Fight Valiantly! The Need to Contend
Posted by Lee Gatiss, 6 Mar 2019
Lee Gatiss begins our Lent blog series by looking at the need for us to contend for the faith. These Lent blog posts are also available as video podcasts on our YouTube channel.
Jesus did not call us to an easy life. Those who come to know him by faith “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), but the Christian life is not all tranquility and calm. That’s not what he meant when he promised us “rest” (Matthew 11:28). He warned that the path to heaven would be paved with “many dangers, toils, and snares”, as the hymn Amazing Grace puts it, and to get there we would have to deny ourselves and carry a cross (Luke 9:23).
In an important sense, Jesus did not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword, because true faith in him divides families and communities and even nations (Matthew 10:34-39). The Bible says that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
So a calling to follow Jesus is a hazardous and risky one. In the Church of England it comes with a charge when we are baptised to “fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil”, and to continue his faithful soldiers and servants until the end of our lives, or until he comes again.
A brief look at Christian history shows us that there has always been enmity against the church and discord within it. In the early days after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, Christians struggled against many external foes which sought to stamp them out. This was to be expected, as Christianity presented a grave threat to the existing order of things, and Jesus had warned it would be so. There were also internal threats from various heresies, which felt like a betrayal of the truth and hence excited great passion.
Fighting the good fight of faith would always be necessary, because new threats are constantly arising. The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders that even from their own number, wolves would spring up to twist the truth, scatter the flock, and lead people astray. Diligence and vigilance will always be required, he said (Acts 20:28-30). Wolves are attracted to sheep, so wherever there are sheep, wolves will inevitably follow (however sound our church may appear to be in theory). But what does it mean for Christians to join in this perpetual battle, especially when it sometimes involves striving against other professed believers, perhaps even within the same denomination or church?
This is not an uncontroversial question. What to some looks like contending feels to others like mere contentiousness; and while many may be engaged in effective contending in all sorts of ways, they may be accused by others of quiet compromise or acquiescence because their understandings of what it means to contend are fundamentally different. If, in the face of heresy or apostasy, secession or leaving the church is far from a perfect option, how do we stand firm and fight on in a way that pleases Christ?
Evangelicals instinctively know that being in the Church of England will require resilience and backbone. To be a member of Church Society, for example, one has to sign a declaration which says “I will uphold the Doctrine set out in the XXXIX Articles and expressed in the Book of Common Prayer, and contend for it.” The ReNew conference organised by Church Society and the Anglican Mission in England stated in 2014 that it will work regionally with other Anglican Evangelicals “to contend together for the faith once delivered to the saints.” The ReNew Commitment also aims to “provide advice to help churches and regions contend” and “engage and contend at a national level – with the Church of England, state and media.”
What does the Bible say about this contending? What is it, what is it not, and how are we meant to engage in it? In these blogs over Lent, we will see that contending is the vital spiritual discipline of applying and promoting the gospel lovingly in a context of opposition.
To unpack that, we will look at the words the Bible uses to describe this essential activity. We’ll unpack some key passages in Philippians and Jude which talk about contending positively for the gospel. And we’ll also do a survey of the New Testament’s teaching about how we should behave towards false teachers. This will enable us to summarise the biblical doctrine of contending for the faith in “thirty theses” or brief proportions, later on in Lent, which we will then try to apply to our situations today in the Church of England.
All this, I pray, will help us fight valiantly behind the one “whose battle-cry is love.”
Questions for reflection
1. Why do people sometimes think that being a Christian is a life of tranquility and calm where all striving ceases and there are no battles?
2. In what ways can you see the gospel dividing people in your community?
3. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “contending for the faith”?
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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