But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as Holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you… 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)
Ever since my high school days I’ve had a thing for apologetics. I used to debate non-Christians on various web forums over science, philosophy, and belief; then in college I belonged to a group some friends started called the Society of Christian Apologists and Philosophers (SOCAPS for short—it had a ring to it!). We took the Bible, Faith Has Its Reasons, and Mere Christianity as our main texts and sought to engage others on the U. of Oklahoma’s campus with the truths of Christianity. In the course of time I have moved from being a you just need to believe fideist to a Geisler-loving evidentialist to a Schaeffer and Van Til following presuppositionalist to a…well, whatever it is I am now. It was an interesting philosophical journey, but along the way something began to happen: I started to question how effective my debating (which seemed a lot of times to be mostly arguing) actually was in helping people see Jesus and the Gospel.
In truth, it wasn’t.
Then I started thinking more about this verse…how our primary apologia is to give a “reason for the hope” to the one who asks. This isn’t about debate and who can argue the facts better, but a reason for hope. (That’s not to say that evidence and presuppositions don’t play a part, just not the greatest part). Even more, two other verses came to stand out: John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” and John 17:23, “I in them and you in me that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Jesus describes this apologetic of our Christian faith as community—the family we call “church”—and how we love each other, care for each other, and join with each other.
My problem was that I could debate all I wanted so that people could hear/read my words and my arguments, but they never saw a life that went with them. Even more they never saw a life lived in relationship to others. Different religions and beliefs fill the world, as do billions of fallen people who share the same basic human needs including a sense of belonging (and of course, salvation).
Our Gospel is one of hope: turn from sin, come to Jesus, be saved, have new life, eternal joy, perfect forgiveness, and future resurrection/restoration all bound up in being part of a new people/nation/family. What better way for others to see that our hope is real than the very things that Jesus said: love each other and be one with each other? We build a community of grace based on the work of Jesus, serving and caring for each other, and inviting others to find faith in Jesus and become a part. It’s popular to disparage the local church (and some criticism is well founded, but not all and probably not most), but the individual church communities are essential to engaging the world with the Gospel.
Will we ever be a part of a local church that displays this apologetic community perfectly? Of course not, after all even in the church we’re still dealing with fallen people—though we have been saved by grace and are patiently being reshaped (sanctified) by Jesus. But we must do our best to love others, work though our differences, and strive for a greater unity all for the glory of Christ and for the sake of our defense of the hope that is in us.
Too often it seems the world sees us Baptists more for what we are against, or more for our infamous church splits, or more for our arguments over minor issues…let’s instead show them the Gospel, Jesus, and love through our communities of church. And how? Here’s a few ideas in a few simple words: prayer, forgiveness, concern, fellowship, humility, service…(feel free to add your own…)