By Hoyt H. Houchen
Churches are prone to absorb their social environment. The church at Corinth is an outstanding example. The ancient city of Corinth, with a population of about four hundred thousand in the time of Paul, was morally corrupt. During this Roman period it was notorious for its wealth and indulgence. The temple of Venus, with more than one thousand priestesses dedicated to harlotry, was located there. The immoral influence of that city infiltrated the church; and, in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he had to deal with such sins as fornication among those brethren (1 Cor. 5: 1).
Likewise, ungodly influences in our society have seeped into churches of our Lord. The church is composed of individuals; so, when a congregation is morally corrupted, it is because of sins committed by individuals. Materialistic thinking in the world permeates the church, and this concept in turn produces different forms of immorality. The desire for material things is fulfilled in the home when the wife starts to work outside the home. Then the race to “keep up with the Joneses” begins. This is very often the basis of martial problems. Communication between marriage partners decreases, the wife finds activities outside the home more interesting, she finds herself being admired by new acquaintances, she becomes independent and eventually divorce is the result. Hardly a week passes that we do not hear that some church member and his wife are divorced. Too often it is a preacher and his wife, and usually fornication is involved. Sin is sin, regardless of who commits it; but there is a greater impact upon the church when committed by a public teacher of the Bible. This essay is not addressing itself to any one particular sin of the teacher, but any sin.
The Teacher’s Responsibility
A teacher in the Lord’s church (whether he be an elder, deacon, preacher or a Bible class teacher) has a tremendous responsibility, not only for what he teaches but how he lives. Every Christian has this responsibility, but because of his position of leadership, the teacher is looked to for guidance, not only by instruction, but also by example. Every teacher should realize that he must not only teach the truth but that he be exemplary in conduct. Paul admonished his beloved child in the faith, Timothy: “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). These words apply to every evangelist today. It is imperative that every teacher be prepared by diligent study to accurately and efficiently teach the word of God, and that his life be above reproach. James warned his readers, “Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment ” (Jas. 3: 1). Speaking is an indispensable part of the preacher’s work; therefore, he must be cautious as to his words. This is why James continues his warning in verse 2, “For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” This is the setting for the remarkable treatise on the tongue which follows. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for evil speaking, warning them of the consequences. “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36, 37). The teacher is responsible for what he says; thus every time he speaks, he should remind himself that someday he will have to stand before God Almighty in judgment to give an account (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10).
The Power of Influence
What the teacher says is important. His speech is to be accurate, instructive and convincing; but it is equally important that his life be in conformity with his teaching. The man whose life is not commensurate with his teaching is inconsistent, and his influence is destructive. He has no respect from those who know what he does. Many young converts and those weak in the faith have been discouraged, shaken, and in instances, have left the faith because some teacher in whom they have placed their confidence has betrayed them by his conduct. We cannot respect the teacher who says: “Do as I say, but not as I do. ” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was d6ing just what we should all do. He was trying to follow Christ who is our perfect model. He, therefore, urged his readers to follow him as far as he followed Christ. Paul, having given no occasion for any man to stumble, commanded others not to do so (1 Cor. 10:32). He reminded Timothy of his own conduct and commended him for following it. “But thou didst follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience, persecutions, sufferings; what things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecution I endured: and out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Tim. 3: 10,11). Paul not only had a tremendous influence upon Timothy and upon the churches, but his godly conduct continues to influence the countless thousands who read his biography and writings in the New Testament.
Gospel preachers are teachers of the word of God as every Christian should be, but his public “position of the Scriptures from the pulpit focuses special attention upon him. It is for this reason that the cause of Christ has suffered immeasurable harm from those who teach the truth, but whose lives are ungodly. Men who have unusual pulpit ability, but whose lives are immoral, have been a great detriment to the Lord’s work. Some of us knew a preacher a few years ago who was sound in his preaching, but unknown to us, he had frequented bars and had been drinking for years. Many years ago this writer went to a community to preach, following a preacher who had not paid his bills because he was a “dead beat.” His impact upon the church was keenly felt. The tragedy is not only the condition of the souls of such men, but the great harm they do to the church. There is much more to being sound than just being so in the pulpit or in the class room. Hypocrisy, in all its forms, is despicable in the sight of God and denounced by Jesus (Matt. 23). Honesty is more than telling the truth. Truth that is spoken is made even more attractive by honesty in the life of its teacher. There is much to be considered in the old adage: “I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.”
