South Sydney Anglican Church

Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith (7th Sunday)

2 June 2024

Series: Apologetics

Bible Passage: James 1:19-27

True Christian Faith acts in Love to do Good, not Evil

Intro:   Well Good Morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are continuing our study of Apologetics – thinking about how we respond to people who accuse the Church of doing evil. Sometimes people say – I could never become a Christian because there is so much evil and hypocrisy in the church?

Prayer: Well a common accusation we face from non-Christians is; “there is so much evil and hypocrisy in the church I could never become a Christian.I suspect – this may now be the greatest deterrent to people becoming Christians. Hypocrisy in the church has done great harm to Christs cause – and I think this has been amplified by 1) the internet AND 2) a misunderstanding of the church. Not so long ago most people would base their INITIAL IMPRESSIONS of Christianity on A) the local church and B) the Christians they knew personally. So long as there was no obvious scandal in the local church most people would then have a NEUTRAL or even SLIGHTLY POSITIVE attitude towards the church.

But today in our digital age – every misconduct of Christians in the church (anywhere in the world) is suddenly streamed to our family and friend’s phones. THE GOOD done by the church is never reported. THE EVIL is always reported. Now part of the reason this is the case is the world has a misunderstanding of church AND thinks we are judging them. The world generally views the church as a hotel for saints, not a hospital for sinners. The church is like A KIND OF CLUB for do-gooders who think they are better than everyone else. So when the church then fails to be a proper club of do-gooders the world takes a certain delight in pointing out our failure. It’s a kind of – “Look, you guys in the church are no better than us – in the world.NOW EXAMPLES of the church being no better than the world are constantly coming at our friends and family on every device they own. So most people we try to evangelise today – do not have a neutral or positive view of the church.

Sadly, we must admit – THE MODERN CHURCH has given sceptics a lot of scandalous ammunition to use against us. So let us consider the Argument Against believing in God because of the church’s misconduct (SLIDE 1).

Now whether this is a LOGICALLY COHERENT ARGUMENT is irrelevant to most people. It sounds good. And very often those who make this argument – will appeal to 1) the Roman Catholic Crusades, or 2) the Catholic-Protestant wars in Ireland, or 3) perhaps paedophilia in the church or 4) even the latest drama in Hillsong. Really, THE EXAMPLES of the church behaving badly are now countless. But we need to think very carefully about our response. THE MINUTE the church is accused of wrongdoing our NATURAL RESPONSE is defensive. We take attacks on the church personally. So, we are inclined to come out swinging and punching (at least metaphorically).

But before we go in a defensive direction – let’s think about whether this accusation is valid. I think all Christians would agree premise 1 is TRUE. I think we’d also agree premise 2 is TRUE. What’s more, if we are honest, we MUST admit premise 3 is often TRUE. ALTHOUGH much of the evil done in the church may be done by people who are not really Christians – the average sceptic will not see the difference between a church-goer and a real born again Christian. So making the argument – that ALL THE EVIL done in the church is done by pretend Christians won’t actually fly for most people. What’s more, its not entirely true. Real born-again Christians still often do evil in the church because we all still struggle with sin.

So I’d say don’t argue with this argument. In 99% of cases I’m willing to agree ENTIRELY with the first three premises. My only real problem with this argument is the conclusion – Therefore belief in the Christian God is not valid. To this I must say – FALSE.

Point 1:         True Christianity MUST be slow to Speak and slow to Anger

Show:                        Jam.1:19-21 (READ)

Explain:         Now remember – JAMES (the brother of Jesus) is writing to a Christian church – and he tells them A) to get rid of the moral filth and B) the evil that is so prevalent among them. It seems that THE CHURCH has always struggled with sin and hypocrisy. In fact, that’s the whole point of the book of James. CHRISTIANS are NOT just meant to be HEARERS of God’s word. We are also meant to be DOERS of the Gods word. But try as hard as we may – sin remains a struggle in the Christian life. There is no such thing as A PERFECT CHURCH. There HAS and ALWAYS WILL BE some moral filth and some evil in the church because even genuine Christians still struggle with sin.

So when the world points out the sin in the church – we shouldn’t be surprised or shocked. Nor should we immediately get defensive. Rather, I’d simply encourage you to agree with them. James is adamant that in all the Christian life we need to be 1) quick to listen, 2) slow to speak and 3) slow to become angry. As Christians we must admit what is true. There is much GROSS and INDEFENSIBLE sin in the church. So when I encounter this argument – I try to make sure my first response is; “I agree with you. What you say is entirely true!Now that takes a certain HUMILITY to admit.

