Preachers and Preaching

The Problem of Proper Emphasis

James P. Needham
Owensboro, Ky.

Several years of observation and experience have convinced me that one of the great problems we face as proclaimers of the word of God is the keeping of our thinking, and consequently, our teaching, in proper balance. Since it is impossible for finite minds to properly evaluate the importance of infinite truths, and since, so far as men are able to know, no one point of revelation is more important than another, the problem is not that of OVERLY emphasizing any portion of divine doctrine (it is doubtful that such is possible), but rather of giving EQUAL and PROPER emphasis to ALL OF IT. To greatly emphasize ANY point of divine truth is a matter of duty, but we should not become so involved in trying to properly emphasize one PARTICULAR point that we fail, or forget, to give any emphasis to others. That the problem thus described is a prevalent as well as a difficult one none will deny who has wrestled it.

Examples in Denominationalism

The denominational world constitutes a living demonstration of a failure to solve the problem under consideration. Hence, many of the present-day denominations are built around their emphasis on a certain point of Bible teaching, which, often times, will be found in the names by which they are identified. For instance notice the following:

The Sabbath Day Adventists and the Sabbath Day Church of God are obviously built around their emphasis on an "observance" of the Sabbath day.

The Baptist church obtained such a name from its emphasis upon immersion as the scriptural mode of baptism.

The Presbyterians take their name from their emphasis on a presbyterian form of church government.

Holiness churches are called such because of their strict emphasis on holy living.

Catholics take such a designation from the fact that thev believe in one universal (catholic) church.

Examples Among Us

That Christians have not always succeeded in solving this problem is likewise evident. For instance note:

Due to their emphasis upon baptism for the remission of sins they have sometimes been accused of believing in water salvation and baptismal regeneration. Though such an accusation is a misrepresentation, we cannot deny that in some cases we have been so busy emphasizing the importance of baptism that we have failed to properly emphasize the importance of the prerequisite thereto, and the necessity of a real consecrated life following it.

Because we have strongly emphasized the unscripturalness of mechanical music in worship we have been accused of not believing in music. And though such talk is often prejudicial it is like1y that we have failed to properly emphasize God's requirement of VOCAL MUSIC.

The Results of Failure

The results of failing to solve the problem of proper emphasis are far reaching and sometimes fatal. A generation of emphasizing a particular truth to the neglect of others will inevitably result in at least two undesirable conditions. (a) The truth that is emphasized will become stale in the minds of people, and (b) the truth that is neglected will be largely unknown by them. In either case, God will be displeased.

We need a balanced spiritual diet just like we need a balanced physical diet. We can feed our children one particular food, to the exclusion of others and serious deficiencies will result. The food we give them may be wholesome and nourishing, but being separated from other foods, equally important to the health of the body, it cannot accomplish physical well-being.

We would be terribly disappointed and would fail to obtain the desired inspiration were we to attend a concert of an expert violinist only to hear him play one string.

The story is told of a preacher who preached on baptism so much that the small children in the congregation could preach his sermon about as well as could he. The elders grew somewhat weary of the one-string fiddle and requested that he speak on a subject they would specify the next Lord's day, and that they would not specify it until he took his place in the pulpit. The next Lord's day he assumed his position in the pulpit and requested that the elders specify his subject. They said, "Your subject today is the universe." The preacher paused for moment, then said, "Well, they tell me the universe is three-fourths water, which brings me to my subject."

To justify "extra" emphasis upon certain points some have used an illustration of a military general who rushes the strength of his forces to the point in his line where the enemy attacks. The illustration is good, as far as it goes - it just doesn't tell all the story. No general would think of mustering all his forces to one point in his line of defense, thus making it possible for the enemy to break through elsewhere. He must try to keep his line of defense in proper balance.

