Machen: Dangerous to Follow Christ… in Ministry

J. Gresham Machen“If you decide to stand for Christ, you will not have an easy life…

…in the ministry.”

The sentence starts out making complete sense, and then throws me for a loop. And yet, it also rings very true.

We often hear that standing for Christ in this world will be difficult, but my automatic assumption is that it should for some reason be different in ministry. There, we think, there is where it will always be safe to stand for Christ.

J. Gresham Machen graciously disabuses us of this false assumption, and warns students/pastors in his own day of what they ought to expect if they stand fast for confessional Christianity. R. Scott Clark posts at the Heidelblog a selection from Machen’s 1929 articlesermon “The Good Fight of Faith.” This was Machen’s farewell sermon at Princeton, after the conservatives had lost the fight for the seminary, and just before Machen would organize Westminster that fall. I thought about simply quoting and linking to it, but I appreciated and resonated with it so much I had to say a few things first.

Machen clearly has been reading a lot of new pastor’s diaries when he makes the following astute observations:

  1. People will attack your ministry using the most pious platitudes.
    “Let’s focus on Jesus and not dead doctrine.” “What about the experience of Christ in my heart?” “It doesn’t matter how much you know, it matters what you do/how much you care.” “Christianity isn’t preaching/ministry/truth, it is all about relationships.” All of those statements are heard on a daily basis to denigrate Word and Sacrament ministry, and yet Machen anticipates all of them by more than 80 years.
  2. Tolerance was getting fuzzy even in the ’20s.
    It all depends on what you mean by tolerance as to whether it is a good thing or not. And Machen hits the nail on the head when he calls for honesty and integrity: “the Christian religion is intolerant to the core.”
  3. Only sovereign grace will keep you from a compromised ministry.
    I assumed the challenge of ministry was to keep from sin and to clearly proclaim saving truth. That is true, but the Enemy has a thousand ways to compromise your ministry. Machen puts it eloquently: “All men will speak well of you if, after preaching no matter how unpopular a Gospel on Sunday, you will only vote against that Gospel in the councils of the church the next day…” Sermons and services and letters are fine, but don’t you dare follow through.
  4. Continue reading

WSC: Christianity & Liberalism Revisited


The annual conference held at Westminster Seminary, CA this year is “Christianity & Liberalism Revisited: A retrospective and prospective.” The title derives from J. Gresham Machen’s 1923 monograph which maintained that liberal Christianity was not, in point of fact, Christian at all. Machen, who would go on to establish Westminster Theological Seminary, became an important figure for confessional Christianity in the face of liberalizing tendencies. By looking backward and forward, this conference looks like a fascinating opportunity to contemplate where confessional Christianity is facing challenges and what, if anything, may be done about it. You can find out all the details at their site.

Wishing you could hear this amazing conference but can’t swing out to SoCal for the weekend? Never fear! WSC is graciously hosting the event live, and you can watch the live stream here. I’ve got my connection all warmed up. The first session begins tonight (Jan 14) at 7pm (Pacific Time).

Schedule
“Christianity and Liberalism Today” –Michael S. Horton
“The Perennial Machen” –D.G. Hart
“Machen and the Bible” –Joel. E. Kim
“Machen and the Gospel” –J.V. Fesko
“Machen and Ethics” –David VanDrunen
“Machen, Christianity, and the Church” –W. Robert Godfrey
“Q & A” -Faculty

Looks like I’ve got my viewing pleasures all mapped out for the next two days. Will you be watching?