Christians everywhere hold Athanasius the Great in high esteem. Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world) evokes thoughts of championing the cause of orthodoxy against the tides of heresy. I thank God for Athanasius. As one who stood for the cause of biblical, Trinitarian theology, his task was unique and essential. His contending for the faith did not immediately earn a position of popularity, however. On the contrary, the blustering winds of power and culture blew fiercely in his face, even leading to multiple exiles. If you are a Christian, you can thank God that Athanasius was no weather vane who turned with the gusts of opposition, but was instead full of love to the Lord, deeply rooted in the truth, and willing to stand firm in the evil day, even and especially when he stood alone.
People love unanimity because they look to one another for validation. So when everyone in the room is clamoring for the next progressive topic, enthusiastically striving to catch the next cultural wave to propel them into acceptance (and a little notoriety doesn’t hurt, right?), few want to chime in and record their negative vote. The fact is, it is hard to be the odd man out, apparently the only one in the room saying “no.” This, dear friends, is nothing new.
Let’s rewind about 3000 years to 1 Kings 22/2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, had begun well, building upon the advances of his father Asa and walking in the ways of his predecessor David. Nevertheless, in an astonishing lapse of judgment, he decided to ally himself with the wicked king Ahab to go fight against Syria. Despite the folly of his commitment, Jehoshaphat had some residual good sense to request that the monarchs inquire of the Lord to see if this was a war worth waging. More than happy to oblige, Ahab sent the word and called a conference of prophets: “Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, ‘Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?’ And they said, ‘Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king'” (2 Chronicles 18:5).
The prophetically sanctioned answer was overwhelming. What more could Jehoshaphat ask for? Absolute unanimity, thriving nationalism, unwavering confidence, yes, yes, it was all there for the taking, 400 times over. But Jehoshaphat had that nagging feeling that something was off. What caused Jehoshaphat to think twice? Did he notice the way the fabulous 400 were dressed? Did they all have golden calf pendants hanging around their necks? Did they all command impressive Twitter accounts? The text does not say, but the king of Judah realized that there was not a single prophet of the Lord around, so he had to ask just one more question: “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire? (2 Chronicles 18:6).”
Ahab’s answer revealed his true colors: “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil” (2 Chronicles 18:7). Ahab was happy with the easy and prevailing yes, but he also hated the hard no. His concern terminated “not upon what was true or false but upon what was supportive or non-supportive.”¹ As a man ahead of his times, in very 2020 fashion, he decided that the best method of maintaining unity was to block (de-platform?) that one detractor from having a say in order to create a safe-space of positivity and sham uniformity. This should have been the cue for Jehoshaphat to head for the door, but instead he responded by weakly chiding his cohort, “Let not the king say so!” (18:7).
Enter Micaiah, a legendary prophet of whom few legends have been told. Ahab’s messenger was kind enough to brief Micaiah on the situation. “Listen, Micaiah, do not come in here and ruin the mood. Everyone is in agreement, and you should be too. You aren’t the only prophet you know, and we all just want to love God and love people” (my amplified paraphrase, see 1 Kings 22:13). What’s a prophet to do? Micaiah faced two mutually exclusive options: 1) Go with the flow while surrendering his conscience and his spine or 2) Speak forth the Word of the Lord and suffer for it. Like every faithful prophet and servant of the Lord, this man opted for the latter. He did so not because he raised a moistened finger and found the cultural winds favorable, but rather because he “was no sycophant longing for royal favor, no cooperative evangelical begging his colleagues in ministry to confer respectability upon him.”²
With fiery eyes and a faithful heart, Micaiah walked into the presence of the kings and the False 400. His sarcastic introduction drew out Ahab’s hypocritical ire (1 Kings 22:15-16). The prophet’s clear and resolute proclamation of the truth and condemnation of error led to his injury, imprisonment, and impoverishment, not to mention his continued and manifest unpopularity (vv17-28). Yet the Lord’s word held true and Micaiah has received at least part of his prophet’s reward (Matthew 10:41, though still awaiting the resurrection).
Our churches desperately need pastors, elders, and congregants like this. Dale Ralph Davis in his masterful commentary on 1 Kings wrote: “One sometimes wonders if the church is drifting back to an Ahab mind-set, or, if not hostile toward the candor of the word at least embarrassed by it. I have received church advertisements in my mail. A new church is forming in our area. It is going to feature, among other attractions, a ‘non-judgmental atmosphere’ to attract me. I know, I mustn’t over interpret. But what does that mean? Likely that the church means to eschew negativism, refrain from making folks ‘feel guilty’, or—the ultimate contemporary sin—feel bad about themselves. What will the ministry of the word be like in such a church? Will it ever press home the word of God in its searing honesty? Or must that be sacrificed lest it destroy the non-judgmental ambiance. Ahab would love such a place.”³ Would you love such a place?
I am afraid too many in our churches have opted for Micaiah’s first option, that is, serving up both conscience and spine on a platter to placate the masses of culture. These things must not be so. Though Jude admitted that he would have preferred to write about the joys of salvation, he found it more necessary to exhort his people to contend earnestly for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Our age of relativism requires us firmly to adhere and fiercely to defend the truths of the Word of God. Our age of humanism necessitates the Church to fight tenaciously for a biblical anthropology and soteriology. Our age of low-churchism compels us to be faithful in maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, peace, and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise on that account. Our age of spiraling gender confusion and sexual rebellion obligates the Church to hold fast to biblical manhood and womanhood, not recover from it. Our age of statism and government dependence challenges the Church boldly to profess the singular glory of Jesus Christ the King and our allegiance to him.
The thing about contending is that, well, it is contentious. Of course, our speech needs to be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer each person (Colossians 4:6). But sometimes salt stings, especially when it comes into contact with the wounds of error. In our sloppy age, defending and preserving the truth is far less appealing than meddling with it. Far too frequently, calling out error and/or speaking the inconvenient truth will get you labeled as arrogant, mean, or narrow minded. It happened to Micaiah. It happened to Athanasius. It happened to the Lord. That is good company however, and an honorable calling. Remember that until the Day of Glory the Church will be “by schisms rent asunder and heresies distressed.” May the Lord raise up saints who keep watch, contend earnestly for the faith, and who hold fast to the truth, even if the odds against them are 400 to 1.
¹ Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly. (Fearn: Chrsitan Focus, 2013), 314-315.
² Ibid., 314.
³ Ibid., 315-316.