Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Christians Must Speak Forth the Truth

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  (1 Pet 3:14-16)

An observer paying a modicum of attention will have noted the polarization of ideologies across the country.  With palpable increase, sections of society are wrestling over issues with a “winner-take-all” approach over matters that had not mattered to the populace or were not deemed acceptable in a civilized society.  Proponents, rather than engaging in debate, are now pressing points of interest on specific issues for tactical advantage, creating angst through emotional manipulation and garnering favor for a position.  The rallying point is the societal or political need deemed best for a sub-group, sometimes as standalone causes, but more usually as one of multiple divergent thrusts seeking to gain wide acceptance and celebration of personal liberty regardless of societal effects.

Those causes that become enmeshed into the fabric of society become viewed as a norm of existence, being placed on par with natural law.  People learn how to adjust to the system, even turning it to an advantage.  Power and authority are legitimized, and laws enacted to defend and promote acceptance however irrational the defense might be.  Leaders prop up their causes and engage in syncretistic alliances on multiple fronts, arguing sometimes contradictory causes in a phenomenal feat of juggling prowess lest one fail and a “domino effect” befall the remainder, while followers are swept up in the emotion of the movement.  Such an approach to gain single-issue favor can be effective in securing short-term goals, however the argumentation of the proponents quickly devolves to aping key phrases in a self-defeating string of argumentation or assaulting opponents through ad hominem attacks, all of which demonstrates that the rationale for the cause is pure self-interest: this is what we want.

In spite of all the effort to force transformation, there remains a contingent who recognizes the Emperor’s New Clothes for what they are.  Those, who know the facts and can reasonably articulate disagreement, break with status quo, turn to follow the truth, and are instantly castigated for not adhering to popular opinion and practice.  Through the past 20 centuries, Christians have played the role of societal critic, resulting in heaps of blame received for many ills that befell mankind: civil unrest, disease, drought, flood, etc. were considered the result of those who refused to bow to the authority of the deity du jour and their established representatives.  The change in worldview sets the believer apart from those around.  They become noticed and alternatively respected or feared for their stand.  Whichever is the case, the reaction is certain and immediate.  Repercussions have varied from genial discussion to open threats and hostile attacks.

As I have stated, none of this is new.  The third-century apologist Arnobius of Sicca noticed how those who worshiped the Roman pantheon of gods were holding Christians like himself responsible for the troubles in North Africa.  He opens his work:
I have discovered some who deem themselves very wise in their opinions, acting as if they were possessed* and announcing with all the authority of an oracle,† that from the time when the Christian people began to exist in the world the universe has gone to ruin, that the human race has been visited with ills of many kinds, that even the very gods, abandoning their accustomed charge, in virtue of which they were wont in former days to regard with interest our affairs, have been driven from the regions of earth.  I have resolved, so far as my capacity and my humble power of language will allow, to oppose public prejudice, and to refute calumnious accusations.  For, on the one hand, those persons may imagine that they are declaring some weighty matter, when they are merely gossiping common rumors;‡ and on the other, if we refrain from such a contest, they may suppose that they have won a cause because our view is lost by its inherent demerits, when rather the defenders abandoned their view through silence.

I would not deny that the charge is a most serious one, and that we fully deserve the hatred attached to public enemies,§ if it should be apparent that we are the reason by which the universe has deviated from its laws, the gods have been driven far away, and such swarms of miseries have been inflicted on mankind.
The Case Against the Pagans, I.1

Some points to note:
  1. The seriousness of the accusations.  In effect, the people were blaming Jesus Christ as causing the problems when their own sin or natural consequence of sin was working in the world.  Arnobius does not cast off these accusations as meaningless or trivial.
  2. The need for a response.  Christians cannot remain silent in the face of accusations. Whether or not the political or religious atmosphere is considered safe, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ must be upheld.  Arnobius lived during the reign of Diocletian, who was openly hostile to the Christian sect.  Many died in martyrdom for not worshiping the pagan gods, but standing firm for Christ.
  3. Ability is not an issue.  A defense of the gospel does not depend on the ability of the believer to articulate the faith.  While Arnobius was a rhetorician by vocation, he did not feel up to the task of properly responding as he should.  He presented his response as God had enabled.  This does not mean that Christians are to remain willfully ignorant of what Scripture teaches, but lack of thorough understanding does not disqualify the believer from responding.
Opponents of the Most High will use any means possible to enhance their arguments through whatever political maneuvering or religious gesticulation makes a point and raises the issue so that others will join the accusatory chorus and shout down what is true and right.  Christians need to remain reasoned and reasonable to effectively make their case for the gospel.

*  Referring to the appearance of the ancient seers when under the influence of the deity.  The meaning is, that they make their emphatic assertions with all the mad raving and gesticulation of a seer under the influence of the god.
†  Declare a matter with boldness and authority, as if most certain and undoubted.
‡  Rumors arising from the ignorance of the common people.
§  The Christians were regarded as “public enemies” and were so called.

No comments: