By Tom Roberts
This is a clear and clarion call to gospel preachers everywhere. We are to be watchmen; we are to be urgent in our preaching; we must be ready to convince, rebuke and exhort.
For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14).
The world has been blessed by faithful preachers ever since it was recorded that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). Faithful to God’s will, Noah preached 120 years to a world that had departed into moral degradation so deep that “it repented God that he had made man” (Gen. 6:3, 6). Unsuccessful in converting those whose heart was “only evil continually,” Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives (eight souls) were saved from the world that was destroyed in the Flood (1 Pet. 3:20). By today’s standards, Noah might have been called a failure since his long years of preaching reached no one outside his family. Likewise, his message was one of doom and destruction, demanding repentance or damnation, unpopular in our generation. Yet God, who is the final Judge in such matters, blessed Noah by calling him an “heir of righteousness” (Heb. 11:7). From Noah’s life, we learn that faithful preaching is true to God’s word, unconcerned about worldly rejection, and “unsparing” of those in sin (2 Pet. 2:5). We must be concerned in our day about attitudes that prevail toward gospel preaching. Not all of us have Noah’s attitude of faithfulness, but the world desperately needs it.
The thematic of this effort is taken from Ezekiel 33:7-9:
So thou, son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die, and thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, and he turn not from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Since this message is specifically addressed to Ezekiel, some may question the appropriateness of application to modern preachers. Surely, an objective look at God’s message to Ezekiel will demand the same principle in preaching today. While no man to- day is inspired (as was Ezekiel), the responsibilities remain the same. We have no hesitation in applying Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus to us today. We are to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and turn aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2-5). Both Ezekiel and Paul give us direction and authority in our preaching.
This is a clear and clarion call to gospel preachers everywhere. We are to be watchmen; we are to be urgent in our preaching; we must be ready to convince, rebuke and exhort. As Paul said of himself, he “was innocent of the blood of all men, For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). If you are not ready to be a watchman, you are not ready to be a preacher.
Those with a “John Mark” mentality cannot be watchmen; they don’t have the courage to watch and are a burden to those who do (Acts 15:37- 38). Such will avoid controversy, seek peace at all costs, and be uncomfortable in the presence of those who are willing to watch and cry out as God demands.
Those with a “Demas” attitude cannot be watchmen; their heart is in the world and they will wind up there after discouraging others (2 Tim. 4:10).
Those with a “Simon” character cannot be watchmen; they are in it for the money and will sell out to the highest bidder (Acts 8:19). Such know instinctively which side of an issue to take for self-gratification, how to flatter others for personal gain, how to turn preaching into a “profession,” how to make preaching a superb job of self-seeking so as to make himself “somewhat,” a “great preacher.”
Those with the “Paul-hater mentality” cannot be watchmen; they hate truth, the ones who preach the truth, and will back-stab those who support the truth, stirring up envy and strife against those who preach the gospel (Phil. 1:15).
Those with the “Royal” perspective cannot be watchmen; they are the elite, the “somewhats,” the “pillars,” who are above the lowly preacher who cares more for God’s word than style, personage and prestige (Amos 7:13; Gal. 2:6-9). Such are too dignified to call names, identify error, align themselves with distasteful issues; they are appalled at those who do. However, they are not too far above name-calling to call names in secret, telling others to watch those who call names, carping privately against those who speak out as the Bible directs. These speak swelling words in inner sanctums but are “dumb dogs” in open discussion (Isa. 56:10).
Those with an “Older Prophet” attitude cannot be watchmen; they imagine themselves to exist in an exalted state of elder statesmanship which gives them the right to cut the feet out from under the younger generation of “know-nothings” (1 Kings 13:11-18). Such live in a delusion that they are the only ones who have ever fought battles, the only ones to have sacrificed, to have been the standard bearers. Speaking ex cathedra, such illustrious ones take the liberty of labeling others as “buzzards, looking for carrion” even while accepting the praise of men for their long-ago battles when they themselves hunted prey. Casting mantles of prophet-hood about their shoulders, some of these elder prophets seek immunity from current sins because of past heroic deeds. Not recognizing the fairness of God, they believe age gives them venerability to such an extent that they are above reproach (Ezek. 18). How the mighty are fallen!
Those with the “Ivory Tower” mentality cannot be watchmen; they live behind walls of academia and editorial policy, dealing in theoretical wisdom while ignorant of the ravages of Satan in the real world (1 Cor. 1:20-2:5).
Such refuse to dirty their hands with the effects of sin, indulging rather in lofty statements which cannot be examined publicly. Ignorant of God’s truth, they do not hesitate to defend those who lead the blind into hell all the while critical of those who warn sinners of their real condition.
