The following words are resonating in my heart today as I think about my own denomination (The Reformed Church in America) and the state of much of the larger Church in society today.
"There are those who shrink from a consideration of these great questions of principle; there are those who decry controversy, and believe that the church should return to its former policy of politely ignoring or taking for granted the central things of the Christian faith. But with such persons I, for my part, cannot possibly agree. The period of apparent harmony in which the Church in America, for example, found itself a few years ago was, I believe, a period of deadliest peril. Loyalty to Church organizations was being substituted for loyalty to Christ; Church leaders who never even mentioned the center of the gospel in their preaching were in undisputed charge of the resources of the Church; at board meetings or in the councils of the Church, it was considered bad form even to mention, at least in any definite and intelligible way, the Cross of Christ. A polite paganism, in other words, with reliance upon human resources, was being quietly and peacefully substituted for the heroism of devotion to the gospel. In the face of such a condition, there were some men whose hearts were touched. The Lord Jesus had died for them upon the cross, and the least they could do, they thought, was to be faithful to Him; they could not continue to support, by their gifts and by their efforts, anything that was hostile to His gospel; and they were compelled, therefore, in the face of all opposition, to raise the question what it is that the Church is in the world to do. God grant that question may never be silenced until it is answered aright! Let us not fear the opposition of men; every great movement in the Church from Paul down to modern times has been criticized on the ground that it promoted censoriousness and intolerance and disputing. Of course the gospel of Christ, in a world of sin and doubt, will cause disputing; and if it does not cause disputing and arouse bitter opposition, that is a fairly sure sign that it is not being faithfully proclaimed. As for me, I believe that a great opportunity has been opened to Christian people by the "controversy" that is so much decried. Conventions have been broken down; men are trying to penetrate beneath pious words to the thing that these words designate; it is becoming increasingly necessary for a man to choose whether he will stand with Christ or against Him. Such a condition, I for my part believe, has been brought about by the Spirit of God; already there has been spiritual advance....Christian heroism in the face of opposition has come again to its rights; a new interest has been aroused in the historical and philosophical questions that underlie the Christian religion; true and independent convictions have been formed. Controversy, in other words, has resulted in a striking intellectual and spiritual advance. Some of us discern in all this the work of the Spirit of God. And God grant that His fire be not quenched! God save us from any smoothing over of these questions in the interests of a hollow pleasantness; God grant that questions of principle may never rest until they are settled right! It is out of such times of questioning that great revivals come. God grant that it may be so today! Controversy of the right sort is good; for out of such controversy, as Church history and Scripture alike teach, there comes the salvation of souls."
Dr. J. Gresham Machen
Professor of New Testament Literature
Princeton Theological Seminary (1925)
"What is Faith?" p. 40-43