But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect... (1 Peter 3:15)
Our Sunday morning adult class today was on the subject of apologetics, the art of defending the Christian faith to both questioners and attackers alike. The discussion was a lively and informative one, the focus this morning being on Scriptural inerrancy, but the question that occurred to me over the intervening time is this: are gentleness and respect called for in every circumstance?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the areas we are called to defend or explain our faith is when, as in the verse above, we are asked to give the reason for the hope that we have. In other words, when someone seems sincerely interested in our faith and would like us to explain it to them. This we are to do with gentleness and respect. This was also my attitude when I used to have discussions with an employee who was quite a devout Jehovah's Witness. There was nothing to be gained by arguing with her, so I just tried to focus on explaining the differences between our two faiths in the hope that she might begin to see the truth where we Christians believe the Watchtower to be in error.
The other is when the tenets of our faith are under direct attack, either from unbelievers, or those inside the church. Is such gentless and respect called for in all circumstances? Certainly Jesus himself didn't think so in Matthew chapter 23 where he calls the religious leaders hypocrites and a brood of vipers. In fact, not only Jesus, but Paul, Peter and Jude all warn against those who would destroy the faith, and in these cases, it seems to me, they are calling for neither gentleness nor respect.
I believe the difference is between sincere seekers, and those (outside or particularly inside the church) who would see Christianity either destroyed or radically altered. These enemies of our faith deserve neither our gentleness nor our respect.
Someone questioned whether inerrancy in and of itself was that important. Wasn't it enough to believe that Jesus died for our sins? But the leader rightly raised the question of how, if we don't believe the Bible is inerrant, can we be sure about Jesus, his death and resurrection at all. In other words, if we start giving away inerrancy on even seemingly small points, how do we know where to stop?
And again, even though this is in a Baptist church, I see the lesson large and clear in the Anglican church here in Canada.The term, 'slippery slope' can be somewhat of a cliche, but it becomes a cliche only because it is a truism. Once an individual or a church begins to discount certain areas of Scripture, the next is easier to ignore. Soon we see central doctrines like the Virgin birth, the Divinity of Christ and Jesus as the only way to the Father being questioned or abandoned.
And the irony of it all is that churches that adopt these more 'open' views, do so often to appeal to a broader audience, but end up withering gradually away. This gradual dying away is surely the inevitable consequence of these liberal views, but their adherents seem to keep blindly and determinedly plodding down the same broad road, somehow expecting a different result. And as I said this morning, it is indeed heartbreaking to see a denomination one cares for being rent apart by these divisions, but that is exactly where the abandonment of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture leads.
You have heard the expression that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Someone also told me once that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. But some people just never learn!