This is a topic that has been on my heart for many years now, especially during the course of my studies in theology… and after yesterday’s event, I am compelled to write a brief explanation and exhortation on the dire need for apologetics in our modern day Orthodox Church.
What is apologetics? (No it doesn’t relate to apologising – sorry 🙂 *pun intended*
It’s a very early Christian practice (even pre-Christian too) where Christians would make a “speech in defence of the Christian faith.” (Patristic Lexicon, Lampe, Oxford, 1961). It comes from the Greek word “apologia” (ἀπολογία).
So what is its purpose for the Church today? Do we need to be “defending” the faith, scrutinising people of their lack of belief in Christ, challenging people to believe?
Not necessarily in that manner. However, every person is called to preach the Gospel – in every place, in every city – until the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We are called to give a “defense” of our faith – in the sense, we give a witness of account of the truth that we bear and believe in and also live – for those who preach the gospel must live from the gospel (1 Cor 9:14).
I was inspired to write this blog mainly from an eventful day yesterday in London. After having heard a talk by Jay Smith, a Christian apologist, a few of Orthodox youth from the church went to see him in preaching at Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, where he proclaims the truth of the gospel every Sunday.
As a small group of us approached the area of “freedom of speech” – it was as if we were approaching an arena of fiery debates. Many people were gathered around a small stage where Jay preached and as I looked around there were so many scattered people – people as if they had no shepherd – reminding me when Christ spoke of Jerusalem as to how he wanted to gather them under his wings (Luke 13:34).
I quickly noticed there was a young middle-eastern looking gentleman with a book in his hand and speaking to some Americans. It seemed from a distance he was trying to convince them of Islam – (I saw small Arabic books that were handed to them) – so I kept observing them for a while. I got annoyed because I thought that the Americans were buying into his speech. Eventually, I was compelled to move in and interrupt the conversation. The young man was debating with the two Americans how Christianity has many contradictions and that Islam is the way. As he was quoting (or rather misquoting) – I interrupted his wrong biblical referencing and the Americans also gave an apology to his attack towards the bible (thankfully to my surprise the Americans were actually giving a defence of Christianity and explaining to him more about the truth of Christ).
Shortly after, the gentleman and I began speaking (thanks be to God we had a very respectful and civil debate!) and just spoke about the Bible, the truth of Christianity, Islam, the effects of both Christianity and Islam in the world today. Some of the youth also jumped into the debate and we were all getting involved in giving clarity to this young man about what the Bible is really about and what Christians really believe.
The conversation was fruitful – although the young man had many of his facts wrong (ie he said that Christ never says He is God and he said “if Christ says He is God, I will become Christian right now”), the conversation ended with me telling him to read more of the Gospel of John (I specifically told him Chapter 10) and I told him in return I will read more about Islam. This was my apologia.
Whether or not we “won” the young gentleman to the truth – I can attest myself that it was a learning experience. Apologia is not about fighting, winning, arguing, getting rivalled about in a debate – it is about sharing truth, giving understanding, sharing Christ above all. (I will add briefly there was another gentleman who kept attacking St. Paul in the Bible and although I quoted him several verses his intention was to argue and not listen – at this point I would say present the apologia and shake off the dust of what you have given and walk away).
Apologia for the early Christian apologists (Ireneaus, Justin the Martyr, Aristides of Athens, so on) was to spread the truth about Christ to their readers. Their writings are not founded on destroying the other’s religions or beliefs (although when heresies crept in the church, the fathers condemned and clarified their erroneous teachings) – but first – the truth was given and established; then the errors were made clear to see.
Let me put it in this way. If you went through a course and your classmate or friend attended that same course with you and was learning a lot of the material wrong from the course, would you just watch him or her go throughout the year and work through the wrong books, teachings, understandings? Or would you want to help him understand what the course is really about and that he’s just not a bystander, missing what was his purpose for that class?
I’m not implying that we all go out and start preaching out on the rooftops and doors of the supermarkets and random places (although if you have the pure God-given calling and intention, by all means do so) – this needs wisdom. Our preaching needs guidance, a prayerful life, understanding of our surroundings (ie language, culture, people’s needs/questions/ways of thinking in society) – we can’t also haphazardly go out and just speak, because that in itself can cause damage for ourselves and for others. We need preparation, but also courage, the willingness to submit our lives to God for the sake of the gospel.
God will never cease to work and we likewise never should cease to fulfil our calling to share what we have been so easily given. We have to believe that Christ who has “begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6) – and that this work is witnessing to the world in whatever form. If we witness by our lives, our teachings, our kindness, our love – we are fulfilling our calling, our duty, our name.
I truly believe if we each grow in this understanding and grow in love towards God and one another that we will recognise the need to preach the gospel – not out of bigotry or self-righteousness, but the earnest desire to give unto others the sweetness of experiencing the love of our Creator in this life and in the life to come.
I hope the Orthodox Church realises that this is our mission – to be a mission church – we cannot be called apostolic nominally; it must be carried out in each of the member’s life. Can we ask ourselves – who have we shared Christ to in our lives recently? How have we witnessed to him through our way of living? Are we ready always to give a “defence” – an apologia to everyone who asks of us? (1 Peter 3:15 – note here Peter adds that we give this defence with meekness and fear).We all preach a gospel – but what gospel are we preaching? Is it one of anger, self-righteousness, anxiety, – or of patience, kindness, love, compassion, truth?
One of the most inspiring verses from St. Paul for me is when he exhorts everyone to preach the word and to always be ready. (2 Tim 4:2) When I think of this verse it reminds me always when Christ encourages his disciples that he will give them a mouth to speak “wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:15). Persecution will arise, people may be against us, hate us, insult us, some may encourage us, join us – but what chances are we willing to take for the gospel’s sake? It’s not an easy task. But there is never ending grace. Are we always ready? If not, why not? How can we be? We need to start pushing ourselves in learning more about our faith, our Bible, and then other peoples beliefs and their questions/attacks against Christianity. The early church apologists and church fathers – they first knew Christ and His Word, and from their strong foundation in the truth they were then able to separate truth from error and exhort others to follow in the same way.
Some people may be uncomfortable to go out and preach to strangers or in such settings such as Speakers Corner. This is just a small aspect of what preaching is. As already said, its about the preaching of our lives. Our lives must be the living gospel that we preach. Our mannerisms, our speech, our thoughts, our behaviour – then I believe in our day-to-day experience with Christ, we will have the boldness and encouragement from the divine power from within to preach when called for– in season and out of season – when we are on guard or off guard. For it won’t matter what “season” it is – because our lives will naturally be living gospel-ally all the seasons. However, if we have such great love for Christ and the gospel, we also cannot cop-out if we should be preaching with our mouths to people too.
So what are we doing in our daily lives? Are we growing in our faith, in the knowledge and experience of the Scriptures? What are we witnessing? Do we care to witness? Or, will we continue to choose to live in our self-contained Orthodox bubble for the rest of our lives? If so, then we aren’t living out our apostolic faith – our apostolic tradition – tradition is to be handed down, not only kept. Orthodoxy is not to be kept in our pocket, as I said before.
Can you imagine if every person in the Church kept their faith to themselves and never handed it down, never shared it – what would the Church look like? (and I’m not speaking about handing it down through familial means).
I hope, as Orthodox Christians progress in this realisation we all may say with St. Paul – “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Cor 9:16)