Brethren, we are seeing an entire generation of preachers who are not committed to fulfill this charge of God to “Preach the whole counsel.” As in the Old Testament, there were those today who cry, “. . . Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things . . .” (Isa 30:10). Toward those who obey God’s mandate and preach the message faithfully, criticisms abound and are hurled by those who love “smooth things” or are too timid to preach “the whole counsel.”
We are hearing:
We must accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
Negative preaching turns me off. Who appointed you a brotherhood watchdog?
Preachers should not name names and identify false teachers.
One cannot be called a false teacher unless it can be proved that he is dishonest.
Those who disagree with me are not trustworthy, so I refuse to discuss issues with them.
I am too busy in a local work to bother with issues beyond local interest.
Papers violate local autonomy and those who write for them are hungry for attention, are trying to make a name for themselves, and they meddle into the affairs of local churches.
Those guys are just trying to make a name for themselves.
Those guys are “guardians of truth,” self-appointed judges, full of the party spirit.
But God demands that we allow fellowship with some who believe sinful doctrines and who practice sinful activities.
Local autonomy demands that we allow some churches to accept into their fellowship people who are in sin, even though another church might not be willing to do so.
These statements (and many others), so critical of faithful preaching while tolerant of error, are symptomatic of an attitude reflecting distaste for plain Bible preaching. This distaste is real, pervasive and active. Meetings are being canceled, preachers are being isolated, reputations are being smeared, and efforts to discuss these matters are rebuffed, without recourse. The “good ol’ boy” system is alive and working. Quietly, efforts are made by some preachers as they talk to their friends in high places, to cancel meetings and keep preachers from moving into certain churches. What amounts to a “quarantine” reminiscent of the practice of our liberal brethren in the ’50s is conducted by some brethren who will go to any lengths to work their will among the churches. Such actions are insidious, underhanded, and ungodly, but they are nevertheless being practiced on a wide scale. Directing scorn toward faithful preachers, those who are so critical are guilty of the very partyism they decry, guilty of language bereft of love, guilty of the carnal spirit they claim to see in others. “Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same thing” (Rom. 3:1).
Let it be understood that we are not talking about controversy over styles of preaching. I know of no one who insists that stylish dress, erudite language, or pertinent wit is unacceptable in the pulpit. None of this is incompatible with gospel preaching. This is not our problem.
Let it be understood that we are not talking about methods of preaching. There is room in the kingdom of God for the country preacher (as Amos) as well as the sophisticated statesman (as Isaiah). Moses was a Law-giver, Ezekiel was hard-headed, and Hosea talked tenderly of love, but all were faithful to God. Both Elijah (1 Kings 17:1ff) and Obadiah (1 Kings 18:3) served God faithfully, though in different ways. This is not our problem.
Let it be understood that we are not defending brother- hood politics. Sectarian divisions are always sinful and destructive. No one should limit his opportunities to a certain paper, college, or section of the country. It is abhor- rent to all faithful people when lines are drawn because of friendships rather than truth, because of which paper(s) are read rather than the substance of its message. It is wrong to dismiss a preacher’s message simply through the prejudicial statement that “he is a Guardian boy.” This was the method of the liberals in the institutional controversy. By the use of “anti,” “legalist,” “orphan hater,” and/or other inflammatory words, minds were poisoned against those standing for truth. Yet some are using identical pejorative terms today when they scornfully discuss the “New Pharisees,” “the New Catholicism,” and “brotherhood watchdogs.” Decrying “personal attack and abuse,” some have heaped personal attacks and abuse on faithful preaching as “journalistic and pulpit jingoism,” “extremists who have their own cause to promote,” “a pack of snarling curs, suspicious and paranoid, biting, snarling and snap- ping in all directions.” All of this from those who claim the moral and spiritual high ground of non-sectarianism and brotherly love.
What sectarian sin has been committed by faithful preachers? Is it the firm stand for truth against those who are advocating that sinful, adulterous marriages are supported by Scripture? What party line has been established by faithful preachers? Is it the warnings that have been raised that those who fellowship the advocates of adulterous marriages are violating 2 John 9-11 and Romans 16:17? What “personal attack and abuse” has taken place by faithful preachers? Is it that those who are false teachers have been identified and their false doctrine has been exposed? If this is sin, we stand in the company of Jesus (Matt. 23), John the Baptist (Matt. 14:1-10), of the prophets and apostles who stood up and stood out against evil doers.
