Category Archives: Fundamentalism

Biblical Separation Applied

What is it about biblical separation that seems so distasteful to Christians today? Some view biblical separatists as people who don’t know how to enjoy life. Some view them as unnecessarily cautious. Some even view them as angry and inappropriately divisive people. But is this really the case? Are biblical separatists people who have gone over the edge with zeal for God’s holiness?

We believe that God desires unity within the Church (John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:1-6). We should strive for this unity because all believers are a part of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). However, because of differences of opinion, interpretation, and practice, unity is best accomplished by believers who share the same beliefs, convictions, and practices (Acts 15:36-41). We also believe that there are situations where unity is not possible or appropriate, and where God commands us to separate ourselves. This is where the practice of biblical separation is necessary. There are three major areas of separation taught in the Bible.

  1. Personal separation

    We believe that all Christians should live in a way that reflects the change God has made in them (2 Cor. 5:17; Titus 2:11-14), that is holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:19-20), and that evidences a love for God instead of worldly desires and attitudes (1 John 2:15-17). This necessarily requires Christians to keep themselves from certain thoughts, conversations, and actions but it should not result in complete isolation from unbelievers (John 17:15; 1 Cor. 5:9-10).

    For example, believers should not imbibe worldly and ungodly entertainment. If a television show or movie promotes sexual immorality, blasphemy, or covetousness, we should turn off that program and instead fill our minds with content that promotes good character. If a clothing style provokes immoral thoughts, promotes an ungodly alliance with rebellion or pride, we should not wear that kind of clothing. If having a television, computer, or mobile phone proves to be too much of a temptation to sin, a believer should limit its availability by installing protections of some sort or by limiting or removing access to such things.

  2. Separation from a disobedient brother

    We believe that a Christian should lovingly confront another Christian who has sinned against him with a desire for his repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. If the sinning Christian does not repent, the next step is to involve other believers and, if necessary, to bring the matter before the local church (Matt. 18:15-17). If the sinning believer refuses to repent, he must be withdrawn from to show him the seriousness of his sin (2 Thess. 3:14-15) and to guard against his bad influence (1 Cor. 5:6-7). There may be situations when a believer’s sin is so egregious (1 Cor. 5:1, 11; 2 Thess. 3:6) that immediate separation is necessary.

    For instance, if a believer is actively imbibing sinful media, other believers should lovingly confront this behavior explaining why it is wrong according to the Bible, and with the desire for repentance and restoration. If a believer is speaking in a way that is hateful, harmful, or unkind, other believers should confront him and help him to change. If a believer has committed adultery, other believers should confront him with his sin and seek his repentance and restoration. If, however, any of these believers refuse to deal with their sin, the matter should be addressed by a larger group of believers and eventually by the church. If the sinning believer does not repent, fellowship must be removed so as to escape his influence and to show him the seriousness of his sin.

  3. Ecclesiastical separation.

    We believe that a relationship with other churches, organizations, or believers outside of the local church can be beneficial (Col. 4:12-15; Rom. 15:26). However, these relationships should be carefully examined before fellowship is offered (1 John 1:5-7). The local church should not cooperate in a spiritual endeavor with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), false teachers (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 John 9-11), or believers who are worldly (1 John 2:15-17) or disobedient (2 Thess. 3:6). Such cooperation sends a mixed message about true faith (2 Cor. 6:14) and fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11-13).

    If a church in the area asks for our support in a spiritual endeavor, we must examine whether fellowship is biblical. If the asking church invites the Roman Catholic church to take part and treats them as believers, we would not be able to take part in the event. If the asking church includes worldly or sensual music, we would not be able to take part. If the asking church includes false teachers or disobedient believers on their platform, we would not be able to take part. If a formerly good Christian organization or school is unwilling to practice biblical separation, we would no longer be able to support or fellowship with it.


