I have a feeling I wouldn’t have liked Churchill very much in the 1930s and before.
I like him plenty now. World War II vindicated him. But the majority of people didn’t like him before that. “Winston is far the most disliked man in my Cabinet by his colleagues,” Prime Minister H.H. Asquith told his wife. “Oh! he is intolerable! Noisy, long-winded and full of perorations.”
“Churchill is one of the most dangerous men I have ever known,” said William Lyon MacKenzie King, Canada’s Prime Minister, in 1939. At one point, his supporters in Parliament consisted of only three people, two of whom were family.
But Churchill rarely softened his message even when unpopular. “How few men are strong enough to stand against the prevailing currents of opinion!” He was wrong on many topics, but right when it mattered most.
Willing to Be Eaten of Dogs
I have a friend who reminds me of Churchill: outspoken, opinionated, and (in my opinion) often wrong. I disagree with his some of his wrongly held views, and sometimes cringe at how he expresses them. But I’ve learned to appreciate something important about him: his courage.
He doesn’t think he’s courageous, and I don’t think he feels like it. But when it’s time to say something unpopular, he says it. I admire that.
I think sometimes of Charles Spurgeon in the later years of his life during the Downgrade Controversy. For decades, Spurgeon had enjoyed a reputation as the world’s best-known preacher. In 1887, though, he sounded the alarm about doctrinal slippage in his denomination. “A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese,” he wrote. His friends and colleagues turned on him, and accused him of being schismatic.
The first time I read about Spurgeon’s actions, I wished he’d taken a softer approach. But Spurgeon accepted the cost. “I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years,” he said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.” It did.
Every Preacher’s Call
Taking unpopular stands is the domain of every preacher.
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season,” Paul charged Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2). Preaching out of season means that we preach whether or not circumstances are favourable. We don’t change the message, even when that message goes against popular ways of thinking.
We can do this in different ways. Some are like Churchill, Spurgeon, and my friend. They will speak the truth loudly and relish the fight. Others of us will take a more winsome tone. However we do it, every preacher must have the backbone to stand up and say unpopular things, and be willing to pay the cost.
A well-known preacher is in the news these days for defying local authorities and reopening his church. I happen to disagree with his approach, but I admire his courage. Whether or not he’s right on this issue, he’s displaying a character trait that every preacher needs, and will likely need even more in coming days. Lord, make us willing to stand against the currents of popular opinion, even when it costs.