Relationship of Present Day Issues To The Problem

Grave dangers face the church today. Many of our generation are wholly ignorant of New Testament teaching on many points, but especially on the all-sufficiency of the church, scriptural cooperation among congregations, congregational autonomy and church government, Many have attributed this condition to the brethren's failure in recent years to properly emphasize the truth on such points, which is likely true. When the division came a century ago over missionary societies, and instrumental music brethren began to emphasize the truth on these points - probably for the first time since the beginning of the restoration. For a time brethren were properly indoctrinated along these lines. Ultimately, however, the instrumental music question took precedence over the society issue; thus, little by little the New Testament principles which exclude the societies were eliminated from the pulpit. The result can be readily seen among us today. Some brethren who have been considered stalwarts against digression in the past are now ready to accept the missionary society all over again, making the same arguments for them that were made a 100 years ago. I know of no congregation being troubled by an effort to move instrumental music into the worship, but it is hardly possible to think of a congregation that is not having trouble over the society issue. WHY THE DIFFERENCE? I believe the answer is to be found in the spiritual diets on which we have fed for the past several years. We have failed to keep our teaching in proper balance.

Will We Profit From Past Mistakes?

It is bad enough to make mistakes, but it is much worse to fail to profit by them. Will we profit from past mistakes as we endeavor to battle the forces of error within the church today? Time will tell. In fact I am afraid it has already begun to tell.

Today we find the church divided into three camps: the conservatives, the "middle of-the-roaders" and the liberals. The conservatives are making a bold, courageous, and necessary fight for the purity of the faith. They are publishing many papers, far more than the liberals or the "middle-of-the-roaders." I receive practically all of these papers and read them. They contain some of the plainest Bible teaching of the church, her work, and her organization that has appeared in a century, in fact, they are almost wholly given to these subjects. The "middle-of-the-roaders" are publishing papers too (which I also read) - a very few - and they are given to a very awkward and desperate effort to stay in the middle of the road. The liberals are also doing some publishing (I also read their papers) - a little more than the "middle-of-the-roaders," but not as much as the conservatives - and they are almost wholly filed with a weak defense of their position and promotion of large projects. All of this leads to an alarming conclusion: there is very little teaching being done on many biblical subjects. Aren't we making the same mistake all over again? If our present situation is the result of neglecting certain Bible principles, what will be our situation after twenty-five years of neglecting some others?

We all need to take inventory of our teaching program. Are we feeding a balanced diet? Are we preaching on the present issues to the neglect of moral issues and the fundamentals of Christianity? How long has it been, my brother, since you preached a sermon or wrote an article on worldliness, immorality, personal devotion to Christ, or how to become a Christian?

It seems clear to me that unless the conservatives emphasize the fundamentals referred to they will be almost totally neglected. The liberals will preach them less and less because of a loss of faith In their necessity brought on by the social gospel concept, and the would-be "middle-of-the -roaders" being so afraid of the power of the liberals will do what is necessary to court their favor. This has already been vividly demonstrated. A few months ago we heard much of a "middle-of-the-road" position on the present issues by way of the Firm Foundation, and it occasioned a skirmish with the Gospel Advocate, but such was short lived and nothing has been heard of the "middle-of- the-roaders" since; in fact, there is strong doubt that such a position was able to survive the strong pressures exerted upon it in the struggle. Now, if the so-called "middle-of-the-roaders" are willing to sacrifice their convictions to please the liberals on one issue, they will on any issue; so, this rules out any emphasis being given to fundamentals from either the liberals or the "middle-of-the-roaders" and impresses the responsibility resting upon those of us known as conservatives. We MUST NOT allow the opposition to lure us away from the giving of proper emphasis to ALL phases of Bible teaching. It will take real effort to do it, but we must not fail if we want to emerge from the present crisis in any condition to carry on the fight for the purity of the church.

There are many in the camps of the liberals at this time who cannot go along with the compromise on moral issues which is liberalism's inevitable fruit. Thus, there is no time for waiting -- we must continue to teach the truth on present issues, but we must also begin NOW to strongly emphasize "the whole counsel" on all Bible subjects.

Truth Magazine III:7, pp. 11-13
April 1959