By Tom M. Roberts
Preachers in the same yoke learn from one another, uphold one another in troublesome times, encourage one another and serve as examples for others. This is especially true of older preachers who serve as role models for young-
Gospel preachers are the best friends gospel preachers have.
While it is true that a special bond exists between all Christians (Gal. 6:10), gospel preachers share labors, hopes, problems, and experiences that only other preachers can understand. This is not to say that preachers are any better than other Christians It is but to admit that there is a field of service peculiar to preachers of the word that none can understand unless one has filled the shoes of another preacher. Mothers can understand certain issues of life that single women have never known, creating a special bond between mothers. Medical doc- tors, coaches, teachers, and certain professions have a bond that they share within their field because of the peculiar circumstances that make them what they are. Likewise, gospel preachers recognize their responsibilities, challenges and opportunities and relate to one another, knowing the trials, temptations, and pitfalls that face each other. It is this commonality of service that makes one preacher sensitive to the needs and weaknesses of other preachers. Without lessening the brotherhood that exists between all Christians, gospel preachers need the relationship with other preachers to face the variety of challenges their work will thrust upon them.
While it is true that egotism and personal flaws will sometimes pit preachers against one another in a carnal way, true “yoke-fellows” (Phil. 4:3) lighten the burdens of one another. Jesus taught the beneficial use of the yoke when he urged mankind to take his “yoke” upon ourselves, thus sharing our load with him (Matt. 11:29). Preachers in the same yoke learn from one another, uphold one another in troublesome times, encourage one another and serve as examples for others. This is especially true of older preachers who serve as role models for younger men. Invaluable lessons can be passed from one generation to another and young preachers will do well to emulate the good qualities that older men display. Some churches realize this and employ the “two preacher” system, allowing a young man to work with an older man to take advantage of the years of experience. I know of no greater demonstration of the value of one preacher to an- other than this kind of arrangement. Properly related as God would have them to be, all preachers of the gospel befriend one another and make the burdens of each other lighter as true yokefellows should.
Having said this, it should be acknowledged that not all understand and appreciate the “safety net” that each preacher serves toward the other. I am grateful to those faithful men who watch my preaching, my personal life, and my conduct and who would not hesitate to come to me about a flaw that would endanger my work or my salvation. Of course, this includes many more than preachers. Members of the local church and fellow-Christians who know me from afar also watch my life. There should be no resentment in this watchfulness toward one another. It is not snooping, intrusion, or being a busy-body. True concern about the salvation of our brothers and sisters in Christ make us “our brother’s keeper.” In the best sense, we watch out for one another and provide a safety net when we fall. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). I hope those who watch on my behalf will never fail to speak to me when they feel the need to do so.
Can Preachers Be Watchmen Today?
T h e r e h a s b e e n s o m e u n d u e criticism toward the concept of modern-day “watchmen.” Used as a thematic of militance in the spirit of Ezekiel 3:17 and other passages that point to the principle, gospel preachers can be so designated. Brethren, it is not prophets alone who are to watch. Outside the prophetic privilege, divorced from inspiration, and independent from miraculous insight, there remains the responsibility of one Christian to another to watch in the spirit of love and concern that God has instituted for our spiritual welfare. It is spiritual paranoia that fears and resents the watchful eye of other Christians. Either that, or the desire to hide from watchful eyes the covert actions that signify departures from “the old paths.” Preachers who have clear consciences do not attempt to stifle attention upon themselves nor do they recoil with animosity toward those who care enough to act as watchmen.
Jesus told all the disciples, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). He repeated this warning in Matthew 25:13 and directly connected the value of watching to the coming Judgment: all men must watch. Later, in the Garden just before his arrest and trial, Jesus told the apostles, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation . . .” (26:41). Certainly, this admonition does not apply to the apostles alone. This is abundantly clear from Mark’s account: “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (13:37).
Elders are told; “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Yes, not only elders, but “everyone.” We submit to others, knowing they “watch out for your souls” (Heb. 13:17). Christians, generally, must watch for themselves and for others. “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1
Thess. 5:6). Preachers are specifically urged: “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). Peter added, “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7).
To the unprejudiced mind, the work of watchman is that of every Christian. We watch for ourselves and for others. Watching is specifically the work of gospel preaching. A cynic might find this an intrusion of privacy, but God has instituted this work as a means of security for the believer. We reject the role of the watchman only to our own spiritual peril.