There are two basic views about biblical separation. One views it as an unnecessary division within the Body of Christ. The examples given above are considered extreme, distasteful, and a mar on the Church’s reputation to the world. Another view is that biblical separation is something clearly taught in the Bible. The examples given above are simply obedience to God’s desire to keep believers and the Church pure and holy for Himself. Separation, in this case, is not a bad reputation to the world, but a showcase of what God truly desires.

I believe that this last view is correct. While we needn’t separate over every difference of opinion and need to show love toward those who are untaught in these things, our first responsibility is to think about what God says. When God tells us to separate ourselves from the world, our obedience draws us close to Him and gives the world an example of God’s holiness. When God tells us to separate from a disobedient brother, our obedience is designed to show him the seriousness of his sin and need for repentance. Continued fellowship with him would not accomplish God’s desire. When God tells us to separate from churches and organizations whose actions or relationships are sinful, our obedience makes a clear distinction between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, and gives a clear picture of God’s desire for a pure Church.

Note: This article is based on the proposed revision of the doctrinal statement of Calvary Baptist Church of Willard.

Is this what we want for our Christian college students?

Someone told me that Cedarville University had removed some professors because of their bad theology. Others have praised the school for its good teaching and professors. I have to admit that I was skeptical about the university due to what I had experienced in the past. When my wife and I visited the school in the early 2000’s to see a Christian college student compete in a national Cross Country meet, the dinner afterward was accompanied by rock music over the speaker system. I also heard from a previous Cedarville student who bragged about blasting secular rock music in the dormitory about that same time period.

You may have noticed that I mentioned rock music. Why would rock music be a problem? To most people today, an aversion to rock music is an odd view to have. Everywhere you go, you hear it. Attend a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game and you will be pounded with the music. The same thing is true at a Tim Horton’s or a Subway restaurant. Rock music is imbedded in our society. But this doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing for Christians who want to be separated from the world.

Rock music has been the vehicle by which the world expresses their desire to be free from rules, to throw off restraint, and to express anger and sensuality. Listen to the world and they will tell you these things. During my lifetime, certain Christian performers attempted to meld rock music and a Christian message in an attempt to reach the world. This is “an unusual phenomenon, since rock music has historically been associated with themes such as nonconformity, sexual promiscuity, rebellion, drug and alcohol use and other topics normally considered antithetical to the teachings of Christianity” (Wikipedia). For some reason, that idea appealed to me in my teen years because I wanted the world and Christianity at the same time. After God saved me, I saw the error in mixing the world with Christ.

“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” —James 4:4

Today, I visited the school via Cedarville’s website. The chapel service was to have Andrew Snelling from Answers in Genesis as the speaker. As I listened to a man introduce the visiting speaker, I noticed the drum set behind him and wondered if they would play something before the message. They did. A rock band played for the gathered crowd. You can view this part of the chapel service at the link below.

The title of this article is an important question. If God is against mixing His message with worldliness, and if Christian rock music accomplishes this, why would we want to recommend such a school to our young people? Is it something we can overlook because we like the preaching? Is it just a difference of opinion (meat offered to idols)? Or is it worldliness infiltrating a college and displeasing the Lord? These are important questions to answer. But let’s set aside these questions for a moment.

Let’s assume that you are a conservative, fundamental Christian who believes that separation from worldliness is important. And let’s assume that you don’t agree with this kind of music. With those assumptions in mind, do you think it would be a good thing to send your Christian young people to a college that promotes the opposite of what you believe is pleasing to the Lord? While the students might get a good education (the Answers in Genesis speaker probably said some good things) and while the doctrinal statement of the school says good things, what else will your students get from the school? They will be influenced by worldly music with Christian lyrics on a daily basis and will be mingling with professors and students who believe the opposite of what you have taught them. Is this what we want for our Christian college students?

