Sunday, 29 December 2019

Answering Questions: Biblical imperatives. Part 3

 Is the church ready to answer the questions directed to her?

In our first post, we emphasized that questions are normal and it is very important that our members are encouraged to ask us their questions now so that they will know what our answers are. We concluded that whether we open up and answer the questions directed at us now or ignore, shut down either the question or the questioner or both, the questions will still be asked. The only bad news is that people may get answers we will not like. In the second post, we argued that we should not only allow questions, we should encourage questions in the church as this will deepen the faith and convictions of many. We equally looked at the possible reasons why we find it difficult to encourage asking of questions. In this last and final part of the post, we will be looking at the biblical imperatives and why it is important for the church to provide answers to questions, and provide defense and explanations especially to our truth claims.

In 1 Pet.3:15, we are enjoined to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” NIV. This instruction presupposes that people are going to ask us questions. Note that it says we should give an answer to “everyone”, with no exception whether to our members as stakeholders seeking for clarifications or to outsiders and inquirers seeking for answers or querying our actions. People have the right to know what we are doing as a church. Remember that those who are asking these questions are potential members of the church, as argued by St Augustine, and for every question that we answer well by the help of the Holy Spirit, an obstacle has been cleared on their way to meeting with Jesus at the cross.

In Acts 2, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, many onlookers were confused, amazed and perplexed at the same time asking “what does this mean?” v12. In that confusion, Peter stood up to address the people saying, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” Acts 2:14 NIV. He explained what was happening and quoted the Scriptures to validate his claims. They asked further questions which Peter answered and “with many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Acts 2:40-41. NIV. Three thousand people were added to the church after his explanation.

We have two obligations as a church serving her Lord before a watching world: to be prepared to give answers to the questions we are asked and to be prepared to offer explanations when what we are doing attracts inquiry from those watching us. This was the disposition of the early church, not because it was a persecuted church, but because it is supposed to be the timeless biblical disposition of the church for all ages. It is assumed that the church will always have its accusers and attackers, hence the instruction to be prepared to make a defense, give an answer, clear self, plea or give an account of and make its truth claims clearer.

Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles engaged their members and the then world answering questions and explaining the truth claims they were propagating. Take out time to search for the words, answered, replied, persuade, persuaded, explain and explained and related words in the Gospels and the book of Acts and you will be amazed at the number of times they are used. It only shows what the Lord Jesus and the apostles committed themselves to. The Lord Jesus was so committed to answering questions that He even answered questions people had in their hearts. (Luke 7:40). Why is it so? In the world of ideas and conflicting worldviews, dumb followership cannot produce strong personal convictions or persuasions. The Lord wants us to serve Him in reasonable ways. He does not exclude any of our faculties when He calls us to faith. We cannot serve Him alone with our human reasoning but on the other hand, faith is not unreasonable. They engaged their cultures, answered questions and addressed topics both intellectually and theologically, from the mind and heart perspectives. We are not expected to do anything less.

