Gospel Preaching: An Uncertain Sound or a Clarion Call? (1)

By Ron Halbrook

(Note: This is the first of two articles on the theme of “Gospel Preaching” in the light of current trends. While many faithful men of all ages are preaching the whole counsel of God, strange speech and uncertain sounds originating from sectarian sources are also being heard among us. We ignore these sounds to our own peril. These articles attempt to sketch and identify some of the speak danger signs It was not pleasant to prepare this material and it will not be pleasant to read. I hope and pray that it will be profitable to the cause of Christ.

Before publication, these articles were read by such men as those listed below. Both elders and preachers, both younger and older men are included. Without suggesting that every man would have used every point or phrase which I used, it can be said that they all agree that the issues raised need to be discussed No effort is being made to establish divine truth by an appeal to uninspired men. The point is simply this. rather than rashly rushing into print, I have sought the counsel of godly men, as we are taught to do in Proverbs 24:6.

Marshall Patton, Randy Harshbarger, Harold Fite, Paul Keller, Phil Cavender, Ed Bragwell, Edgar Dye, Dan King, Bobby Graham, Connie Adams, Bill Cavender, Weldon Warnock, James W, Adams, Wayne Partain Elmer Moore, Jack Holt Minton, TX1, H.E. Phillips, Colly Caldwell, Stan Adams, Sterling Collier, Scott Finley, Steve Wolfgang, Rick Moore, Andy A lewnder, Bill Reeves, Cecil Willis, C. P. A lexander, James Moore, J.D. Harris, Leonard 7YIer, Jerry Fite, Harry Osborne Jamie Sloan Laity Hafley Mike Willis.)

Gospel preaching must be both accurate and clear if it is to save the lost (Rom. 1:16). A clarion is a trumpet whose tones are sharp, forceful, and clear. In calling men from sin and to salvation, God has always required his messengers to sound a clarion call. It is imperative in our time that the gospel call be brilliantly clear, unmistakably clear, crystal clear. If our message is garbled, tentative, and uncertain, God will not be pleased, sinners will not be saved, and the church will not be safe from apostasy.

Then and Now

When Joshua challenged. the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” he clearly distinguished the true and living God from the gods of Ur of the Chaldees, Egypt, and other lands (Josh. 24:1-15). In preparing to demolish the delusions of Baal worship, Elijah offered Israel a clear choice, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” For his efforts as a prophet of God, he was considered a troublemaker by some whose convictions were unsound (1 Kgs. 18:17-21). Isaiah gave the test of true and false religions in no uncertain terms when he said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).

Those who wanted a positive message of peace and prosperity were told by the grand old prophet Jeremiah that Jehovah commanded them to seek “the old paths” of divine revelation if they would save their souls. That message was rejected in favor of the more up-to-date one (Jer. 6:16). God set Ezekiel on the walls of Zion as a watchman to sound a clarion call at all times in upholding righteousness and condemning iniquity, even though the people would harden their faces against him. If he were to falter because of the people’s criticism – “though briars and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions” – God would count him rebellious just like his critics (Ezek. 2-3).

No man spoke with greater clarity than John when he warned those coming out to his baptism that they must “bring forth works meet for repentance” or else be punished “with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3). No one misunderstood where John stood when he told King Herod concerning his adulterous marriage, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matt. 14:4). When Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” he did not cloud that truth in ambiguity or fail to make its application to the audience specific. Some understood so well that they took up stones to cast at him (Jn. 8:32-59). In the same fashion, the Apostles of Christ “spake the word of God with boldness” and used “great plainness of speech” (Acts 4:31; 2 Cor. 3:12).

The Holy Spirit warned against uncertain speech and sounds among the people of God. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Cor. 14:7-8) As Connie W. Adams observes, “It would be disastrous on the battle field not to be able to distinguish between the trumpet sounds for ‘charge’ and ‘retreat.”‘ Brother Adams stresses that speaking with a certain sound has always been “a fundamental principle” among those who would “return to the purity of faith and practice” found in “the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). He cautions gospel preachers not to worry about whether someone judges the message “positive” or “negative” but to be “concerned with teaching truth.” Brother Adams offered a number of such excellent and sound admonitions because, as he says, “Frankly, I am concerned about the uncertain sound coming from some of our young men (and a few of the older ones)” (editorial, “A Certain Sound,” Searching the Scriptures, July 1987, pp. 435-436).

Similar concerns are expressed by Connie W. Adams’ article “Smoother Than Butter and Softer Than Oil,” by Colly Caldwell’s “Give Attention to the Right Things” (both in ibid., Apr. 1988), and by James W. Adams’ “Red Sails In the Sunset” (Good News, bulletin of Timberland Drive Church of Christ, Lufkin, TX, 17 April 1988).

Sectarian Sources of Uncertain Sounds

A few brethren have been overly impressed with the Crossroads and Boston churches’ “total commitment” programs, have visited their seminars, and have tired to borrow from them. More than a few are reading too many denominational authors with too little discernment, and are imbibing too much sectarian error. Popular authors include Charles Swindoll of Fullerton, California, who is “Reformed” or Calvinist in outlook; Warren Wiersbe, who preached for many years at the Moody Church in Chicago and is Calvinistic; Gene Getz, who teaches at the Calvinistic and premillennial oriented Dallas Theological Seminary; and Robert Schuller of Garden Grove, California, who blends a modified Calvinism with a positive-mental-attitude message.

Bill Gothard has Reformed roots, conducts an Institute of Basic Yoxith Conflicts out of Chicago, and lectures widely on such matters as the family and humanism. Some brethren read much from John MacArthur of the Grace Community Church in Pasadena, California, whose books are published by the Calvinist publisher Moody Press. Brethren enamored with new fads such as “discipleship” or “counseling” find plenty of sectarian literature and authors from which to choose. An institutional preacher who is too liberal for many liberals (but not for some among us) is Jim McGuiggan, presently in Ireland. Some of his commentaries are fair, but he is mediating such themes as the new “spirituiaity” and “discipleship” through tapes and personal contacts. All of us read from sectarian authors at times, but some brethren are not separating the wheat from the chaff in such materials.

Harry Pickup, Jr. recently warned about the imbalance in the comparative reading habits of many brethren. As he explained, there is a scandalous ignorance of

Alexander Campbell’s writings, especially The Christian System, and of those of T.W. Brents [his excellent Gospel Plan of Salvation was recently reprinted by The Guardian of Truth Foundation], Benjamin Franklin, J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb, R.L. Whiteside, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Roy Cogdill, to say nothing of many clear and perceptive modem writers. To compound the problem, people who are exceptionally ignorant of the writings of these men are increasingly familiar with denominational writers such as Francis Schaeffer, John R.W. Stott, Charles Swindoll, the LeHayes [sic, LaHayes), and C.S. Lewis (Melvin Curry, ed., Hebrews for Every Man: Florida College Annual Lectures, 1988, p. 167).

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 7, pp. 193, 215
April 6, 1989