“Soft Preaching”

By Daniel H. King

In his Editorial comments respecting “Herald of Truth’s New Film Series” in the May 21, 1974 issue of the Firm Foundation, editor Reuel Lemmons joined the ever-increasing ranks of those critical of “hard,” “caustic,” and “negative” preaching. The wind is blowing across the brotherhood in just the right direction to disallow his remarks from causing overmuch friction at the present time. I must, however, beg a fresh hearing on the subject. And, I think that such is justifiable in light of the watered-down, mills-toast preaching that is being encouraged by these highhanded brethren who are so swift to condemn past generations of stout and loyal preachers and their labors. I am no traditionalist by any means, but I am of the firm conviction that in most cases these men did the best that their time and talent: would allow. Their efforts built up the walls of Jerusalem and strengthened., its fortifications, all the while swinging its gates wide and outward to the lost. Who can deny that their “hard preaching” brought the church to the point at which it is today (and me thinks that no mean place, whatever editor Lemmons’ view)? Actually, I think the problem runs much deeper than what lies on the surface. Having left the New Testament behind from the standpoint of furnishing us with everything required for our faith and practice, it now becomes necessary for these brethren to set themselves apart from their Restoration forebears and their simple and quaint ways. Though on occasion for the sake of a feigned legitimacy, allusion is made to the past; a recognition of the dichotomy is beginning to make itself felt.

Note the following paragraph from brother Lemmon’s Editorial:

“There will always be a divided opinion over how strong radio and television preaching should be. Those who have never done any of it, and those who have been thrown off the air because of caustic preaching, are sure the bark should fly. We thoroughly disagree. We have alienated our share of potential saints with ‘hard’ preaching, as any who know us will testify. Most brotherhood ‘hard preaching’ is for local consumption anyway, and to give the preacher a chance to show how ‘sound’ he is. The leaders of the Restoration, and the apostles themselves, did not want to alienate people; they wanted to draw them. And radio and television stations do not want their audiences alienated either. Somewhere along the line we have reversed that idea. An alienating negativism has isolated us until we are almost completely preaching to ourselves. We heartily favor a different approach to an audience that can turn you off with a flip of the dial.”

We would be negligent were we to fail to emphasize that tact and diplomacy are characteristics to be desired in the proclamation of the truth. Indeed, Jesus instructed the disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16); and Paul admonished, “Let your speech be ‘always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6); while Peter instructed, “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). No one has a dispute with the teaching of these passages. Their lesson is evident: wisdom and tactfulness in our communications should typify all Christians, whether preachers or otherwise. And, since preachers are in the business of communicating the Word of God, they should especially heed these inspired words of advice.

On the other hand, there are those among us who are excusing and even promoting “soft preaching” by the perversion of such instructions. How one can be even in the least enlightened as to the preaching of Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Paul, etc., and yet opt for anything but “great plainness of speech” in the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, I must confess to being at a loss to know. Take a look at a few examples: Peter and John in the beginning of the Gospel spake “with all boldness” (Acts 4:13), and in the face of adversity it was their prayer that- they should continue ‘such (Acts 4:29), which thing they did (Acts 4:31), and it resulted in the number of the disciples being multiplied (Acts 6:1). Paul affirmed that as the result of our hope “we use great plainness of speech” (2 Cor. 3:12), and himself confessed to the employment of the same respecting the wayward Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:4).

But Brother Lemmons informs us that, “We have alienated our share of potential saints with ‘hard’ preaching, as any who know us will testify.” What a ridiculous remark! It sounds more like what would issue from the pen of one of the “young rebels” with whom I have been associated in the past rather than something written by the editor of a reputable religious journal. Does not Brother Lemmons realize that the opposite of “hard” is “soft”? If he considers “hard” preaching so contemptible, then the only conclusion that we are left to draw is that lie is espousing that a new day of “soft” preaching should dawn. And if you have gotten around much lately I am sure that you do not have to be told that although editor Lemmons is only now awakening, it is already high noon for many liberal preachers! Having heard a few of these liberal brethren preach within the last few years, I have come away at times wondering what the point of the message was–and sadly, realizing that I could have heard a Baptist or Methodist preacher preach the same sermon without altering a single word and perhaps even do a better job of it at that!

Those who make their way down the isle at the end of such a service can only be described as “joiners.” They “join the Church of Christ” because they prefer it to the church to which they had previously belonged. They heard nothing particularly distinctive to aid them in making a distinction between the Lord’s church and a human denomination. (And, distinctive preaching will always be labeled “hard” by the world and by brethren who have enough of the world in them to hinder them from seeing it in its true context). Therefore, their reason for membership is not conviction but personal preference. “Hard” preaching would have bred either conviction or contempt. Conviction would have led to true conversion, the end to which we should be striving in our preaching, but the contempt incited by the plainly expressed message would have caused alienation. That we will readily admit. On the other hand, that is not a sufficient reason to “soften” either the message itself or the plainness of its delivery. In fact, understanding the nature of the Word of God, it should be the more reason the continuing in the same vein.

These brethren, though, in their search for bigness in this enterprise as well as in their other promotions deem it the wisest to sacrifice this side of the message rather than “alienate” anyone. Jesus Himself could have salvaged His large following in Capernaum, had He only “softened” His offending words (Jn. 6:59-66), but He dared not. The Lord recognized that the Word convicts the world of sin as well as of righteousness (Jno. 16:8) and that some love the darkness of sin more than the revealing light of truth (Jn. 3:19-21). Yet, for fear that someone will turn us off, Brother Lemmons counsels: “We heartily favor a different approach to an audience that can turn you off with a flip of the dial.” He goes on in his next paragraph:

“We get personal satisfaction out of the announcement that this new series will be more plain and pointed; that it will stress the plan of salvation, the binding nature of the scriptures and the importance and nature of the church. That announcement will please all us brethren. But we sincerely doubt that it will build a larger listening audience. And a listening audience is what we are going to all this trouble and expense to build. It doesn’t make good sense, really, to do what we, down deep in our hearts, know will lessen the number who are listening.”

There we have it! If men are offended by the truth about the plan of salvation, the binding nature of the scriptures, and the importance and nature of the church, then just do not tell them. Herald of Truth is not a scriptural arrangement in the first place, but every principle of sound biblical interpretation demonstrates to Brother Lemmons his fallacy, and there is really no excuse for this loathsome willingness to compromise the truth. His is the attitude that motivated the teachers whom Paul warned Timothy against: “Preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth. . . ” (2 Tim. 4:2-4). The force of editor Lemmons’ position is that if people will not listen to the truth, then we should give them what they will hear. He expresses the sentiment of the false prophets of old as well as the thought of heretics down through the ages, but his words fly in the face of Paul’s gallant confidence, “Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God.” For fear of “alienating potential saints,” and being “turned off,” Brother Lemmons suggests a “different approach” which amounts to “soft preaching”! Is there really any wonder that not a single passage of scripture was offered in defence of this “different approach”? The reason is all too obvious: the Book was shelved when Herald of Truth was created, and now the dusty old Volume could only serve as a hindrance to its progress.

Much of the preaching of the liberals had already gone “soft” previous to the Editorial in the Firm Foundation, but I am certain that the article will not help the situation any. Being realistic (not prophetic), I suspect that if Herald of Truth programs do not immediately conform-to his advice, they will probably do so in the very near future. And, with a large portion of the brotherhood conditioned by such thinking, there will not even be a ripple on the pond.

Truth Magazine XIX: 11, pp. 172-174
January 23, 1975