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The Supreme Value of Doctrinal Fidelity

July 31, 2009

I just got Iain Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of the Crucial Change from Years 1950 to 2000. I’m not exactly sure when I can carve out the time to read this one, but from the little bits I’ve browsed through so far, it needs to be soon! Here is a flavor of the “crucial change” Murray sets out to catalogue and critique:

The ecumenical call [in the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe.”

How’s that for whipping somebody’s head around – comparing the approach of the “conservative” wing of Protestantism to the abuses of pre-Reformation (pre-Council of Trent!) Catholicism! As unpleasant as I have a feeling it will be to work through this book, it is a vital history to understand – since we stand in the line and chart the future of this movement – a movement whose very name boldly points to the power of God in the Gospel we must love and live for. To that end, here are a few quotes Murray opens the books with – quotes written over 100 years ago but desperately important for us to hear and heed today.

From James Henley Thornwell (1846):

Where money is the great want, numbers must be sought; and where an ambition for numbers prevails, doctrinal purity must be sacrificed. The root of evil is the secular spirit of all our ecclesiastical institutions. What we want is a spiritual body; a Church whose power lies in the truth, and the presence of the Holy Ghost.

From Robert L. Dabney (1876):

The Protestant world will soon be educated to set inordinate store by that of which God makes least account – formal union; at the expense of that which he regards of supreme value – doctrinal fidelity.

Benjamin B. Warfield (1894):

The chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. Mohammedanism [Islam] has never made inroads upon Christianity save by the sword. Nobody fears that Christianity will be swallowed up by Buddhism. It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity. Why make much of minor points of difference between those who serve the one Christ? Because a pure gospel is worth preserving; and is not only worth preserving, but is logically (and logic will always work itself out in history) the only saving gospel.

May we come further to know and love and share (and defend when necessary) this pure, powerful, saving gospel!

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