Contending for the faith
Seun Kolade takes a fresh look at the challenges facing Christians today, and the call to be bold in the face of them
"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" Jude 1:3
The word “contend” immediately brings up the idea of spirited fight, and Christians have indeed been called to fight, to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered for the Saints”. We must be clear, however, as to what kind of fight we have been called. We have not been called to any form of physical combat. The Scripture is clear that our challenge is not “flesh and blood” and “though we walk in the flesh, we don’t war according to the flesh” (Ephesians 6:12
; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
). Our challenge is of a much nobler, and higher, form.
We live in a world of changing values, of uncertain ideals, and conflicting ideas. In this plural world of opposing worldviews and clashing cultures, we are called as Christians to hold up the Light of God’s truth to bring clarity and direction in the midst of pervasive darkness, and the Salt of God’s love to season and sweeten a world immersed in bitterness, cruelties, wars and inhumanity. Our challenge is intellectual. And it is moral.
Christianity: the authentic revolution
We are all too familiar with the secularist charge against Christianity. The Christian has often been portrayed as the dogmatist whose mind is closed to new ideas, the obscurantist who, like the ancient Pharisees, is all too keen to shut down the gates of knowledge. The charge has been so oft-repeated that it is now, in a curious twist, the unquestioned dogma in the popular media.
The reality cannot be more different, on closer inspection. The Christian faith is revolutionary precisely because it begins with a fixed ideal, as G.K. Chesterton aptly puts it. It begins with God in his perfect holiness, his sovereign power, and his unmatched love. From there its sees farther and deeper than all ancient and modern philosophers can muster. While Nietzsche speculates about the idea of the Overman, it has already established the ideal of the New Creation in Christ. While Marx dreams of a stateless society, it has long laid out a more complete vision of a new world order, devoid of all class struggles, and pain, and death. And it sets not just a vision for the future, but a life that should be lived now, in its fullness.
Now, it must be said, that the resurrection of Christ is at the heart of the revolutionary essence of the Christian Gospel. Whereas Nietzche’s Superman is speculative, the ideal of the New Creation is premised on the certainty of the historic resurrection of Christ. The Christian is thus injected with the ultimate energy in the universe: the eternal spirit of God indwelling us, establishing in us the revolutionary idea that even the temporary lives we now live have eternal significance and purpose, and death is not an end but a transition to eternity.
The alternative vision is unmitigated despair: for, if the human race is no more than a random concourse of atoms, what then is the meaning of it all? Why should we bother about posterity, or even have the slightest interest in the neighbour next door? We are left in a dark place of moral nihilism and intellectual emptiness.
Be courageous and confident
One of the recurrent themes in the Scriptures is that of courage and confidence. In the familiar passage in Joshua chapter 1
, Joshua was admonished repeatedly to be "strong and of good courage". The words in Jeremiah 1:17
are peculiarly striking: "... do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them."
In Ezekiel 3: 8-9
, we are presented with a powerful metaphor: "I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead against their foreheads. Like adamant stone harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed by their looks...". We know, of course, that Ezekiel was an exceptional man of peace, so this passage is certainly not hinting at all of any kind of physical violence. Instead, it is a clear call for the prophet to be bold and uncompromising in his proclamation of the truth, even as he is assured he will meet with resistance.
Christians are in the prophet's shoes today. More often than not we are dismayed by the media portrayals of the Christian faith. We should reflect with honesty and carefulness on well meaning criticisms of the church on issues like social action. God once challenged a prophet through the mouth of a donkey, and he can challenge us today through the 'mouth' of secular media. However, to use the metaphor of "adamant stone, harder than flint", we must stand firm and sure on the essentials of the Christian faith. We cannot negotiate on the historic death and ressurrection of Christ. We cannot compromise on atonement, on the sinfulness of human nature, and the redemptive grace of God in Christ.
We should be as bold, bolder in fact, not only in defence of essential doctrines, but in our personal and collective examples as light of the world and salt of the earth. We must, like the Good Samaritan, be bold and courageous in going out of our way and take risks to love and help others, including when the circumstances are dangerous, and for people who do not share our faith. We must, like Christ, be bold to touch the untouchables and risk the scorn of onlooking Pharisees.
We must be as bold in our acts of love and mercy as we are confident and clear in our procalmation of the truth.
Seun Kolade is a member of Ilford High Road Baptist Church in Essex, where he is involved in teaching and outreach ministries, in addition to diaconate responsibilities.
Seun is the convener and chairman of Oyo Global Forum, a global network of professionals engaging the grass root and political representatives to promote development, as well as accountability and transparency in governance in Oyo state and Nigeria at large.