By Dan King
Sometimes I fear that representatives of several of the religious groups around us are much better prepared to explain what they believe and why they believe it than many members of the church. We cannot depend upon lines like: “I am a member of the Church of Christ, and I believe every thing it does.” After all, the church of Christ has no creed but the Bible. Simplistic replies like that not only are insufficient, they are not true. Besides, members and congregations within the category “churches of Christ” believe all sorts of different things. We ought not to desire to be identified with many of the things which are believed and taught by some people in many of those churches.
So, that puts us back to “square one.” Slogans and generalizations will not suffice. But the truth is that they never have been acceptable. When the apostle Peter wrestled with the problem of Christians who were suffering though they stood for everything that was good and worthwhile in life (“even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake. .. “), he warned them to be prepared in advance. “But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ” (1 Pet. 3:14-16).
Such challenges to one’s faith, and even assaults upon one’s faith, are certain to come. The key to handling the situation well is to make mental preparation and adequate logical and scriptural preparation long before the challenges come. Know this for sure: people place no confidence in a halting or uncertain reply. They are looking for confidence and certainty. The world is filled already to the brim with people who have lots of questions but no explanations, only “possible alternatives” and “unproven theories.” They are looking for people with answers. And they are interested as much in the strength of your convictions as they are in the convictions themselves.
Peter tells us to have the foresight and anticipate the inevitable situations that will arise, before they manifest themselves. Such anticipation involves knowing two things beforehand: (1) What will the questions be?; and, (2) What are the answers to the questions? Now, unfortunately, this is very much like taking a test in school. You never know precisely what the questions will be, only the general information that will be covered in the test. Yet, if you are well practiced on the material which made up the presentations in class and the readings which were to attend them, then you can pass the examination. The same goes for the challenge to your faith that Peter is here describing. You can pass the test, but you must be ready for it to pass it!
One version renders Peter’s exhortation this way, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” The word translated here as “defense” is the Greek word apologian, which means “an apology.” Apology, as used in this context, does not mean “saying you are sorry,” but rather a “formal defense” of what you believe. Peter was urging Christians to be ready to give a reasoned, intelligent explanation of their faith to anyone who might ask about what Christians believed and practiced. The apostle wanted those who made such defenses to be convincing. Once again, only an adequately prepared defense will be convincing to a listener. Knowledge and deep conviction breed confidence. And confidence is convincing, especially to those who are honestly searching for answers!
Peter also has somewhat to say about how we ought to formulate our reply to questions about our faith. We are to speak with “gentleness and reverence.” The word meaning “gentleness” or “meekness” is rendered “strength under control.” It is used to describe horses who are broken to the bit and bridle, and so are disciplined enough to be useful. The meaning is therefore that we are to bring our emotions, especially anger and malice, under complete control, so that they do not spoil the effectiveness of our presentation. Undoubtedly Peter would have been the first to admit that sometimes it is all we can do to maintain control when epithets and insults are being slung at us by people who are often ignorant and mean-spirited. But our own self-control and maintenance of composure is very much a part of the defense. Because our own behavior is part of our defense. Remember that we serve him who stood in almost complete silence as he was tried for crimes of which he was not guilty. We must never forget this.
“Reverence” or “fear” is also a part of one’s defense of the faith. We know that someday we must report to the Master about how this opportunity that was presented to us went. What will we say? “I wasn’t ready for that one!” “I had never thought about that before!” “That one sure took me off guard!” How do you think the Lord will react? Sounds like we might fail that test.
Are you “prepared to make your defense” of what you believe and stand for? No one can do it for you. Only real preparation can do it. Are you ready? If you are not, then plan to spend some time studying every day. Come to all the Bible classes. Offer to teach in the Bible class pro-gram. Look for opportunities to speak to your non-Christian relatives, neighbors, friends, and co-workers. Test your skills. Refine them by trial and error. Make of yourself a “defender of the faith”!
Guardian of Truth XLI: 6 p. 16-17
March 20, 1997