apologetics

Proclaiming the Message (Colossians 4:2-4:6)

“The Blue Angels are the friendly face of the U.S. Navy and Marines and put on aerial stunt shows before live audiences across the country most every week. The scandal has sullied their reputation and that of the military branches they represent, Navy investigators said.” (“Blue Angels dived into porn, homophobia and harassment, study says,” cnn.com)

 We cringe at this story not just because of the impact of their actions on the people in the story, but because the Blue Angels were supposed to be the face of an organization that represented their country. Their role - and their failure in it - reminds us of something important: we are the friendly face of the Kingdom of God. We are constantly representing Christ. Nobody has to officially send us or appoint us – followers of Christ are in that role 24/7. I was thinking of how this news story could read if it involved me and my walk with Christ.

“Anthony is one of the friendly faces of the Kingdom of God, and he “puts on” a display of what discipleship looks like every week.”

 So far, so good. But there are at least two different ways that paragraph could end.

  • “His recent scandals have sullied the reputation of the church and the Christ he represents.”
  • “His recent success has bolstered the reputation of the church and the Christ he represents.”

 So are there ways we can prepare so that we can more effectively represent Christ?  As Paul closes his letter to the Colossian church, he gives us some insight:

Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors so we can go on telling the mystery of Christ, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. (4:2-3)

Here’s the first thing to note: We are to ask God to orchestrate the opportunities. We don’t have to leave where we are to be a missionary (to be on mission). If we want to have an impact in the world for the Kingdom of God, pray that God will open doors where we are. Big trips gets headlines; ordinary friendships usually don’t. But it’s ordinary friendships that change the world for Christ. I have talked to plenty of people who feel they are wasting their lives because they are just stuck in an ordinary job around ordinary people from one ordinary day to another.

I would challenge us to see the holiness and the potential in every moment in life. We don’t have to leave to do something meaningful (though “go” is certainly part of the great commission). The reality is that as long as we are near other people, we are in a position to impact eternity. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis about the importance of each person and each moment in our life: 

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. 

It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. 

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe… proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. 

Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 Every day, in every conversation and interaction, we are representing Christ to someone who will live forever.  It’s the “weight of glory” not because we give it, but because we carry the truth of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us wherever we go, and we dim it or reveal it all the time.

We don’t have to wait for something special. We can simply pray that God orchestrates circumstances in even the most ordinary moments of our life so we can more fully proclaim the message of Christ. Then, we actively look for these things to open up with our family, our friends, at work, with our neighbors, and even at church. That co-worker who annoys us is not merely a mortal. Our neighbor is not just a person next door. God will bring opportunities to reveal the presence of the love of Christ. We need to be alert and ready. 

After stressing God’s role, Paul reveals ours: 

“Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should. Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.” (4:4-6)

If God orchestrates the opportunities, we bring the message. We need to own our faith so we can state it clearly and fearlessly. In order to do that, we need at least two things.

 We need knowledge. We need to know what Christianity has to say about the essentials of our faith as well as cultural hot topics. We learn this through the Bible, sermons, classes, books, podcasts, videos, conversations… This doesn’t mean we have to have degrees or have to be an expert that answers every question. But we should in some sense constantly be learning. If you have a question that bugs you – search for answer. If you don’t know what to think about the Trinity, or the reliability of the Bible, or same-sex marriage, or why God’s moral claim on our life is for our flourishing, seek to understand. Even currents events deserve your attention – not all of them and not all the time, but be prepared to learn so you can offer a perspective as a Christian on the environment, or immigration, or health care.

 We need experience. We need to live a committed life so all the information is not just head knowledge. What does it mean to serve God? Why is sanctification a blessing even though it feels like a trial? What does it mean that those who lose their life will find it?  How does God meet us in the midst of our pain? Husbands, what does loving your wife like Christ loved the church look like? 

We need to engage wisely (v.5). We need to understand the context in which the gospel message is shared. How do we do this?

  • Learn what people love. What is it that moves them? What are the stories that shape how they view the world?  (Think of how Jesus used parables). What do they think are the most important issues of the day? Conversations with your NASCAR neighbor and your film festival neighbor will probably be very, very different. You will have to take the time to listen and understand what it is that captures the imagination of those around you – then pray that God opens doors of opportunity and gives you wisdom and boldness. 
  • See their life.  How has their history impacted how they will think of Christ, the church, or even Christians for that matter? Why? What do they think of when they hear “God,” “love,” “father,” “forgive,” and “family”? Take the time to learn about the things that have formed them. Take the time to get to know people and enter into their story. Not only does it honor them, it gives you insight into how to most effectively communicate the love of Christ.
  •  Speak their language.  As you learn what they love and see their life, you will increasingly learn how to speak their language. We instinctively know this when we talk with kids or when we go to other countries. We also learn this in marriage (the love languages, for example). It’s just as important when trying to communicate spiritual truths. In an article about copywriting in advertising, the writer made this point: “Words matter, and people crave connection. We have to start thinking, “How can I speak of Jesus in ways that will resonate with those around me?” When Paul wrote that their conversation was to be  “seasoned with salt,” he was writing to people in a city located near a famous lake from which salt was harvested. He knew the context.

