Young Pastor, You Have One Job: The Importance of Intransigence

Young Pastor, You Have One Job: The Importance of Intransigence

You really have one job in ministry, when it all boils down. You need to be faithful to God. 

In order to be faithful to God, you will need to stand your ground. You will need to recognize that the essential nature of Christian ministry is conservative. That is, we have a gospel and a Bible and a tradition of fidelity that we must guard, protect, preserve, steward, hold fast to, treasure, and honor. Paul summons us to this conservative cast in texts like 2 Timothy 1:14a, where he tells his young charge τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην φύλαξον, which rendered literally reads “The good deposit keep,” a keeping made possible by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in us (see 14b). There is something, in other words, to keep. You’re not making it up; you’re not creating Christianity in your generation from scratch; you’re not devising a smooth new contextual way to follow God. Yes, you pray and work hard to see the kingdom advance, but in doing so you must keep what was entrusted to you: the Word and the gospel. The truth of Christ. The message of salvation. If you do not keep the deposit, you have nothing to promote. 

With these words, the apostle Paul establishes that Christian ministry is essentially conservative. It is less an art project and more a stewardship exercise. Elders of local churches must ἀντεχόμενον τοῦ κατὰ τὴν διδαχὴν πιστοῦ λόγου, be those who are “holding fast to the trustworthy word” (Titus 1:9). There is a trustworthy word, we learn here, and it is not ours. It is God’s own word. Our first duty in the work of ministry is to hold fast to it. There is nothing fancy here; nothing flashy; nothing that the world will report breathlessly when they catch wind of it. Yet this is the very core of gospel labor.  

There is an old-fashioned word I like that conveys this mindset: intransigence, descended from the Latin transigere (the rough meaning of which was something like “come across,” originally). Some dictionaries present this word in negative terms—“holding an extreme opinion you stubbornly will not alter,” and that sort of thing. (Even our dictionaries reveal a sympathy for postmodernity.) But some are a little more even-handed. The Cambridge English Dictionary, for example, renders intransigence “refusing to change an opinion,” a calm and helpful take, if a bit gentle. This word is often used today in a slanderous sense, but it need not be. It can simply signal the stalwart refusal to bow to pressure.

How important single words can be in this life. Theology really is philology, at least to a point. This is one of those instances when we encounter a word that is in truth a mindset, a philosophy. The Christian ministry requires intransigence. It requires the ability to withstand tremendous and even unrelenting pressure. It calls for the willingness to endure ferocious hardship, yet never compromise the truth. It demands the temerity to speak the whole counsel of God and not soften it any point. All this is intransigence. We do not change our doctrine; we do not edit the Bible; we do not play down the truth. We hold fast.

None of this entails being angry or hateful. That is surely how our world will read us at times. Even if we make great effort at being winsome and congenial, those who disagree with us will still dislike us. Jesus, the very embodiment of intransigence, told us that we would be hated for his name’s sake, and then he went out and showed us just how true this would be (Luke 6:22-23). He was hated, and despised, and scorned, and campaigned against. To witness his interplay with Jewish leaders in the Gospels is to observe warfare, sometimes subtle, sometimes openly bloodthirsty. Yet Jesus never caved. He did not give an inch. He spoke the truth in love, and he was hated for it, and then he was killed for it.

He was the first in a long line of the unmoved and the unbending. Athanasius put his life and vocation on the line repeatedly to stop the spread of Arianism; he paid a dear price, but he did not waver. Huss and Wycliffe were despised and targeted, but they preached and translated regardless, lighting the spark the Reformation would douse with kerosene. Luther was called to come back to Mother Church, to stand with tradition over truth, but he refused. Spurgeon found himself contra Anglia, with so many modernizing English Baptists arrayed against him, but he did not give up the faith. Machen was booted from his denomination as a reward for sounding the alarm about Protestant liberalism, but he did not alter a shred of his doctrine. There is a long line here, indeed, and besides these figures are many whose names we do not know who we will meet in the age to come. Humble martyrs, ordinary Christians, godly men and women, they did not stop confessing Christ. They held fast to the end, the bitter and bloody end.

Speed ahead to our time. Christianity has tried softness and fluff, and it hasn’t worked. Not one miserable bit. The only way the church thrives and endures is if it produces pastors who are graciously, doxologically intransigent. We need elders who will together pursue humility before the Lord and welcome words of warning and even rebuke, but will not bow to cultural pressure. We need leaders who live lives marked by confession of sin and repentance from it, but who will not dare to think of compromising the doctrine of the Word of God. We need men who will seek the fruit of the Spirit as the gift of God, but who will not flinch in the face of fierce opposition.

Really, when you boil it down, our job is not complicated. We have much to do, and much to teach, and much glory to give God, but our job in Christian ministry is simply this: to be faithful to God. To never give up the Word and the testimony. To never stop preaching the gospel of grace. To never quit reaching out to sinners just like us in order to share Christ with them. To never cease confessing that the Bible is not only true in all it promotes, but good in all it reveals. We need men who want this job. We need them to stand on the wall, high up on the wall, and watch out for wolves who connive to do terrible things to the sheep. We need these men not to think they are high and mighty, but instead to know themselves as low and needy, wholly dependent on the power of God for their strength.

And we need them to be utterly, convictionally, unswervingly, unhesitatingly, unyieldingly intransigent: refusing to change the doctrine of God. Young pastor: with regard to your sin, freely own it and gladly kill it. With regard to the truth of the Word: hold fast, and do not give an inch to the devil. Stand firm; do not waver; do not flinch a muscle.

The good deposit keep.

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