By John T. Lewis Reprinted from the Gospel Guardian
Anything that sounds like religious controversy in pulpits or papers gives a certain class of men spiritual meningitis. But the first martyr in the church was its first debater. The Bible was taken from the people by compromise but can never be restored by that method.
The question that forms the heading for this article is based on the stereotyped phrase heard by every gospel preacher in every “neck of the woods.” Its twin sister is “preach the gospel in love,” which is used to mean, preach nothing antagonistic to anybody. Of course, that kind of preaching will never save any one, not even the one that does the preaching. “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). By deceptive phrases the gospel too often suffers in the house of its friends.
The First Challenge
God created man an intelligent being, and recognized his intelligence by speaking to him and giving him a law, in the keeping of which the welfare of man was involved.
But no sooner had God spoken than his Satanic majesty appeared on the scene and challenged God’s word through the best medium at his command in that early age the Serpent. God has spoken to man; the devil has challenged his word. This is the issue the battleground. Around this fact the war has raged for six thousand years, with the defenders of God’s word on one side and the challengers on the other side. Therefore, ever since the creation of man these two great powers have been engaged in a life and death struggle for the mastery of man’s soul. It is well, therefore, to study their methods of approach. God approaches man only through his understanding, or reasoning faculties. The devil uses different methods of approach; his is through the emotional, and baser appeals to the lusts, passions, and weaknesses of man. The devil, therefore, has the advantage in the struggle in that he offers man anything he wants, whereas God offers only what is for man’s eternal good.
The Spirit of Compromise
The most deadly weapon the devil has ever used in this warfare has been the spirit of compromise, his last resort when all other methods have failed. There is a species of fish in the ocean which emits an inky substance that colors the water and conceals the movements of this fish when-ever an enemy approaches. Just so the enemies of the truth have saturated the church with the spirit of compromise which conceals their purposes from thousands of good conscientious people whose emotional nature predominates their reasoning faculties. Therefore, anything which smacks of religious controversy either in the pulpit or the papers gives that class of men spiritual meningitis, which so impairs their mental equilibrium on spiritual questions that they will blatantly declare and contend that the defenders of the truth are the “troublers in Israel.”
The First Debater
Just as the devil challenged God’s word as soon as he had spoken, so he assaulted the church as soon as it was established. The first efforts of the devil’s cohorts in religious discussion are recorded in Acts 6:8-10. “And Stephen full of grace and power, wrought great wonders and signs among the people. But there arose certain of them that were of the synagogue called the synagogue of the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he speak.” Their defeat was so crushing and humiliating in this controversy that the devil never has believed in debating since. His emissaries were so enraged over their defeat that they suborned, or hired, witnesses to swear away Stephen’s life. So Stephen, the first debater in the church became the first martyr in the church.
But because this is a fact shall we selfishly agree with the devil that religious controversy is wrong, and that Stephen was the “trouble in Israel?” Around the first altar was committed the first murder, but does this prove that religion is wrong?
The death of Stephen was the signal for the most determined and merciless persecution against the church that was ever waged against any institution on earth; but the persecution “fell out rather to the progress of the gospel.” The church was never hindered in its spiritual growth and development as long as the devil assumed the role of a lion and fought in the open. But it was an evil day for the church when the devil fled from the field of persecution and open controversy, and like a chameleon transformed himself into an angel of light, and fashioned his ministers into ministers of righteousness, draped in robes of humility and piety, and sent them down the corridors of time scattering his compromising propaganda. By this method he convinced the church that departure from God’s word was not an issue until he got the situation completely in hand. He then substituted for the elders of the church the Roman hierarchy, and for the church itself he substituted Roman Catholicism, which hung as a pall over a duped and deluded people for a thousand years.
It took the blood of martyrs to give the word of God back to the people. During this period of restoring the Bible to the people, we have the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day, in which “more than five thousand Protestants were murdered in cold blood, in the city of Paris alone, and about thirty thousand in all were killed. The news was received at Rome with joy, and a medal was struck having a picture of the pope on one side and on the other a rude representation of the massacre.” We also have the burning of Mrs. Elizabeth Gaunt, Anne Askew, John Bradley, James Bantam, and others at Smithfield. The bones of John Wickliffe, the morning star of the restoration, were dug up by orders of Pope Martin V, after they had rested in the dust of the dead for more than forty years, and scattered to the four winds of the earth. Thus, through blood, fire, and desecration of the dead, the Bible was restored to the people.
In this warfare I can only speak for “me and my house.” So long as God blesses me with health, strength, and vigor of mind, I shall make an issue of, and fight everything that detracts from the glory of the church, or challenges the present kingship of the Messiah. It makes no difference whether I am in the city or in the woods where the owls hoot at noon, the devil shall not gum up my weapon of warfare with his compromising glue. Adapted from Gospel Guardian, February, 1936.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 9-10
January 5, 1995