Perception can be practiced in more ways than one. Paul admonished, “Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17). The Greek word for “take thought” (pronoeo) is translated “provide” (KJV), and is the same word found in 1 Timothy 5:8. It means to “pre-think.” It conveys the idea of careful consideration. The Christian is to take forethought; he is to provide things that are honest and right, and is to provide for his family. He should exercise forethought when he enters a business transaction to be sure it is not “shady.” He should be open and “above board” with all whom he deals. There are instances of preachers who have gone to some remote field to preach and receive their financial support from distant churches. Not under the oversight of elders and not being observed by the brethren who support them, they have taken advantage by engaging in businesses of one kind or another without the knowledge of the supporters. There is nothing wrong with a preacher “making tents” by reason of necessity; but it is another thing to be fully supported and practice deception. It is nothing short of dishonesty. And, this has been the practice of some who have been supported by congregations under elders, not in remote places. The preacher has operated a business without the elders knowing it. It might be amazing to know what some of these men have made on the side, in addition to the full support they have received from the brethren.
Ungodly teachers should be dismissed and exposed, if they refuse to repent. When elders of a local church receive inquiries about such men, they should be forthright in exposing them. This will help to guard against another congregation being hurt by the ungodly preacher’s influence. When brethren remain silent about a culprit, they are doing an injustice in allowing him to run loose, only to victimize some other good church. Sometimes brethren will not reveal the information that is needed because they either fear repercussion from the exposed offender or simply want to get rid of him. Silence in this case is deception. If brethren would withdraw from those guilty of disorderly conduct (2 Thess. 3:6) and then expose them , many churches could be spared mental anguish and irreparable damage. On the other hand, we have also known of instances where churches having received warning about a preacher, ignore the warning and hire him anyway. They pay the price, but it is too late. The damage to the church has already been done. Only recently we heard of a preacher who stole money from a church. Such a man should not be in the pulpit. It is characteristic of this kind to move about, never staying very long in one place, but unfortunately long enough to damage a church. When asked to leave, they usually stir a stink before leaving. Then there is the preacher who becomes involved with some woman other than his wife. It is not usually a one time thing with that kind, but they continue to preach and brethren support them. The influence of the church in some places has been almost annihilated because of the sinful behavior upon the part of its members, especially elders and preachers.
The solution to the problem of sin committed by the teacher is the same as that of any other member of the church. (1) There must be an about face in attitude toward the Scriptures. They must be regarded as our complete and final authority in all that we do. When they are disregarded the door is opened for every form of disobedience. When they are ignored there will be no regard for the sanctity of marriage, the home, nor honesty and chastity. Material things become the priority of life. Only when our attitude is one of humility and wholehearted submission to the will of God, can our lives be pure and holy. (2) A proper attitude toward the Scriptures will result in the proper attitude toward the Lord’s work. Among other prerequisites, a young single man who plans to preach should seek a wife who is devoted to the Lord and who is aware of the sacrifice she will have to make. If she is dedicated to her own selfish interests, she does not qualify to be a preacher’s wife. Young man, if you plan to preach the gospel, then dedicate yourself to preach the truth without compromise and be determined to live a life above reproach. The Lord’s work is the most serious business in the world. Unless you plan to live what you preach, forget about preaching. Each and every teacher should read and ponder the following words of Paul: “thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?” (Rom. 2:21,22).
The prevalence of sin in the church is obviously the work of the devil. He can only be defeated when our attitude toward God’s word and His work is right. My brother, my sister, evaluate that act of sin before you commit it. Contemplate what it will do to your heavenly Father, to your soul, to your wife, husband, children, parents and other loved ones, and consider the impact that it will have upon the precious church of our Lord.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 1, pp. 14-15
January 5, 1984