Monday, November 4, 2013

Contending for the Faith

My dear husband standing in front
of the statue of Ebenezer Erskine in
Stirling, Scotland
      From the earliest days of the Christian church to the present, there have always been those outside the faith who have set themselves against believers.  However, we often forget that there are also enemies from within the church, and it takes strong men and women to contend for the faith and stand for truth.  Jude addressed the issue of false teachers in his letter to believers (vs 3-4):  "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.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."  Since human nature has not changed except by the grace and blood of Christ, we still face these struggles today.  The question is, "Will Christians step up and contend for the faith once for all delivered to us or will we allow worldly ideas and techniques to slowly decay the faith?"
     In the history of the church, there are two preachers (among the many that can be named) who contended for the truth at some expense to them.  One example comes from the history of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the person of Ebenezer Erskine.  Having been to Scotland two years ago, we walked in the church in which he preached as well as visiting his grave.  Ebenezer and his brother Ralph, both pastors in the Church of Scotland became involved in what was called the "Marrow Man" controversy.  Edward Fisher, a layman theologian, had written a book entitled "The Marrow of Modern Divinity" in which he tried to write about the atonement in such a way as to guide believers away from Neonomianism (a belief that the Gospel is a "new law" replacing the Old Testament laws and that faith and repentance must come before a person could have salvation).  When this book became popular with a pastor Thomas Boston, it was introduced to believers thus stirring up the members of the Presbytery who claimed it was an antinomian work (meaning it was against the law).  Thus the controversy began.  The "Marrow Men" contended that grace comes before salvation and that a man cannot forsake sin until he comes to salvation.
     Over a period of time and various contentious debates with the Church of Scotland, Ebenezer Erskine and others who objected to this neonomian perspective of the ruling body took a stand and broke with the church forming "The Associate Reformed Church".  The entire controversy boiled down to this:  The Neonomians believed in conditional grace and that a man must forsake sin before he can come to salvation while the "Marrow Men" believed in the free grace of God to those whom He calls.  Because the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that of free grace, was being held captive through a type of legalism, these twelve men stood against this teaching and contended for the faith.
     Another example of a man who stood for truth is found in "The Prince of Preachers", Charles H. Spurgeon.  In March of 1887, Charles Spurgeon published the first of two articles entitled "The Down  Grade" in his monthly newsletter "The Sword and the Trowel".  The articles were published anonymously but it was Pastor Robert Shindler along with Spurgeon that had input in the writing.  Basically, the theme was that church was going "down hill at breakneck speed."   The author noted
The Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling
where Erskine preached
that after a period of sound teaching and growth in evangelicalism, there came a time of falling away from sound doctrine.  Indeed in the churches of their day, there were those who introduced heretical preachers, associates and assistants into their churches even though they seemed to be orthodox in thought.  The rise of Arianism (a belief that Christ was a man and not divine) and Socinianism (they did not believe in the Trinity)  in Exeter led to many Presbyterian churches there being infected with this teaching.  Thus the influence of the Puritans, holy living, sound Bible teaching was waning and giving way to dry, listless apostate teaching.  Churches began to give church membership to the unregenerate and even allowed them to take leadership positions.  Likewise these people chose pastors like themselves who did not stay faithful to the Gospel.
     In a second article, Spurgeon himself wrote with strong conviction that the church was quickly going on the down grade and his pleas for clarity and faithful teaching were unheeded.  Ultimately, he broke with The Baptist Union over this disagreement after trying in every way possible to turn things around.  The Union censored him and ignored his warnings.  "No Creed but Christ" was their battle cry ignoring the sound creeds developed in the church to guide her teaching.  The Baptist Union tried to compromise with the modernists in their theology which only accelerated their down hill slide as Spurgeon had predicted.
     Charles Spurgeon never got over the sorrow for the break with the Baptist Union but he indicated he would have done it again for the sake of the truth of the Gospel.  As Shindler wrote about the "Down Grade",  he stated:  "[At the end of the Puritan age] by some means or other, first the ministers, then the Churches, got on "the down grade" and in some cases, the descent was rapid and in all, very disastrous.  In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation.  Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless.  Corresponding results in the character and life, first of the preachers and then of the people, were only too plainly apparent."
     Both Spurgeon and Erskine paid a high price by standing up for the truth.  Lost relationships, heavy hearts, and much prayer over matters was their daily struggle, but neither of them could stand idly by while truths from God's Word were being trampled in favor of the popular ideas of the day.  So deceitful is the heart of man that it is easy to fall into some aberrant philosophy or worldly concept introduced by a teacher who loves to tickle the ear.
     When we look back at the verses in Jude, we notice that he indicated that the false teachers had crept into the church.  They didn't come trumpeting their false ideas.  They came quietly in and gained a foothold.  Jude called the believers to contend for the faith and not lose the moorings on which the foundation of the church was built.  The same is true in our churches today.  We must be on guard, in the Word, and in prayer that God will give us wisdom to discern between what is false teaching and the solid rock of Jesus Christ.  Likewise, pray for pastors, church leaders and teachers that they may not slip into a "down grade" as happened in Spurgeon's day.  As long as we walk in this world, there will be those who will lead others astray.  This is why God calls us to be "contenders" for the faith once delivered.  May we do so to His glory even as Erskine and Spurgeon did.  Selah!

I encourage you to read more on these controversies as there is not enough time or space to dig deeply into them here.

No comments: