For my generation and our progeny, the church cannot start from the position that people want religion and are shopping around to determine what religion is right or best. We cannot take for granted that people in the community feel a need for God. The popularity of the writings of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins is evidence enough of hostility in our culture toward God and religion.
The fact that acts of aggression are done in the name of religion does not increase receptiveness to Christianity. The church (using the term very loosely) does not have a perfect record in this regard. The Inquisition and the Crusades are often used as evidence of the danger of religion. Added to this are recent horrors perpetrated by followers of Islam. Homicidal bombers and terrorist pilots have murdered thousands of innocent people in the name of Allah.
In the face of all this, the church is still called to fulfill her mission. Jesus gave the church her marching orders as recorded in Matthew 28:18–20. We are called by Jesus to make disciples. Disciple making is the main verb and main thought of this commission. We make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing.
Because boomers are suspicious of religion, it is not enough for the church to know what we believe, it is now more important to know why we believe it. We not only need to know the truth, we need to understand why it is the truth and why Christianity offers the best explanation of man and his world.
We, as the church, must stand up to the false dichotomy between belief and reason that permeates western culture. This dichotomy is illustrated by a bumper sticker that a coworker proudly displayed saying, “If you don’t pray in my school, I won’t think in your church.” The implication is that there can be no overlap between thinking and believing.
Many churches do a fantastic job of teaching the Bible and how to live according to Biblical principles. Yet too often, believers are not trained in how to explain their belief to their neighbors. We often do a poor job of training our young people about how Christianity stands out in the marketplace of ideas and competing world views. Because we do not explain to our young people that there is a rational basis for belief in Jesus Christ, because we do not train them about the implications of belief or non-belief, because we do not prepare them to encounter hostility and pseudo-intellectualism, many of our young people fall away and reject Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Peter challenges us to
“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 NASB)
We take national security very seriously. In response to the September 11 attacks, America developed an organization called the Department of Homeland Security. In the same way, the church should have a renewed interest in homeland security for the church. We are under attack, we have an enemy that wants to destroy us and we need to know how to respond.
This is a call to church leaders to train themselves to defend the faith and contend for the claims of Jesus Christ. We need to offer answers to those who are searching for them. The Sunday sermon, as important as it is, is not enough to sustain belief. Other opportunities for discussion and training need to be provided.
We also need to provide a forum for questioners to find answers. There are answers to the questions that they are asking, but too often the church shames them into silence.
If we do not raise up a generation of defenders of the faith, those of us in church leadership will one day have to give an answer to our Lord as to why we did not.
Question: What is your church doing to provide answers to hard questions and train people to defend their faith?