Truth Between Extremes of Error (II) Preaching Attitudes
Ralph D. Gentry
God's word is designed to edify and settle problems due to the ignorance of man (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Preaching must meet the needs of the church. Just how much attention to any one Bible subject is the right proportionate amount to be given is a grave matter of much dispute and severe consequences. Two extremes of errors are engaged in by churches.
Being a hobbyist--A hobbyist is one who dwells in thought and/or speech on any one subject to the exclusion of other important questions. Is this good? We cannot afford to be optionalists with God's word (Jas. 2:10). The Pharisees did this--making some things important and others unimportant or even unnecessary (Matt. 23:16-23). Obviously, some things are relatively more important for the time and should be given due emphasis, but not so as to neglect other essentials.
Brethren have lost the true meaning of the term "hobby." It is now largely a term maliciously applied to those who disagree with others, regardless of the issue and circumstance. Thus, churches advertise for a preacher with no hobbies. Meaning what? It is rather uncertain. It could conceivably have reference to any one of a hundred things, depending on the convictions of the elders of said church.
A hobbyist does the church no good. Even a good thing can be overworked. The hobbyist fails to accomplish the desired end, even though it be a good objective and sought with the best of intentions.
Some preachers unconsciously have swung to this extreme. A number of reasons account for this. It may have been pressure either from within or without the church. Opposition to the truth will determine the place, time and extent of aggressive battle. Consider Nehemiah's plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem as an example of this (Neh. 4:19, 20). The trumpet was to sound and reinforcements were to muster at the place of attack. So it is and must be today. However, the walls of spiritual Zion are rarely ever attacked at one place only. The walls must be brought up in uniformity. The hobbyist does not fully survey the need of the hour. Also, it is difficult to keep from "riding" a subject, once such teaching is recognized as badly needed.
Closely related is the negativist--one regarding himself as unfaithful to the trust committed to him if not constantly engaged in "skinning the sects" and "lowering the boom" on unfaithful members. He abuses the gospel instead of using it. He belongs to the wrecking crew and the demolition squad. He regards it his business to afflict the comfortable but forgets to comfort the afflicted. His object is to torture, not to teach. He is always against something and destructive in criticism, evidencing a lack of knowledge of and desire for constructive action. Usually his preaching is characterized by abusive language serving only to close the ears of those who might otherwise be taught.
For fear it will become a hobby, some will overlook the opportunity and neglect to give some badly needed teaching. There is a temptation to avoid controversial subjects to escape persecution. Those who wish to compromise will say "All is Well," refusing to see the dangers and to meet them. They are like the ostrich, which buries its head in the sand when danger approaches. Such preachers care nothing for brotherhood issues, for should such come to the congregation where they labor, "fence straddling" will be the order of the day anyway. This preacher is forever undecided on current issues and "stalls" for the customary two years of "resident ministry." This man is two-faced, unstable in all his ways (Jas. 1:8). Such are backslapping, "itching ears" preachers, (2 Tim. 4:3,4), striving to please those who "love to have it so" (Jer. 5:3; Isa. 30:9-11).
Compromisers claim to disapprove of division but will do nothing really constructive toward scriptural unity. Their plan is to whitewash and smooth over--to have peace at the sacrifice of truth. While the hobbyist attempts to drive, this one refuses to lead and hopes for peace without a battle. In reality, such are sowing seeds of discord by contributing to ignorance of God's word resulting in a weak, worldly and divided church. But what do they care--they will be gone and working some other place by then. They will leave with glowing reports of a wonderful work and a good increase of members. A wonderful work indeed--proselyting! The church was left starving for gospel meat. Teaching concerning the organization and work of the church was sadly neglected and a large portion of the members still think they joined another denomination. Have I exaggerated? Look around!
This extreme advocates the "preach the Bible and let others alone" positive approach only. They overlook or ignore the impossibility of building a strong superstructure on a weak and crumbling foundation. Jeremiah gave the order as God would have it, "see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant" (Jer. 2:10). We are told, "If you want to have influence with people, you must ignore their sins and simply illustrate the picture of what a Christian should be, making it so impressive they will want to cease sinning."
Elders of this extreme will forbid any preaching on a subject of brotherhood disturbance and importance, saying, "Leave it alone, we are not bothered with it here." They are willfully ignorant that what affects one congregation influences another and is in a large measure everybody's problems, even though primary attention should be given those problems directly related to the locality. They refuse to be forewarned and thus forearmed for unforeseen but inevitable difficulties. Unpreparedness has been the downfall of men, nations and the church. Usually, however, these elders are stronger in this contention when they happen to know the preacher does not agree with them on brotherhood issues and this is but a front to hide the real motive.
One must not be so obsessed with some particular phase of the work so as to become a hobbyist. Neither should one fail to "deliver the goods." Both of the foregoing extremes partially are due to reactionary spirits to each other and the breech is widened.
Gospel preaching includes the negative approach when circumstances warrant it. For examples, read of these instances: Tit. 1:9; 2:15, Acts 7:51-53; 1 Cor. 3:3; Acts 2:23. The manner of preaching by the apostles will suffice for today's needs and nothing short of it will accomplish what God's word is designed to do. Men will be constrained to give up religious error only after they have realized it to be such. This can effectively be done by contrasting truth and error in our preaching.
Gospel preaching includes the positive approach also. Read Matt. 5: 1-12; Rom. 1: 7, 5; 12:6-21 and the book of Philemon. We have little respect for or confidence in a man who cannot or will not show us what is right as well as what is wrong. We will follow a leader who will show us the right way by word and deed. Negative preaching can serve to keep us from error and combined with positive teaching will keep us actively "walking in truth."
The proper attitude must be exemplified at all times, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth" (2 Tim. 2: 24, 25). Love for the truth of God and for the souls of men constitute the only scriptural reasoning for preaching. When such love is the motive, it will manifest itself in the sermon content and in the speaker's attitude. His work will be a "work of faith and a labor of love" (I Thess. 1:3), while declaring unto you "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
Truth Magazine VII: 5, pp. 20-21