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The Present Downgrade

Category Articles
Date September 30, 2008

Most readers will be acquainted with Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy. Today the apostasy signalized by Spurgeon’s opponents has probably reached its nadir. At least it is hard to imagine how much lower the enemies of the true Christian Faith can fall while retaining the name of Christ. The solid saving truths that were once emblazoned on the Visible Church’s banner have now been replaced in many quarters by a naturalistic religion deceitfully screened by pious words and symbols, shallow and short-lived excitement, vague mystic yearnings, meaningless ceremonies and hives of church activity. Having abandoned virtually all the doctrines of grace in their concern not to give offence, the churches are now desperately trying to shore up a foundation-less building rapidly slipping into the abyss. With the Bible no longer believed as the inspired inerrant Word of God, the cross of Christ reduced to a mere symbol of a sympathetic but helpless suffering God, faith transformed into something you believe in, and sin viewed as little more than unacceptable social conduct, no wonder that prominent church leaders have no answer to the question: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ In this brief article, we shall try to ascertain the cause of this deplorable state of affairs and prescribe the divinely revealed remedy.

The Cause

One cause of the churches’ apostasy is the extension of the 19th century liberal doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. Viewing God only as Creator, or the God of Nature; all religions as parts of one great whole; and all men as brothers, whatever their creed or way of life, liberal-modernist churches have cast off the holy, sin-punishing God of salvation and the brotherhood of the redeemed. On the basis of this notion, they are frantically attempting to bring all men into ‘the church’, make them feel as comfortable as possible, and then proceed to tell them without the least qualification that God loves them and they are on the road to heaven. In the early Church, by contrast, those who entered a place of Christian worship were struck with an awesome sense of the judicial presence of God and the love his people bore to each other.

A second cause of present-day declension was identified by Gresham Machen three generations ago: ‘The Church of today has been unfaithful to her Lord by admitting great companies of non-Christian persons, not only into her membership, but into her teaching agencies.’ Have we not all heard of bishops who deny the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of our blessed Saviour? A Chancellor of one of our cathedrals contemptuously referred to the latter as ‘a bag of bones.’ Do some of us not know of theology lecturers who spend their time undermining the authority of God’s holy Word and denying the existence of Biblical miracles?

A third cause of the present malaise is the wholesale rejection of creeds, confessions and articles of faith. In the Established Church, so many ‘clergy’ dishonestly swore allegiance to the Thirty-nine Articles while denying them that only a few years needed to pass before the Articles were voted out of the Church’s testimony. In a parallel move, hundreds of Non-conformist churches whittled their confessions of faith down to a minimum of statements, or re-wrote them in the interests of ‘the wideness of God’s mercy’, leaving anyone with a few gifts and some ‘commitment’ to join the ranks of office bearers controlling their affairs.

The result, for all to see, is not ‘the Church in the world’ but ‘the world in the Church.’ Bingo, lotteries, dances, raffles, theatricals, pop bands, female priests, pilgrimages, processions, ‘marches for Jesus’ and who knows what else now take the place of Bible studies, Prayer Meetings and reverent services of worship.

The Remedy

If Evangelical and Reformed Christians cannot conscientiously support a church where Liberal-Modernism reigns, should they not secede or withdraw? Many today see secession as the only remedy. At considerable sacrifice, they have already cut their ties with the apostate body and formed a fresh fellowship, independent of all other churches. Often this has occurred because the ruling factor has been ‘the majority vote.’ It pains us deeply to think of godly believers who have seen their time, energy and gifts squandered by callous ‘liberals’ whose liberalism has wholly deserted them when it comes to retaining church property and power. But to conserve the central truth of salvation by the atoning blood of Christ alone, they have withdrawn, whatever the cost. Sadly, others have seceded for far less fundamental matters.

When we study the teaching of Scripture, however, we see that secession is not always the remedy. It is the modernists, the defectors, the traitors to our Lord Jesus Christ who should withdraw. If they had any conscience, they would. But if not, the elders should exercise church discipline, and so preserve the church’s purity of doctrine and holiness of life. This can only be hoped for by a wholesale willingness to sit round the table and resolve to abide by the verdict of Scripture. But where, O where is this done? Should the ruling party or majority refuse this Biblical remedy, believers should follow the example of their Lord and his apostles and be content to be put out of the apostate church.

In view of the present weakness of those who long to be faithful, we can only suggest the following courses of action:

1. Continue the fight against all error and immorality in the churches. To shirk this duty is to be disloyal to Christ, the only Head of his Church. True, he has said: ‘I will build my Church’; but he has always done so by means of inflexible contenders for the faith, such as Polycarp, Augustine, the Reformers, the Puritans, the Covenanters and more recent Evangelicals.

2. Jealously guard the entrance to church office. No false charity to men should be allowed to dislodge our loyalty to Christ. We believe that more grief has come to the Church of God through false charity than through any other cause. Flattery, conniving at others’ sin, bending God’s standards, even bribery, have all played their nefarious part in polluting God’s sanctuary.

3. Choose godly, faithful pastors. Said Murray M’Cheyne: ‘A holy minister [not a learned, or eloquent, or popular one] is an awful weapon in the hand of God.’ I wonder how many ministers, who love to parade their degrees and number of titles they have ‘authored’, would pass a presbytery examination by Andrew Gray, or Thomas Boston, or John Duncan. May God send us ministers who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and are not ashamed to proclaim his worth or to ‘own’ him in any company!

4. Renew truly Christian teaching, in our homes, schools and colleges. Christian truth, taught by Christian teachers, in a Christian spirit, to the glory of God, is the only way to recapture youth and tell his wondrous works to generations yet unborn. Our young people must learn what our most holy faith is, not from its enemies, but from its friends, who know the Lord from personal experience, and can ‘speak what they do know.’


In all our efforts to reform the churches, we must resort to prayer at the footstool of our sovereign God. Since salvation is of the Lord, and no-one else, we must look up to him who in eternity purposed to save his people, a number that no man can number. We must consciously acknowledge his sovereign right to save or destroy, as it pleases him. We must cast ourselves upon his mercy, for he alone can fill the gospel with power to make spiritually dead sinners live. All hope of success, all encouragement that fails to do this is a denial of our profession and an insult to our God. And whomever we pray for, whether particular people, or a particular church, or a particular country, or the whole world, we must know and feel ourselves closed in to his sovereignty. The fulfilment of his promises to build his Church, to fill the whole earth with his glory, and to see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, is altogether in his hands. In this respect, as in all others, we are entirely dependent on the sovereignty of his saving grace.

Taken from Peace & Truth, the magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union, 2008:3.

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