Christian Journalism

By Roy E. Cogdill (1907-85)

(Introduction: Roy E. Cogdill wrote a series of five articles on “Christian Journalism” which appeared on the front page of the Gospel Guardian 27:19-23 [1 Oct. – 1 Dec. 1975]. Those articles are slightly edited here and I have put them into a new format with subheadings which match the simple numbering of the original articles [No. 1, No. 2, etc.]. What he said twenty years ago can help both writers and readers today. Thanks to sister Deena Ladd of Conway, AR for submitting this material with the suggestion that it be reprinted. Her comments reflect the good which can be accomplished through the written word:

Written a decade before his death, these articles reflect the wisdom of one who was a veteran of many controversial exchanges, written and oral. The perceptions of his legally trained mind offer valuable insights for those who seek faithfully to teach the truth through the printed page.

Brother Cogdill was a gentleman in every respect, yet forthright in his actions. This series reflects that. It bears repeating for our generation and those yet to come.

To those sentiments, I add a hearty, “Amen!”  Ron Halbrook, 654 Gray Street, West Columbia, Texas 77486)

No. 1: The Power of the Written Word

Written words are a method of teaching. When teaching the truth of God is the objective of the writer, the effort is as praiseworthy as when a teacher teaches a Bible class or a preacher delivers a sermon to an assembly of people. Papers have been published periodically for centuries to espouse, propagate or promote one message or cause or another, and to deny the effectiveness of the printed page in disseminating a knowledge of the truth is fool hardy.

Solomon said, “Of the making of books there is no end.” Certainly this is true and the end has not yet been reached. They are an effective method of teaching. Not very many accomplished men in any field of endeavor can be found without large libraries where they are able to further their knowledge in general or to pursue their education in their chosen profession effectively.

Preachers have always gathered libraries around them to verify the certainty of the truths with which they deal and to enlarge their knowledge and acquaintance with related information which they have learned from the teaching they have received orally in school, by listening to other teachers and preachers or gleaned directly from the Word of God.

Of course, nothing written or heard should be accepted as truth until it has been verified by a study of the Word of God itself. We cannot, however, sensibly deny the effectiveness of writing as a means of communicating the truth to others.

The reason papers are published is the same as the reason for writing books. God in his infinite wisdom directed and caused the inspired men of the Bible to record (write) what they preached and through his providence has preserved his written revelation that we might study it for ourselves and from it learn what had directly been revealed to others. As long as a true printed copy of any truth taught is preserved it will continue to faithfully teach its message to those who read and study it.

This writer has long been using the printed page to teach those whom he could not otherwise reach. In 1938 while still a young preacher I prepared a series of lessons for a class of adult young people. These have been published through more than 20 editions of ten thousand copies each (in nearly all of them) and upon hundreds of occasions I have had testimony born to me by someone whom I met for the first time that that little book, The New Testament Church, had been of invaluable help to them in learning the truth. Thousands have been reached through its pages that I have never seen and will never see in this life. Through it I have been teaching and preaching the truth to others in many lands ever since the publication of the first edition. The good I know it has done shall be a thing for which I am eternally grateful. It has been a source of increasing the good I have done to many people in a number of nations who speak languages I cannot speak for it has been translated into Japanese for many years, and is also in Italian, Spanish, a Nigerian dialect and is presently being translated into other languages.

For years much hard work and money were poured into publishing and printing the truth in the Gospel Guardian. At one time it went gratis to every young preacher in any school maintained by preachers  more than four thousand of them.

Again I have on hundreds of occasions had people express their gratitude for the help they had found and the truth they had learned through its pages. It is the height of folly for any person capable of thinking enough to know his way home to deny that the printed page is an effective way of teaching. The only limitation to the amount of truth that can be spread through the medium of writing is the number who read what is written and the truth that is faithfully taught.