McGee on Liberalism Creeping into our Churches

“Liberalism has crept into our churches and we have allowed it to stay there unchecked. I can remember when I came before a church court to be examined for the ministry. A young fellow from a liberal seminary was also there to be examined. I have never seen anyone who knew so little theology and Bible as this boy, and what he did know he had all mixed up. It was clear that he had little knowledge and no faith. He could never even explain the great doctrines of the faith. In fact, one man very patiently said to him, ‘Well if you don’t believe it, at least you ought to know what you don’t believe!’ But he didn’t. Then one old man who knew this boy’s father, said, ‘This boy’s father was a great preacher in the past. He was sound in the faith and I know that one day this boy will come around and will get straightened out.’ It was not unanimous but the council accepted him. It made me sick at heart to be brought in at the same time with a fellow who did not believe anything at all.

The way this council handled the situation is not the way Moses would have handled it! He would not have drawn a sword and slain the fellow, but he would not have accepted him as a preacher. He would have given that boy a Bible and told him to go to Bible school, learn a little Bible, and then come back and he could be examined again and see if he was fit for the ministry. Because of similar actions by other councils, liberalism has come into the organized church and has taken over. You cannot compromise with sin.”

Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol 1., Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, p. 302.

The Greatest Tragedy of Modern Ecumenism

Peter’s warnings in the second chapter of 2 Peter are a potent reminder that false teachers will come from within the Church and turn many away from holy living and pure doctrine. While the warnings are not particularly enjoyable to read, they do serve as necessary warnings against what has happened in the past and will happen in the future. The Old Testament believers and the early Church faced false teachers. Our current generation is also being influenced by false teachers. Because of this, we do well to heed Peter’s warnings and to speak out against false doctrine and those who propagate it.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.1

This morning, I came across this commentary on 2 Peter 2:1-3 by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones which was originally published between 1948 and 1950. He was a Welsh pastor known for his understanding of the Scriptures and his opposition to liberal Christianity. When Lloyd-Jones wrote his commentary on 2 Peter, some were calling for unity without purity of doctrine. With the warnings of 2 Peter 2 in mind, he wrote these warnings about ecumenism.

The whole emphasis at the moment is that we should all be getting together and forming great organizations. The concern is not so much as to the truth of the message, but to gather ourselves together into one great community. The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied reiteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy, as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If we were all brought together and formed into one organization, that is no guarantee that the message preached would be true. There are false teachers; there were in the Old Testament and there are and always have been in the church.2

The modern ecumenical movement leads to a minimizing of doctrinal differences for the alleged greater good of the Church. Sadly, this idea leads instead to a steady decline of doctrinal purity. While we should seek unity amongst our Christian brothers when possible, unity must always proceed from pure doctrine and practice. As Peter points out in his second epistle, there is too much at stake. So, take heed to his warning and guard yourself against the false teaching that has pulled so many people down. Remember what God has done for you (2 Pet. 1:1-4), diligently add godly character to your faith (2 Pet. 1:5-11), and follow the divinely inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:12-21) as you seek to guard yourself from anything that would pull you away from the Lord.

1Scripture quotation of 2 Peter 2:1-3 was taken from the NASB.

2D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, 2 Peter, (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 128-29.

Curse, strike, and pull out their hair!

Most people are familiar with Nehemiah’s leadership in getting the wall of Jerusalem built despite opposition. I have heard a number of sermons about working together, persevering, and standing up against opposition. But when is the last time you heard a sermon about cursing, striking, and pulling out the hair of sinful people in your church from Nehemiah 13?

In the context, Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem to find the people returning to their ungodly ways. He found Tobiah living in the temple, people disregarding the Sabbath, and Jewish people married to Philistines, Ammonites, and Moabites. Nehemiah’s response to the first problem was to throw Tobiah’s belongings out of the temple and demand that the priests cleanse the room and start using it for its intended purpose (13:4-9). The second situation was handled by warning the people, contending with the nobles, and warning the merchants that he would “lay hands on them” if they returned on the Sabbath (13:15-22). (I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinking ordination.)

Up to this point, we all are with Nehemiah. The people needed to be straightened out and he found a way to do that. But what about the way he handled the third problem? When Nehemiah found that certain Israelites had married Philistines, Ammonites, and Moabites, he “contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear” not to do it anymore. Hmm… I think most people would rather overlook what happened here. Wasn’t Nehemiah a bit overzealous? Maybe not.

