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  • Daniel Klassen

Downgrade and the Popularity Contest

Great people do the right thing at the cost of others' disdain. Throughout the centuries, great Christians have stood for truth while the world (and a lot of Christians) mocked and derided them. They stood in the minority, but they stood for God.

Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said that truth is usually in the minority. Charles Spurgeon embodied Kierkegaard’s sentiment throughout his life, but most evident, perhaps, was his stand for truth in his final years. As a Baptist, Spurgeon was part of the Baptist Union in England, where he was the leading voice and most popular preacher. Certainly, the number of copies of his sermons, printed each week and distributed worldwide, indicated such. For some time, he observed the weakening of sound doctrine taught by those in the Union, and in 1887, wrote a six-page editorial in the Sword & Trowel entitled, "Another Word on the Downgrade."

The Baptists in the Union—even in the far reaches of the Union—felt the shockwaves of Spurgeon's editorial. The press already incessantly attacked him, but now his own “friends” joined. They gossiped about his sanity and health, and charged him will all sorts of evil intentions. His students at the Spurgeon College turned on him. He withdrew from the Union, and the Union (almost unanimously) voted to censure him—his own brother included.

Spurgeon believed English Baptist preachers were increasingly drifting from Scriptural authority and sufficiency. He observed the subtle use of higher critical theories about who wrote the first five books of the Bible. Darwinism also made appearances in their writing and preaching. These degraded the established biblical doctrines, and Spurgeon saw it.

Spurgeon's stand for truth is notable because of his popularity. He was doing more than simply standing for truth (which is a noble thing on its own), he was sacrificing popularity. Perhaps, we don't think he sacrificed anything because of his vindicating posthumous fame, but he did—many friendships were severed, and his reputation was tarnished. It is most probable that the stress from the opposition magnified his illnesses and caused his death five years later at the age of 57.

But Spurgeon was right.

The Union is no longer what it once was in terms of biblical faithfulness and gospel power. It is a ghost town of sorts, standing as another symbol of the fall of man's pride.

The fundamental battle of our time is the same battle as Spurgeon's time: Is the Bible without error, and sufficient for life and godliness? In Spurgeon's day, however, different symptoms from this same source came to the surface. Today, instead of higher critical theory and the theory of evolution, the symptoms of our day are critical race theory, intersectionality, and feminism. Essentially, these modern cultural arguments and ideologies have ascended to the throne in the thoughts of many Christians.

The outcome of these arguments is unbiblical. Critical race theory concludes in imputing the sin of a certain ethnic group in the past to the same ethnic group in the present (regardless of whether or not each person is a genuine descendant); intersectionality concludes in a victim mentality and the promotion of sexual perversion; and feminism, today, is about promoting women to the pastorate. Underlying these ideologies is the idea that they are true simply because they are popular. This means that if a pastor wishes to retain popularity (or even gain it), he must capitulate to these cultural concerns. Otherwise, derision and mockery will come his way, all in an attempt to silence him.

There are two reasons why these cultural arguments and ideologies will soon fall by the wayside. The first is that they are popular. Popular ideas are soon erased, and increasingly so in our modern times. Previously, a cultural ideology could retain its popularity for some time before it was slowly erased by another. Now, it hardly takes a year before an idea or argument is no longer in style, and another one (usually worse) takes its place.

The second is that they are unbiblical. Being unbiblical, the foundation of these arguments and ideologies rests on sinking sand; they are not firmly anchored to eternal and unchanging truth. For many Christians, this fact makes no difference in their minds, and they are deceived by cunning and sly arguments. Paul warns us against such, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews says, "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it" (Hebrews 2:1).

Every battle for truth we fight will include evangelical opponents. Therefore, we must stay as close to the truth as we can. We must not regard popularity, sentimentality, or anything other than what accords with Christ as a truthful argument or ideology. When we do regard these things, we show the world that we do not love the truth, nor speak the truth in love. So, we must remember that truth is always vindicated when popularity fades.

Tomorrow, we will face another battle. Are you willing to give up popularity for truth?

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