Summary: We are NOT called to defend THE faith, but rather to stand up for OUR faith.
Defenders of the Faith?
One of the most frequently misapplied verses in the Bible is I Peter 3:15-17. It is often taken out of context and used to prompt believers into being defenders of the faith! It says, “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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
This passage is often used to promote a field of Christian discipline called “Apologetics.” There are those who feel that as believers we have a responsibility (based on the quoted passage) to defend the faith against all critics, false doctrines, etc. However, that’s not what this verse says.
First, we must look at the context of this passage. Peter is speaking of proper Christian behavior. He speaks of the need to live righteously in order to be a good witness. He asks the question “Who is going to harm you if you are striving to do good?” and the answer, of course, is only the most evil of people. He is not talking apologetics, he is talking Christian living. He is telling us to live such good lives among unbelievers that they see the difference and approach us with questions about our faith. When they ask us about our hope we are to remember that it is Christ in us that is our hope of glory. In other words, our righteous living should provide us the opportunity to share the hope, which is Christ. (Colossians 1:27)
When Christ gave the disciples the Great Commission, there was nothing in His command about debating with those who would attack the faith. They were to make disciples and teach them. Their mission was evangelistic- sharing good news—not debating the faith. Further, He told them before He ascended to Heaven that they were to be His witnesses, not His defense attorneys.
Our responsibility is to share good news. Do you remember that God spoke from heaven about Christ and there were those who were amazed and believed, but there were also those who denied that God had spoken at all. They said that what they had heard was nothing more than thunder. As you share the good news of Christ there will always be those who reject the message. It isn’t your job to convict them of their need of Christ! It is your job to share your faith and leave the conviction to the Holy Spirit.
There are people out there who are looking for all sorts of answers. A contemporary problem in Christian faith today is found in all of the books that offer some sort of perspective on the afterlife. For example, there is a book entitled “Seven Minutes in Hell” or something like that. Really? There are a number of people who seem to need what I call an “Ebenezer Scrooge” experience. They want someone from the dead to come and speak to them about their future like old Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic Dickens’ story. They want some sort of spirits or ghosts to reveal something about the life to come, etc. Guess what! Everything I need to know about Heaven and Hell is recorded in Scriptures. We don’t need folks with these “near death” experiences to come and tell us stuff about eternal destinations. Paul apparently had such an experience and rather than focusing on the dramatic story he could have told (which probably happened after being stoned at Lystra-see Acts 14) he said it was not lawful to utter such things.
John, the disciple of love, told the church in II John that there were people who were deceivers and antichrists. He told them not to bring them into their homes and not to have anything to do with them. If the church was to practice apologetics with the Gnostics (know-it-alls, I like to call them) then I believe he would have clearly said so. Once again, God didn’t need the believers to get involved in debates.
While I’ve taken a rather bold stand here, I cannot say that this should be a foundation for ignorance. Paul wrote to Timothy that he was to study in order to demonstrate that he was prepared to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We do have a responsibility to ground ourselves in the faith, to immerse ourselves in good doctrine and right thinking.
We also have a responsibility to stand firm in our faith so that no man can move us. Personally, I refuse to debate with Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to my door. I tell them that I reject their teaching because of two reasons: 1) They are working to earn salvation which I have already received as a gift from God 2) They reject the deity and crucifixion of Christ. Therefore, I cannot carry on a debate with them and simply stand firm for what I believe without allowing them to proclaim their false gospel on my doorstep.