Are you a believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Do you accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God and your manuscript to live by?
If so, some who would attack your faith suggest that you are committed to a book of contradictions. They, for instance, would note that Genesis 1 places the creation of animals before God making Adam. However, Genesis 2:19 suggests that God created the animals after Adams and then presented the animals to Adam for naming. How is it that God Almighty was seen (Genesis 17:1), while no man has seen God and lived (Exodus 33:20)? Jesus’ empty tomb is the centerpiece of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:14). But on this most important topic, one writer noted “Mary and the other Mary” discovered the vacated burial place (Matthew 28:1), while another writer noted that only Mary [Magdalene] found the empty tomb (John 20:1). And in John 20:2, even Simon Peter is mentioned.
Questions regarding heaven and hell, slavery, war, suffering, evil, and numerous others are the source of great discomfort to far too many Christians who, rather than boldly proclaim Jesus Christ, run for cover at the knock at the door by men wearing back packs. Christians who shy away in silence when a public discussion about the Bible emerges from the lip of those hostile to it. Not exactly the reactions the Lord would want given his Word is living water to our souls.
Why the discomfort?
I would argue that the source is connected with greenbacks. Dead Presidents. That’s right, money.
Having worked in various capacities in churches, I have come to the conclusion that many invest in the wrong things. And often, these investments are made for the wrong reasons and do little more than advance the ego of religious leaders.
Not Kingdom values..
I’ve heard clergy boast about the size of the congregational membership where they serve. The location of their facility on some expensive property or along a prominent freeway. I’ve sat among leaders who brag about the money the church raises on Sunday. The pastor’s anniversary gift is a common focus of bragging rights and competion. And let a new construction project begin. That is a real prideful chest-sweller.
And it does not help that mainstream media promotes this. Elevates this kind of prosperity pastor as the “model” for Christian ministry — despite the fact that, unlike entrepreneurs who risk their own capital, large church projects are financed by others i.e., church members. Political leaders pay homage to this. And the people celebrate this. After all, we do love our charismatic, flamboyant types — particularly those who preach the prosperity “get rich for God” message. Not all pastors engage in this. But, quite frankly, far too many do. Ironically, the pastors who are deeply concerned about community and people and who approach the ministry in a most humble way are frequently the nice guys who the people reject.
All while communities are going to hell in a hand basket. Young men are withering away on the corners. Neighborhoods are turning into little war zones. And a complete breakdown of godly values is giving way to a “new normal”.
But we can turnaround what is happening…
With some basic decisions that clergy can make, we can return the church to the leadership that used Scriptures to argue for ending slavery, dismantling South African Apartheid, prison reform, civil rights, women’s suffrage, a more humane treatment of orphans and elderly, etc.
How about this idea…
Rather than spend that next $5 million on a bigger barn (i.e., edifice) that serves the ego and enables larger financial collections, why not advance the Kingdom by truly investing in people. One place to start is investing in Apologetics Institutes. Yes, faith-based educational institutions that teach church members to effectively present, discuss, debate, establish, and defend the faith in the most challenging environments, including among non-believers and atheists, and during exchanges on some of the most challenging topics.
On the subject, the Bible says:
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. [1 Peter 3:15]
Apologetics Institutes train armies of believers, who will not run from tough questions, but run to them; particularly where the opportunity to save souls is made available. Christians must be equipped to address Scriptural questions on topics such as slavery, war, homosexuality, abortion, creation, Oprah Winfrey-ism (i.e., I believe God is in all things), etc. Apologetics Institutes are not “know-it-all” centers. But they are development programs that prepare people to help remove some of the difficulties that hinder their acceptance of God’s plan for man.
Why this investment…
There are myriad reasons why investing in apologetics is good for local congregations.
1. Fire and foremost, it is our calling. I’ve not seen a chandelier deliver anyone from the pit of hell in their lives to the love of Jesus Christ. I’ve yet to see a broken heart comforted with a gold-plated chair in a pulpit or crystals arrayed around a communion table. Consider this,
“What if there are people going to hell right now, who if given some quality time to wrestle with questions, would have come to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Is there no amount of church resources worthy to prevent this from happening where possible?”
Despite the opulence so pervasive in today’s Christendom, the Apostle Paul’s words are still true. People bring people to Christ – not things:
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?
and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
and how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written,
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,
and bring glad tidings of good things!
