By O.C. Lambert
Brethren sometimes lament that the gospel does not seem to be as effective as in ancient times, but I am sure the gospel has the same power and human nature is the same. The cause of failure is in us. Brethren are too anxious to be popular. Business and social matters neutralize the spirit of conquest peculiar to the early church. Now the quest of church leaders is for “good mixers.” A preacher’s success is measured by his ability to get along smoothly with the denominations, or his “super-salesmanship” in enticing attendance and so adroitly applying “the proper method of approach” that the unsuspecting “victim” soon wakes up and finds to his great joy that he has been made a Christian unawares. Regardless of the fancy, finely spun theories of psychology I am certain that the only way to learn how to preach the gospel is to go to the book that “throughly furnishes us to every good work” and see what was preached and how it was preached.
It was not a matter of the best psychology or the most up-to-date method of approach with Elijah, but simply a matter of loyalty to God. Computed by men’s standards Elijah was a consummate failure, and there are thousands of small souls who never made any impression on the world who can very confidently point out the blunders in his methods.
God’s method of approach for Gideon was to go out and tear down the sacred grove of his own father and his neighbors. It is true their anger was aroused and they sought to kill him. We know that he converted his father from heathenism (and probably some of his neighbors) and this was worth more than all the world. If the approach was wrong or the psychology bad, our “salesmanship” brethren will have to charge it up to God!
Josiah burned the sacred things of his father and mother and stamped them to powder. Ezekiel was commanded to “prophesy against” the errors of the people (Ezra 13:2,17). O.C. Lambert There never has been more blistering and withering verbal chastising than was delivered repeatedly by John the Baptist and Jesus to the Scribes and Pharisees of that day (Matt. 3:7; Matt. 23). Contrasted with this the New Testament speaks of false teachers as follows: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17,18).
Paul’s instructions to a young preacher reads thus: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Tit. 1:9-11). Psychology or no psychology, that is the proper method of approach! Paraphrasing Thayer’s definition of the Greek word here translated “convince” we have: refute, confute, convict, bring to light, expose, find fault with, correct, reprehend severely, chide, admonish, reprove, to call to account, show one his faults, demand an explanation, to chasten, to punish. Other Scriptures of similar import should be noted here.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).
“Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:13).
“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Tit. 2:15).
“Them that sin rebuke before all that others may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20).
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘vvno shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Many now speak of religious discussions as “dog fights.” Those who engage in religious discussions are lambasted, roasted, and flayed, and these implications, insinuations, and innuendoes condemn Jesus and the Apostles just as much as they do any man now living! When Jesus meant Pharisees and Sadducees, he said, “Pharisees and Sadducees,” but the sweet-spirited ones who venomously criticize the critics would not think of doing such an “unchristian” thing! All this silly sentimentalism is merely an effort of the Devil to dehorn the gospel. The gospel “is the power (Greek: dunamis, from which we get the word dynamite) of God.” It is “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
Sometimes it is said that the Old Testament said, “Thou shalt not,” but that it is bad psychology and that the New Testament does not say, “Thou shalt not.” If that were true, it would only mean that God made a mistake for fifteen hundred years! But it is not true. Read the 13th and 14th chapters of Romans for a sample of the “Thou shalt not” method of the New Testament! To reprove and rebuke is to say in substance, “Thou shalt not.” I will produce just about as many commands of the New Testament that are stated negatively as can be found in the same number of pages of the Old Testament. But if only one negative statement could be found in the New Testament, away goes the absurd assertion. Paul was chosen to do two things: “to turn them from darkness to light.” To turn men from darkness is just as much the duty of a preacher of the gospel as to turn them to light.
Without all modern inventions of communication and travel, and being compelled to do everything the most expensive and laborious way, Paul could exclaim after a few years that the gospel had been preached “to every creature that is under heaven” (Col. 1:29). By controversy in their own places of worship (Acts 15 and Gal. 2), in the public places (Acts 17:17), and in the other fellow’s place of worship (Acts 6:9; 7:60; 9:20; 13:5,14,41-51; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:4,18; 19:9), they “persuaded and turned away much people” from the false to the true, and, so their enemies said, “turned the world upside down.” A contest of any kind focuses interest, and this is especially true of the contest between false religion and true religion. After a discussion that lasted for two years and three months, in the city of Ephesus (the longest discussion on record) it is said, “so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus.” It would have the same effect today. What could Paul have done with amplifiers, radios, and newspapers?
Invariably false teachers, who are feverishly endeavoring to avoid exposure, seek refuge in a perversion of Romans 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:20. There, they piously tell us, debating is condemned as one of the worst of sins. Is it not a little strange that they did not find this out until they tried a few times to uphold their doctrines in public discussion? They pervert these passages who make the word “debate” mean “discussing religious questions in public,” for that sort of definition makes malefactors of Elijah, Gideon, John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen and Paul. “Debating” is condemned but “disputing” was freely indulged in by all the preachers of the Bible; therefore I am very much in favor of disputes! Bigger ones and more of them! Let all Christians learn how to lead their neighbors out of darkness into light, and not confine this matter of teaching to a part of the church sometimes called “preachers.” Why not make every Christian a preacher as in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 8:1-4)? I once helped to tear a big hole in my neighbor’s roof, not because I wanted to harm my neighbor, but because I wanted to do him good. His house was on fire! When a Christian endeavors to discredit his neighbor’s religion, he is attempting to do him a favor, just as if he were rescuing him from a burning building or a sinking ship. A Christian’s love will not allow him to stand idly by and see his neighbor drink poison by mistake.
This, my friends, is the spirit of the New Testament preaching. (O. C. Lambert wrote this material on Nov. 11, 1937, as the introduction to Foy E. Wallace, Jr.’s book of sermons on The Certified Gospel.)
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 14, pp. 428-429
July 18, 1991