Are there not some things so important that extreme measures must be taken? In Nehemiah’s case, the answer would be yes. Think context here. The people of Israel and Judah had been sent into captivity under God’s curse because they rejected him and the Law. For seventy years, they had been captive in Babylon because of their sins against God. And now that the people had been given permission to return to the land, they quickly forgot the past. This was a big deal not only to Nehemiah but to God. What were the people thinking? Did they want God’s judgment to fall on them again? This is why Nehemiah’s reaction was so strong.

Should Christians do the same? Should we pronounce a curse on, strike, and pull out the hair of Christians who choose to return to their former sins? No, I don’t think so. But I do think that we should take a greater offense to sin than we normally do. Like Nehemiah we should view sin as a great wickedness against God. And when we see other Christians living in such a way as to anger him and influence others to sin, we should speak out and respond in such a way that shows the offender and those in the Church how serious his sin is. I’m not sure we do much of that anymore. Perhaps our desire to distance ourselves from the fighting fundamentalists of the past has taken the sting out of sin. Perhaps our emphasis on God’s love has led to license. And perhaps we need a few more Nehemiahs to shake things up.

Redefining Fundamentalism?

Several years ago, there was a push to redefine fundamentalism. Some within the movement were unhappy with the direction and character of past generations for a variety of reasons. Past fundamentalists were defined as too separated, too concerned with outward appearances, and too strident. Some of the younger fundamentalists chose to define fundamentalism as those who were willing to do battle royal for the fundamentals. The focus on the fundamentals was a good thing except that it ignored the other battles that had been fought during the 20th century.

Last night during our prayer meeting service, the Lord brought to mind a message preached at an ACCC meeting in Parma, Ohio several years ago. The speaker was Dr. E. Allen Griffith and his message, “The Impact of Contemporary Evangelism on the Faith“, pointed out some of the concerns several of us had about the new direction. Click on the link above and let me know what you think.

The Current Battle in Fundamentalism

A few days ago, Don Johnson posted a thoughtful article about the current battle in fundamentalism. After talking about the past battles against modernism and new evangelicalism, he sums up the current battle with this paragraph:

There is, however, a current battle. The current battle is the battle over culture. Some younger fundamentalists (and the conservative evangelicals) seem to be articulating a position that only battles over theology are legitimate, no one can do battle over non-theological matters. As long as doctrine is orthodox, there is no remaining conflict. Culture, as a neutral object, or at least as an insignificant object, must not become the focus of division. But is this challenge non-theological?

I have been thinking about the current trends in fundamentalism and found his article a refreshing perspective. Read the complete article and his conclusion at

The Separateness of the Church — Part 3

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.

Click here to read Part 2.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 3
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

Time would fail us to speak of Athanasius and of Augustine and the rest, but they too were God’s instruments in the preservation of the precious salt. Certainly the attack in those days was subtle enough almost to deceive the very elect. Grant the Semi-Arians their one letter in homoiousios, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, and Christ would have been degraded to the level of a creature, mythology would have been substituted for the living God, and the victory of paganism would have been complete. From the human point of view the life of the Church was hanging by a hair. But God was watching over his own; Athanasius stood against the world; and the precious salt was preserved.

Then came the Middle Ages. How long and how dark, in some respects, was the time! It is hard to realize that eleven centuries elapsed between Augustine and Luther, yet such was the case. Never in the interval, indeed, was God altogether without his witnesses; the light still shone from the sacred page; but how dim, in that atmosphere, the light seemed to be! The Gospel might have seemed to be buried forever. Yet in God’s good time it came forth again with new power-the same Gospel that Augustine and Paul had proclaimed. What stronger proof could there be that that Gospel had come from God? Where in the history of religion is there any parallel for such a revival, after such an interval, and with such a purity of faithfulness to what had formerly been believed? A Gospel that survived the Middle Ages will probably, it may well be hoped, never perish from the earth, but will be the word of life unto the end of the world.

