By Rev. Mark Buetow
Have you ever had an argument with one of your friends about something related to religion? Maybe you’ve heard things like this: “Well at our church we don’t baptize babies.” or “In our church we use grape juice for communion.” Maybe even something like, “Well, our pastor teaches us not to take the Bible literally.”
There are all kinds of topics you can argue about with your friends that have a basis in religion and faith: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, evolution and creation, abortion, marriage, homosexuality, the Bible, what kind of music you should use in church, what kinds of things Christians should or shouldn’t do and on and on. It can be frustrating to simply argue opposite sides of an issue. So here is some advice on how you might engage your non-Lutheran friends in discussing things in a way that takes the attention off your opinions and puts the focus on Jesus and His Word. No matter what the topic of the conversation is, here are some ways to take it back to Jesus and show them that what you believe isn’t just your opinion but the Lord’s Word.
First: What Word of God applies?
What do the Scriptures say about what you’re discussing? What does Jesus Himself say about it? Remind your friend that, if they claim to be a Christian, they must follow the Scriptures. So which Scriptures apply to what you’re talking about? By taking it back to the Word of God, you get away from saying, “Well that’s what I think.” or “This is just how my church does it.” Rather, we hear what our Lord Himself says about it.
Second: Does it glorify me or Jesus?
When talking about a particular topic, we need to analyze whether what we’re saying about it is really about ourselves and what we’re doing or about Jesus and what He’s done for us. Another way of asking it is, “Who gets the glory? Me or Jesus?” Is it about “me, my decision, my living, my effort?” Or is it about Jesus and His perfect life in our place, His death for our sins and His triumphant resurrection over death?
Third: Is the forgiveness of sins central?
The Lord’s Word teaches us over and over again that the reason Jesus came was to save us from our sins. He came to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). His very name “Jesus” means, “The Lord will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Is the topic you are arguing with your friend about something that has to do with this forgiveness or is something else more important?
Fourth: How does it connect and relate to Jesus?
Every topic can be taken back to Jesus. When we talk about something like homosexuality, we might recall how marriage is a picture of Christ and the church—something homosexuality denies by its very nature. Or in talking about evolution, we might note that evolution is built on the idea that things die. Yet for Christians, death is an enemy that is defeated by Jesus. In other words, every topic you could argue with your friends about can somehow be tied in to Christ and who He is and what He’s done for you. By taking the conversation back to Jesus, you are reminding your friend that the Big Deal isn’t our opinions, but Christ and His Word.
Sometimes the connections to Christ in the topics we discuss are not immediately obvious. When it seems your friend has you stumped and you know there must be a way to talk about Jesus, then here’s a good idea: Ask your pastor! Your pastor has been trained in the Bible-interpreting-Kung-fu that will help you see the connection to Christ in the conversations you have with your friends. Ask him, as he’s more than willing to help you draw the attention from yourself, your friend, your opinions and preferences and to put the focus all on Jesus.
It can be frustrating when you argue with a friend over differences in your faith and your understanding of what being a Christian is all about. By bringing the conversation back to Christ, we and our friends are reminded that it’s about Jesus and what He’s accomplished for you and delivers to you. After all, it’s not about you or about “being right” or even about “being Lutheran. ”And in the end, whether your friends agree with you or not, you have the hope and confidence that you are a child of God because of Jesus and that means you can believe the truth and still be friends with your friends!
NOTE: For an example of how to apply these ideas in talking to your friends, see the Bible Study on page 30, where we walk through the example of talking to your friends about The Sacrament of the Altar.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois and he serves on the Higher Things Executive Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.