Facing opposition helps to clarify our faith
“…I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals, whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord” (Jude 3-4)
In every age since Christ, different aspects of biblical Christianity have been attacked. Faithful responses to these challenges help clarify what is distinctive about “Reformed evangelical” (i.e. biblical) faith. Here is a simple summary:
In the first three centuries of Christianity, the divinity of Christ was attacked (our distinctive view of Jesus), and defended by champions like Athanasius against the heresies of Arius.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, it was the seriousness of sin (our distinctive view of humanity), defended by champions like Augustine against the heresies of Pelagius.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, it was Jesus’ substitutionary death: that is, Christ dying in our place to satisfy God so that we can be saved (our distinctive view of the cross)— championed by men like Anselm against those, later led by Abelard, who taught that salvation is won through our own moral living inspired by Jesus.
By the 16th century, it was justification by grace through faith alone (our distinctive view of salvation), rediscovered and defended by champions like Luther and Zwingli despite Catholic persecution.
In 17th-century Europe, it was the sovereignty of God in salvation (our distinctive view of God) being defended by champions like Calvin against those, later led by Arminius, who wrongly claimed human free will in salvation.
In the “Puritan” age in England in the 17th century, it was the need for regeneration (our distinctive view of the Holy Spirit), defended by heroes like Owen and Baxter against lifeless High Anglicanism.
In the 18th-century revivals in Britain and the US, it was the reality of the coming judgment (our distinctive view of history), preached by Whitfield, Wesley and Edwards against liberals who falsely promise eternal peace for everyone.
In the 19th century, it was the urgency of mission (our distinctive view of the world), championed by men like Hudson Taylor in China, William Carey in India, and C.T. Studd in Africa against the selfish apathy of “Reformed” churches.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it was the authority of Scripture (our distinctive view of the Bible), defended by men like Warfield and Machen against scholars from liberal theological colleges obsessed with speculating about the sources of the text.
By the middle of the 20th century, it was the centrality of expository preaching in the local church (our distinctive view of ministry), defended by Lloyd-Jones, Stott and Lucas against the social priorities of the ecumenical movement.
At the end of the 20th century, it was the primacy of the local congregation (our distinctive view of the church), defended by champions like Broughton Knox and Phillip Jensen against the centralising control of traditional Western denominations.
As we begin the 21st century, the false teaching tearing established denominations apart challenges the necessity of repentance from sin for salvation (our distinctive view of holiness), which contradicts the hedonism of personal autonomy. This is now morphing into a challenge to the “given-ness” of our gender by God (our distinctive view of creation), and we await the emergence of our theological champions.
But we mustn’t despair as we face new challenges and must “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). For our opponents are condemned, we shall be preserved and facing opposition helps to clarify our faith – celebrating fresh treasures of the gospel in every age.