By Mike Willis
The Scriptures teach that God’s servants are to defend the truth. Consider the following texts:
But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel (Phil. 1:17). But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do (1 Tim. 1:3-4).
Throughout the ages, men have tried to deter the servants of God who were busy defending the truth against the assaults of unrighteous- ness. Ahab accused Elijah as the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17-18). Ahab hated Micaiah because he prophesied only evil against him (1 Kings 22:8). The false prophets who preached smooth things resisted Jeremiah because he preached the truth (Jer. 11:21; 23:25-26; etc.). Men have always opposed those who call men back to the word of God.
One of the marks of movement away from the Lord’s revelation is one’s reaction to the preaching of the word of God. John wrote,
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error (1 John 4:1-6).
When men react to the preaching of the truth by trying to silence the man who is preaching the truth instead of calling on the brother to repent who is preaching error, one knows that this is “the spirit of error.”
In the last decade we have had a sad spectacle to occur among brethren, a series of events that is a reflection of the spirit of our own age. As the influence of the world has spilled over into the church, we had to fight such issues among us as divorce and remarriage, immodest dress, and a unity-in-diversity approach to fellowship. Several books have been published among us on some of these issues including the following: Homer Hailey’s The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God; Jerry Bassett’s Rethinking Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage; Sam Dawson’s Fellowship: With God and His People.
Concerned brethren have risen up to reply to these false doctrines. Brother Weldon Warnock wrote a response to brother Hailey entitled A Review of Homer Hailey’s The Divorce and Remarried Who Would Come To God. Brother Ron Halbrook has published two booklets addressing these and other subjects entitled Trends Pointing Toward A New Apostasy and Understanding the Divorce and Remarriage Controversy. While a number have expressed appreciation for these answers to the false doctrines being taught, a rather strong reaction has come against the men who opposed the false doctrines. They are been branded as “jeremiad” zealots who have unmercifully attacked an aged warrior; radicals who are dividing the church; men who are without integrity; snarling dogs, and similar such vicious criticisms. These criticisms are aimed at conscientious brethren who were defending the truth against what even their critics identify as false teachings (although these critics nearly choke when asked to call those who teach those doctrines “false teachers”).
Another incident with remarkably similar results has occurred with reference to a discussion of the “days” of Genesis 1. Some brethren wrote articles and conducted lectureships or workshops around the country asserting that the days of Genesis 1 were long ages, in order to bring their interpretation of Genesis into harmony with late twentieth century “science.” When brethren replied to those preaching that the days of Genesis 1 were “long ages,” they were attacked as “troublers of Israel.” Mind you, those who preached what most admitted were false doctrines were not rebuked or condemned, only those who opposed them.
What is the long lasting impact of this criticism? Of course, none of us can know the future with certainty, but I can assure you of this one thing — these criticisms have the effect of discouraging younger brethren from opposing what they perceive as false doctrine! Who among us wants to have his name assaulted and slandered like those who have opposed the false doctrines of divorce and remarriage? Who would want his name attacked as has occurred toward brother Ron Halbrook who had the audacity to warn brethren about trends toward a new apostasy? The effect of this criticism is very clearly perceived: The critics have attacked those who are defending the truth and have thereby discouraged others from rising to the defense of the gospel in the future. Such criticisms stifle the defense of the gospel.
What will the future hold? As the spirit of liberalism continues to develop among us, these very critics who have been so vociferous in their criticism of others who opposed false doctrine are likely going to find themselves having to defend the truth against some issue facing the church in their area (provided that they live long enough). The very words that they have used to attack those who defended the truth against those who were teaching false doctrines on divorce and remarriage will be used against them.
The sadder thing, however, is this: The unity-in-diversity approach to fellowship that they preached with reference to divorce and remarriage will be applied to that future issue also, whatever that issue might be. I can almost hear the argument now on “baptism” at some future date: “Brethren have always disagreed throughout the restoration movement on the purpose of baptism. Brother Lipscomb and brother McGary debated the issue in the Firm Foundation and Gospel Advocate. If they could disagree and continue in fellowship with each other, so also should we today.” If that argument has validity as a defense for an on-going fellowship with those who are wrong about divorce and remarriage, why won’t it work with those who are wrong about baptism? If the argument has any validity, it will work for both of these issues and a hundred more just like them. The ones who will be judged to be the “troublers of Israel” in that case will be those who are calling for an adherence to the teachings of Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21, just like those who are judged to be the “troublers of Israel” today are those calling for an adherence to the teachings of Matthew 19:9.
We are being treated to a steady stream of dogma coming from sources who paint as villains those who stand for the truth against those who introduce unauthorized teachings and practices. Foy E. Wallace, Jr.’s role in opposing premillennialism, Roy E. Cogdill’s role in opposing institutionalism, and a number of brethren’s role in opposing Oral Roberts faith healing have been subjected to criticism. In all of these examples, those who stand foursquare for the truth are depicted as the “bad guys.” There is no doubt in my mind what impact such a characterization of those who rise to the defense of the gospel in the face of a serious threat of false teaching has on those who are developing their ideas of what it means to be a preacher of the gospel.
I remember distinctly the impact on my life that the reading of the biographies of men such as J.D. Tant, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Campbell, W.W. Otey, and other gospel preachers whose lives were extolled by their biographers. What change would have occurred in my concept of what a gospel preacher’s work is had their biographers condemned them as negative, rancorous men? I am confident that holding such men up as esteemed brethren influenced in a positive way my understanding of the work of a gospel preacher in resisting false doctrines that face the church. What impact will occur when such men are contemned, belittled, and castigated?
Already a mind set has developed among us that identifies debating an issue of truth as a “work of the flesh” to be avoided. Those preachers who engage in public debates are less spiritual than those who refuse to participate. The end result of this mind set is obvious: We stifle the defense of the gospel! That is the result whether or not that is the intention of the critics of those who oppose false teaching.
When we effectively destroy the influence of those who stand up to resist false doctrines, the spread of false doctrine will mushroom. After all, there is no way to oppose it. You can’t preach against it or you may be branded as a jeremiad zealot and destroy your reputation among brethren. So, what do you do? You keep your mouth shut and bury your head in the sand while the false doctrine spreads. You will be counted an honorable brother who has done the cause of Christ much good, but the things you believe as fundamentals of the faith will soon become ancient relics of a bygone faith. If you think I am misrepresenting what has happened, visit a good restoration library and read through the pages of some of the journals that once were so welcomed among those who are now liberals.
If that is what we wish to happen among us, we are in a good position to have that occur. However, if we judge that would not be good for the cause of Christ, we need to be re-thinking our attitudes toward those who are courageous enough to lay their reputations on the line for a defense of the faith.
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