Remember the Bible verse (John 13:35) where Jesus said to His disciples “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you debate everyone and win the argument.”?
Or in 1 Peter 3:15 where Peter wrote: “Always be prepared to argue with everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And make sure to do this with abrasiveness and smugness.”?
In case you need me to spell it out (hopefully not), in the above verses I replaced love, gentleness and respect with arguing, abrasiveness and smugness. Feel free to be a good Berean and look up those verses to see how they should read (and while you’re at it, you may need to look up what a Berean is).
Apologetics are important and the Church has often been ill equipped to debate, philosophize and handle logical arguments but we have to make sure the pendulum doesn’t swing away from love, gentleness and respect. We have to remember that our fellow humans that happen to not share our faith in Christ are also children of God. They are not the enemy.
“No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.” – Phillip Yancey, author of Rumors of Another World.
It’s easy to get sucked into debates and arguments and feel the need to defend the faith. But it can also easily get pretty heated and even make us angry. One thing we need to remember is that God, religion, Christanity, the Bible…they’ve been through the ringer before and made it through.
I confess that I can get sucked into arguing or feeling the need to debate. I have to step back and think about how I am portraying Christ. The internet and social media make it way too easy. When you read the comments sections on youtube or below articles and blogs you see some surprising things and that is often due to anonymity. On a site like Facebook or Twitter however, you are posting with friends, or friends of your friends. As the Church, we need to think about how we are portraying our faith to others. I realized this last week when a friend of mine who is a Christian made a comment and my reply was taken the wrong way by a friend of that friend who was a non-believer. I then clarified and translated my “Christian-ese” language so the person didn’t misunderstand me.
Whether online or in-person (or with the chance of being overheard) we should seek to present Christ to the world in love, and with gentleness and respect. We are the salt of the earth, the lamp on a stand, His ambassadors. Paul even wrote we are “the aroma of Christ.” (2 Cor 2:14-17) What kind of aroma are we giving off to the world?
What should we do then? I have some suggestions:
1. Watch the documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. You might find it streaming on Netflix or other means. Dan Merchant has done a masterful job presenting the problem and showing how the world views Christians and gives us a lot to think and pray about.
2. Listen. Listen and hear their heart, their pain, the baggage oppressive or abusive religion has given them. Most important: listen for the parts of their soul that are longing for God. I promise you when you listen you’ll hear it.
3. Take the high road. Confess that you at times have been guilty of being hypocritical or judgmental and admit that no one is perfect. Apologize on behalf of the Church that anyone has ever felt hurt or offended. That’s not the message of the Gospel. Try to engage in peaceful, civil discussions. You may not convert someone to the faith, but you can disarm them and help them see not all Christians are jerks which alone would be a win.
4. Present a loving Christ who cares about all His people and wants to ease pain and suffering, provide comfort, meet needs and introduce people to the love of the Father. Obviously, Jesus didn’t condone sin either. He held people to moral standards and told them to go and sin no more. But He did it after earning the right by showing them love, meeting their needs and winning them over.
We don’t need to “win” the argument or be “right” but we do need to be good ambassadors for the love of Christ.