Reflections by James Raymo
Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Ministries and Bible
From the earliest days of the Faith, the Church has been called to both proclaim and demonstrate (contend for) "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." (Jude 3) The word used for contend is the Greek word for being in an intense wrestling match. The intensity of the early struggle was related to attacks against the truth of the Gospel and the Person and Work of Christ, Who He was and what He accomplished on the cross.
I have the privilege in the classroom of training students to be able to respond to the question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:25-30). The students are to be "prepared to give a reason for the hope in you--yet do it with gentleness and reverence." (1 Peter 3:15-16) They are challenged to trust the Lord to demonstrate His goodness and life through them so people will take note and inquire about their motivation.
I find there are interesting generational differences regarding proclamation and demonstration. My generation, the Boomers (born 1946-64), and the previous generation, the Builders (born before 1946), tended to give much emphasis to the written Word and preaching. This, of course, is extremely important. Acts 10:14-15 makes clear that no one can believe unless he or she hears the content of the message. But words without demonstration of God's goodness and grace can result in the perception of harsh talk or undesirable noise. James 2:16 ends with the question, "What good does that do?" when there is a disconnect between words and caring action.
Similarly, demonstration of the gospel with no propositional content may leave the receiver of love and help impressed with the person who demonstrated care and concern, but with no sense of what motivated such action or Who really initiated the caring response or content necessary to transform a life. The conclusion may be that a caring person is just one of the "good" people.
Apologetics--rational defense of the faith--has always been a staple in the church. In the first century, the truth of the gospel was defended against a variety of aberrations and attacks. Today is much the same, although the challenges to faith have taken on different shades and nuances. In our time there is a widespread tendency to think there are no absolute truths and any claim to such must be a power move to subjugate others to a specific way of thinking. Relativism, believing truth is relative to time, person and situation; pragmatism, believing truth is what works; and tolerance all captivate our present culture. We often speak in class of the illogic of some post-modern claims to relativism which deny in emphatic absolutistic language the possibility of absolutes.
We remind students that tolerance begins and ends with disagreement and willingness to allow others the right to their beliefs, not the embracing of all beliefs. Dennis Prager, Jewish author and radio talk show commentator, wrote: "…pluralism means everyone affirms his values, and we all live with civic equality and tolerance. That's my dream. But in public school, Jews don't meet Christians. Christians don't meet Hindus. Everybody meets nothing. That is, as I explain to Jews all the time, why their children so easily intermarry. Jews don't marry Christians. Jews for nothing marry Christians for nothing. They get along because they affirm nothing. They have everything in common: nothing."
Contending for the faith requires boldness and courage, particularly in our "I'm OK, you're OK" world. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 describes an historical event called the triumphal procession, in which Roman soldiers, upon a victorious return to Rome, marched down the main avenue. The troops and officers and then priests and conquered soldiers from the defeated army moved among the throngs of adoring Romans. The priests waved bowls of incense, which to the Roman soldiers and crowds were a familiar fragrance of victory, but which to the defeated army was the fragrance of death. They knew at the end of the procession they would be executed, imprisoned, or enslaved.
Paul likens our situation as Christians in the world to this procession: "But thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ's triumphal procession. Now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16 NLT)
Fortunately, reaching the world and our neighbors is God's enterprise, not ours. He will build His Kingdom, and we can choose to be a privileged part of that work of His. UNW sophomore Emily recently had the joy of seeing God use her as she fulfilled an evangelistic assignment for our Biblical Worldview: Community and Culture class.
In Emily's words:
I went home to Michigan over fall break and spent a lot of time at a friend's house. Her family is hosting a girl, Amanda, who is a high school exchange student from China. On Sunday afternoon during break, I was sitting at the piano playing hymns when Amanda came up to me and asked very bluntly if I believe in God and what it means to be a Christian. This caught me entirely off guard, and I stuttered through a rather weak answer. I then asked her about her beliefs, and she explained that while her dad is a Christian and her mom a Buddhist, she herself does not believe in anything.
At home that evening, I prayed and asked God to give me the strength, wisdom, and opportunity to talk to Amanda again before I left to return to Minnesota.
I knew Amanda's school day ended at 3:30, so I went to the high school and found her. It was God's perfect timing because she was planning to wait at the school until 5:00 for basketball practice. I explained to her that I was sorry for not giving her a better answer on Sunday when she asked me about God. I told her that my faith is very important to me, and she was eager to hear more about it. This began an hour-and-a-half-long conversation about God. Initially, I asked her what she knew about God, Jesus, and the Bible. She explained that she had read some of her Chinese Bible (it sounded to me like mostly Genesis) and that she had watched a film about Jesus. She believed that the Bible has a lot of wisdom, but she struggled to believe the Bible's claims that there is a God. She told me that if God is a Spirit, He is not real, and I responded by explaining that it is possible for something to be real even if we cannot touch or see or feel it.
From there, she listened very carefully as I explained the Gospel message and a bit of my personal testimony. She then asked questions about fate, prayer, the nature of sin, and the problem of suffering in the world, and I responded from the best of my knowledge and understanding.
Towards the end of our talk, I asked her what she thought about everything we had discussed. She answered that maybe she could believe but that it is hard for her. She mentioned that scientists say there are no spirits, and I answered that scientists do not really have all of the answers that they say they do.
In the weeks following our conversation, we kept in touch and I continued to pray for her and encourage her to read her Bible and go to church. Then, a few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from her that brought me to tears. She wrote in part of it: "Emily, I decide to believe in God. That's my decision. I've thought about it for a long time and seriously. Thank you for leading me to choose this way: believe in God. I'm surprised the power you showed from the God, and one reason for me to make this decision is that it is the God who lets you come to me and help me…I want to learn more about God; I want to be a Christian."
She and I have talked since I received this e-mail, and I am realizing that there is a lot she needs to learn and understand before coming to Christ. However, I am praising God for this amazing gift to me and to Amanda. This experience has changed me, and more importantly, I pray that it will be life-changing for her!
Bless the Lord.