By: Scott Cook
In 1940, the German army surrounded over 300,000 British and French troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Germans had already forced the capitulation of King Leopold III and his Belgium army, leaving the combined British and French Army on the verge of collapse. The best they could do was hold the line at Dunkirk and hope for evacuation. It was a dark hour!
Then it happened! The Miracle of Dunkirk! A French and English rearguard fended off the German attack for three days as over 300,000 troops were rescued. Both military and civilian boats were enlisted to save the allied troops. This great rescue began with these words: “but if not.”
Today, it is difficult for us to imagine how the whole British nation knew what those three words meant.
“But if not” is a quote from the King James Version of the Bible, from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship a golden image of the king upon pain of death. The Hebrews reply to the king’s threat is one of the most celebrated lines in Scripture: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) The British people were Biblically literate; they knew what the British officer meant. The situation was desperate, it was impossible, and defeat was imminent. Surrender was unthinkable; they would not capitulate; they would fight to the last man. And this declaration of courage and strength catapulted the British people to rescue their troops, saving England from German domination.
As we think about the Moderator’s challenge to our General Synod, taken from I Corinthians 16:13, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong,” I think I can find no better summary of Biblical strength than “but if not.” Biblical strength is “but if not”-strength because it does not depend on ability. “Finally, be strong in the Lord,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10) Daniel and his friends were strong in the face of their impending death because they stood not in their strength but in the strength of the King of Glory, Jehovah of Hosts. Biblical strength surpasses all worldly power. Biblical strength is “but if not”-strength, and it excels anything the world has to offer because its effectiveness is not contingent
upon the outcome. “But if not”-strength empowered Daniel and his friends to stand before a tyrant and witness their faith in the face of death. They would not deny their God. Their confession of God was more precious than life.
In the cultural moment in which we find our Synod, the most pressing need of the ARP Church is witnessing “but if not”-strength before a watching world which is lost and dying. What does this look like for our churches, our agencies, and our Synod? Let us be unapologetically confessional at every level with “but if not”-strength. Let our congregations stand in the strength of God as we use the ordinary means of grace to extend our ministries. Let us stand in the strength of God, relying on Biblical preaching, fervent praying, and faithful observance of the sacraments. Christ builds his church through these means; “but if not,” we hold fast to our confession of faith.
Let World Witness stand in the strength of God, proudly taking the banner of the ARP Church across the world in foreign missions. At the Spring meeting of Second Presbytery, a MT3 missionary gave an excellent presentation on why he works in theological education in the third world. He exposed some of the heterodox beliefs which are rampant on the mission field: the prosperity gospel, anti-Trinitarianism, and Pentecostalism. The pervasive influence of these errors is why we need to be active in advancing the Reformed Faith in Africa and other places. Let us send forth men and women who are grounded and confess the Reformed Faith as summarized in the Westminster Standards. God advances His kingdom around the globe through these means; “but if not,” we will not deny our confession of faith.
Let Outreach North Americastand in the strength of God by holding to the Reformed doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church in the face of cultural Marxism, identity politics, intersectionality, and whatever the next theological fad or worship novelty may be. Let us not displace clear Biblical preaching of the blood of Christ with a message that panders to Post-Modern culture. Let our church planters stand in the strength of God by preaching the love of the God the Father demonstrated in the blood of Christ and made effectual through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is no other message which can save and transform sinners. This is how Christ builds His church. “But if not!”