Faith in Focus

Defending our faith to the man in the street

by Rev. P.Kossen (Mangere).

To even the most casual observer, the world and life view of our nation has changed dramatically over the past years. Today I read about the Wellington judge who gave some brothel owners a small rap on the knuckles for their crime. He reasoned that the law ought to take into account the changing attitudes of society to the sex industry. For us with a view of the unchanging law of God this is ridiculous; but to people with the modern world view this makes sense. Once you take God out of the picture, there is no standard for social cohesion, no room for transcendent laws before which all men are called to bow. Man is the centre of the universe.

Along with this religious relativism we also face the challenge of religious pluralism. A few months ago we had a Hindu festival three houses from where we live. Islam is the fastest growing religion in our area. People from many different cultures and religious world views have come into our own backyard, and now the problems which we could safely leave with the missiologists working in those cultures come home to roost in our streets and neighbourhoods.

The question is, how can we as Christians, in the changing face of our community, and the relativising of religious truth, assert and defend the absolute and exclusive claims of the Lord Jesus Christ?

The question is nearly as old as the hills. Due to the powerful impact of the Reformation, western Christians have been wonderfully sheltered from the religious pluralism of our world. So sheltered in fact, that, I believe, we almost began to forget something of our pilgrim character upon the earth. Then when the world view suddenly shifted away from a predominantly Christian one, we were caught on the wrong foot, and have had to (and still) struggle to come to grips with how to handle the 'new' situation.

Evangelism in this modern cultural context is a tremendous challenge to us as Christians. This challenge is something far deeper than just learning a few new techniques for evangelism and apologetics. But it reaches down into the very essence of our being followers of Christ in a pagan world.

The essence of our Christian calling in the world is summarised in 1 Peter 3.15. In context, Peter tells us that we are the holy people of God, who by living out our holy calling in a pagan world, are a light to that world. Our most effective evangelism is in our set apartness (to God) demonstrated in all spheres of life. Then in 3.15, he sums up his teaching, "But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord, always being ready to make a defence to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is you, yet with gentleness and reverence." These few words contain the essence of our evangelistic and apologetic task in the world today. We trace here a twofold calling.

1. A Holy Calling.

Evangelism, like it or not, begins in our own hearts. It is not something first of all that we do, but it is something that we are. Now of course, an evangelism without words is like a bow without arrows. But, to shoot the arrows straight, the bow needs to be true. The majority of Christian converts are not reasoned directly from darkness into light, but they are first drawn into the limelight of the kingdom through the lifestyle witness of Christian friends and neighbours.

When we think of evangelism, often we think of our spreading of the Gospel with words and tracts. But the Bible teaches that our whole life is an extension of the Gospel message (1 Peter 2.9,11, 3.1, Phil 2.15,16 etc). The one we evangelise is made in the image of God, with the ability to think and reason, but more than that, he also has a moral, worshipping, communicating and fellowshipping nature. He knows instinctively much of what we talk about, he knows there is a God, he dreams of peace and love and joy and a future hope.

Thus even when the mind of modern man is completely closed to the Gospel and he can't even grasp any more the concept of absolute truth, there is still hope. His mind may reject God but his soul speaks differently. He may believe there is no basis for moral standards, but he can't live that way nor allow others around him to live that way. He may believe man is good. But he struggles with evil. He may believe there is no god. But his heart reaches out for something. In this godless environment where human minds have been hardened to traditional Christian truths, we need, in the words of Leighton Ford, to "feel our way along the rim of a person's soul until you come to a crack." And, when our words can't gain an entrance, perhaps the Holy Spirit will use our life witness to find out and expose another crack in their soul which they find harder to plug.

The importance of holiness.

This brings us to see the terrible importance of our holiness. The world must see through us that our God lives (Acts 5.13). When the world is awash in relativism, the world must see in us our unwavering commitment to the absolute truth of God as we have it in His Word. When Peter confessed his faith, he said to Jesus, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." And Jesus replied, "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is the foundation stone of the church, and of the whole creation.

And that is what Peter is talking about in 1 Peter 3.15. "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord." He is telling us that the Jesus Christ as Lord is to be the deepest presupposition of our lives, the ground of our very being, the basic assumption out of which we live. He is not speaking about an intellectual idea, but rather, about an ultimate reality which through faith has become our ultimate reality. The ultimate reality of my own being is that "I am not my own but belong, body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins..." (LD 1). And this confession must be the deepest controlling reality in our lives no matter what the implications are for us personally. People around us must see in us and through us that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus Christ is ruling master, and that this is an absolute truth which has so taken over our lives that our lives are lived for this one and only Reason. The world may not believe in absolutes but they must see a living demonstration of absolute truth exemplified in us as we follow Jesus Christ in complete self abandonment.

