This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State argues that defending the truth of the Bible in church controversies is essential to a broader defense of the faith.
[I]f we are to have Christian apologetics, if we are to have a defence of the faith, what kind of defence of the faith should it be?
In the first place, it should be directed not only against the opponents outside the Church but also against the opponents within. The opponents of Holy Scripture do not become less dangerous, but they become far more dangerous, when they are within ecclesiastical walls.
At that point, I am well aware that widespread objection arises at the present time. Let us above all, men say, have no controversy in the Church; let us forget our small theological differences and all repeat together Paul’s hymn to Christian love. As I listen to such pleas, my Christian friends, I think I can detect in them rather plainly the voice of Satan. That voice is heard, sometimes, on the lips of good and truly Christian men, as at Caesarea Philippi it was heard on the lips of the greatest of the Twelve. But Satan’s voice it is, all the same.
Sometimes it comes to us in rather deceptive ways.
I remember, for example, what was said in my hearing on one occasion, by a man who is generally regarded as one of the leaders of the evangelical Christian Church. It was said at the climax of a day of devotional services. “If you go heresy-hunting for the sin in your own wicked hearts,” said the speaker, as nearly as I can remember his words, “you will have no time for heresy-hunting for the heretics outside.”
Thus did temptation come through the mouth of a well-meaning man. The “heretics,” to use the term that was used by that speaker, are, with their helpers, the indifferentists, in control of the church within the bounds of which that utterance was made, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, as they are in control of nearly all the larger Protestant churches in the world. A man hardly need to “hunt” them very long if he is to oppose them. All that he needs to do is to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, and his opposition to those men will follow soon enough.
But is it true, as this speaker seemed to imply, that there is a conflict between faithfulness to Christ in the ecclesiastical world and the cultivation of holiness in one’s own inner life? My friends, it is not true, but false. A man cannot successfully go heresy-hunting against the sin in his own life if he is willing to deny his Lord in the presence of the enemies outside. The two battles are intimately connected. A man cannot fight successfully in one unless he fights also in the other. (J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity & the State, pp. 26-28)
This post is the seventh of a series of excerpts from chapter 2 of J. Gresham Machen’s book Education, Christianity & the State, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship.” This chapter is a compilation of addresses given at the Bible League meetings in Westminster, London, on June 17, 1932. Page references are from the 1987 Trinity Foundation edition of this book.