Perhaps on this Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, it would be appropriate to recall an important truth that we are in danger of losing; namely, that it is impossible to stand for something without standing against its opposite. It is impossible to fight for something without fighting against something else. This sixty-seventh memorial day of Pearl Harbor reminds us that the United States could not have stood for the freedom of Europe without standing against the Axis powers. We could not defend liberty without attacking tyranny. Anything else would have been meaningless lip service. The same principle holds true in the spiritual realm. We are in danger in this everything-must-be-positive era of forgetting that real biblical faith must be fortified as much by what it opposes as by what it embraces. All the affirmation in the world will not protect the church from the onslaught of erroneous doctrine and practice. There are times, when faithful pastors and steadfast believers must publicly identify and oppose error. Failing to do so is neither loving nor compassionate; at best it is misguided, if not absolutely treacherous.
The example of Christ. The Christ, who expressed great compassion for His people, lamenting, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37), is the Christ, who in the same chapter repeatedly denounced the Pharisees, calling them, “serpents” and a “generation of vipers” and promising them that responsibility for “all the righteous blood shed upon the earth” would come upon them (vv. 33, 35). Christ so loved truth and righteousness and those whom He had called to such that He must contend with the religious leaders who propounded harmful opposing views.
The example of Paul. As the example above proves, those who would contend that the Lord Jesus was “meek and gentle” to the exclusion of any holy pugnacity have manufactured a Christ out of their own imaginations and have denied the real character of Christ as presented in His Word. Those then who would condemn Paul as having a spirit that differed from Christ’s are missing the truth. Paul was on good scriptural grounds when he identified and warned the Philippians against the “many” who “walk” as “the enemies of the cross of Christ.” He did not hesitate to denounce dangerous error in doctrine or practice, nor did he fail to identify the proponents of that which might harm the flock. He was adamant in doing so. But though he contended in practice, like Christ, he was not contentious in spirit. For in the very act of exposing these sins, he mourned that he did so “even weeping” (Phil. 3:18).
The example of Jude. Jude is remarkable in this regard. He said that “when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v. 3). Yes, there is a common faith. But that commonality did not permit him to ignore unscriptural beliefs. For there were those who in the name of that common faith taught things that were contrary to scripture, and they, Jude says (like Paul and Christ Himself) must be opposed. Contention is sometimes both an essential and a holy activity. Jude puts the imprimatur of heaven on such activity when he tells us in verse nine that Michael the archangel contended with the devil.
We may fall prey to an unholy contentious spirit that is in discord with the Bible. But the truth is that believers are called upon to oppose error and to warn against those who promote it. In fact, it would be difficult to find many biographies of any length in the Word that do not mention such activity in one way or another. Those who contend in a belligerent spirit do not have the heart of Christ, but those who pretend that charity requires that doctrine or practice contrary to the Word of God must be ignored or even accepted actually are standing in opposition to and contending with the Book. We must stand for truth and against error wherever it arises to destroy the church of God. On this Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day we have a secular reminder of a spiritual truth. Defending truth requires attacking error. Anything less is a deadly sham.
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