By Connie W. Adams
Have you noticed how hard it is to say or do something in a way that pleases everybody? Preach or write on some controversial subject and you will hear, “I don’t disagree with your point, but I don’t like the way you said it.” Maybe it was too soft or too hard, too hazy or too pointed. Let a congregation exercise corrective discipline where doctrinal error or immoral conduct is involved and sure enough, some will say, “I just don’t like the way you went about it.”
Care Should be Taken
Not only should we be ready “to give an answer” (1 Pet. 3:15) and be set for “the defense of the gospel” (Phil 1:17), prudence should be exercised. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6). On the limited commission the disciples were charged, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). If there is a wise way to do or say something, then there is also an unwise way to do or say it. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Those overtaken in sin are to be restored “in the spirit of meekness” (Gal. 6:1).
But such care does not rule out the need for scriptural action when error is taught or when sinful behavior must be corrected. The Jewish rulers “saw the boldness of Peter and John” (Acts 4:13). Upon their release from the authorities they met with the brethren and prayed, “. . .grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29). Paul asked the Ephesians to pray “that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:20).
Honoring the Charge
Fidelity to the Lord leaves us with no choice but to honor the charge to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). The charge is to “reprove, rebuke and exhort.” The manner of it is “with longsuffering and doctrine.” Neither part of this excludes the other. “Longsuffering and doctrine” does not mean we are exempted from reproving error, rebuking those who teach it and exhorting all to be faithful to the Lord.
“Selling the Sizzle”
A popular motivational speaker urged advertisers to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” The “sizzle” whets the appetite but it is the steak that satisfies the hunger. You don’t digest the sizzle. This has become the approach in much of modem-day preaching. Like boxes of cereal, wrap it in an attractive package, sugar coat it and offer a prize. Never mind the substance. Preaching without substance will starve the hearers. We may keep it short and sweet, adorn it in flattering words, elegantly phrased but with any real sub-stance removed.
During the heat of the institutional battle when many were confused and when congregations were on the fence, there were some undecided brethren who said, “‘We don’t disagree with what you say, we just don’t like the way you say it.” I would be the last to defend exactly how every-thing was said and done in those turbulent times, but the truth had to be taught and error had to be exposed.
A younger generation today reaps the benefits of the labors of those who went before them and fought battles for truth and right. The “sizzle” might not have always been heard, but I’ll guarantee you the steak was there.
When I edited Searching the Scriptures I found out there was no way to deal with controversial subjects, and especially when some had to be identified with the controversy, so as to please everyone. I had one word of advice for all such critics. “If you don’t like the way it was done, then you write an article and deal with it the right way so we can all learn from you.”
The same thing holds true with discipline within a congregation. It must be done or else we are in rebellion against the Lord who ordered it. The purity and safety of the rest of the church must be protected. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5: 6). It must be clone with as much understanding as possible, but don’t forget that it must be done.
Sitting in the Editor’s Chair
Some of our readers may at times disapprove of the way in which some matters are handled in this paper. No editor is infallible. Hind-sight is 20/20. But I can tell:. you one thing. Mike Willis is a godly and honorable man who genuinely loves the Lord and wants to please him above all else. He often calls me to get my input on potentially explosive matters. I am sure he advises with others as well. When all that has been heard, he alone must decide what course to pursue. I sat in such a place for 20 years and it was not always easy. Editing a paper is one of the quickest ways I know to make enemies and lose friends. Some cynics are of the opinion, which they freely express, that controversy is sometimes stirred to sell papers. That may work in the secular press but it has the opposite effect in religious journalism in the last decade of the twentieth century. The mind set of many these days is “don’t rock the boat. If you do, I’ll cancel my subscription.”
But when sin runs naked through the streets and error raises it head and threatens the very identity of the Lord’s people, men of conscience will be heard. Their motives may be maligned. Their meetings may be canceled. Their articles may be castigated and the papers that publish them may be ostracized. But they will be heard. Count on it.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 10 p. 3-4
May 18, 1995