But this argument that the church is full of hypocritical sinners is an incredible opportunity for the gospel. They’re absolutely right – churches are full of hypocritical sinners. So begin by agreeing with them. And be ready for their SHOCK and SURPRISE when you agree with them. They’re expecting you to be defensive. So by being agreeable – you completely disarm them and invite genuine conversation…

But at this point – you also need to listen very, very carefully. When you are confronted with this argument of evil in the church – you will be 1) slightly defensive and 2) your automatic assumption will be that they are just suppressing the truth OR making a logical argument against believing in God. But there is a third option. There may actually be a really important pastoral issue going on for this person. THINK! When a person saysI could never become a Christian because of gross evil in the church”, what may have happened to this person – personally? (PAUSE). THAT’S RIGHT – they may have personally experienced – gross evil or sin in the church. 1) You may be talking to someone who had a father who went to church every Sunday and yet beat their mother to a pulp behind closed doors every night. 2) This person – may have actually been sexually abused by someone in the church. 3) And even if they have not been hurt personally by the church, they may witnessed a close friend who went through a messy divorce and was treated terribly by the church. Those who make this argument most strongly are often speaking from personal pain.

At this point – you need to be listening very carefully. Are you dealing with a general objection to sin in the church or a personal, pastoral, objection to sin in the church. If you’re not sure – it might be worth saying (SLIDE 4); “It sounds like someone in the church really hurt you or failed you at some point. Do you want to tell me about it?If there is nothing personal – people will quickly dismiss you. But if there is a pause – be very slow to speak and quick to listen. The person you are speaking to may need you to DO MORE than simply agree with them that there is sin in the church. They may actually need you to say SORRY on behalf of the church for what has happened to them.

Now you may think you can’t apologise for other people’s sin. This was the great debate of whether the state should apologize to indigenous Australia for some of the wrongs in the past. But if someone shares with me – A REAL HORROR STORY – at the hands of the church, I want to empathise and I am willing to say sorry.

I’m not personally apologising for the wrong. But I am sorry for their pain and hurt. If their story involves GROSS SIN or a LACK OF GRACE – I’m also sorry because I know that is a failure of the Christian church to which I belong. Now again, not every grievance people have against the church is VALID. But if their grievance appears valid – I am willing to say; “I’m really sorry that should never have happened in the Christian church.And the few times I’ve done this – I’ve literally seen a visible softening take place in people’s hearts.

Apply:   SO IN APPLICATION I’d say we need to LISTEN very carefully to peoples accusations against the church. Where the accusations are valid – we should admit the wrongs of the church and where appropriate even apologise on behalf of the church. But be very careful not to become defensive AND don’t take the accusations personally BECAUSE people who make this argument are often carrying deep, personal scars.

Point 2:         True Christianity is about trusting Jesus, not the Church

Show:            Jam.1:23-25 & 2:8 (READ)

Explain:         Well most Christians see a connection between A) the perfect law recorded in James 1 and B) the royal law spoken of in James 2 – to love your neighbour as yourself. So James is telling us that born again Christians should not only LISTEN to Gods law of love, we should OBEY God’s law of love and put it into practice.

But the truth is – there is only ONE PERFECT EXAMPLE of Gods law of love embodied in human life and that is Jesus Christ. Ordinary Christians and even the church is NOT the perfect embodiment of Gods law – because we all still struggle with sin. (If Christians could be the perfect embodiment of love – we wouldn’t really need Jesus). So you need to gently point out that all people (including Christians) have a problem with loving others, as much as we love ourselves. That is why Christians and the church still sometimes sin. We know this RIGHT, but we struggle to put it into PRACTICE. Yet nonetheless we believe Jesus is the living, breathing embodiment of Gods law of love and we try, albeit imperfectly, to follow him.

Now this is where you want to MOVE THE CONVERSATION – towards Jesus and the gospel. So, I’m going to show you some words on the screen – because whenever a person is rejecting Christianity on the basis of the church’s behaviour – at some point in the conversation you need to shift gears. You need to take their eyes off the church and off Christians AND set their eyes on Jesus. (Slide 6)So you might say something like; “You know, I don’t really believe in the church or follow the church as a Christian. I know the church is flawed and sometimes the church makes serious mistakes. So, I simply try to follow Jesus. I’ve found some churches help me follow Jesus and some churches make it harder for me to follow Jesus. But I want to encourage you not to judge the validity of the Christian faith – on the basis of the church’s behaviour or even Christian’s behaviour.

Rather, you need to judge the Christian faith on the basis of Jesus’ faithfulness, goodness and love and consider whether he is worth following. Now maybe – you could take them to John 8 and show them how Jesus treated THE WOMAN caught in adultery. Maybe you could take them to one of the passages where Jesus shows love to the LEPERS, or the POOR. But ultimately you want to get to Jesus dying on the cross – as the ultimate expression of love for sinners.

