By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Phil. 1:18).
Proper attitudes are so important in our dealings with other folks. Right motives are essential to our pleasing God. Brethren have been justly criticized at times for their attitudes and motives — including myself. A few speakers (and writers) among us have seemed to be more interested in making points with brethren by skinning the opposition alive than by trying to reach them with truth — as though being confident of the truth gives one the license to be rude, crude, and down right obnoxious. This by no means is intended to indict all those great men of the past (or present) who obviously have preached and defended the truth in love.
As is so often the case, we tend to swing from one extreme to the other. I am beginning to detect a dangerous preoccupation with attitudes and motives — especially among some younger brethren. Whereas, at times, it seemed that it mattered little how or why one preached, just so what he preached was the truth — it seems that many are more concerned now with how and why one presents a lesson than what is taught and practiced. I even heard one preacher state in a prayer that love is more important than being right!
It is not uncommon for such brethren to scathingly criticize and even turn away from brethren, admitting that what they teach and practice is the truth but they don’t like their attitudes. And at the same time lavishly praising and even embracing others, who admittedly teach questionable doctrines, because they think these have a better attitude than the others. So, when controversy arises (as it inevitably will) these attitude watchers will base where they will stand upon who has the best attitude and disposition — rather than the merit of the positions taken by the disputants. We need to remember that no side on any religious question has a monopoly on any attitude — good or bad! You will find hate, envy, strife, and general ugliness among the advocates of every position known. You will find kindness, love, peacefulness, and general sweetness among all. You will find all of these in all churches and among those of every religious persuasion known to man. Am I defending the improper attitudes among those who agree with me on doctrinal matters? No, a thousand times no! If we “preach Christ from selfish ambition, nor sincerely” or “from envy and strife” without love — we will have to answer to God for such ungodly attitudes and motives!
Yet, if one hears and obeys the truth taught in an improper spirit and from an improper motive — it will save him. The teacher may be lost for his attitude – but the hearer will be saved if he obeys that truth from the heart. If one hears and obeys a lie taught in a proper spirit and from a sincere motive — it will condemn him just as much as it would if it had been preached to him by one with an ungodly attitude. A preacher may have the best “way about him” in the world, but if he keeps from me some vital truth that I need to know his “way about him” will not save me — but the truth that was withheld would have!
If one works and worships in a congregation that practices the truth (i.e., what is done is scriptural), thus joining in that work and worship, he can be right even if some of the others do it from an improper spirit and motive. However, if one works and worships in a congregation that, as a congregation, practices error — thus joining in that unscriptural worship and work — he is still worshiping and working in vain even if every member there is sincere, concerned, and loving in his attitudes.
If our attitudes are wrong let’s correct them. If we detect wrong attitudes in others try to help them correct them. But, let us not get so obsessed with looking at the attitudes and motives of brethren that we decide the merits of what they advocate based upon these factors. It is a dangerous obsession. It can cause us to miss some vital truth because we didn’t like the way it was said or we didn’t like the personality of the one presenting it. It can cause us to believe a lie because it was presented in such a splendid manner by a personality that you could not help but admire. It can cause one to think that a man’s message cannot be right because his attitude is bad or that a man’s message must be right because his attitude is good. In fact, the most dangerous person in the world in an advocate of error who lovingly presents his error from an obviously sincere heart — like, Absalom, he steals the hearts of the people blinding them to the true nature what he teaches.
Sure, I had rather a man tell me the truth in a way that impresses me with his concern for my feelings as well as the salvation of my soul. I had rather that he didn’t come across in a harsh and abrasive way. But, if I must chose between him and one that has a smile that would qualify him for a Pepsodent commercial and shows me all the understanding, love, and concern that anyone could possibly show, but keeps the truth from me — I will take the one who tells me the truth every time.
Let us learn to receive the word with all readiness of mind and search the Scriptures to see if it is so (cf. Acts 17:11) and take our stand based upon that, rather than based upon the attitude, either good or bad, of those who teach us. Let us be concerned about attitudes among us but let us not become so preoccupied with them that we make them blind us to either truth or error. Nor let them be the primary factor in deciding where we will attend services regularly. Let us learn to rejoice when the truth is preached — even when attitudes need improvement. If Paul could rejoice that “Christ is preached,” even in pretense, why can’t we?
(Author’s note: This article first appeared in The Reflector in July 1983. What I said then still needs to be said today. If anything the problem has worsened.)
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