Preachers Need Advice

Irven Lee
Hartselle, Alabama

Men who preach the gospel are working with the souls of men and women, and the work should be done with skill and with the greatest possible wisdom. If one faces surgery, he wants the doctor to be capable and careful. It has been said that doctors sometimes bury their mistakes. What happens to those who are seriously harmed by erring preachers? It is not a matter of little consequence to cause one to stumble in spiritual matters.

Are preachers immune to mistakes? Do they seriously err in judgment, at times? They are human beings, and they are subject to the weaknesses that show up in all walks of life. This can be illustrated by errors in doctrine. There are preachers to preach all the false doctrines that are in the land. These contradicting doctrines cannot all be right. Some few people seem to think that it is very ugly to question anything a preacher says. Their comment is, "He's a preacher," as if that guaranteed the accuracy of his doctrine. These are evidently blind followers.

The people who idolize preachers and suppose they are beyond questioning are at least naive. What is wrong with the dogmatic preacher who acts as if it is impossible for him to be found in error? Meekness, humility, and lowliness should be found in him. Pride points toward destruction. Preachers are complimented and flattered, as well as rebuked and slandered. Some preachers are too easily influenced by the flattery, and decide that their word is law, and that those who question them must be the ones wrong. Have you seen a few like this? Confident affirmation of truth by a humble man is very much in place, but an arrogant display of pride and self-will is not.

"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; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2 Tim. 2:24-26). "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace" (James 3:17, 18). These passages do not teach that a man. may not speak the truth with all boldness, but they do forbid harsh and bitter displays of arrogant pride and egotism. Humble people can and should proclaim the whole counsel of God boldly, frankly, and simply. Such people can also listen and learn.

One mistake preachers make is the failure to teach and emphasize all of the truth. They may teach truth, and only truth, but not all the truth. They may sincerely teach what they understand to be needed truth. This may be done with boldness and zeal, and out of a sincere desire to serve the Lord. While one is waging a successful war against institutionalism, worldliness may take over and make spots, wrinkles, and blemishes on the glorious church. The sword of the Spirit should have been used against institutionalism and worldliness. In some community, worthy efforts may be made against worldliness to the neglect of warning against unscriptural central agencies or denominational machines.

"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." In the same conversation Paul said: "I kept back nothing that was profitable to you." He also said: "I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:17-38). The influence of pagan philosophy was about these people as well as the low standards of morality which characterized the pagans. Winds of doctrine from false teachers within the church might blow by them any time. Can we realize how important it is to teach the whole counsel? The phase of teaching that is neglected most may be the point of attack from the devil. There would be fewer examples of apostasy and digression if more preachers would show Paul's earnest zeal to teach the whole truth.

Teachers should instruct, of course. The Word is profitable for this (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It is also profitable for correction, and there are many occasions when encouragement or exhortation is in order. The most ideal time for a church to study a false doctrine that is bothering many in other areas is before the doctrine reaches or disturbs it. Of course, it is proper to warn. After the church is affected by the heresy, personalities are involved, and it is more difficult to study it objectively. The rebuke, even the sharp rebuke, is often needed (2 Tim. 4:1-5; Titus 1:13; 2:15). If error is not forcefully fought as it attempts to enter, the time will come when the congregation will not endure sound doctrine. A little leaven will leaven the whole lump (1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:6).

One is very unwise and unbalanced if there is never an encouraging word, or a pleasant commendation. It is just as unwise to never rebuke sin in the camp. The servants of the Lord are to be vigilant (watchful) in their work. This means that they are alert as to the devil's current attacks so they can warn and be warned. They can study and teach to be prepared for the attack. There is an ideal balance between warning, rebuking, instructing, and exhorting, etc., if we can find it. Is there one among us in any position to boast of this perfect balance? We all need to be willing to be helped by wise counselors to teach the whole counsel. We must give much thought to this proper balance.

We could think of the last forty years of preaching and divide it into two parts of twenty years each. During the first twenty years there were tens of thousands baptized in this country. We taught them to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. We taught them not to forsake the assembling. They learned to give more, attend more, and to do many more good things. We rejoiced in seeing little congregations grow large, and in seeing many new ones start.

In this period of rapid growth we forgot to emphasize the simplicity of local government for the Lord's church as taught in the New Testament. We did not warn against the unscriptural denominational machinery common in the sectarian world. The devil used exactly the same means to bring about division and a return to denominationalism that he had used only one century before. That earlier division magazine and apostasy immediately followed a period of rapid growth. Those who follow the safe way of New Testament teaching will build back, and ultimately reach a period of rapid growth, but we may be certain that the devil again will try to divide and destroy. In the last century the brethren fell for societies. This time the fall was for institutions. We understood that societies were wrong, but we did not seem to see that institutions were the same things under another name.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:20; pp. 3-4
March 21, 1974

We may cry about it now, but the division is here, and the apostasy will go from bad to worse because the followers of digression will not allow any one to warn them. The warnings could have been given thirty years ago. We lost that opportunity. It is gone forever for those who are now deceived. They will not hear us even if we shout the warnings from the house tops.

Preachers like to talk, and they may have many good things to say, but to sit at a friend's house and talk about the weather, golf, or some other such topic until midnight again and again may get old to that friend if he must get up early in the morning to go to work. Preachers can break in upon a busy schedule unexpectedly and just stay and stay and stay for no good reason, until he shows he is a nuisance who gives no thought to the convenience of others. He is supported so that he can have time to study and to teach publicly and from house to house. He is not supported to have time to disturb and annoy busy people. Brother, be more thoughtful of others.

Preachers are made welcome in many hospitable homes. This is pleasant, indeed, but we can well afford to be grateful, and realize the cost in time, labor, and money. We could avoid just "happening" in again and again unexpectedly. "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor's house; lest he be weary of thee and so hate thee" (Prov. 25:17).