Paul tells us that we are involved in a powerful spiritual battle and that we are in the process of waging war. He also tells us that it is not with guns and bombs that we demolish strongholds but rather with the weapons of righteousness and truth.(2 Cor 6.4-10; 10.3-5). The most powerful weapon in the world is the Spirit filled life of Galatians 6, a life taken over by Jesus Christ, and a living demonstration of His power. God's Glory shines in the face of Jesus Christ, and continues to shine, as Christ lives in us (2 Cor 4.6-10). This has a romantic flavour about it, but there is nothing romantic about a war which takes place within our own soul. We are called to walk as Jesus did. And the Masters footsteps went that difficult road through the garden of Gethsemane, and Calvary because of His total commitment to put the Father's will before His own well-being and personal comfort. He followed that road no matter the cost. And the mind of Christ is also to live in us. The Christian life is in its very essence, a life of death to our own self and a life of life unto Christ.

Not so much what we do

Evangelism then is not so much what we do, but rather, a consequence of who we are. A consequence of living in our high and holy calling is that we shall shine as lights in the world. Which leads us back to where we were before. When the world view changed, how much did we remember the high calling to be pilgrims and strangers upon the earth?

In his book "The Body", Charles Colson illustrates the difference between Christians and the US Marines. The Marines have a very strict discipline in the ranks and need to go through very intense training. Even though the training only simulated battle, no-one treated it like a game, because it was training for a life and death battle. Yet on the other hand, the soldiers of the cross, "rather than being well trained, well disciplined functioning members of the Body, many of us act more like reserve units: weekend warriors whose real jobs occupy them during the week and who just turn out for occasional drills..."

How many Christians drift along with the tide of the world having forgotten about the antithesis between the two kingdoms? When the world view changed, there should have been a pronounced and radical parting of the ways between believers and unbelievers. But how much of our world view is dominated by the secular values of our culture such as individualism and materialism? How much do we just acquiesce to that which should horrify and sadden us and stir us to holy action? In a day where God is small and man is big, how big is God and how small are we in our estimation? Are our lives characterised by holiness, reverence and love, and with a pure hatred for sin? That is our calling. When the world view changes, the world must see God through us, through our deep reverence and humble committed service. For want of a better term, we need a militant holiness, a studied attempt to daily live out of the Lordship of Christ over our lives. The Biblical world view must colour us in all that we do, whatever the personal cost may be.

This then is the essence of our evangelistic and apologetic task in the world today. We need to be people of conviction who have the confession of Christ's Lordship blazed upon our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, people willing to pour out the whole of our earthly existence in the Name and Cause of Jesus Christ our Master. But our mission is not only one of our life, but it also spills into our words. When people see the utter earnestness and self sacrifice which we have in our calling, and the abundant life we experience, they will also begin to ask us what grounds we have for this absolute hope and total commitment. Is this just a leap of faith, holding onto something in the dark unknown, or is there a solid reason for us to live in this way?

2. A reasonable calling.

Peter tells us "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." However, if there is no physical tangible evidence for our Christian faith, then it becomes a very subjective matter. We would have no way to validate or defend our beliefs in a day where most people believe that all religions have some truth in them and all lead up the same mountain. The last thing that anyone would like to admit is that any one religion has a handle on the truth. Christianity is hated so much precisely because of its absolute claims. If the world is right, and we have no way of really knowing the truth, it would destroy the basis of our Christian message. We would not have a good reason for the hope we have.

But Jesus Christ is Lord. Beyond any doubt in the world, I know that Jesus Christ is Lord. I know it because the Bible tells me so. I know it because the Holy Spirit has worked in me a deep rooted assurance of this fact.

Let me carry this further. I believe in a personal Creator-God who made man in His image. I believe that the personal God is the reason why we I have personality. To believe that something as intricate as a human being evolved out of rocks is incredible. But even more so when you consider the human personality. My ability to think and feel and love and hate and admire and communicate are all, I believe, the result of being created by a thinking, feeling, loving, hating, admiring, communicating Higher Being whom we know by the Personal Name of Yahweh. And I believe that since I am made by a Personal communicating God who made me to live in communication with Him, there is nothing silly about the idea that this Personal God would communicate with me. In fact, to believe in a communicating Personal God who doesn't communicate with me, is silly. And I believe that this Personal God has spoken in the Bible.

But of course, these beliefs are just my beliefs. How can I be so sure? Every man may claim the inspiration of some divine writings. Every man can claim to be led by a spirit into all truth. But how can these facts be established and proved beyond a reasonable man's doubt?