Yet in those early years of the sixteenth century how dark was the time! When Luther made his visit to Rome, what did he find-what did he find there in the centre of the Christian world? He found paganism blatant and triumphant and unashamed; he found the glories of ancient Greece come to life in the Italian Renaissance, but with those glories the self-sufficiency and the rebellion against the God and the moral degradation of the natural man. Apparently paganism had at last won its age-long battle; apparently it had made a clean sweep over the people of God; apparently the Church had at last become quite indistinguishable from the world.

But in the midst of the general wreck one thing at least was preserved. Many things were lost, but one thing was still left-the medieval Church had never lost the Word of God. The Bible had indeed become a book with seven seals; it had been buried under a mass of misinterpretation never equaled perhaps until the absurdities indulged in by the Modernism of the present day-a mass of misinterpretation which seemed to hide it from the eyes of men. But at last an Augustinian monk penetrated beneath the mass of error, read the Scriptures with his own eyes, and the Reformation was born. Thus again was the precious salt preserved.

Then came Calvin and the great consistent system which he founded upon the Word of God. How glorious were even the by-products of that system of revealed truth; a great stream of liberty spread from Geneva throughout Europe and to America across the sea. But if the by-products were glorious, more glorious by far was the truth itself, and the life that it caused men to live. How sweet and beautiful a thing was the life of the Protestant Christian home, where the Bible was the sole guide and stay! Have we really devised a substitute for that life in these latter days? I think not, my friends. There was liberty there, and love, and peace with God.

But the Church after the Reformation was not to have any permanent rest, as indeed it is probably not to have rest at any time in this evil world. Still the conflict of the ages went on, and paganism prepared for an assault greater and more insidious perhaps than any that had gone before. At first there was a frontal attack-Voltaire and Rousseau and the Goddess Reason and the terrors of the French Revolution and all that. As will always be the case, such an attack was bound to fail. But the enemy has now changed his method, and the attack is coming, not from without, but in far more dangerous fashion, from within. During the past one hundred years the Protestant churches of the world have gradually been becoming permeated by paganism in its most insidious form.

Click here for Part 4

The Separateness of the Church — Part 4

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.

Click here to read Part 3.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 4
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

Sometimes paganism is blatant, as, for example, in a recent sermon in the First Presbyterian Church of New York, the burden of which was, “I Believe in Man.” That was the very quintessence of the pagan spirit-confidence in human resources substituted for the Christian consciousness of sin. But what was there blatant is found in subtler forms in many places throughout the Church. The Bible, with a complete abandonment of all scientific historical method and of all common sense, is made to say the exact opposite of what it means; no Gnostic, no medieval monk with his fourfold sense of Scripture, ever produced more absurd Biblical interpretation than can be heard every Sun day in the pulpits of New York. Even prayer in many quarters is made a thinly disguised means of propaganda against the truth of the Gospel; men pray that there may be peace, where peace means victory for the enemies of Christ. Thus gradually the Church is being permeated by the spirit of the world; it is becoming what the Auburn Affirmationists call an “inclusive” church; it is becoming salt that has lost its savor and is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

At such a time, what should be done by those who love Christ? I think, my friends, that they should at least face the facts; I do not believe that they should bury their heads like ostriches in the sand; I do not think that they should soothe themselves with the minutes of the General Assembly or the reports of the Boards or the imposing rows of figures which the church papers contain. Last week it was reported that the churches of America increased their membership by 690,000. Are you encouraged by these figures? I for my part am not encouraged a bit. I have indeed my own grounds for encouragement, especially those which are found in the great and precious promises of God. But these figures have no place among them. How many of these 690,000 names do you think are really written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? A small proportion, I fear. Church membership today often means nothing more, as has well been said, than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus; churches in countless communities are little more than Rotary Clubs. One day, as I was walking through a neighboring city, I saw not an altar with an inscription to an unknown god, but something that filled me with far more sorrow than that could have done. I saw a church with a large sign on it, which read somewhat like this: “Not a member? Come and help us make this a better community.” Truly we have wandered far from the day when entrance into the Church involved confession of faith in Christ as the Savior from sin.