Romans 10: 13-15
Recently, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to privately debate with several atheists. Each time, I began with this question, “If I address your seeming contradictions, will you give serious thought and prayer to accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?” And what I’ve come to find out is this. Atheists have limited capacity to seriously debate their beliefs. What atheists present as supposed Biblical “contradictions” are nothing more than scripts obtained from other atheists, most often not very well researched from a Biblical perspective. And while attempting to fire-off questions, atheists typically have little patience for a serious Biblical response that takes them off script. Further, there are inconvenient facts that really leave atheists in a tizzy![pullquote align=”right” textalign=”right” width=”30%”]And to be clear, to believe God does not exist (strong atheism or gnostic atheism) or that we cannot know him (weak atheism or agnostic atheism) is a belief that God does not exist.[/pullquote]
Christians need not run from atheists or other faiths. It matters not their degrees. The answers are in the Scriptures and we can begin our search for what appears to be challenging questions, knowing that God is who he says he is. Sadly, atheists often have little time and patience for well-thought out responses to their questions. And one must be prepared for personal attacks and mockery of God that seek to anger us. Ultimately, apologetics gives us the tools to have these conversations with the spirit of love and longsuffering for our brothers and sisters whose lives are hanging in the balance.
2. Spiritual grounding for new converts. The circumstances under which the Spirit works on people’s hearts to accept Christ as a numerous as the blades of grass that cover the earth. A funeral service that reveals the urgency of our lives and appointment with our own mortality. A natural or man-made disaster where God’s hand of protection can no longer be denied. A newborn baby whose cry to mother and father leaves parents crying out to the God of Heaven to make them better people in order to raise the baby in the right way. Pastor Norman Storm of Cincinnati, Ohio — then an atheist — talks about his death and going to hell only to encounter the Lord who granted him another chance in life to accept the gift of salvation. Recently, a fraternity brother confided with me that his call came while smoking marijuana and in his “high” state, God directed him to a church for prayer and help!
The personal histories are amazing. And yet, the period following the encounter with our Lord can be as fragile as a newborn bird’s early days when the mother’s feeding predates her young’s ability to use their own wings. New converts risk ridicule from family members who have not accepted Christ. Friends and associates, some of whom are in the lifestyles the new convert seeks to leave. New converts might wrestle with the internal tensions of ill-feelings about the very institutions for which they are now a part of as a new member.
3 “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow;
4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.
5 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil;
and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.
6 And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
8 Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased,
they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
9 And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Mark 4: 3-9
These are times in which the enemy even works to confound the new convert by presenting alternative doctrines that challenge the under-developed knowledge one might have of Christianity. In many respects, new converts become part of the “numbers”, especially in mega-churches. Whereas, these individuals should rather be protected in the same way that society protects its most vulnerable. Intense grounding in apologetics is a healthy diet for new converts whose appetite for learning is most often at its highest. Ironically, churches typically fail to see this and approach new member training as a regimented course in antiquated and abstract instructional methods that turn the fresh logos of God into college seminar on quantum physics.
Confession. Several years ago, a pastor asked me to lead a New Members class at a church where I served. I agreed to do so with one condition; that I write the curriculum. The idea did not go over well. We both walked away from the idea of me teaching the class. And that was that.
Why a customized curriculum? Because after decades of being in the church, it dawned on me that much of what we use as curriculum guides is boring. Not particularly connected with our daily lives. Little to do with our local communities or contemporary issues. And ill-equipped to confront the challenge “scripts” that atheists and non-believers pose to believers. And this is particularly damaging to new converts, whose faith has been yet deeply rooted.
Standard courses that come off the presses at national printing houses that have no insight into what are the needs in a local church or community. But engaging apologetics courses that tackle the most intriguing questions in Scripture not only equips the new convert for “flight”, but also turns on the thirst for exploration into other challenging Biblical questions.
3. Re-Ignite the Coach Potato Christians. Coach potato syndrome can happen to any of us. Disinterest. Disengagement. Disillusionment. Each can lead to a religious malaise that leaves people going through the motions of faith, making the Sunday morning “show time”, but largely uncommitted to personal time for studying God’s Word.
Many churches struggle with low participation in Sunday School, Bible Study, and other Christian Education programs. Might it be that people have been flipping the pages of canned curricula for years and simply want something that will speak to their most pressing concerns?
Apologetics is the untapped breath that puts life into Bible study. And sadly, most clergy with formal studies know this. Apologetics is a favorite because it allows the Bible researcher to unlock questions that have quietly haunted them. Questions they expect to come when the stranger knocks at the door, offering a different belief system. Questions that come up in social gatherings that send Christians to the other room so as to avoid choosing to either deny the faith or be embarrassed by a faith shallow in knowledge.
I suspect churches that focus on apologetics will begin to see new levels of interest in young and old, new members and seasoned members, and most of all, in persons who have not yet accepted Christ but who are open.
4. Personal growth.
Ultimately, faith is personal. And a rejuvenated interest in study deepens the personal relationship we have with God. Each challenging topic for which we gain knowledge becomes more food to enable us to walk in a way more pleasing to the Lord.
Apologetics. The new normal for church investment. What do you think?
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