Of course, we need to remember that our responsibility in the use of any medium is to teach the truth, and “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

A man who does not read, support, and distribute “gospel papers” robs himself and others of precious information that could be gleaned from the printed pages of periodicals published by brethren in an effort to propagate the truth. Sometimes I have heard some church member remark that because something had appeared in some religious paper that he did not like, he just canceled his subscription to all of the religious papers. That is contrariness gone to seed. Has he thrown away all of his books that had something in them he did not agree with? If so, he doesn’t have much library left. Has he refused to read the daily papers that came to his home and refused to listen to the news because it is bad? That sort of attitude is born of a lack of good common sense and is equivalent to breaking the mirror instead of washing one’s face.

Only inspired writers made no mistakes and were not subject to criticism, so it is a good idea not to set in our minds too high a standard for human beings. The probability is that the upset critic could not have done as well or any better at least if he had written the article, and the fact is that those doing the criticizing usually do nothing at all about teaching the truth, correcting error or condemning sin, but most of them think they would have done a better job and used much better judgment.

Much of the impatience and uncharitable criticism of others forks back to the days of “anti-uninspired literature” attitudes and is a first cousin to the fellow who thought that his oral comments would be much more enlightening than anything a real scholar might write.

Uninspired comments made orally are no different from that which is written to teach and when a distinction is made it is without a difference. When a man writes down what he believes the Bible teaches, it is teaching in exactly the same way that it is done by oral comments. Both are subject to the same responsibility and must meet the same requirements. He is teaching both times. Paul said that men could learn that which was revealed to him by reading that which he wrote (Eph. 3:1-4).

Brother, if you do not like the way it is being done, get busy and demonstrate how it should be done and until you do, we won’t know whether your ideas are so superior and whether you know so much about it or not.

[A paragraph is omitted which says more articles are coming.]

No. 2: Positive, Simple, Plain Truth

A comparison between teaching or preaching orally and by the written word will reveal that they carry the same responsibilities and obligations largely.

Whatever the medium of teaching may be, the obligation in every instance is to teach the truth. In oral teaching or preaching the one who engages in such work must recognize that God will hold that person responsible for teaching truth. When one teaches so irresponsibly as to mislead or leave the wrong impression about truth he becomes accountable unto God for the error that is taught. The same thing is true in what we write. In fact, the responsibility is even greater for writing will have a larger audience unless it is private and personal. Moreover teaching done in writing in all probability will endure even for generations and if in error will be responsible for much more evil being wrought.

These reasons emphasize the importance of one being careful and sure that what he says or writes is the absolute truth and is so presented that there is no reasonable probability that the wrong impression will be made. James says, “Be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1).

Paul wrote the Galatians, “But though we, or an angel, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9). We had better be careful then about what we teach and how we teach it.

It has been characteristic of many to be so vague, indefinite, and either ambiguous or duplicitous that when people draw an inference that is wrong, the writer or teacher can claim they have been misunderstood. Being misunderstood for the above reasons is inexcusable. If we cannot be plain, simple and forthright so it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to misunderstand what we mean, then we should be quiet until we learn how to so express ourselves as to prevent anyone misunderstanding what we say. It is peculiar that this difficulty to make one’s self understood is characteristic so many times of those who are ordinarily identified with positive error at one point or another.

When a man is so vague and indefinite that what he says or writes cannot be easily understood, enough harm will likely result, but if he is devious and designing in an effort to suggest error without identifying it, that is completely wrong and can be nothing less than deceit in so handling the Word of God.

Make the truth you are trying to teach so positive, simple, and plain that it cannot be misunderstood and you will fulfill your responsibility and be a blessing to others. Remember that nothing is so important as that what you teach others is the truth (Jn. 8:32; Prov. 23:23).

Upon one occasion before a large audience I heard a preacher, whose sympathies lay with premillennialism and those who taught it, say, “There is something more important than preaching the truth; that something is to preach the truth in love.” The statement was made at a special service in a meeting I was conducting in Canada. When it was made, I arose from my seat and went to the platform and asked to make a statement. I quoted the statement and denied it, and quoted Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:15-17, “Some indeed preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the Gospel. Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached: and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” That settles one thing; whatever your attitude, your greatest obligation is to faithfully, uncompromisingly preach, teach, and write the truth (Jude 3). G

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 14, p. 6-7
July 21, 1994