Let it be understood that the controversy is not about one preacher or a group of preachers telling other preachers or churches when the line of fellowship against a particular error must be drawn. This is not our problem. It is certainly true that events and circumstances move at different speeds and levels across the country and within congregations. During the institutional apostasy, opposition to liberalism varied from church to church, from preacher to preacher and from section to section. Patience and long suffering wrestled with error and apostasy as the Herald of Truth was introduced, institutional homes demanded funding, and centralized control began through the sponsoring church arrangement. Some preachers took an early stand against these errors, some much later. Some were early supporters who changed to opposers later, some were influenced by the debates that raged across the country. Most congregations were divided and split across the nation and around the world, but not at the same instant of time. All of it de- pended on time, Bible knowledge, circumstances, events and personalities. Apostasy slowly, but surely, expanded, affecting individuals and congregations until a brotherhood division was a reality.
During those years (generally the ’50s), charges and counter-charges were made against faithful preachers which are similar to those being made today. Preachers who wrote for the Gospel Guardian, Truth Magazine, Preceptor and other papers published by brethren who op- posed liberalism in all its forms were castigated by those who published and wrote for the Gospel Advocate, Firm Foundation, etc. Charges of “brotherhood controllers,” “church splitters,” “orphan haters,” “Guardianites,” and much worse were hurled by those who claimed that Roy Cogdill, Yater Tant, Robert Farish, Hoyt Houchen, et. al. were trying to decide issues for the brotherhood and trying to “line up the churches.” However, no man, group of men, paper or college had the power, then or now, to decide for the brotherhood. What the preachers and papers did was to furnish individuals and congregations with Bible study and discussions in an open forum that allowed truth to be heard. The result was a cataclysm that ultimately enveloped the brotherhood, effectively dividing it. History has proven that the division was determined along individual and congregational lines, never monolithic and instantaneous.
Unless free and open discussion is allowed today by which truth will be reinforced and error rejected, division will be inevitable. The compromise toward “unity-in- diversity,” so prevalent in our time, is not monolithic and instantaneous, nor will opposition be. Some will take an early stand against compromise, having lived through similar battles before. Some will take a stand later, only as the issue becomes more clearly defined. Some will have to wait and listen to the discussion, unsure of what is going on. But no one can decide for the brotherhood of individual saints and no one can decide for autonomous churches when they will take a stand for or against unity in diversity. The charge of “lining up the churches,” and “brotherhood watchdog,” is a smoke screen, attempting to stifle open discussion. For sure, the charge must be two-edged. Those in favor of fellowshipping error are taking their efforts to papers and churches around the world that are in sympathy with them. As one preacher has stated that he goes “hither, thither, and yon,” preaching his belief in favor of unity in diversity, others might charge him (and his compatriots) with “lining up the brotherhood.” Is sauce for the goose not also sauce for the gander? Why are the efforts of some pure and altruistic while the efforts of others so suspect of evil? Each preacher (pro or con) will try to reach as many people as opportunities permit. Each will claim the most noble of motives. Each will address “the brotherhood.” It is more than a little hypocritical for some to charge others with “lining up the brotherhood” even while traveling from state to state to label opponents as “brotherhood watch- dogs.” The final determination of rightness will depend upon a relationship to truth, not upon the ability to hang derogatory name tags on brethren.
Faithful preachers have a mandate from God as to what they should preach. Those too timid to follow the mandate, too weak to face opposition, have no business carping at those willing to do the work. Isaiah spoke clearly of those who, like “dumb dogs,” refused to bark (Isa. 56:10). But, not content to just remain silent, they yap at the heels of those who are speaking out, seeking to hinder them in their work, becoming a stumbling-block in the path of the men of God. The Lord will reward them according to their own works.
The Mandate From God
There should not be any doubt as to the burden God has given the faithful preacher. Whether inspired or not, the messenger must be true to the message. The responsibility of the preacher is crystal clear. Hear the word of God:
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people. Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed (Isa. 8:-10; cf. Matt. 13:13-15).
Now the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! Behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child. But Jehovah said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid because of them; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith Jehovah. Then Jehovah put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth; see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant (Jer. 1:6-10).
A wonderful and horrible thing is come to pass in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so. . . (Jer. 5:30).
And he said to me, Son of man, go, and get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, if I sent thee to them, they would hearken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me; for all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and a stiff heart. Behold, I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead; fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; whether they will hear or whether they will forbear (Ezek. 3:4-11).
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
What Is The Real Issue About Preaching Today?
It is not possible to misunderstand the heavenly mandate. The simplest schoolboy can understand God’s charge to preach his word. The problem is simply that some preachers are not willing to do what is so clear. There is a desire to do what God condemns: “preach smooth things.” Many in the church are like those who “love to have it so.” This is a sad and deplorable attitude toward gospel preaching.