The best way to defend the gospel is passing it on
We preserve the faith by passing it on. We defend the gospel by making disciples.
Defending the gospel is a biblical calling and a noble pursuit. The apostles, and Paul in particular, were continually on guard against the advance of false teachers, warning the church and its leaders not to depart from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But the ways we typically think about defending the gospel, while not passive, are incredibly static and cerebral.
We’re encouraged to stand firm on the truth. We’re unmovable in our convictions. We hold fast to sound doctrine. We rightly handle the Word. We know whom we have believed and are fully persuaded.
Above all, make disciples
While those are certainly postures which the Bible itself commends, such are not the primary means by which we defend the gospel. Instead, as Paul instructed Timothy, we ultimately guard the deposit by handing it off to future generations. We preserve the faith by passing it on. We defend the gospel by making disciples.
If you earnestly want to stand up for theological orthodoxy, if you are committed to the right handling of God’s Word, if you are burdened by false teachers and false teaching, if you are disturbed by specious resources and alternative gospels, if, with Jesus, you are moved to compassion by misguided sheep and angered by wicked shepherds, if you are eager to see the knowledge of the glory of God fill the earth as the waters cover the sea—then make disciples.
The old sports cliché works here: the best defense is a good offense. Which means our creeds are only as good as our catechesis. Delineating the faith, while crucially important and necessary, is only as good as discipling of others in it. You also can’t simply protect the inheritance through research and writing—you must entrust it to others. Because the gospel is validated and defended by changed lives. It’s propagated through love and example and community.
The pillar and buttress of the faith is the church. It is the people of God—knowing and believing and teaching and obeying the truth—which supports that very body of truth. Of course, Jesus is the truth. He is the cornerstone. Yet in some inscrutable way his church is the embodiment of the truth. Therefore, defending the gospel and defending the church are almost synonymous for Paul.
Perhaps you’ve heard the well-worn sermon illustration for knowing and defending the truth. I’ve used it myself. It goes something like this: the best way to recognize counterfeit money is by familiarizing yourself with the genuine article. Which is true. However, that illustration doesn’t address how we might counteract such counterfeit measures. To do so you must print more authentic currency. You do so with better ink, advanced printing methods, and different paper. You inform banks and businesses. You provide detection equipment. You train cashiers and tellers. You go on offense.
The truth is, you don’t have doctrine without disciples. You don’t get truth without trainees. There is no Christian orthodoxy without living, breathing, orthodoxy-observing Christians.
Jesus didn’t commission us simply to know and defend his teaching in an academy or institution, not even in a creed or confession. He also didn’t command us to curate it as a historical artifact. Instead, he called us to preserve his teaching by passing it on, through the living museum of disciples who are taught to obey every word.