Gospel Preaching: An Uncertain Sound or a Clarion Call? (2)

By Ron Halbrook

Evidences of Drifting

Not all of these evidences are seen in every individual who is drifting, but one or more of these symptoms generally appears when someone begins to drift. The more he drifts, the more these symptoms, increase. What are some signs and evidences of drifting?

Seek Secret of Growth In Wrong Places

1. Brethren are drifting when they must go to the books, seminars, and materials of sectarians and liberals who utilize social-gospel or even cultic methods, in a effort to find the “secret” of their growth so that “we can use it. Error grows because of its appeal to the carnal man in some form or fashion – the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the vain glory of men. It may be in the form of recreation, counseling services, secular education, material prosperity, or other so-called “felt needs” (Phil. 3:18-19). Or, it may be in the direction of strict self-denial, punishing the body, and submitting to human masters and master plans (Col. 2:20-23). Such carnal weapons as high pressure tactics and psychological manipulation may be involved (2 Cor. 4:2).

The people of God must learn that the growth which God purposed results from one thing alone.- teaching, disseminating, and defending the word of the truth of the gospel (Col. 1:5-6). Brethren who use the false appeals mentioned will claim they are using them to teach the truth, but the word of God equips us to recognize the difference (Phil. 1:9-10). All these false appeals existed in the first century, but they were repudiated rather than used by the inspired men.

Speech Foreign to Scripture

2. Using and defending sectarian terms and phrases in an effort to sound “fresh,” or to appear scholarly, or to generate zeal and enthusiasm, are danger signs. Some such terms and phrases are faintly related to Bible concepts and some not at all. Watch out for fascination with “felt needs,” “the whole man,” “interpersonal relationships,” “true discipleship” (as distinct from being a Christian), the “power of fasting” as something which needs to be restored to the church, “prayer partners,” “testifying” and “witnessing” today as a phase of what some call “praising the Lord,” the “touching” ministry, “friendship evangelism,” and the like. One Florida preacher who speaks on “Disciple Making” explains the “evangelism” of Acts 14:21 as baptizing people and the “disciple making” as a separate step. This error contradicts Matthew 28:19 (baptism itself constitutes a person as a true disciple) and opens the door to other efforts. Several preachers among us have taught and have distributed material teaching that we are to be “witnesses” and that “we should be willing to testify to others.”

Too Sweet to Call Sin and Error by Their True Names

3. Another sign of drifting is the sweet and syrupy spirit characteristic of the softer segments of sectarianism. During the apostasy of 1866-1900, this paralyzing spirit became very pronounced. One excuse for starting the digressive Christian Standard in 1866 was to have a more “sophisticated” and sweet-spirited journal than David Lipscomb’s Gospel Advocate and Benjamin Franklin’s American Christian Review. A reader of the Advocate sent in a quotation from a young preacher who wanted to preach Christ and avoid controversy over “organs, societies, . . . etc.,” and commented, “The above, from a young preacher, is a specimen of the sentiment of many of our churches. The cry is, ‘cease this unholy warfare and let us have peace'” (1 May 1889, p. 279).

We must remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34: “Think not that I came to send peace onn the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” In the 1930s the Gospel Advocate warned of a creeping spirit which eschewed calling the names of false teachers and doctrines, and the Bible Banner warned that such trends were increasing in the 1940s. The trend reached flood stage during the apostasy of the 50s-60s.

Even among brethren who resisted the digression of the 50s-60s, every so often someone repeats the worn out cliche, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Young sages occasionally rise to advise us to replace the word “sin” with “question” when preaching on “The Sin of Denominationalism” (and “The Question of Adultery”?). The latest fancy is the “positive mental attitude” philosophy of preaching. These are all variations on the flawed theme that there is a painless way to convert people.

The Holy Spirit gave the truth to convict the human conscience of sin and guilt (Jn. 16:7-13). People were cut to the heart and trembled at such preaching (Acts 2:37; 24:25). We are headed for danger when preachers avoid calling sin sin, error error, and false teachers false teachers. A Florida preacher has distributed material arguing that to refer to brethren in institutional apostasy as “liberal” is to engage in “nothing but slurs.” The term is “graffiti,” says a north Alabama preacher who blames “both factions” with “legalism” for not “fellowshipping one another in common efforts.” If not “liberal,” how about terms like transgression, iniquity, lawless, apostasy, departing from the faith, etc.? The Holy Spirit inspired these “slurs” (?) – “graffiti” (?)!

Meeting New Needs?

4. The claim of meeting the needs of a “new” generation is used to justify departures and to put critics on the defensive. The problem with critics, we are told, is that they are “behind the times” and “out of touch.” The critics are “answering questions which no one is asking” while the brethren being criticized are answering new questions and meeting new needs. It is not new for Satan to claim that his message represents new knowledge, new realities, and new progress. The critics are portrayed as hidebound traditionalists while the men who speak with an uncertain sound are innocently exploring new ideas and methods. The fact is that no one can be wiser than God or his Word. The true needs of every generation are met by plain preaching of God’s Word, and not one new spiritual need or truth has been discovered since the revelation of the last “amen” in the book of Revelation (Jn. 6:63; Eph. 13; Rev. 22:18-19).

Super Piety

5. Brethren are certainly drifting when they deceive themselves into believing that theatrics and sensationalism indicate deep piety and spirituality. Roy Cogdill told me of staying in the home of a woman who said that R.H. Boll, a preacher who promoted premillennialism among churches of Christ, was a truly spiritual man. She often passed his room when his door was open and saw him on his knees praying. Brother Cogdill’s observation was that if he was truly spiritual, he would not have made a display of himself by leaving the door open. Was brother Cogdill right or unfairly harsh? Read Matthew 6:6 carefully! The human heart is so easily deceived by such theatrics – especially when related to a matter like prayer which seems to suggest piety and devotion.

