Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Earnestly Contending

I just finished reading J Gresham Machen’s last sermon to students at Princeton Seminary, The Good Fight of Faith, (Valiant for the Truth, a Treasury of Evangelical Writings, 1961) which was delivered March 10, 1929. I was impressed not only with his call to arms but also, especially, with this plea:
"God deliver us from the sin of making common cause with those who deny or ignore the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ. God save us from the deadly guilt of
consenting to the presence as our representative in the church of those who lead Christ’s little ones astray; God make us whatever else we are, just faithful
messengers, who present, without fear or favor, not our word, but the Word of God. But if you are such messengers, you will have the opposition, not only of
the world, but increasingly, I fear of the Church."
He was a prophet!

Now, for the last 80 years (for that matter, 2000 years) we, the Church, have certainly had opposition from the world, just as Jesus said we would. "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also". Joh 15:20 I think Machen understood the opposition that would come from the world, but I think he was a visionary when he stated "...increasingly, I fear from the Church". Opposition came to Machen from within his own church that eventually put him on trial for fomenting unrest by espousing fundamentalist beliefs. Then, ultimately, suspending him from his ordination. Machen wrote prophetically concerning Princeton Theological Seminary where he was the Professor of NT: (that Princeton Seminary would become) "inclusive of those who obscure the great issue of the day; but it will be exclusive of those who have determined to warn the church of her danger and to contend earnestly for the faith." (As quoted in Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, Vol. 2, 380)

Was the trial and suspension of J Gresham Machen the last word in his life? Hardly! "Machen's confrontation with modernism and broad churchmanship at Princeton Theological Seminary and within the Presbyterian Church in the USA - ..gave rise to both Westminster Theological Seminary (1929) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1936)... Both institutions were founded in the effort to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Accordingly, the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states: "evangelical Christianity in the Western world owes a large debt to Machen and to the organizations he founded for their intelligent and courageous explanation of and stand for historical Christian truth." (Pressing toward the Mark, Greg Bahnsen) Machen was a bachelor all his life and , of course, left no children, but I am sure there are many individuals and even institutions that would consider themselves his spiritual offspring. He died in 1937 at age 55.

I say all of the above to say this. There is "increasingly" opposition in the Church today against those who, like Machen, would stand for the fundamentals, the essentials, of the faith once delivered unto the saints. See Machen’s book "Christianity and Liberalism" on line HERE
For church history buffs, this is not a new phenomenon that has recently reared its ugly head within the last 80 years or so. This is the nature of the Church. All of the great Christian creeds, statements, stands and clarifying doctrinal positions have come about simply because of opposition to orthodoxy or to basic fundamentals, whether from within or without.

Bottom line..from another who had dealt with situations not unlike those in the modern Church...his statement: "Here I stand, I can do no other" Martin Luther. God help us to stand firm for historical Christian truth! I like James 1:2-4 in the Message Bible: Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. "Through the conflicts of life, God’s grace under pressure is sure and sufficient." Ann Brooks, "Discovering Grace Under Pressure".


Dan said...

What a great post. Machen is still unanswered. For a long time he was ignored. It is amazing how timely his words are today. Thanks for the info about his book online.

A story I heard once was that he asked his teacher, B.B.Warfield, if he thought the denomination would split. (This would have been pre 1920, I think.) Warfield's reply was, "You can't split rotten wood." Ouch.


Dave Van said...

Thanks for the kind words. You can get the full story about Warfield's comment to Machen at THIS SITE