The Belgic Confession in article 5 gives us the answer. "We receive all these books as holy and canonical ....because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled."

A careful study of this article will show that my belief is not a leap in the dark in an act of blind faith prompted by the working of some 'spirit', but rather, a claim which can be proved. Francis Schaeffer in his book "The God Who is There" says "God has set the revelation of the Bible in history; He did not give it (as He could have done) in the form of a theological textbook. Having set the revelation in history, what sense then would it make for God to give us a revelation in which the history was wrong? God has also set man in the universe which the Scriptures themselves say speaks of this God. What sense then would it make for God to give His revelation in a book that was wrong concerning the universe? The answer to both questions must be, 'No sense at all!'"

Schaeffer's illustration

Some chapters later Schaeffer uses the illustration of a book which has been mutilated leaving just one inch of printed material on each page. "Although it would be impossible to piece together and understand the book's story, yet few people would imagine that what had been left had come together by chance. However, if the torn off parts of each page were found in the attic, and were added in the right places, then the story could be read and would make sense."

He then applies this to the world and the Bible. The 'ripped pages' remaining in the book correspond to the abnormal universe we now have. The 'pages found in the attic' correspond to the Scriptures. And there is nothing subjective about matching the two together. In the illustration of the book, you can see whether the pages you find are the right ones by lining them up against each other. Word for word, line for line. If the found pages are wrong, you won't get a match. But the right pages give us the complete story, a story which fits together hand in glove.

Schaeffer goes on to talk about the nature of proof. He suggests that scientific proof, philosophical proof and religious proof follow the same rules. "We may have any problem before us which we wish to solve; it may concern a chemical reaction or the meaning of man. After the question has been defined, in each case, proof consists of two steps.

A. The theory must be non-contradictory and must give us an answer to the phenomena in question.

B. We must be able to live consistently with our theory."

The fact is, that since this is My Father's world, and since the Bible is His Revelation, the two will always work hand in glove. Our faith is not against reason in any sense whatsoever. It goes beyond the place where our reason can function, telling us things we cannot verify scientifically, but in all verifiable points, it shows itself to be the 'missing pages' all the way down the line. Creation, history, human nature in its current state, explanations for world events, they can all be matched up against the lines. Our faith is fully reasonable. The Bible gives me the answers which satisfy both the intellect and the yearnings of the human heart.

On the other hand, all other philosophical and religious positions do not fit the lines at one place or another. Either they are totally irrational and don't make sense with the world that we can see and touch. Or, they leave us with a theory against which our deepest beings rebel. For example, the theory of evolutionary science is grasped by some because they need an alternative to the Word of God. They might with their twisted reason force the facts to 'make sense'. But ultimately, as image bearers of God, they can't live with the consequences. They know there is more than time and chance. Likewise Hinduism which believes that cruelty and non-cruelty are ultimately equal. But with our moral natures as human beings, can we live with that? We know that one is better than the other. Man as an imagebearer of God living in God's world but in estrangement from God searches out many schemes. But in so doing he is left with the terrible tension of holding to a belief which does not fit the facts of the real world, and a belief with which he cannot consistently live.

And so we see that when Peter calls us "always to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have", we can give a solid and bold and reasonable answer. "The Bible tells me so." And we can go on to prove indeed that our faith is verified by the whole world and everything in it, and that they are, in fact, the ones being unreasonable in holding to something without any solid foundation. The more skilled we become as students of Scripture and students of man's beliefs, the more capable we will be to expose the nakedness and poverty and human impossibility of what they claim they believe. With the weapon of truth, we can demolish every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. But says Peter, with gentleness and reverence. For our attitude speaks louder than our words.

Now of course, the Belgic confession mentioned a twofold proof. Not only is the Bible verified by the evidence, but above all, "the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God." Natural man, with all the evidence before him will still reject the Bible, not because the Bible is unreasonable, but because man has become unreasonable because of sin. The only thing ultimately which will draw them unto Christ is the powerful internal convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

Which brings us around a full circle. For us as Christians, the deepest presupposition of our life, the deepest reality of our life, the most fundamental truth by which we live, is that "Jesus Christ is Lord." This absolute principle in our hearts is to undergird our thoughts and reasonings and is to be demonstrated in our lives as we are conformed to the likeness of Him Who is the Image of the Invisible God. Our words may sometimes prove to be of non-effect. But the image of Christ in us sounds a very loud twang in the bottom of men's souls. It is this instrument which the Holy Spirit is pleased to use to draw men's hearts towards the all important message of the cross. Our calling then before God and for the good of the world is one of sanctification. Words are many, and also necessary, but the Word living in our flesh speaks loudest of all.

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised October 96 / Copyright 1996