On The Firing Line

By Tom Roberts

Occasionally some good brother or sister will object to militant preaching or writing and suggest that we should have more “brotherly love, concern and gentleness” for one another than to be direct and critical in opposing others. I suggest, with all brotherly love, concern, and gentleness, that such good brethren have never experienced being on “the firing line” and do not realize what is involved in fighting for truth.

How wonderful it would be if every person on earth had a tender conscience! All that would be required to convert them to Christ would be a simple explanation of the gospel. But the fact remains that not every one has a tender conscience and not everyone is interested in following the Lord. It is a rather naive view that sees every person as willing and ready to obey, eager to follow the Bible. It is absolutely essential to understand that there are false teachers (both in and out of the church), hardened consciences, overbearing personalities, perverters of truth, and people with no scruples who are willing and able to lead the unwary astray. Jesus Christ met such people in His day, the apostles had to deal with them, and so will we. If you think strong preaching is unChrist-like, read Matthew 23. If you think it is wrong to be specific against false teachers, read 2 Timothy 1:20, et al. Paul did not refer to some of his companion preachers as “fellow-soldiers” for nothing. They were on the firing line, engaged in a battle for truth and souls, and they were ready for the battle.

What would you think of a city council or mayor that told all the policemen to empty their guns, lay down their weapons and patrol the crime-ridden sections of the city with “brotherly love, concern and gentleness”? How far do you think a policeman would get by approaching a drug-crazed thug with a smile and “positive thoughts”? How long will a robber sit still while a law enforcement officer discusses the Beatitudes? Even the all-merciful Father recognized the need to meet criminals with force and ordained the government to bear not the sword in vain (Rom. 13). But, someone says, “It is different in religious matters.” Is it? If you think so, you have missed a vital point.

Just as there is a criminal element in our society that is beyond the reach of social rehabilitation, there are religious frauds, false teachers, determined errorists who are set on getting their way and who will not be stopped short of open confrontation. If you think otherwise, it is your lack of experience talking. True, there are still some who are honestly in error who can be reached and we must always arrange our approach to people according to their needs. if we fail to do this, we will drive honest seekers away from the truth. But when we allow false teachers to operate freely without opposition because we feel compelled to deal with them gently, we give them a deadly advantage.

A soldier on the firing line must know the enemy. He must deal effectively with such when they appeal. People living back in the countryside away from the firing lines live tranquil and quiet lives because of the diligence of that soldier on the firing line. They have little room to criticize his militant behavior; their safety depends on it. Even so, members of the church who enjoy the fellowship of a faithful church and unity of the local brethren should not criticize those who face the firing line and defend the cause of truth against the dedicated false teacher. Nor should we forget that there are times when “wolves” invade the local church and would “devour the flock” (Acts 20:28ff). When this happens, there must be men willing to stand and face the enemy or the local church will be destroyed. Sweetness and smiles have little effectiveness in such situations; rather they call for the “sword of the spirit” and the “whole armor of God. ” There are times to fight as well as quiet times for worship.

When people object to strong teaching, I wonder what would have happened if they had lived in the days of Paul. Paul had his enemies, you know. They accused this wonderful soldier of the cross of being overbearing, of taking too much authority upon himself, of being caustic in his writings. What would you have said to these people? “Yes, I think Paul should be sweeter. I wish he would not say such harsh things.” Would that be your attitude? I remind you that Paul spoke because God put the words in his mouth. “I think God should be sweeter. I wish God would not say such harsh things.” Does this put a different light on it? If the Lord could love all men equally well and yet stand against false teachers, we should not be otherwise.

Standing on the firing line is dangerous enough, with the enemy in front of you. But it becomes doubly dangerous when brethren standing safely behind the lines take pot-shots at you because they think you too militant. One enemy at a time is enough, thank you. Brethren, we need men and women of courage. We must remember that there are “many false prophets gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). When they appear they must be met and overcome. If you are not willing to face the enemy, don’t tie the hands of those who are willing to do so. Support them. Encourage them. And remember – if men on the firing line lose their battle it will be on your doorstep next. Who’ll fight the wolves then?

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 16, pp. 481, 499
August 16, 1984