"I Just Don't Like the Way You Say It"

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

The Bible not only instructs us what we should teach, but it also tells us to some degree how the teaching is to be done. The Message we are to preach is called "the word" (2 Tim. 4:2); "the faith" (Gal. 1:23), "the gospel" (Gal. 1:11), and the "word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13).

The Bible also states that in teaching this message, one must "reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long suffering" (2 Tim. 4:2) when teaching. When a brother sins, we must "tell him his fault" (Matt. 18:15). Some occasions require that one be reproved sharply (Tit. 1: 13), and sometimes this reproof is to be publicly given (I Tim. 5:20). The word is to be preached with boldness (Acts 4:31; Eph. 6:20), it is to be preached fully (Acts 20:27; Rom. 15:19), and without addition (I Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9).

One can preach a perfect message, but that person may not always be perfect in his manner of presentation. In the rush of word selection during presentation of a sermon, one may choose imprecise words, or he may state some truth in such a way as to becloud the truth, or to turn someone from the truth.

Frequently, I get letters from brethren telling me that they agree with what I said; they just do not like the way I said it. William B. Wright of Weirton, West Virginia, a good friend of mine, wrote a few days ago, sending me a copy of a letter he had written to Brother Clifton Inman. In his letter to this liberal editor, some references were made to me. I do not think this brother will object to me using his letter as a "starter" for this article.

He said, "This isn't a defense of Cecil Willis. I think he can take care of himself. I don't always approve of the way he says things but I do almost always agree with him as to what constitutes truth." Further in this same letter, my brother spoke complimentarily of me. "For my part, I am deeply indebted to brother Willis and his corps of associates even if they were in grade school as late as when I was a soldier in World War II. They may not always say things the way I would like them said, but they are in the forefront of the battle against liberalism without reservation. The work of younger men like Cecil Willis, Connie Adams, and Earl Robertson and old soldiers like brother C. D. Plum have meant much to me in unraveling the facts concerning the grave issues we face. On the other hand, brethren like Tom Butterfield, Jew Nutter, Denver Cooper, and yourself (Clifton Inman - CW) have let me and people like me down."

You can see that Brother Wright was not speaking derogatorily of me. He does not approve sometime of the way that I teach the truth, or I do not always say things the way he would like to have them said.

I make no claim to be able to say or to write things just the way they should be said or written. Frequently, after a sermon or after reading one of my articles, I wish I had said a certain thing mi a little different way than I did. I remember Brother W. W. Otey telling me one time that he had never preached a sermon in his life (and he preached about 75 years) with which he was completely satisfied one hour afterward. He often could recall additional truths he should have included, or he could think of something he said which would have been better not said at all.

So it is with my writing and preaching. I do not claim to be a perfect writer or preacher. I do not always know just which way of teaching a particular truth might be the most effective. Very likely, if I were to hear my critics preach or should read one of their articles, I would not always approve the way they said a certain thing. But it is "truth" which will make men free (Jno. 8:32). There is no necessity that you concur in the way I teach that truth, but it is necessary that you believe and obey the truth.

Brother Wright believes the truth, and does not hesitate to teach it. However, frequently when brethren moan about the way the truth is taught, the fact is they do not want it taught at all. I have only edited a paper a little over eight years, but many have written me letters criticizing the way I teach on certain matters. Nearly without exception, I have answered these letters something like this: "I do not claim to know just how the best way to teach a certain lesson is. But since you state that you did not object to what I said, and you only objected to how I said it, I would appreciate it if you would write on the same subject as the one upon which I was writing, and you teach the truth on this issue in the way it ought to be done, and I promise to print it." So far, I have not received the first article in answer to my request.

Often criticism of the way that a particular truth is taught is but a guise to try to keep one from teaching that truth at all. It is much like the objection one runs into about oral preaching: "I do not object to what you said; this just was not the right time to teach on it." I usually ask, "When would you recommend that I present that lesson?" I would be glad to preach it again at the right time. I have never had anyone even take the time to tell me when certain lessons should be taught.

The Lord set in His body many members, and we do not all have the same abilities (See I Cor. 12, and Rom. 12). I guess it is a good thing that not every brother does try to write or to preach like I do. Some of the brethren seem to think it would be a good thing if no one wrote or preached like I do. Some of my brethren (fellow-members in the Lord's body) can reach certain people that I seem unable to affect at all. On the other hand, I probably have taught a few people that the brother who objects to how and the way I teach could not reach at all.

Rather than feeling that every brother must preach the way I do, instead I am grateful for my many brethren who approach a scriptural subject in just a little different way than I do. Perhaps they can amend for my shortcomings, and if they should have a short-coming or two as a preacher, there may be just the slightest possibility that I can supplement their teaching effort. Paul said that "all the members have not the same office" (Rom. 12:4). "For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him" (I Cor. 12:14-18).

Thus, I do not have to try to preach or write like anyone else. I just must be sure that I preach and write as ably as I can. Paul said, "As much as is in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also..." (Rom. 1: 15).

If I teach the truth in the manner that God said to teach it, you do not have to approve the word selection of every sentence I might choose to use in expressing that truth. You might even think occasionally that I should have used stronger terminology. The important thing is not that we agree concerning my preaching method, but we must agree upon the truth taught, for a lie cannot be substituted for truth which is in Christ. Let us all use whatever capability and dispositions God has given us to teach the truth as effectively as we can. It is only by such diverse functioning of all the members of the body that the objectives sought by the Body can be attained.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 31, pp. 3-5
June 10, 1971