Fight Valiantly! The Antidote to Fear
Posted by Lee Gatiss, 11 Apr 2019
We must not be surprised by, scared of, or obsessed with the latest heresies says Lee Gatiss in the next instalment of our Lent series of contending for the faith. Watch the video podcast of today's post on our YouTube channel.
There is a temptation to panic when confronted with manifestations of false teaching, especially on our own doorsteps and dioceses. Yet as we have seen, we contend by rejoicing in the Lord, focusing on the positive, and remaining stable in the face of errors which we are warned about in scripture. We ought not to be surprised when ministers, deans, archdeacons, or bishops let us down by promoting things at odds with their ordination vows to uphold the doctrine and practice of the church.
This has, sadly, been going on for centuries. As Hilary of Poitiers (310-367) noted in the early church, “there is a constant battle between the assertion of truth and the defence of pleasure.” He describes how this takes hold in individuals, as our minds start to follow our fallen wills: “Enquiry after truth gives way to the search for proofs of what we wish to believe; desire is paramount over truth… But instead of trying to set up our desires as doctrines, we should let our doctrines dictate our desires.”
Yet people are often more zealous for the things they inwardly yearn for than they are for what sound doctrine teaches. So, in the end, they begin to cloak their more culturally comfortable teaching in pious-sounding words even while they abandon true reverence for the faith. Accumulating teachers who can do this, to suit one’s own sinful passions, has always been a mark of apostasy (2 Timothy 4:3).
In response, we are to be sober-minded and endure whatever suffering comes our way because of the inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that is currently under attack. One of the best things we can do, which we are commanded to do in such situations, is build ourselves up in our most holy faith and grow in the grace and the knowledge of God. Which means taking advantage of “teachable moments”, but not allowing our church’s teaching programme or public engagement to become utterly obsessed with whatever the latest trendy errors might be. God has given us the spirit of power, love, and self-control so we can be sober-minded and fulfil our ministries (2 Timothy 1:7, 4:5).
Part of an unflappable and sober-minded ministry must be keeping an eye on those who may wander from the faith because of the attractions of false teaching. Jude tells us to have mercy on those who doubt and snatch others from the fire. Does our public interaction with mistaken denominational tendencies still enable us to speak plausibly with compassion and care to those who are tempted and lured in by false teaching? Or does our manner lead such faltering disciples to conclude that we are only interested in the strong, the sorted, and the sinless in our congregations?
In a Church of England context particularly, it is possible to be so consumed by anxieties about “where things are heading” that we forget to contend by simply applying the gospel. So we are often anxious and afraid about various things.
We need to find a way as Anglican evangelicals of casting out fear, especially from our interaction with others in the Church. We must seek to practice the vital spiritual discipline of applying the gospel lovingly in a context of opposition. We must have confidence in Christ and his unerring word, which is his inspired instrument for accomplishing his will.
That doesn’t mean becoming naive about those who oppose us: an alarming number of Anglican clergy and leaders are in error when measured against the standards of the Thirty-nine Articles. That is the case not just in the Church of England, but around the worldwide Anglican Communion too. We must not sign away our convictions in an attempt to pacify them or “keep them on side”, as if institutional unity was more important than eternal truth. But taking our stand on God’s word, we can make a more positive contribution to denominational life, motivated by something greater than anxiety about the future or fear of what mere people can do to us. The New Testament often urges us to act out of love and faith rather than fear, but love does not mean unqualified affirmation and acceptance of every wind of doctrine or being carried along on the waves of other people’s cultural presuppositions.
These are the sorts of things we need to bear in mind when we are contending against false teaching publicly or privately. Every time we engage in this vital spiritual discipline, it is a chance to speak the gospel, not just bash error or attack individuals. So let us make sure that our sermons and PCC motions and Synod speeches and letters to the Church Times are seasoned with the salt of the gospel, and clearly seen to be applying that glorious good news to whatever the latest scandal or controversy might be.
It’s not always easy to remember this in the ferocity of a polemical battle, and we all make many mistakes. But as we seek to apply the gospel in these contexts, it shapes and fashions our pithy, punchy statements in a way that communicates more than the sneering disdain of the proverbial “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.”
Questions for Reflection
1. Why is it so painful when senior church leaders are the ones promoting heresy?
2. What does the perennial battle between “the assertion of truth and the defence of pleasure” look like in your church?
3. How can we ensure that we use every interaction we have with the wider church to advance the good news of Jesus?
You can read the whole Lent series and find links to all the video episodes here.
Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and the editor of Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion, the latest book from Church Society.
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