How Should We Battle the Secularism in the Church?
As for secularism, the remedy is spiritual and inward, not carnal or external… setting up an array of manmade prohibitions and requiring Christians to conform to them will not transform minds and hearts, or keep the ways of the world out of the church, or keep the mindset of secularism out of the Christian.
This is not to say that we have nothing to fear from secularism. The sad history of the false church under both the Old and the New Testaments bears compelling and heart-breaking testimony to the evils that result from being conformed to the world. The prophets confronted Israel for her unfaithfulness in adopting the ways of the nations around them. The Belgic Confession is famous for its succinct account of the marks of the true church; less attention has been paid to its account of the false church:
As for the false Church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. (Art. 29)
The authors of the Confession were clearly thinking of the sad state of the Christian church in Europe on the eve of the Reformation. What had gone wrong? How did this great historic church become false?
- By adopting the world’s contempt for the authority of God’s Word;
- by refusing, as the world does, to submit to Christ’s yoke;
- by adopting the world’s way of picking and choosing for ourselves what we like from among the ordinances of Christ and doing with them as we please;
- by relying on the power of the sword wielded by Vatican-friendly kings and princes, and intruding into the politics of the day while ignoring the truly spiritual concerns and moral issues of the day;
- by despising, as the world does, the example and counsel of those who labored for her reformation, and silencing them with the heavy hand of persecution, and
- by persisting, as the world does, in her worst besetting sins.
In sum, the pre-Reformation church had sunk to the level of being largely conformed to the world, thinking as the world thinks and doing as the world does—not to mention the well-attested fact that as the institutional church sank into conformity to the world, so did her ministers and members.
On almost every page of the New Testament we can find exhortations to doing the things which prove to be the remedy for secularist thinking and secularist living. The most potent remedy and the surest antidote to the love of the world is prescribed in the Epistle of Jude: “But ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (vv. 20, 21).
Jude gives us a fourfold directive:
First, to build on our most holy faith. That is, to look at our core beliefs as Christians as a platform or foundation to build on; by living in obedience to Christ, to make our life as consistent as possible with what we profess to believe. We as ministers must seek grace to build the house of God with two hands: the hand of sound preaching and doctrine as well as with the hand of a sanctified life. Our doctrine must shape our life and our life must adorn our doctrine. “He doth preach most who doth live best,” wrote John Boys. We must be what we preach and teach, not only applying ourselves to our texts, but applying our texts to ourselves. Our hearts must be transcripts of our sermons.1Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit (Pelham, Ala.:Solid Ground Christian Books, 2009), 154. Otherwise, as John Owen warned, “If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly, more will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine.”
To build ourselves up in the most holy faith, we must seek to have a large, varied, and personal acquaintance with God that is realized primarily by prayerful use of the spiritual disciplines for our own souls and lives. Every day we need to be reading the Scriptures for ourselves, engaging in personal prayer and meditation, and fellowshipping with believers. We build ourselves up also by exercising
God-honoring Sabbath-keeping, reading and listening to other preachers’ sermons, evangelizing and serving others, exercising good stewardship of our time and money, and aiming to walk in the King’s highway of holiness in every area of our lives.
Second, to pray in the Holy Ghost. That is, to enter into the heart of what it means to trust in God, to live in union and communion with Christ, and to open our hearts to receive the Spirit in His fullness and power as the Spirit of Christ and to rely on His guidance and sustaining power as the Spirit of prayer. Our Puritan forefathers are a notable example of this. They developed a profound dependence on the Holy Spirit in both their personal lives and for their ministry. They felt keenly their inability to bring anyone to Christ as well as the magnitude of what true conversion is. As Thomas Watson wrote, “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts, the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door.”2Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1957), 154. This realization made the Puritan ministers great wrestlers with God, men who habitually prayed in and by the Holy Spirit. The Puritan Robert Traill stressed that the main reason some pastors with ordinary gifts were used more of God than some pastors with extraordinary gifts is because they prayed more “in the Holy Ghost.” Traill then concluded: “Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.”3Robert Traill, Works of Robert Traill (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 1:246.
Third, to keep ourselves in the love of God. That is, to live as captives to that love as ever under the Father’s watchful eye, shielded by the power and might of our Savior Jesus Christ, and comforted by the shedding abroad of the love of God in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us. Like Paul, the love of Christ must constrain us in our personal lives, and in our preaching and pastoring (2 Cor. 5:8–15). The love of God must be our greatest motivator in life. It must fill our souls, our mouths, our lives. It must be the engine that moves us to do whatever we do.
Fourth, to look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Mercy is a biblical synonym for God’s grace, love, and compassion. We begin the Christian life by the mercy of God, and we press on in the Christian life by the mercy of God. “He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). In the face of the most determined enmity, we go on hoping that, in due time, God will arise and His enemies will be scattered (Ps. 68:1). He has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and access into the grace we need to stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
When, by God’s grace, we make the truth of God as revealed in His Word the foundation of our faith and our rule of life and devote ourselves to prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit, keeping ourselves full of a sense of the greatness and wonder of God’s love for us and His mercy toward us in Christ, we will have nothing to fear from the hostility of the world. Trusting in God, hoping in His Word, walking according to His commandments, we will be transformed, renewed in our minds and made fruitful in our lives and showing ourselves to be the children of God and the followers of Christ in the sight of the whole world.
How to Battle Hostility and Secularism
Puritan Reformed Journal – JANUARY 2015
Volume 7 • Number 1