(GOSPEL) Now I hope you know the gospel. If you are a Christian you should know John 3:16 and you should be able to explain why Jesus death on the cross is God’s expression of love for sinners. So you need to gently explain that everyone (including the church) has sinned against God and faces His judgment. But as Jesus died on the cross he took the penalty for everything we have done wrong – so that we can be saved. Jesus loves us so much that he took the punishment for our sins so we can be spared. AND God promises that if we believe in Jesus, ask for forgiveness and begin to love others (as Jesus loved us) God will forgive us and pardon us of all wrongdoing. You need to help the person understand that Christians are NOT saved because they are good people or better than others. Christians are saved because the God of the Bible is good and merciful and better than all other gods…

Now if you get to this point – you need to do what SALES PEOPLE call closing the sale. You need to ask them can you see Gods love for you in Jesus? If the answer is yes, you then need to ask; Would you like to accept Gods love for you in Jesus and ask God to forgive you of everything that you have done wrong? When you do apologetics you may NOT ALWAYS get this point. But if things go well – you need to be ready to ask the question and then lead someone in prayer.

Apply:            THE BIG POINT with THE ARGUMENT against belief in God because of sin in Christians or evil in the church is that you need A) to take their eyes off the church and B) put their eyes clearly on Jesus…

Point 3:         True Christianity is about Loving our Neighbour and Avoiding Sin

Show:            Jam.1:26-27 (READ)

Explain:         Well in our sermon series on APOLOGETICS – a few people have objected to me calling Christianity A RELIGION. They have heard pastors say Christianity is NOT a religion, it is a relationship with God in Jesus. Now I do appreciate this objection. But this idea that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus, not a religion largely stems back to the Billy Graham crusades. Billy was trying to evangelise western religious church people (who went to church every Sunday), but had no relationship with Jesus. So Billy made a distinction between religious church goers AND real born again Christians. I get it and sometimes it is still really important to make this point.

But there are three or four places in the New Testament where Christianity is called A RELIGION. This is one of them. There is true religion and false religion. So I have no problem calling the Christian faith a religion – so long as we recognize that the Christian religion involves a real relationship with Jesus that is expressed every day of the week, not just Sundays.

Now this instruction to A) look after widows and orphans in distress and B) keep ourselves from being polluted by the world – is basically a version of love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. As Christians we try to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world – because we love God for saving us. And because we love God for saving us – we try to avoid the evil things in the world that God hates. And when it talks about helping widows and orphans in distress – it is saying loving your neighbour means all your neighbours – even those who are really needy. So these words really are a version of 1)love God with all your heart and 2) love your neighbour as yourself. James is saying real, true Christianity that God accepts as pure will have this shape and this heart.

Now coming back to apologetics, we need to remember that the person we are speaking to – has a REAL and OFTEN VALID objection to sin in the church. So you now need to shift gears again AND change their attitude towards the church a little bit. If they are going to find out more about Christianity and grow as Christians – you need to help them see that while A) all churches still struggle with sin, B) not all churches are evil or hypocritical…

Apply:       So you kind of need to share the idea that not all churches are EQUAL. Although A) there are no perfect churches, nonetheless B) some churches are better than others. SOME CHURCHES are better at loving their neighbour (than others) and SOME CHURCHES seriously try to avoid the pollution of the world (while others are a little apathetic).

Now I wouldn’t make this distinction between true churches and luke-warm churches UPFRONT – when people first point out sin in the church. Very often they will be pointing to some of the very worst manifestations of church. But I wouldn’t make this distinction upfront. At first, I’d simply acknowledge their complaints and try to shift their eyes from the church to Jesus. But if they are beginning to focus on Jesus and they want to learn about Jesus – you need to shift gears again – and get them to focus on what sort of church might be good to attend.

Perhaps you could begin by telling them about some of your positive personal experiences of church. You may still acknowledge that your church isn’t PERFECT. But you also explain what is good and why you keep going. The point is – you want to now direct people towards a church that is A) really caring for orphans, widows, the poor, the sick, the refugees, children etc etc AND B) where the church is seriously trying to avoid the pollution of sin in the world. Help them to see there are some GENUINE expressions of church that are good.

Now I’ll speak about this more NEXT WEEK. But my final word as we consider those who make objections to Christianity because of the behaviour of Christians is this – are we ourselves striving to be sincere, Jesus loving, Bible believing Christians or are we just being religious hypocrites. Our community is watching our church. Your friends and family are watching you. So no matter how good your apologetic arguments are – they will amount to nothing – if you’re your Christian life lacks authenticity. I know its hard to beat sin. I know its hard to love as Jesus loved us. But this is what we are aiming for – not just to show our love for God saving us. But also to be true representatives of God to an increasingly cynical world.

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