Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. [1 Peter 3:15 (RSV)]
Although the word “apologetics” sounds a bit like acknowledging guilt or expressing remorse, it isn’t. In 1 Peter 3:15, we first find its use when Peter tells the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor to be ready to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks for a reason for their hope. In a nutshell, that one verse is what Christian apologetics is about: the communication of the evidence and reasons that Christianity is true. Of course, Peter adds that this must be done with gentleness and respect and his words hold true today.
Nevertheless, there are some things, done by those who claimed to be Christians, for which we, as the body of Christ, should apologize. The most obvious issue is that of sexual abuse and the failure of the church to protect its most vulnerable by acknowledging and addressing the issue. Going back nearly one thousand years, we also have the Crusades (1096-1291) when countless Jews and Muslims were slaughtered in the name of Christ. Calling for the first crusade, Pope Urban II said killing non-Christians wasn’t a sin and further distorted the gospel message by reassuring the crusaders that it would win remission for their sins! Consider the Inquisition, beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, when people were jailed, tortured, and even murdered as punishment for anything considered heretical. Ignoring the command to love our enemies, Pope Innocent III announced that anyone whose views conflicted with church dogma “must be burned without pity.” During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were forced into ghettos and more than 32,000 people were executed.
The Protestant Reformation pitted Christian against Christian. In contradiction to Paul’s command to live in harmony with one another, Christian hands shed Christian blood in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace! Catholics and Lutherans persecuted one another, Lutherans and Calvinists harassed each other, and everyone seemed to attack the Anabaptists. More than eight million people died as a result of the Thirty Years War alone. Some say that’s ancient history; nevertheless, it is our history!
Even the Reformation’s hero, Martin Luther, did his share to further hate when, in 1543, he wrote The Jews and Their Lies. Calling Jews a “miserable and accursed people,” Luther accused them of being “nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury.” There’s nothing of Christ in those false and hateful words. Unfortunately, some of his rhetoric was used to justify Nazi ideology and is still being used by anti-Semites today.
Why do I bring up these perversions of Christ’s message? If we hope to truly defend our faith, we must be ready to acknowledge (and apologize) for our failings. When Luther’s virulent diatribe was first pointed out to me by an unbeliever, I was dumb-founded; totally unprepared, I had no response. If you’re like me, you forgot most of the Middle Ages as soon as you passed World History and yet the Crusades and the religious wars of that time are some of the most frequent arguments used against Christianity. Granted, all of Christianity can’t be blamed for the actions of some people any more than all Muslims can be blamed for the actions of Islamic terrorists. Nevertheless, when the name of Christ has been exploited, blasphemed, or abused by people claiming to be His followers, we must be prepared with an answer to people’s questions and accusations. It seems that there may be times in apologetics when we just might need to offer an apology.