For so many Christians today, faith is simply a matter of just that….faith. In many cases, this faith is the result of being nurtured in an environment that leaves little other option other than to follow in one’s parents footsteps. One generation believes in and accepts Jesus Christ because their parents raised them in the church and that is all they have ever known.
While, on the one hand, I commend raising ones children in a church environment and I think it’s great for our children to grow up with faith in Christ, on the other hand I believe that we need to be more careful in just how we go about achieving that sort of end. In other words, while faith is important, it is every bit as important for our children to understand why they should hold to such beliefs.
Our society today has been increasingly of the view that reason or rationality is contradictory to the Christian faith and that the two cannot coexist. I have seen examples of this view from both inside and outside the Christian church.
From outside the church, Christ is often viewed as a crutch for people who choose not to use their intellect and just blindly accept what the church tells them. Inside the church, many people seem to feel that perhaps pursuing knowledge with respect to God’s revelation, creation, miracles, history, etc. is somehow dishonoring to God or that it’s an indication of faithlessness.
Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, when asked what the greatest of all God’s commandments were, Jesus reply was:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind..”
God gave us our minds. He gave them to us so that we could use them. He wants us to reason and to examine. He does not just want us to be unthinking automotons who blindly follow. There are a great many scriptures, particularly in Paul’s letters and Peter’s letters, which indicate that we should absolutely be critical thinkers. They want us to be able to analyze and think critically, for one because false teachings would arise and they knew it. How can we defend ourselves from false teachings if we just blindly accept what people say?
Sometimes, these false teachings can sound very convincing. They can sound like they make a great deal of sense. But if we don’t do our due diligence to examine them against the context of scripture, how will we identify them as being false? If we can’t identify them as false, how can we keep ourselves from being led astray?
In the book of Acts, there are four separate times in three chapters in which Luke talks about “reasoning” with people in the synagogues and schools. If God had not intended for us to reason, why was it such a central part of the early church? Here are the four passages:
So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.
And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
If the apostles (particularly Paul) spent so much time reasoning with people, it seems fair to conclude that God wants us to use our ability to reason. We can use it to examine our faith. We can use it to evaluate teaching. We can use it to articulate scriptural or spiritual ideas or concepts.
One great example of this is what we now know as the Nicean Creed. This is the result of the ecumenical council of Nicea in the fourth century. The reason this council was held was to articulate a concept that had not, until then, been fully articulated until that time. This was what we know as the Doctrine of the Trinity.
Some people disregard the Trinity as being true based on the fact that the word “trinity” is not used in scripture. But we must realize that the concept was always there. It just took a couple hundred years of discussing, theorizing, testing, studying and reasoning to finally come up with a way to actually explicitly state what was already evident in the scriptures.
Christianity is not a faith that asks you to check your brain at the door. God wants you to be fully equipped to learn and understand, not only what you believe, but why you believe what you believe. The more you understand about this, the more you will be able to follow Peter’s statement:
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
Peter is telling us to be prepared. People will try to reason with you and get you to “see” how absurd your faith is. If you understand why you believe in Christ, this is not so easy to do. Peter also mentions that what we should prepare for is “to give an answer to everyone who asks you…” He’s not saying to stand on a street corner shouting at people.
Certainly there is a place for “proactive” evangelism. However, what Peter is talking about is answering people who ask you questions. This is quite different from shoving your beliefs down someone’s throat. He also says “to everyone.” We should never be too shy or reserved to share our faith and our reasons for our faith with anyone who might ask about it.
Finally, Peter tells us to do so “with gentleness and respect…” As Christians, we should not be rude, abrasive, caustic or hateful. Steadfast, certainly. But not mean. Not disrespectful. It is not our place to condemn people for what we perceive to be wrong. Perhaps we’re right. Perhaps an individual has committed some horrible sins. But we don’t know what God has in store for them. Our duty is to love them and show them Christ.
Above all else, as Christians, we should exemplify love. While we are to use our God-given ability to reason, our reasoning should always be tempered with love. Three times in two verses, we are commanded to love. I’m guessing that means that Jesus was somewhat serious about it.
34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Grace, love and peace.