By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
Contending with Lamb-like Gentleness and Lion-like Courage
John Piper writes:
“Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it is always that…very few people think that we are in a war that is greater than World War II or any imaginable nuclear war. Few reckon that Satan is a much worse enemy than any earthly foe or realise that the conflict is not restricted to any one global theatre but is in every town and city in the world.”101
We live in a time and a culture when opposition to biblical truth and the biblical gospel is intensifying. It is a time for courage, not fear, a time when we need to hold fast to God’s Word no matter how fierce the opposition or how bitter the conflict. As careful readers of the Bible, this ought not to surprise us. The Bible is peppered throughout with commands for courage, not to fear or be afraid, we are reminded that we have been given ‘a spirit not of fear but power and love and self-control’ (2 Tim 1:7). Jesus goes even further and tells us:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
Courage, even Christ-centred joy in the midst of trials, opposition and conflict, is a specifically vital characteristic which will be needed increasingly by the people of God in these days and the days to come.
Not only do we need courage, but we must also be willing to contend. Jude v3:
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Threatened with ungodly teaching, including permissiveness in the arena of sexual ethics, he had to urge the believers to ‘contend for the faith’. The ‘faith’ that was ‘once for all delivered to the saints’. The divinely revealed gospel that does not, cannot, and must not change.
It is not enough simply to hold fast to the Truth, we must be willing to contend for it too. It is not enough to be orthodox, we must be willing to contend for orthodoxy. If our functional ecclesiology is congregational, then our natural inclination will be to contend for the faith in our local context, but not in the wider denomination as a whole. However, unless we contend in the denomination, the denomination will continue to drift ever further from its biblical foundations.
We must not bury our heads in the sand or acquiesce in the face of relativism, doctrinal confusion or the erosion of biblical morality. And whilst on the one hand we must guard against lethargy, cowardice and indifference, on the other we must be wary not to contend in a way that dishonours Christ or that seems to deny the very gospel of grace that we proclaim.
The Reformed theologian John Frame wrote an article entitled “Machen’s Warrior Children”102. Gresham Machen was an American Reformed Theologian who battled against theological Liberalism in the Presbyterian Church of America, writing “Christianity and Liberalism”.
“[H]is book argued, not only that liberalism was wrong, but that it was a different religion from Christianity. According to Machen, Christianity and liberalism were antithetically opposed in their concepts of doctrine, God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church.”103
Machen left the Presbyterian Church of America and founded what became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). In his article, Frame writes:
“Machen died of pneumonia in 1937, disappointed that his new denomination was already showing signs of division. Machen’s children were theological battlers, and, when the battle against liberalism in the PCUSA appeared to be over, they found other theological battles to fight. Up to the present time, these and other battles have continued within the movement, and, in my judgment, that is the story of conservative evangelical Reformed theology in twentieth-century America.”104
In being willing to make a stand and to contend for the faith, there can be a danger that imperceptibly a contentious attitude becomes more and more a default position, or the instinct to contend for the faith becomes more prominent in us than the love and grace of Jesus. We can become so concerned to fight against false teaching and to expose doctrinal error that we become defined more by what we are against, than what we are for.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism; Pickles, Mark, pages 115-116, 2017.