The Things Worth Holding Dear
One of the great stances needed in our day is the necessity for theologians, Christians, and pastors to fight for the details of what the Scripture teaches. We must not just be content when someone uses words like atonement, redemption, and salvation in reference to Christianity, it is imperative for us to take the next step and inquire as to what is meant by these terms. Words have meaning, theological terminology is important, and we must ensure our theology is biblical not only in how it merely sounds, but also in what it means at its core. Recently, I was reading some of J. Gresham Machen’s famous book Christianity and Liberalism. In doing so, I came across this gem of a quote:
“In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”1
If one begins to think back to the battles of Machen’s day, the immediate enemy which comes to mind is the rise of liberal theology. Individuals like Machen and his colleagues valiantly stood against this enemy. They fought for the Gospel and the truth of the Scripture. Yet, I think that Machen’s point in this quote holds true beyond simply the battles of his own day. For example, in America today, I can hardly think of anyone who would say that liberty and freedom are horrific qualities. Mostly, we are agreed that liberty and freedom are positive virtues worthy of being pursued by society. However, where we differ is regarding what is meant by liberty and freedom. Merely saying you want people to be free is meaningless, until you provide a clear definition of freedom. It is that definition, that clarity over which men will be willing to fight and exert energy in order to stand for what they believe to be virtuous. This truth takes us to the core of the really important belief about which Machen is speaking.
The Difference In Perspective
A temptation for our day, and any day, is to glance over issues assuming we are agreed while actually neglecting to consider our differences. Theological liberals claim to believe in many of the same doctrines as orthodox Christians. The issue is that they use the same language, but there are very different meanings held by each camp. Machen understood this fact and stated:
“In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.”2
Just because someone uses the same terms to express their beliefs, does not necessitate they actually are utilizing identical definitions. This detail is precisely the one over which we must not yield ground. In our own day, many cry for social justice, believing their woke ideology can usher in salvation for what they deem societal problems. They declare their cause to be for justice, for freedom, for equality, for that which is good. Using our terms, they sound like their battle is noble, yet just like theological liberalism, these individuals possess vastly different definitions. Countless individuals have cried for us to put away the theological weaponry claiming we are all agreed on these issues. These are the ones who believe the small amount of agreement is more valuable than the tremendous disagreements. They do not understand the dangerous trojan horse for which they have opened the gates to the city. It looks friendly, it sounds the same, it uses similar terms, but once in the gate, the enemy will jump out and seek to destroy the city.
Fighting For The Particulars
We can think about the Apostle Paul dealing with the Jews in the book of Acts as an example of someone fighting for the truth amidst disagreement. Paul would have agreed with the Jews on various points such as monotheism, the inspiration of the Old Testament, and the purity of God’s law. Yet, Paul did not allow these agreements to stand in the way of his fight over the distinctions between the Jews who rejected Christ as opposed to the Christians who follow the Lord. That fact is why we see Paul going to the synagogues to dispute with the Jews regarding Jesus Christ, seeking to prove the necessity of His suffering and resurrection (Acts 17:1-3, 17). He could have just rested when the Jews said they believed in God, the Old Testament, and that the Messiah would come. However, these mere points of agreement were not enough, for the Messiah had come, and the Jews refused to believe in Him. We must always look for these further details like Paul did.
Paul fought for the particulars, it was not enough for the Jews to say they believed in one God, that He is holy, and that He is righteous. The Apostle proceeded to get down to the details, to prove not only that there is a Messiah, but also that His name is Jesus Christ and all men must bow before Him for He is the only way to salvation. So also, whenever we are fighting against theological liberalism, we must press into the details seeking to demonstrate the differences in our systems. The social justice warriors and the theological liberals use many of the same terms. Professing a belief in God and a passion for justice, they can easily lead us astray if we are not alert. That fact is why we must get into the details, for they are worth fighting over. Though it can be a strenuous process, we must handle these issues with precisions, for it is in the thick of making careful distinctions where we find the most precious battles worth fighting!3
1 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 1.
2 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 1.
3 Note: For clarification I am not saying Christians should separate over any and all issues. For example, I firmly believe premillennials, amillennials, and postmillennials can partake in brotherly and sisterly fellowship. However, I am arguing that we must be precise in theological conversations and not merely glance over what someone means when using Christian language. We must be careful to ensure what is meant by those words is in fact biblical!
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