The trust is that in these days the ecclesiastical currency has been sadly debased. Church membership, church office, the ministry, no longer mean what they ought to mean. But what shall we do? I think, my friends, that, cost what it may, we ought at least to face the facts. It will be hard; it will seem impious to timid souls; many will be hurt. But in God’s name let us get rid of shams and have reality at last. Let us stop soothing ourselves with columns of statistics, and face the spiritual facts; let us recall this paper currency and get back to a standard of gold.

When we do that, and when we come to God in prayer-with the real facts spread before Him, as Hezekiah spread before him the letter of the enemy-there will be some things to cheer our hearts. God has not left himself altogether without his witnesses. Humble they may often be, and despised by the wisdom of the world; but they are not perhaps altogether without the favor of God. In China, in Great Britain, and in America there have been some who have raised their voices bravely for their Savior and Lord.

True, the forces of unbelief have not yet been checked, and none can say whether our own American Presbyterian church, which we love so dearly, will be preserved. It may be that paganism will finally control and that Christian men and women may have to withdraw from a church that has lost its distinctness from the world. Once in the course of history, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, that method of withdrawal was God’s method of preserving the precious salt. But it may be also that our Church in its corporate capacity, in its historic grandeur, may yet stand for Christ. God grant that it may be so! The future at any rate is in God’s hand, and in some way or other-let us learn that much from history-the salt will be preserved.

What are you going to do, my brothers, in this great time of crisis? What a time it is to be sure! What a time of glorious opportunity! Will you stand with the world? Will you shrink from controversy? Will you witness for Christ only where witnessing costs nothing? Will you pass through these stirring days without coming to any real decision? Or will you learn the lesson of Christian history? Will you penetrate, by your study and your meditation, beneath the surface? Will you recognize in that which prides itself on being modern an enemy that is as old as the hills? Will you hope, and pray, not for a mere continuance of what now is, but for a rediscovery of the Gospel that can make all things new? Will you have recourse to the charter of Christian liberty in the Word of God? God grant that some of you may do that! God grant that some of you, even though you be not now decided, may come to say, as you go forth into the world: “It is hard in these days to be a Christian; the adversaries are strong; I am weak; but thy Word is true and thy Spirit will be with me; here am I, Lord, send me.”

The Separateness of the Church — Part 2

Last Sunday, I picked up a copy of this old article on the literature table at Orwell Bible Church. It is written by a Presbyterian minister who stood for truth in a time when churches were caving in to liberal ideas and men were unwilling to speak out. It was a good read as what he says still applies today. God will not let the Church fail no matter what once-strong churches, colleges, or organizations choose to do.

Click here to read Part 1.

The Separateness of the Church — Part 2
by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937)

But after those persecutions, there came in the early Church a time of peace-deadly, menacing, deceptive peace, a peace more dangerous by far than the bitterest war. Many of the sect of the Pharisees came into the Church-false brethren privily brought in. These were not true Christians, because they trusted in their own works for salvation, and no man can be a Christian who does that. They were not even true adherents of the old covenant; for the old covenant, despite the Law, was a preparation for the Saviour’s coming, and the Law was a schoolmaster unto Christ. Yet they were Christians in name, and they tried to dominate the councils of the Church. It was a serious menace; for a moment it looked as though even Peter, true apostle though he was at heart, were being deceived. His principles were right, but by his actions his principles, at Antioch, for one fatal moment, were belied. But it was not God’s will that the Church should perish; and the man of the hour was there. There was one man who would not consider consequences where a great principle was at stake, who put all personal considerations resolutely aside and refused to be come unfaithful to Christ through any fear of “splitting the Church.” “When I saw that they walked not uprightly,” said Paul, “according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all….” Thus was the precious salt preserved.