Pray that God will open doors and give you wisdom. Be fearless and clear when the opportunities arise. (Check out this link for a look at “Christianese,” or language that we might know what it means but non-Christians don’t).

Finally, we need to respond gracefully (v.6)

“When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.”

 The story is told of a time when a British diplomat named George Brown asking someone to dance at a diplomatic reception. He received this response: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”

We need to learn how to say graceful things in a graceful manner. There is much to be said for personal character and integrity. I don’t mean our lives have to display perfection. I simply mean that we must “put on” (to use Paul’s term)  humility, self-control, patience, kindness, and love.

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So how do we proclaim the message effectively? Pray for God opens doors, then step through as the “face of the Kingdom of God,” praying for the wisdom and strength to enable us to show the love and truth of Christ to the world.

GCengage: Do All Roads Lead To God?

Religious people generally choose one of four different positions when talking about God: exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism or universalism. 

  •  Exclusivism (particularism). There is one true religion. An exclusivist follower of Christ claims Christianity is the only true religion, and salvation is impossible without explicit trust in Christ. 
  • Inclusivism. Others can experience the benefits of the one true religion in spite of following a false religion. An inclusivist follower of Christ claims there is no salvation outside of Christ, but God will extend grace to those who have partial or distorted knowledge and implicitly - perhaps unknowingly - believe in him. God can be sought and found in other religions in spite of their flaws, and that will be salvatory.
  •  Pluralism. All religions are capable of leading to God (think Life of Pi). This is the basic idea behind the imagery on bumper stickers like “CoExist."
  •  Universalism. Eventually, all will be saved no matter what they believe.

The claim that all roads lead to God is a pluralist position, though some forms of inclusivism may claim this as well. There are two basic claims that the religious pluralist makes: All of us are right because we know something about God, and what we see will be sufficient to lead us to God.

The first claim is often explained by using The Parable of the Elephant.

Some disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, some are saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"

The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who said to his servant, 'Gather together all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. To one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

"Then the raja went to each of them and said, ‘Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'

"The men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.

"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing....."

 (paraphrased from cs.princeton.edu) 

Unfortunately for the pluralists, the parable doesn’t support their position. It requires one person to be in a position to judge whether or not all the other competing claims are true. So, it requires a qualified judge who sees all and knows all.  In fact, this parable is compatible with a Christian view of God. Sure, other people know some true things about God. Christianity simply claims to be the religion that offers a unified perspective of the Big Picture.

In addition, this parable shows a misunderstanding of what religions actually claim. Pluralism claims all religions are superficially different, but fundamentally the same, but that’s not the case at all. Religions are often superficially the same, but fundamentally different.

Here are ways in which religious claims around the world are different:

  • Jesus’ Death and Resurrection: he didn’t die (Islam); he didn't rise (Judaism); it was spiritual enlightenment (some Eastern religions); he did both (Christianity)
  • The Afterlife: We functionally cease to exist (Buddhism); we are reincarnated (Hinduism); we are snuffed out (Jainism) continue in  personal existence (Christianity)
  • God: We are god (New Age); God is everything (pantheism); God is Unitarian (Islam and Judaism); God is Trinitarian (Christianity); God is Many (Hinduism); God is a Force (some branches of Buddhism)

Stephen Prothero,author of God Is Not One, does not profess to be a religious person. Nonetheless, he wrote a book after he became increasingly frustrated with the shallow cultural conversations about religion. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he said, 

“I don't think pretend pluralism is the way to go. All religions are not one. They are neither the unified beauty the multiculturalists want them to be nor the unified ugliness the new atheists insist that they are… As any ordinary Muslim in Indonesia or Christian in Nigeria can tell you, Islam and Christianity are not one and the same. It is just as false to say that all religions are poison as it is to say that all religions are beautiful and true.” 

The inclusive “all roads lead to God” pluralist wants to take the people of all religions seriously, but this is done at the expense of the claims. Hard-line exclusivists (if they are not careful) can take the claims seriously at the expense of the people.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me." This message must be said with grace and humility. The goal of Christianity is to take people seriously (treating others with honor and respect as image bearers of God) while taking their beliefs seriously – which requires affirming or challenging what people believe with honesty, boldness, and a commitment to truth.