1: systematic argumentative discourse (see discourse entry 1 sense 2a) in defense (as of a doctrine)
2: a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of ChristianityMerriam-Webster Online
I never saw the point of apologetics because it was repeatedly presented as a defense of God. Why did God need a defender? I grew up in a red-letter religious tradition where for the sake of evangelistic witness, we would learn to share our testimony of salvation and/or the works of God in our lives. Inspiration for this came from 1 Peter 3:15-16, where the apostle admonishes believers to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. (KJV)”
Over the years defense of God branched off into defense of the Lord’s church. I did not think the church needed a champion… until now.
In the 21st century, “the field” contains more than unbelievers and the unchurched, and the challenges of syncretism that blur the lines of an authentic and culturally relevant bible-based faith. Today the demographics of groups to reach have grown among people who separate God from the institution and the people or body of Christ to practice faith safely, which may mean alone or in house or small group settings. There are authoritarian structures, toxic systems within denominations, and the realities of physical, spiritual, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse. We have smaller communities of faith where the people are born again disciples of Christ, and bind themselves together by an identified brokenness, doctrine, or mission. They desire to heal together and live out their faith apart from institutional governance.
THE BACKSTORY: I am struck now by this idea of how to champion for the church, the people of God, the body of Christ after watching an HBO documentary. The documentary is called Unveiled: Surviving La Luz Del Mundo (The Light of the World). By the end of the three-episode series I wept and wondered why the fallout of toxic religious systems on the survivors affects me so deeply. I cannot identify with the extreme cases of abuse; however, I remain moved by the experiences of the whistleblowers. I asked the Lord how what I do as a Bible teacher and toxic leadership researcher can help toward the ultimate prevention of the wide-ranging influence of religious cult systems. How do I serve the Lord, advance His Kingdom, and reach people with the message of freedom in Jesus?
La Luz Del Mundo (LLDM) had a successfully replicated model in many locations around the world. Leadership was generational and centered around the apostle — grandfather, then father, then son — as the Servant of God. LLDM saw physical expansion through land acquisition and building projects, increased membership, and generations of loyal members in families. Divine blessing and favor rested on the life of the apostle, granting him sole authority in the operation of the ministry and influence over the people. Movements like LLDM have the committed converted and the challengers. Both groups love the work of God and serve faithfully, but many of the former do so with pure heart, unaware of any unethical behavior. The latter have a tainted experience for being firsthand recipients of or witnesses to impropriety and over time, courageously speak up to bring attention to behind-the-scenes practices.
WHAT IS THE CALL TO ACTION: When I preach and teach believers who have fallen out with institutional religion, I preach and teach to people who have injured hope and broken trust. I call my efforts inreach, since outreach is for evangelism to those outside of the faith. I try to restore a sense of community, one class, video, or written post/book at a time. As a Bible teacher, inreach means to me a re-presentation of the fundamentals of the faith: God’s love, service, stewardship, reaching others with the Gospel, and a whole approach to justice, mercy, and reflecting the Kingdom of God in our world.
How do we minister to members of the body of Christ to rebuild trust and hope in the community of faith? How do we renew a strong sense of community — not according to culture, opinion, or preference, but as Bonhoeffer says, “through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ” (Life Together)?
No bells and whistles, no glitter or shows. And maybe, not just Bible study alone. What about integrated approaches to re-present the teachings of Jesus? What about faith-driven counselors, therapists, and learning consultants in partnership with clergy to offer the support and solid doctrine that put the wounded on a path to wholeness and renewal?
MOVING AHEAD WITH THIS ILLUMINATION: In a fellowship application I had to answer an interesting question. “Where does your passion intersect with the world’s need?” I share this question with you, Bereans, for your consideration. Is your Kingdom mission/assignment evolving with the current needs of the world? The “world” here I restrict to your calling, the part of “the field” where you live out the Kingdom assignment.
I am now entertaining the idea of internal apologetics to restore the witness of the church to those who need the bridges of faith, hope, and trust rebuilt within the body of Christ. I am assessing how best to give a defense within my range of gifts, calling, and study. Our collective potential is near incomprehensible to combine what God’s given us to reach people within and outside of the faith. Ideally, we can reunite in ways that emancipate our new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and generations of free Christians with the mind of Christ can prevent toxic systems from taking root and spreading destruction. Selah, and we will see.
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