I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.
(2 Timothy 4:2)Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.
(1 Peter 3:15)
A pastor and writer, believing his work and life were nearing their end, eagerly wrote of his desire for his young protégé and fellow pastor to keep true to the focus and substance of the Christian community’s faith in Jesus Christ, the Word and Message of God, no matter what the circumstances of life were.
At the time 2 Timothy was written (a disputed topic, with some saying soon after Paul’s death, and others contending as late as 180 C.E.1
), the Pauline author wanted to confront the major influence that other religions, especially Gnosticism, were having and could have on the young Christian movement.
In the ancient multi-religious world, different faiths never existed in vacuums, neatly separated from one another. Rather, the thought and shape of one could influence the thought and shape of others. Christians were not exempt from this cultural reality.
And leadership among Christians, if it was to keep the flame of this young movement alive, had to ensure that its new leadership understood the distinctive thoughts and features of a faith based on the person of Jesus, founded on the Scriptures, and linked to the apostolic and prophetic witness of the church. Faith, like anything else in human culture, needs to be passed on from one generation to the next, else it dies and there is nothing left to pass on. Leadership in faith communities knows how critical this is for both itself and for all believers.
In the later half of the first century, another leader and author of the early Christian church penned 1 Peter, a masterful letter of encouragement to a band of believers who were beginning to feel pressure from those opposing the faith. These are the thoughts of the rock-like Peter (a contention generally supported by theologians 2
), shaped by the words of his secretary, Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12). The author focused on the wonderful news of God’s amazing grace: “I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it” (5:12).
But why stand fast? Opposition does many things to us. It can create fear or undermine confidence. It can shut us off from others, silencing voices. It can, perhaps, even make us wonder why we believe at all and have hope in the God of grace and mercy through Jesus.
“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,” writes the author. “But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:14b–16a).
No generation is immune from challenges. I’m sure many of you, as bearers of the gospel, can name a slew of them with which our current generation tests us. In the midst of these challenges, our Scriptures call us to practice “persistence” and “readiness.”
This March / April issue addresses the second of six “Challenges” Lutheran Partners
will be examining during 2009: “The Challenge of ... the Relevancy of the Christian Faith Today.” We will be looking at this issue primarily through the eyes of those who are working in the world of higher education.Maria Erling
, from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, looks at the issue from the vantage point of training future leaders in seminaries as well as through synods and with global partners. Muhlenberg College campus pastor, Peter Bredlau, and two Muhlenberg students
author an article which describes the collegiate environment and examines a strategy of “accompaniment” as one way to express a relevant faith with others. Jay Gamelin
, the campus pastor of Jacob’s Porch, a ministry at Ohio State University, believes young adults wish to embrace a faith that “makes a difference.”
Online exclusives continue this theme with a piece by David Anderson
, of the Youth and Family Institute. He argues that the home is the strategic place where faith becomes relevant. Also writing online is Susan Lang
who looks at the role of the synod, especially as it helps to train and build up lay leadership so that these leaders can well articulate and live the Christian life.
Our book review editor, David von Schlichten
, reviews some titles which may help rostered leaders verbalize and embody the Christian faith to a “postmodern” generation who may not readily see faith’s relevance for today. He includes titles on preaching under Fortress’ Elements of Preaching
series which may help proclaimers consider how they look, sound, and interact with their surroundings, as well as current insights into exegesis. He also examines unbelief through a book which describes a dialogue between Christian Alistair McGrath and atheist Daniel Dennett. He features other titles related to the theological challenges of a warming planet and the identify of Jesus.
“Written on the Heart
” features fellow rostered leaders who wrestle with how they, as people of faith, have encountered and lived with doubt, a challenge to faith as well as a sharpener of faith.
We close this issue with a Book End
photo of preacher, pastor, author, and professor, Joseph Sittler, who modeled through his life a persistence and readiness to give an account for the hope that resided in him.
The Apostle Paul, according to Acts, once faced a king who was dumbfounded by Paul’s intense telling of his faith story. As Paul stood before one high authority after another, he ran into Agrippa, a friend of Festus. Agrippa requested an audience with Paul (26:1–32).
Paul’s words must have hit home in some part of Agrippa’s heart. “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” the king asked (v. 28).
“Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am — except for these chains,” said Paul (v. 29).
I suspect you have also felt as Paul did: that your ministry of proclaiming the gospel in favorable or unfavorable times as well as your defense of and accounting for the hope which lies within you may also, through the power of the inviting Spirit of God, touch the lives of many in this generation. Our hope is that many will know Jesus as God’s logos
and savior of the world in ways which are real and relevant to their lives, dreams, and hopes.Endnotes
- The Interpreter’s One-Volumne Commentary on the Bible, ed. Charles M. Laymon (Abingdon: Nashville, 1971), p. 883.
- Ibid., p. 924.
William Decker is editor of Lutheran Partners and Lutheran Partners Online, Chicago, Illinois.
This article appeared in the March / April 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 2)