All our lives we are cajoled to believe that the majority of people carry an aura of moral authority and compelling conviction. Being part of a minority makes us feel isolated and uneasy; being with the 51% and over makes us feel democratic and safe. Since no man has a monopoly on wisdom, there is some truth in this. The Bible itself tells us that ‘in an abundance of counselors there is safety’ (Prov.11:14). This is one of the texts used in the Westminster Confession to justify the Church’s meeting in synods and councils. It does go hand in hand with the warning that ‘All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred’ (WCF XXX.iv). Our own subordinate standard seems to reflect on decisions of the courts of the Church, but let us pass over that for the moment.

            As Christians in the Western world increasingly find themselves on the margins of society, this will open up dangers but also possibilities. Moses tells us not to fall in with the many to do evil (Ex.23:2). At the Nuremberg trials in 1946 Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, said that he never thought whether killing Jews was right or wrong; he was just following orders. This became known as the Nuremberg defence, and it was not accepted. God declares that we are responsible for our own sins. Unbelievers may argue against such a view, but deep in their souls and in times of terrible sin, they recognise its truth.

             The minority are not always right, but they have been right many times through history – and at crucial times. An example that is commonly referred to is found in Numbers 13-14 where Moses sent out twelve men – one from each tribe – to spy out the land of Canaan. Ten of them gave the majority report, which was true so far as it went: the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, notably with grapes, pomegranates and figs, but the people were big and strong, and the cities were well fortified. The minority report from Joshua and Caleb acknowledged that the Israelites seemed like grasshoppers compared to the Canaanites, but pointed out the deciding factor – that God had promised this land to the Israelites.

            Church history provides many more examples. In defending the full deity of Christ in the fourth century, Athanasius of Alexandria was given the nickname ‘Athanasius contra mundum’ (Athanasius against the world). He fell foul of various emperors on five occasions, and spent some seventeen years in exile. This destroyed his chances of appearing in the New Year’s Honours List.

During the last four years of Charles Spurgeon’s life, he was engaged in the bitter Downgrade Controversy where he took a stand against the English Baptist Union which was failing to stand for the full authority of Scripture. It is not as though all the unbelievers were outside the professing Church. On 3 November 1887 The Christian World declared: ‘It is a plain and literal fact that those who share the opinions he condemns constitute a very large majority of all thinking Christian people.’ That is the way to do it: paint your opponent as an isolated fool. But who reads The Christian World today? Only an historian. And who benefits from reading Spurgeon? Whoever takes up his works and reads them.

No soldier wants to be alone in a battle. Nor are we called upon to be lone wolves who are convinced we are right because everyone is against us. Nevertheless, each must adopt the stance of the apostle Paul: ‘Let God be true though every one were a liar’ (Rom.3:4). The media, the universities, the parliaments, the gurus of modern culture will not have the final say. God will. This is our challenge – to remain faithful. And it is also our comfort, when we have to dare to stand alone. When Elijah cried out: ‘I, even I only, am left’ (1 Kings 19:10, 14), God corrected him (1 Kings 19:18). But when Jehoshaphat heard 400 prophets tell him what wicked King Ahab wanted to hear, he was rightly suspicious (1 Kings 22:1-23). What matters first is not words of a false peace nor a jaundiced view of life, but the truth of the living God. Standing alone before God, we will be drawn to those who do likewise, eventually making up a multitude which no man can number (Rev.7:9).

With warm regards in Christ,

– Peter Barnes, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia