It’s a new year. The holiday season has passed and we begin to look down the road for what this new year will bring. I am always looking at what the future will bring. It is both a strength and a weakness, a virtue and a fault. It is a strength because it allows me to prepare for what I see coming, if I see correctly. It is a weakness because I can lose focus on what is right in front of me. Some may say that if I have seen the future correctly and prepared for it, it ought to take care of what is right in front of me. Sounds logical, but doesn’t always work out that way. There’s always those unpredictable things that come up.
Well, what is coming now? How should we prepare for 2015? For me, it is simple. I have some goals that carry over from 2014. Most of them are related to education and completing a degree. The others are ministry goals - equip the church for their work of service. I know, that is pretty general. So, to be specific, I want to provide sound, relevant answers that strengthen the believer’s faith and help him/her to be a better witness for Jesus. However, that also must become more specific. What area does the church need answers for in the coming year. The answer lies in where the challenges are.
What are the areas I believe are the most challenging for the Christian in 2015? I believe there are two with which we need to concern ourselves. The two are, Islam and Secular Humanism. Ironically, these two are more dependent on each other than it appears at first glance. Islam often relies on secular humanists and skeptics to challenge the veracity of the New Testament. For instance, they love to quote Bart Ehrman and his attempts to show the New Testament is unreliable. On the other hand, secular humanists love to use radical Islamic actions to declare that devotion to religion is destructive. In order to do that they must lump all religions in one heap and then attack the entire heap. To the untrained Christian these two foes can be a bit unnerving.
Churches must educate their members about the challenges that the church faces. And, as these challenges increase the church will find itself pushed further onto the margins of society until it loses the power of its witness. The church’s lack of vision and preparation will make it anemic and an anemic church is basically useless.
An anemic church doesn’t have the strength to fight for its place in society. Worse, it doesn’t have the strength to be the witness Jesus has called it to be. I should point out that churches don’t evangelize, individuals do. Churches may organize evangelistic events, but it is the rank and file of the church that bears the witness for the risen Jesus. It is the everyday encounters with family, friends, colleagues and classmates that really matter. When people lose their courage they don’t witness. Perhaps the underlying challenge for every generation is to follow Jesus without compromise. This is the fight for every generation - can we witnesses to our world without compromising the integrity of the message? Can we uphold the integrity of Scripture’s message that Jesus is risen from the dead? It is a fight to follow Jesus in a world that continually pressures us to give in to its ways.
More than ever the church needs to equip people to share their faith. People need to be trained in evangelism and what we may call pre-evangelism, which is apologetics. To focus on the challenges at hand, I believe the main target is the Resurrection of Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament. A third argument would be the way the documents were transmitted over time. From my experience, arguments for the existence of God take a back seat to these three challenges. The Newsweek, issue of January 2, 2015 is a case in point. If you haven’t read the article on how Christians get the message of the Bible all wrong, you need to. If the arguments posed put you in a tail spin, well, good. You need to learn how to defend the reliability of the Bible, the transmission of the documents, and the person and work of Jesus as all three are targeted in the article.
One thing is for sure: Both Muslims and atheists have rejoiced over this article. However, the article didn’t start these challenges; it will just serve as fuel. You will hear these arguments echoed time and time again from both of them. Both Islam and secular humanists challenge the veracity of the message of Christ.
Are you ready for the challenges? Are you prepared to face them? Are you ready to fight to follow Jesus?