Roy Ingle, “The Down-Grade Controversy”

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It has often been said that when we fail to understand the past, we fail to interpret the future. Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 reminds us that “there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! There is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time” (NIV). Paul used the examples of ancient Israel in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 to call God’s church to holiness. Paul’s historical understanding helped him push the Corinthians on toward holiness and righteousness in the future.

I believe we can learn much from studying church history. By reading and studying the great lives of Christians gone before us, such as many of the early church fathers, the heretics such as Pelagius, even Western Christians such as Martin Luther, James Arminius, John Wesley, or even the pragmatics such as Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, or D.L. Moody. I have read biographies of modern Christians such as Keith GreenA.W. TozerJim Elliott, or even the controversial Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. We can learn from history.

Iain Murray’s book on Charles Spurgeon and the down-grade controversy is well worth reading. Murray traces the history of the down-grade controversy and Murray believes that this leads to an early death for Spurgeon. The pressure was great upon Spurgeon to back down and conform his church away from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, away from doctrine, and toward unity. Spurgeon stood his ground to the point of being voted out of the Baptist Union.

I believe further that both Calvinists and Arminians should study the down-grade controversy to not only understand the nature of the debate and division but to allow us to see that we are facing the same down-grade with the modern seeker and emergent movements [Editor’s note: This post first appeared in 2008]. Orthodoxy will no doubt win out because of the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16) but we can see the same errors that Spurgeon confronted in his day is still in our own. We must stand for the gospel despite the falling away of everyone around us.

[Link to original post and comments at Roy Ingle’s website]