But from another side also the Church was menaced by the blandishments of the world; it was menaced not only by a false Judaism, which really meant opposition of man’s self-righteousness to the mysterious grace of God, but also by the all-embracing paganism of that day. When the Pauline churches were planted in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world, the battle was not ended but only begun. Would the little spark of new life be kept alive? Certainly it might have seemed to be unlikely in the extreme. The converts were for the most part not men of independent position, but slaves and humble tradesmen; they were bound by a thousand ties to the paganism of their day. How could they possibly avoid being drawn away by the current of the time? The danger certainly was great, and when Paul left an infant church like that at Thessalonica his heart was full of dread.

But God was faithful to his promise, and the first word that came from that infant church was good. The wonder had actually been accomplished; the converts were standing firm; they were in the world but not of the world; their distinctness was kept. In the midst of pagan impurity they were living true Christian lives. But why were they living true Christian lives? That is the really important question. And the answer is plain. They were living Christian lives because they were devoted to Christian truth. “Ye turned to God,” says Paul, “from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” That was the secret of their Christian lives; their Christian lives were founded upon Christian doc trine-upon theism (“the living and true God”), upon Christology (“his Son . . . whom he raised from the dead”), and upon soteriology (“which delivered us from the wrath to come”). They kept the message intact, and hence they lived the life. So it will always be. Lives apparently and superficially Christian can perhaps sometimes be lived by force of habit, without being based upon Christian truth; but that will never do when Christian living, as in pagan Thessalonica, goes against the grain. But in the case of the Thessalonian converts the message was kept intact, and with it the Christian life. Thus again was the precious salt preserved.

The same conflict is observed in more detail in the case of Corinth. What a city Corinth was to be sure, and how unlikely a place for a Christian church! The address of Paul’s first epistle is, as Bengel says, a mighty paradox. “To the Church of God which is at Corinth”-that was a paradox indeed. And in the First Epistle to the Corinthians we have attested in all its fullness the attempt of paganism, not to combat the Church by a frontal attack, but to conquer it by the far deadlier method of merging it gradually and peacefully with the life of the world. Those Corinthian Christians were connected by many ties with the pagan life of their great city. What should they do about clubs and societies; what should they do about invitations to dinners where meat that had been offered to idols was set before the guests? What should they do about marriage and the like? These were practical questions, but they involved the great principle of the distinctness and exclusiveness of the Church. Certainly the danger was very great; the converts were in great danger, from the human point of view, of sinking back into the corrupt life of the world.

But the conflict was not merely in the sphere of conduct. More fundamentally it was in the sphere of thought. Paganism in Corinth was far too astute to think that Christian life could be attacked when Christian doctrine remained. And so pagan practice was promoted by an appeal to pagan theory; the enemy engaged in an attempt to sublimate or explain away the fundamental things of the Christian faith. Somewhat after the manner of the Auburn “Affirmationists” in our day, paganism in the Corinthian church sought to substitute the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul for the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection. But God had his witness; the apostle Paul was not deceived; and in a great passage-the most important words, historically, perhaps, that have ever been penned-he reviewed the sheer factual basis of the Christian faith. “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” There is the foundation of the Christian edifice. Paganism was gnawing away-not yet directly, but by ultimate implication-at that foundation in Corinth, as it has been doing so in one way or another ever since, and particularly in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America just at the present time. But Paul was there, and many of the five hundred witnesses were still alive. The Gospel message was kept distinct, in the Pauline churches, from the wisdom of the world; the precious salt was still preserved.

Then, in the second century, there came another deadly conflict. It was again a conflict not with an enemy without, but with an enemy within. The Gnostics used the name of Christ; they tried to dominate the Church; they appealed to the epistles of Paul. But despite their use of Christian language they were pagan through and through. Modern scholarship, on this point, has tended to confirm the judgment of the great orthodox writers of that day; Gnosticism was at bottom no mere variety of Christian belief, no mere heresy, but paganism masquerading in Christian dress. Many were deceived; the danger was very great. But it was not God’s will that the Church should perish. Irenaeus was there, and Tertullian with his vehement defence. The Church was saved-not by those who cried “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” but by zealous contenders for the faith. Again, out of a great danger, the precious salt was preserved.

Click here to read Part 3