Making a Bold Defense of the Christian Life

In the second century, the world looked at the Christian “cult” as strangely out of touch with contemporary culture. Christians didn’t participate in the festivals and games honoring the pagan gods of the empire. They practiced a mystery religion, shrouded in secrecy (only baptized believers could participate in the Lord’s Supper), and were mostly composed of the rabble of society, the lower classes.  Ignorance led the world to suspect the worst of these Christians and prejudice, suspicion and persecution followed. As a major apologist for Christianity, Athenagoras wrote A Plea Regarding Christians. This work, addressed to the Roman emperor and his co-ruler, his son, outlines Athenagoras’ attempt to protect Christianity from outrageous charges and persecution on three specific counts: atheism, incest and cannibalism. Christians were suspected of atheism for their non-participation in the imperial cult of the gods. They were thought incestuous because of the frequent address of fellow believers as “brothers” and “sisters,” even husbands and wives.  The mysterious practice of communion involved the consumption of the body and blood of Christ—thus, cannibalism. In more general terms, Athenagoras proclaims in A Plea Regarding Christians, a wider Christian philosophy, in favor of certain principles of Christians and also of the culture in which they live, and against certain principles and practices of the culture.

For Athenagoras, Christians stood against the ignorance of the contemporary culture. The world was awash with false religious cults which created gods out of ridiculous men of myth, worshipped created matter in the form of wood, stone and metal statues. Amazingly, the culture which tolerated such ignorant practices and beliefs had singled out Christians for persecution, not based on crimes committed, but based on rumors. Whoever was said to go by the “name” of Christian was apparently worthy of judgment and condemnation. Athenagoras railed against intolerance in the light of such preposterous beliefs.

Athenagoras presented what Christians stood for as well. Christians were for philosophical expression, the unity of God in his power over creation, the separation of God from his material creation (avoiding worshipping the material world), the Trinitarian nature of God, the resurrection, and the accountability of man to a just God which drove Christians to live by a moral imperative.

In today’s society, we can use apologetics like Athenagoras did. What are we to stand for and argue against today? First we need to argue against the persecution of Christians based on prejudice and misperception. Simply bearing the name “Christian” today invites ridicule, slander and attack. Our country and our culture swear to love “tolerance” and “free speech” for all, but whenever a Christian speaks Biblical truth, the cries of the society ring out: we are “intolerant, ignorant, bigoted, and close-minded.” The ultimate irony is that the culture seeks to suppress our free speech through actions like “hate crimes” legislation.

Second, like Athenagoras, we can use apologetics to decry the idolatry of the world around us. The society is absorbed with all kinds of ridiculous beliefs and practices including astrology, mysticism and nature worship. Worst of all is the new religion where everyone is his own god, entitled to proclaim his own truth and organize his life around the moral standards he invents for his own self-gratification. Christians actually have a standard for truth, a belief system that exalts God and humbles the believer, and a Christian imperative that emphasizes living a life based on moral conduct and accountability before a perfectly just God.

Third, like Athenagoras, we can use apologetics to defend the foundations of Christian faith against those who call themselves Christian, but are wolves in disguise. The Trinity is rejected by many self-proclaimed church denominations and leaders; the Resurrection is either denied or deemed unnecessary. Apparently for many of today’s pseudo-Christians, doctrine is unimportant and unnecessary. What is important to these corrupt false churches is how individuals react to the “story” and “lessons” of Jesus, not who God is, or what Jesus actually did for us on the cross and through his resurrection.

Lastly, like Athenagoras, we are also for tolerance. We ask tolerance for ourselves and offer it, not because we accept the false beliefs of the surrounding world, but because we trust in God’s promise to redeem the world in his time and in his way. We need to pray for, preach to, and share the gospel and the Bible with the world around us. Apologetics can help us organize our struggle in an increasingly hostile world. Athenagoras showed us the way over 1800 years ago.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:50 am  Comments (1)