As conservatives, it can be easy to grow discouraged. There are very few of us. It seems that all of American Christianity (sorry, David de Bruyn) is abandoning the way of worship that we understand to be reverent. The good, the true, and the beautiful rarely brings in an audience. Our churches are shrinking. Fundamentalism is dying. We have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. But God’s people have forsaken their covenant, thrown down his hymns, and killed his prophets with the sword. We, even we only, are left, and they seek our lives, to take them away.
I am one who generally advocates a frank appreciation of the situation. The state of the church and separatist Christianity does, at times, seem very grave. We ought not be discouraged, however. There are still Christians who appreciate reverence in worship (I know it; I have met them; I have served beside them). All is not lost. There are actually many things for which to be encouraged. Numerous handfuls of Christians of many different stripes are, in many different ways, still laboring to fight against the ecclesiastical trends advocating pseudo-relevance (for examples, see this, this, this, or this, just to name a few). But even if there was not so much to be encouraged about, the truth of the matter is the Lord is still God.
We must be ready to sacrifice the political power within movements at the altar of following Jesus Christ more fully. It is always painful (speaking in a fleshly way) to see the control we have in previous years enjoyed move toward others with opposing viewpoints. This is natural. When we see the power and control of institutions and movements moving from those who share our viewpoints toward those who do not, it easy, from a natural sense of the loss, to let the vitriol spew forth from our mouths and pens (and keyboards). Sometimes this grief of the loss of power is justified, for we should lament the spread of irreverence and blasphemy and falsehood in the holy worship of the Triune God. But the line between justified indignation (John 2:17) and carnal panic (Matt 16:22) is a difficult one to draw.
When we are confused where our justified indignation and carnal panic begins and ends, we should remind ourselves that the Lord is still God. Jesus never promised us that serving him would be easy. He never told us that the money and energy we have given to Christian institutions would ensure their perpetuation orthopathy (as if they ever had it to begin with). Yes, we may be forced to take smaller churches, have smaller ministries, and even see our young people go the way of all flesh. But the Lord is still God. What we are doing is good and true and right. (The case for this has been made on this website and elsewhere many times, and is not the point of this article.) As good, true, and right, we ought to continue doing it, no matter what the cost.
We are not pragmatists. We must remain principled. Church history has repeatedly shown (as have the history of the people of Israel) that a simple majority does not prove the truthfulness of the true position. More and more, we will see our opponents arguing from the majority of other churches’ practice, as if that in itself justifies the move to more contemporary and popular worship. Are we ready to be even more severely outnumbered than we are now? We must be ready to follow Christ in this matter, even if the world is against us (Athanasius contra mundi). It will no doubt require great personal sacrifice and cost to us. But if we believe these things, let us go forward. The Lord is God.
We ought not only continue to practice these things, but we ought to continue to labor to make the case that conservative, reverent worship is good, true, and right. Let us be winsome and convincing. Let us be happy warriors in this endeavor. We must be ready to make the positive case for conservative worship to our peers, our forebears, and (especially) our children. We should lead with these distinctives we hold, not hide them away like a crazy uncle we’re embarrassed about. As more and more churches embrace the so-called “new hymnody” and popular music, it is incumbent upon us to continue to make the case that, though we recognize the brothers who disagree with us to be orthodox Christians, that the manner in which we communicate our praise to and love for God is an extremely significant concern for true Christian worship, as important to us as it was to the Old and New Testament authors.
In the end, we must ready to take up our cross and follow Christ, confident in what the Scriptures reveal. In times of success and failure, whether our numbers are many or few, our bedrock will always be that the Lord is still God.
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too.