Over the past few generations, Western society has been increasingly viewed through a prism that divides liberal and conservative thought, and many of us tend to place ourselves somewhere in that spectrum. This is understandable, if we take into account the historical forces and paradigm shifts that have changed the world over the last century.
A term that has come into vogue as a more palatable substitute for “liberal” is the term “progressive”, at least when the subject is the political spectrum. If the term “liberal” is used in a societal or religious context, there is implied by it a liberty or freedom of thought that is disinclined to be bound to historical norms or traditional teachings. The idea of progressivism seems to emphasize more the spirit of making progress, which of necessity implies that a former mode of thinking or acting lacks the moral power to provide modern humanity with the peace and prosperity it has always sought. These terms are both relative ones, when viewed against their cultural and historical setting.
Conservatism is also a relative paradigm, and I suppose no one would dispute that observation. But what interests me as a student, both of the Word of God and of the human race, is not whether a segment of society or a political party are deemed conservative relative to a liberal or progressive paradigm: What really matters are the principles and practices that are being conserved, or kept safe and intact. After all, what value is there in keeping that which is by nature false or corrupted?
The word of God, understood and taught within a dispensational framework¹, is without doubt the preeminently worthwhile thing to be conserved or kept in this life. God gives us His own estimation of His word by the pen of David in Psalm 138:2: “I will . . . praise Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name.” The word of God is the medium by which God has revealed His name to us (as Jehovah to Israel and as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament), therefore He gives His word the preeminence that befits it.
The Lord Jesus’ entire life demonstrates to us the value He placed on the Scriptures. As the Word made flesh, He could not do otherwise than obey it implicitly, and He made it clear to all that the word of God formed all of His thoughts and guided all He did.² Jesus continually reminded His followers of the importance of obeying and keeping the word of God, and His gentle correction of an adoring woman in His company in Luke 11:27-28 ought to speak volumes to us. When she made much of the blessedness of Mary, as many in Christendom still do, He does not miss the opportunity to declare what it is that really brings blessedness: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” This declaration ought to be for Christians the very essence of conservative Christianity – conserving the word of God in all its integrity (not the traditions of men) by allowing it full authority over our lives and consciences.
Satan uses many devices to prevent us from keeping the word of God, but I will mention a few that we ought to particularly guard against in these last days. Worldliness keeps so many from even reading or “hearing” the word, which is an obvious prerequisite for keeping it. Humanism keeps a man’s thoughts and aspirations down at the level of human needs and desires, rather than seeking first and foremost the glory of God, and His righteousness. Liberalism leads people astray by emphasizing ethics over doctrine and experience over Scriptural authority, when it is sound doctrine and the authority of God’s word to which the Lord Himself and all the inspired writers subject our consciences. Allowing oneself to be caught in any of these snares virtually ensures failure in conserving the precious word of God.
There is an apt picture of the principle of conserving the truth we have received, given us in Ezra 8:24-34, in which a remnant of Judah returned from Babylon to Jerusalem carrying the silver, gold, and vessels of the house of God, which had been looted from the temple by King Nebuchadnezzar many years earlier. This precious trove was weighed and counted at the beginning of their trip, carried across the desert, and finally weighed and counted again at the end of the journey, to ensure that all that collection so valuable to Jehovah was kept in its integrity until they reached their destination.
May each of us who have been predestined for glory, and to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, have the desire and the strength to keep the truth of His word until we reach that final destination. The word of the Lord Jesus to the Philadelphian saints was: “Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word . . . ” and again, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.”³ It is especially encouraging to notice that, of all the seven churches written to in Revelation 2 and 3, the positive assurance of the Lord’s love (“I have loved you”) is given only to the Philadelphian saints, who kept His word. Surely the Lord Jesus loves all of His own, but those whom He can commend for keeping His word are especially able to claim and enjoy it.
¹ Understanding the Scriptures dispensationally simply means that God has dealt with man on the earth in different ways administratively during the various periods of history.
² John 1:14; 5:30,39; 7:16-18; 8:26-28; etc.
³ Revelation 3:8-10