John P. Galbraith
Yes, COURAGE! Not the timid question, Do you have courage? Rather, the resounding exhortation, Be courageous! But why? Because we face an enormous task and determined opposition. But we are encouraged to be courageous because the living Godour Godis with us. The battle is not ours, but his.
Years ago, the church in the wilderness stood poised on the shores of the Jordan River, gazing into the Promised Land. They were about to launch the church's first drive to conquer Satan's territory, a foretaste of the worldwide task now given to us. Their soldiers were armed with the battle gear of the day. They were anxious, no doubt, but willing to face whatever dangers there would be.
Then God told their leader, Joshua, how they should face their task and why: "Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them" (Josh. 1:6). Be fearless. Don't be afraid, my children; I love you. And because I love you, I promise you that you are going to share an inheritance. Later, Jesus said that even "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [my church]" (Matt. 16:18).
But there is a condition. Do it my way. Godliness, not physical battle gear, and my Word, not the wisdom of men, are the keys to triumph. There are rules for making plants flourish; so there are for the church. "Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (Josh. 1:7-8).
Success and victory go not to the strong and mighty, the swordsmen and the spearmen, but to those who follow God's Word. "Observe ... that you may prosper;... observe ... then ... [be] prosperous." Gideon had great plans for many men; God said no, only a few. Gideon obeyed, and success followed (Judg. 6-7). Later, Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt 6:33). We can buy strategically located properties for our mission work, we can print beautiful four-color literature, we can develop an elaborate on-line systemall proper enough in themselvesbut if the Word is not our instrument, the battle is lost.
So there was a reason that God did not tell the Israelites to sharpen their swords! The church's battle is at root a spiritual one; that is what determines how the armed battle ends. It has always been so, beginning in the Garden of Eden. And it will be so until Christ ends the battle with the voice of an archangel and the trump of God at his return.
On June 11, 1996, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church launches into its sixty-first year of ministry. When the founders and charter members of this church gathered together sixty years ago, they loved Jesus Christ deeply. He had bought their lives with his life, and they owed him all that they were and had. His kingdom was the first thing on their minds, and their aim was to obey his Word, first and last. There were no elaborate battle plans; there was little money in the Great Depression. But they were saying, "We must serve God, rather than men."
As they prepared to cross their own Jordan River, their one weapon was the Word of God and they meant to use it. They could not know the obstacles or difficulties that might lie ahead, but the Word said, "March!" So they did.
The Word, though, not only said "March!" but also said "March this way." So they committed themselves and the new church to be a Reformed church of the biblical dimensions summarized by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Some of these people were no longer popular with former friends in their churches, some lost their jobs, some were even expelled from their former church. Those things mattered to them; let no one think differently. But faithfulness to their God and his Word meant more. Although they were not thinking in terms of courage, they had it.
Our fathers' commitment, as a Reformed church, was not just to be, but also to do. They had a mission. It was no less than to fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord. It was to be done through missionaries fanning out across our own nation and throughout the nations of the world, and through Christian literature, all with the Word alone as their message.
Sixty years later, it is time to reassess and to reaffirm. Does the Word mean as much to you as it did to our founders? How important to you is obedience? Or do you think that God did not reveal enough and that we need to insert our own wisdom? Today some tell us, "These are different times." Does that mean that God's Word is different today, or that our response to it should be different, or that some churches and some nations need different messages?
Indeed, some conditions in America have changed in sixty years. An increasingly emboldened and domineering modern world, often supported by a government colossally ignorant of the Word of God and unaware of the consequences of sin and unbelief, is making it more and more difficult for the church to avoid involvement in the world's sins. In fact, many Christians are buying into the world's agenda. But we may not. We must be no less bold for our God than our fathers were; our stand on God's Word will determine how bold and faithful we are.
Sixty years later, it is time to reaffirm: God's Word is our battle plan and our armament; what it says, we shall do. We, too, are ready to stand up and be counted. But do not say that lightly. To do it will take courage.
We need to get down to the immense business of conquering nation after nation for Christ. But we must remember that Satan is still on the attack, trying to shake the church loose from the Word and its promised victory. These attacks already confront us, and others will, too. Let us not think that we can sweep them under the rugnor let us desire to do so. Where will we find a response? In no less sure a place than the Word, of course. The world will continue to think us fools; if we controvert friends, they will desert us and call us contentious. Be willing to take it. Be courageous! Obey the Word.
Evolution, long accepted in the world and assumed in almost all secular media, is forced on defenseless children in the public schools. It is now spilling into more and more churches, along with a general pseudoscience, while creationism is developing alarming tints and hues that virtually blend it into evolution.
Homosexualism is widely accepted as a way of life, as big government forces opponents to accept it. Churches are accepting it also.
It is "business as usual" on the Lord's Day, not only for the world, but also for an increasing number of churches, as they abandon God's prescription of rest for one whole day in every seven. Even Christian athletes who attend public schools and colleges are being forced more and more to choose between their sport and obedience to God on the Lord's Day. Courage? You betcha!
The influence of sports has become so huge that many Christians sacrifice themselves and their families on its altar, not only on the Lord's Day but throughout the week. At the same time, the tremendous salaries of athletes can tempt our youth into covetousness and wrong priorities in life.
New worship "styles" have come to the fore, primarily from Pentecostal churches, forcing attention on the differences between "will worship" and worship that is commanded by God.
Desecration of human life at both ends of itinfancy and old ageis intensifying. Recent approval of "partial-birth" abortion is a very short step from sanctioning infanticide, and we have already reached euthanasia for the aged.
Rampant degenerate behavior enters a whole family's thought processes involuntarily and unexpectedly by innocently watching movies and television. Lord, make us obedient! COURAGE!
As we have seen, courage is not a new necessity. Adam and Eve needed it, but did not have it. When Abraham left his homeland, he had faith in God, from which came his courage as he traveled to an unknown destination. Moses had courage, as did Joshua and Gideon. The prophets had it, some of whom even submitted to being sawed in two alive. So did the apostles, some of whom had to die because of it, as have many martyrs down through the centuries.
Athanasius had courage in the fourth century, when he was defending the deity of Christ. When he was told, "The world is against you," he promptly replied, "Then I'm against the world."
Many others along the way, too, have had courage. Our founders had ithow can we omit the name of Machen? Some people in churches around the world say that our church has had courage.
Another decade begins now. What will we be like ten years from now? Will our fathers' work have been in vain? Did they establish a church that no longer has the Spirit of obedience? A church that thinks itself wiser than God? A proud church? Here it is once againPsalm 1 says of the godly:
His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in his season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
Mr. Galbraith, an OP minister since 1937, has served the OPC in many capacities. He currently serves on these committees: Christian Education, Ecumenicity, Pensions, and Worship. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 1996.