Now let us look at the ways we can provide answers:
  • Through the words that we speak. Speaking to explain is very important as the ear is one of the major gateways to the human mind; “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Rom 10:17 NIV. Jesus answered His questioners. The apostles explained what they were teaching. We must be prepared to give answers. (1 Pet.3:15). Take careful note of what should be our disposition as we present answers.
·         Do not fear. V14. We should present answers as men who are convinced of what they are saying, even in the presence of danger.
·         Be prepared. V15. We should be prepared. Theological education at all levels is very important. Every Christian is supposed to be a theologian of a sort. We have to be grounded on Christian doctrines, aware of the challenges within our cultures and what the issues are and devise ways to present our message. Preparing ourselves to be able to engage the world around us with the Gospel is worthwhile.
·         Do it with gentleness and respect. V15. Our pride and arrogance hurt and drive people away even from the answers we want to provide. When there is insult, lack of courtesy and respect, we end up being the hinderances to the truth we are presenting. The essence of apologetics is not to show off our intellectual prowess and eloquence but to be used by God to humbly clear the obstacles people have that hinder them from placing their faith in Christ. No question of faith is useless as long as it was asked by a person. Every person has intrinsic worth.
·         Keep a clear conscience. V16. No hypocrisy, no hidden agenda, no guilt in our own hearts. And
·         Be willing to suffer if need be. V17
  • Through writing and engaging issues as they are raised in Newspapers, Social Media, Blogs and Websites. Biblical scholars, Pastors and theologians should go for training on how to blog and how to properly use the Social Media with the sole aim of engaging with the people. That is where our children are and that is where they ask most of their questions. If you use it as a place to be declaring “prophecies”, they will only be saying “Amen” but if we use it as a platform for engagement, they will talk. You will discover that most of our children are almost atheistic and only by our being available to provoking questions and providing answers can we remain relevant to and in touch with them.
  • Through the kind of life we live in the midst of those asking the questions. We can provide intellectual and existential answers but they will be useless if people cannot see the difference it makes in our private lives. Ravi observes, “The message is seen before it is heard.” “I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the Gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. That failure not only robs us of our peace but mars the intended light that a consistently lived life brings to the one observing our message.” Bishop Ephraim Ikeakor writes, "the greatest setback Christianity has is the abundance of eloquent and powerful preachers whose lifestyle contradicts their sermons". If we claim that the Gospel transforms, then those asking questions want to see the visible transformations in the lives of those offering it, from the leaders to the followers.
  • Prayer is very important as we know that the basic problem of man is not intellectual but moral. We are inclined to rejecting the truth and walking in our own ways. The prince of this world has blinded the eyes of people in order to stop them from understanding the truth and be set free. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of individuals to see things with spiritual perspectives. He causes them to see the answers we are presenting.
Having mentioned these above, it is important to note that behind every question is a questioner who has a need. Our answers must be targeted at meeting the need of the questioner who seeks for an answer. Many a times, real needs and hurts are hidden behind questions, especially provocative ones. If you are carried away by the provocation, you may answer the question without answering the questioner.

When the tithe debate raged on the internet some time ago, many people were arguing on both sides. Many pastors and church leaders came out to defend the payment of tithes while others rained curses on those who were challenging the practice. My pain in the whole thing is that while we were trying to win the argument, we lost sight of the questioners behind the questions. We were answering the questions but were not answering the questioners. While we were addressing the questions, we were not addressing the needs of the questioners. In fact in most cases, we addressed the questions sitting on our high horses at the expense of the questioners behind the questions and did not care. For example, I watched one of the General Overseers say that “anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven, full stop”. Another said that God banned the wife of his fellow pastor from entering heaven because she was not paying tithe. My pain is that when I read the comments of greater majority of those who were complaining, you see that they were complaining about the wealth and opulence of many pastors in the midst of a poor and hungry majority. One of them is listed as one of the richest clerics in the world with a net worth of $130m (£91m), yet living among one of the poorest people on earth and doing nothing to touch their lives in practical ways. Who is paying attention to the needs of the questioners? I kept asking myself, is the church ready to answer the questions directed to her?

In a repressive culture, leaders make efforts to silence those that ask questions, leaving their questions unanswered. The church is not supposed to travel down this ignominious road. We have an obligation to provide answers to the questions our members and inquirers are asking. This is because we propagate the truth and truth by its nature comes out clearer as the propagator is given more opportunity to answer more questions. One of the reasons why religions like Islam does not give their members the freedom to ask questions and carryout personal investigation, especially about Christianity is because the more questions they ask and are clarified, the more they will develop the conviction that the claims of Christianity are true.

Our members are asking questions. The world is asking us questions. Are we ready to give answers? Are we really ready to do apologetics?

Can we see the revolution that is raging? In a few years to come, things cannot be the same any more. Those that the systems and institutions favour currently are busy defending them and making efforts to continue the closed structure, without paying attention to the questions young people are asking. If our attitude does not change, a time will come when the systems and institutions will experience a crumbling and I pray that it will turn out well. It may surprise you to know that most of our young people have lost all sense of sacredness completely. Many are looking elsewhere for answers.  Pastors and members are kidnapped and even killed without any fear even inside the church. CCTV is used to monitor the ushers that count church money because some people are not afraid to enrich themselves with the offering proceeds. Most leaders use the security agencies to protect themselves from the people they are supposed to be ministering to. Many things are happening around us and people are asking questions. Are we hearing the questions? Are we praying and providing answers?

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