It is a danger sign when preachers stay in a side room or stand in the vestibule having their own prayers, separate from the assembly of the saints who are singing and praying “with one mind and one mouth” to the glory of God (Rom. 15:6). Is it a sign of deeper piety and of greater spiritual preparation on the preacher’s part for him to separate himself from the public assembly for semi-private prayers? If so, every Christian should join the preacher in the side room or vestibule! No, the practice betrays a false concept of the meaning ofpublic worship and ofprayer in general. It smacks of emotionalism, and implies that a special aura of spirituality surrounds the preacher as he finally emerges into the assembly, an aura not attained by the common people gathered for worship. In this direction lies the clergylaity distinction, the elevation of the preacher, and the grand entrance of the robed priest all in the name of humility and spirituality.

Our emotions may well be touched by the truths of the gospel, by participation in worship, or by private reflection on the blessings and mercies of God. But, theatrics and sensationalism unleash an improper spirit of emotionalism – manifested for instance, in clapping by the audience. The elevation of the preacher on Ehe basis of his vestibule praying or his eloquence leads to selfconsciousness on his part, so that his preaching becomes more and more a dramatic performance. The audience’s admiration of this performance will burst out in applause (as has occurred in isolated cases among us) – and then standing applause (as is common among denominationalism). This creates an atmosphere where people begin “to think of men above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). When that stage comes, we are ripe for apostasy.

It is time for gospel preachers to remember that it is our business to preach the gospel of Christ and not ourselves, to hide behind the gospel rather than hiding it behind ourselves, and to leave upon the hearts of our hearers the great truths of the gospel rather than the greatness of ourselves (2 Cor. 4:5). We have not done our job until people learn from us to follow the truth whether we ourselves do so or not – rather than learning to admire and follow us whether we adhere to the truth or not (1 Cor. 4:6).

Do Not Mention “the Church of Christ”

6. Another sign of drifting is the idea that brethren should not mention “the church” or especially “the church of Christ” in preaching and advertising. The erroneous concept behind this maneuver is that “the church” and “the church of Christ” are offensive to people. Brethren, shall we be ashamed of the terms and expressions given by the Holy Spirit to represent the work and the cause of our Lord? Some are bending over backward to avoid anything “controversial” or “confrontational. “

When the disciples tried to give Jesus similar advice on how to win friends and influence people, the Master Teacher responded, “Let them alone” (Matt. 15:12-14). Jesus did not mean by that for his disciples to make no effort to answer false teaching or to rescue people in sin. The meaning is this: “Do not trouble yourselves when men are offended by our speaking the truth in an open and plain way. If some are so blinded as to suffer offense on this basis, they will not be helped by our trimming the message to accommodate their false conceptions. Do not change one thing in an effort to make the gospel more appealing to such people. Go right on preaching the truth in its fulness just as you see me doing. The inspired message is the wisdom and power of God; it is the only true hope of reaching men lost in sin and error of all kinds.” Paul had learned that lesson – he was striving to please Christ and not men in his preaching (Gal. 1:10).

Some who are drifting will answer, “We are not really changing the message but just our methods. We will tell them about ‘the church’ and that it is ‘of Christ’ later. ” Paul made no attempt to catch people “with guile” or “craftiness,” but in both word and deed offered to the world a full “manifestation of the truth” (2 Cor. 4:2; 12:16). He never once attempted to hide who he was or the cause he represented. True conversions do not require slight of hand tactics and shell games.

If we are not to mention “the church” or “the church of Christ” until later lest someone misunderstand or be offended, should we also wait until later to tell Jews we represent Jesus Christ – and wait until later to tell atheists we represent the living God? If the name of Christ or anything about his cause be reproached by men, let us speak with even greater boldness and plainness of speech in order that our Lord may be glorified (1 Pet. 4:14).

Please Give a Fair Hearing

Brethren, please give a fair hearing to our discussion of these danger signs and uncertain sounds. We are not suggesting that everyone goes into apostasy when he reads a book by a sectarian, uses a new expression to represent an old truth, addresses a topic rarely mentioned fifty years ago, appeals for a balance of positive and negative themes in our teaching, or preaches a sermon without mentioning the church. These things we all have done -properly so! It may be an indication of apostasy when someone finds it necessary to caricature our point in such a false light. He may be diverting attention away from himself in view of the fact that so many of the warning signs listed point to him.

We are not even saying that everyone who has ever taken one of the steps listed as danger signals is forever gone into apostasy. He may not have gone into apostasy at all. We are pleading for anyone who has taken even one such step to consider the perils of his course before he goes any further. In some cases, several such steps have been taken. The more steps taken on this road, the graver is the danger to oneself and to the cause of Christ. The sooner a person sees his mistake, the more likely he is to make correction. The longer and the further he drifts, the less likely he will ever be reached. If he cannot be reached, the sooner we recognize his digression and begin to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine,” the better it will be for the sake of others and the cause of our Lord.

May God help us all to heed the admonition of 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” As we resolve to abide in the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us also resolve to sound forth the gospel of Christ with a clarion call.

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine . . . . These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee (Tit. 2:1,15).

As I exhorted thee to tarry at Ephesus, when I was going into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3).

Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13).

Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2).

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 8, pp. 230-232
April 20, 1989