Letter to A Besieged Brother

By Larry Ray Hafley


Thanks for sending me the material on hand clapping in worship. I suppose 1 should not say that I “applaud” your efforts in opposing this innovation!

Sober minded reverence and godly fear are taught in the Bible (Titus 2:6, 12; Phil. 4:4-6; Heb. 12:28). Even the world knows the differencea moment of prayerful silence before a ball game in memory of someone, is different from the reactions during the game itself.

The spirit that advocates hand clapping and applause is a dangerous one, as you know. It is not confined to this one topic. It is a package deal. Usually, those who approve applause are the ones who see nothing wrong with “an occasional beer” or glass of wine. They are soft on the marriage question and other moral issues. They support “pep rally” preaching and “pop-psychology sermons” that are full of the contemporary slang and “buzz words” of fundamentalist evangelicals, televangelists and others. This sort likes the lavish praise on Charles Holt and relishes the reading of Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, Warren Wiersbe and any other vague, trendy, religious generalizer and mesmerizer.

While they subtly take swipes at the work of men like T.W. Brents and Roy Cogdill, considering their preaching to be the cause of all “our current pharisaical legalism,” they sweetly commend those who teach error on divorce and remarriage with the mild disclaimer that they do not “fully agree.” However, any sermon that teaches the truth on marriage is seen as a “personal attack” against “sincere” brethren.

The clapping crowd will applaud a baptism, but they chafe under the old-fashioned gospel preaching that boldly and directly, by name, exposes Protestant baptism error on the subject. This element generally will clap for a gospel sermon (so called), but only if it is laced (or “spiced,” as they would say) with jokes, humor and cute, clever, colorful stories. One that is filled with Scripture, one that analyzes a Bible text and specifically refutes denominational error, they will not applaud. Their clapping reveals their carnal spirit.

Those who clap for motivational sermons on positive living and self-esteem are the same ones who will not applaud a sermon that truly defines and applies the term, “lasciviousness.” No, they will not cheer a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:9 that is specific in its application to godly living. Their spirit is “earthly, sensual, devilish” (as opposed to “heavenly, spiritual, godly”), and their applause is but a sign and symptom of it.

While they rail against “the traditions of the Church of Christ denomination” with words of snide sarcasm, they never seem to find the time or the vocabulary to speak against denominational traditions such as Easter and Christmas. In fact, they are “uncomfortable” with sermons that address those errors. They say we are “driving people away with such preaching.”

The men pleasing applauders speak words that are “smoother than butter,” but “war (is in their) heart.” With pious platitudes, mouthing broad sweeping words of sentimentality, they would feign encourage more preaching about “the doing and dying of Jesus.” They speak in syrupy terms about the need for more lessons on God’s love, mercy and grace. At the same time, they decry sermons that show, by the Bible, how that love, mercy and grace is to be applied and appropriated. Surely, their words are “softer than oil, yet (underneath) are they drawn swords.”

You will notice that this spirit seeks to expand the base of Romans 14. Presently, they want fellowship with error on the basis of that chapter, so long as the error is limited to divorce and remarriage. Selectively and inconsistently, they are not ready (yet) to accept homosexuality, instrumental music, institutionalism or premillennialism on the same basis (the perversion of Romans 14), but (and mark this down) their disciples, the next generation, will be.

You can expect cruel criticism for your stand against this spirit in the church there. You will be accused of being in-tolerant, judgmental, unloving and insensitive. You will feel the sting of these charges, especially when life long friends are swooned and swayed by them. Make no mistake about it, some will be enamored by the wit and charm of these sophisticated elitists. The sweet spirit that appeals for a “softer, gentler approach” to preaching will be contradicted when they turn their verbal venom on you.

Many of the attacks will be personal, not scriptural. They will not address Bible passages on scriptural subjects. Rather, they will assail your manner, your methods, and your motives. You should not be surprised to find that the man who admittedly teaches false doctrine (say, on marriage or the nature of the church) is always considered to be superior to those who teach the truth on those subjects. Those who teach the truth are “too harsh” and are guided by a legalistic party spirit, while those who teach error are pure and sincere and though they are “off the mark a little,” still, they are saying “some things that need to be said.”

Their criticisms will be veiled, indirect. They will speak of “elders and preachers who want to play God,” but they will never cite you by name. So, if you respond, they will say, “Throw a rock into a pack of dogs, and the hit dog yelps every time.” They will speak of “buzzards” who watch a flock, not to lead or feed it, but to pounce and prey on anything that is rotten. Guess who they think the buzzard is? That is right  you!

If you indict Charles Holt’s errors and review them in light of the Bible, you will be accused of ignoring “the good things” that brother Holt says. If you define brother Hailey’s error on the marriage question, you will be accused of attacking a man who has more knowledge and spirituality in his little finger than you have in your whole body. These things will hurt you, but they are part of the price you must pay for standing for the truth. Fortunately, we do not have to suffer as Paul and the Lord did. Naturally, you must guard against the temptation to retaliate against them in an equally carnal attitude. Sadly, through the use of anonymous phone calls and unfair, unjust (and also anonymous) letters, they will seek to provoke you into acting or speaking rashly and maliciously. Beware of all such provocations. Alexander the coppersmith did Paul much evil, going to great lengths to undermine the apostle’s preaching, but Paul left revenge to the Lord (2 Tim. 4:14,15).

Yes, these same loving spirits, who with high school cheers can applaud a baptism and speak with teary eyes of the need for “non-confrontational” cross centered preaching (There is no such thing!), are the same ones who will “belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips” (Psa. 59:7). Truly, their “tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully” (Psa. 52:2). Your soul, brother, is “among lions: and (you) lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword” (Psa. 57:4).

You must continue to speak the things that become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). You must hold “fast the faithful word” and “by sound doctrine . . . exhort and convince the gain-sayers” (Titus 1:9). Rebuke them sharply that you may stop their mouths and that they may be sound in the faith. If this fails, they will, having itching ears that need to be scratched and tickled, surround themselves with teachers that will turn away their ears from the truth, and they shall be turned unto fables and false doctrine of all kinds. They will maintain a form of godliness and profess that they know God, but they are disgusting and disobedient.

Their pious pretensions will deceive the hearts of the simple and tears and heartache will befall you and all who love the truth and stand therein. But when they leave, after all the tears have been shed, after you are left seemingly alone, a slight rustle, a faint sound will be heard. It will be the applause and approval of heaven.

Stand fast, my brother.

Brotherly, Larry

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 11, p. 6-7
June 3, 1993