Too “Hard” or Too “Soft”?

By Jady W. Copeland

As far back as I can remember I have heard of “hard” and soft” preachers. Most (if not all) of us would not like to be classified as either, perhaps, but rather think we preach a “well-balanced diet.” Of course there is a “negative” side of the gospel as well as the “positive” aspect. I remember that during the 1950s some were critical of the Gospel Guardian for being too “negative.” Brother Yater Tant reminded us that Paul said, “. . . reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2), and then said this is two-thirds negative and one-third positive. I doubt that we can reduce it to some mathematical formula, and I doubt that brother Tant meant it that literally but it does say there are both negative and positive things to be spoken.

There are some preachers who have, at least in the eyes of most, become “specialists” on some issue. Of course they will probably deny such but we all realize that sometimes special attention must be given to various subjects due to their dangerous and troublesome nature. False doctrine must be met when it comes along (1 Tim. 1:3; Tit. 2:1; 1 Tim. 1:10, etc.). When such false teachings arise, good men must oppose them. In doing this, they must devote more time to such than they would otherwise, and I have no problem with this. When the societies and instrumental music were advocated over a hundred years ago, faithful men opposed it, and it became a very live issue for years. In the 1940s premillennialism was advocated by brethren, and good men met the issue. In the 1950s institutionalism and the social gospel again raised its head and brethren spent much time opposing this error. But even in such instances, we must be very careful not to neglect other important matters among God’s people. If elders are to feed the flock, and preachers are to preach the word, a “well-balanced diet” must be maintained. Some today see the great need to meet error relative to divorce and re-marriage and other subjects, and I appreciate the work done by some in these fields. And maybe they are classified as too “one-sided” but let us be very careful of our own motives before we criticize. And these “specialists” must be very careful they do not go to extremes.

But there is another thought worth considering. There are some brethren who seldom, if ever, preach the basics and oppose religious error. Their thrust in their preaching is love, meekness, joy, personal work, brotherly kindness, spiritual growth, etc. What’s wrong with this? Absolutely nothing: as long as we don’t neglect the fundamentals of the cross – the death and resurrection of Christ, baptism, the one body, scriptural worship and the like. Also, as noted above, religious error must be met head on. But again I must be very careful that I am not too critical of these brethren. Everyone has his own style of preaching, and as long as we preach the “whole counsel of God” we are to be commended. But these above-named brethren must be careful not to criticize too strongly those who preach the basics as well. After all, it was the preaching of these basics that caused the Lord’s church to grow in the early part of this century. Preachers who were often farmers during the week preached on Sundays and in meetings in the summer and established churches all over this nation. They met denominational error. They preached the basics. Only the Lord can judge whether or not they neglected other important subjects.

Since “doctrine” means “teaching” we must teach all of the word. Isn’t that what we have told the denominational world? A part of this teaching is attitude. Much division has been caused by improper attitudes toward one another and the improper respect and love one for another. This is as much a part of the sound teaching as the other. Wouldn’t it be sad if we get to judgment and the Lord told us, “You were right about the one body, baptism, instrumental music, the deity of Christ, premillennialism, institutionalism and the like, but you had the wrong attitude toward your brethren “?

Please remember what I wrote above. False doctrine must be met. Error must be answered. False teachers and false brethren must be identified (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Jn. 9-10). But isn’t there too much evidence today, brethren, of a poor spirit toward one another? Are we really exercising love, forbearance, meekness, gentleness, kindness and the like one toward another? In many cases do we not see that brethren (when they differ) become defensive, react emotionally to the issues, question and impugn motives and inject personal and caustic remarks toward others with whom we disagree. if we demand a thus saith the Lord, where is the thus saith the Lord for such an attitude? Will we ever learn to sit down in a friendly, brotherly way to discuss our differences without hatred, distrust and suspicion? Pardon the personal reference, but my brother in the flesh disagrees with me on the institutional issues. We have discussed it at length. But we are still friends. Why? “Because you are brothers.” Right. And why should not spiritual brothers have a closer relationship than fleshly brothers?

“Soundness” must not be applied only to “the issues.” Is a person “sound” who has the wrong attitude toward a brother in Christ? It is distressing to hear folks talk about our papers written by brethren. “I don’t take ‘X’ paper because they are always fighting.” But another comes in with “I can’t take ‘XX’ paper because they are too “soft.” Do not different papers have different thrusts? At least that’s my understanding, and most of them state it in their first issue. The question is, “Do the writers of this paper, along with the editor, speak the truth in love?” (Eph. 4:15) Now if they do not, they need criticism. Remember, brethren, these papers are not like the Bible. They do not pretend to be infallible, and do not pretend to have all the truth as God has revealed it. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. stated in the first issue of the old Gospel Guardian, “The name of the magazine suggests its mission and policy. It is controversial – doctrinal to the core” (Gospel Guardian, V. 1, No. 1, p. 2). In the last paragraph of his editorial he states, “My magazine has a field of its own.” So certain papers have different purposes and of course it is left to each individual if he wishes to subscribe. But must we have ugly attitudes toward one another?

By now some of you are putting me in the “soft” classification. But what I am saying is that unscriptural attitudes toward brethren is as condemning as unscriptural “doctrinal” practices. Brother E. Glen Barnhart has an excellent workbook on Attitudes and Reactions to Congregational Problems. He does not know I am writing this, and if I have ever met brother Barnhart I do not recall it. But every church needs to teach this book. It is the best approach to the problems I have raised that I have seen. He outlines Bible principles in a logical and fine way getting to the very root of most local church problems. The thrust of the book is unity and shows how application of these Bible attitudes will prevent division and problems among God’s saints.

Think on these things; the Bible is right.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 21, pp. 650-651
November 7, 1991