from those who know us asking about the “warm fraternal affection that Christians feel for each other”.

I might live over 1800 years after Diognetus but I can still live in a way that causes people to ask his question number two.  May God help us to live in a way that we need a wave of new books explaining to this generation why Christians love each other.

John

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