But of what value is a watchman if he does not speak of the danger which he sees? Remember the analogy of the watchman is that of a man on the walls of the city who is to be alert to danger and to cry aloud, warning the inhabitants, when danger approaches. This analogy includes, but is not limited to, prophets. Ezekiel warned that the watchman who did not cry aloud would have his blood required for his negligence (3:16-21). Isaiah extended the figure when he condemned the unfaithful watchmen as “dumb dogs, they cannot bark” (56:10). The value of watching is appreciated when danger is seen and the warning is raised. Without the voice of warning, a watch is an empty office. Worse, a watchman gives a false sense of security because his presence on the walls implies diligence when, in fact, he has no intention of crying out. He is a friend to the enemy, a companion to treason, an empty symbol that denies his very purpose of his existence. Those who depend on watchmen who are dumb in the face of danger are exposed to the enemy all the more because they have come to depend on those who watch. Yes, their blood will be required by God when watchmen keep silent.
Truth Magazine and other faithful journals use this scriptural principle to allow individuals to do the work of watching. Shall Christians not make use of media and electronic techniques as widely as carnal enterprises? Is watching needed any less today than in ancient times? None who submit material for publication us a prophet, nor does he seek to represent the prophetic office. Each writer speaks only for himself as he uses the Scriptures to teach, to edify, to warn. There is no party line or human creed to follow. Each article is their “watch.” It is their turn on the walls, their time to be alert, to “bark” (Isa. 56:10), if need be. Surely, we understand that we must not be guilty of crying “Wolf,” when there is no wolf. Neither should we cry “peace and safety” when sudden destruction is upon us (1 Thess. 5:3). A “right dividing of the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) provides for feeding that portion of Scripture that fits the need. Brethren, it is this very application of the word of God through which we en- joy the safety of our souls. Only a fool would reject the value of employing watchmen, much less carp and mewl when a watchman warns of danger at the gates.
“Watch Out, He’ll Write You Up!”
Earlier in this article, it was asserted that a gospel preacher has no better friends than other gospel preachers. There are various reasons why this is so that we will not explore here. If you have been on the “firing line” for any length of time, you who preach understand the value of faithful friends who stand by your side, who hold up your hands, who provide wise counsel (Prov. 11:14), who dispute with you when you are wrong, and who love you enough to stand between you and your own mistakes.
However, not every preacher appreciates other preachers, especially in their work of “watching” as an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). There are those who wish complete freedom to teach error, to depart the old paths, to twist the scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16), yet remain outside the safety net of God’s watchmen. Not only do they resent private intervention of their public sins, but they vociferously protest public exposure of their error. Some preachers reject God’s wisdom in the use of watchmen and berate those who accept the responsibility. Hiding behind the cloak of privacy, some preachers attack the scriptural work of watching. “Watch out, he’ll write you up” is the ultimate insult by those who are either teaching error, too timid to be a watchman, or who are ignorant that danger is at the gate.
Preachers who don’t like watchmen decry articles in religious magazines or the voice of watchmen from the pulpit. They castigate watchmen as “brotherhood watchdogs,” self-appointed vigilantes who ferret out their brethren and accuse them of “writing up” those who disagree with the “party line.” Watchmen are equated with the worst possible motives as those who are mean-spirited, busy bodies, and brotherhood investigators. All this implies, of course, that the one teaching error is loving, kind, innocent of any agenda, and free from all animosity. What they hope is that it will be forgotten that they claim the privilege to teach public error without public exposure. In our time, “watch- man” has become a dirty word to some whereas the Bible treats it with respectful responsibility. God commands that Christians be watchmen. God demands that preachers watch and cry out. Only those who are ignorant or who wish to hide their error will deny the authority of the watchman to do what God commissioned.
Those who go from place to place teaching error want to restrict the watchman to the local church. Much criticism has been raised against watching beyond a local congregation. Thus, the charge of “brotherhood watchdogs.” While it is true that the “work of an evangelist” includes local responsibilities, it is also true that one may preach wherever opportunity presents itself. It is more than a little strange that some view the teacher of error as free to go anywhere with his work, but would restrict the evangelist to the local church. Is anyone ready to defend the proposition that an evangelist is limited to the local church in his work?
But our problem does not stop there. Some do not want the watchman to operate even in the local church lest he be “factious” or “contentious.” While fully recognizing that it is a work of the flesh to be contentious (Gal. 5:19ff), we must yet “contend for the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3). There is a big difference between the two: con- tending and being contentious. Yet those who teach error will label a watchman in the local church as “contentious” if he contends against fellowship with sin. Some who have advocated fellowship with those who believe and practice sinful things (under the aegis of Romans 14) have warned that those who oppose such fellowship would be guilty of “factionalism.” Clearly, some want to destroy the work of watchmen, either in the local church or anywhere in the brotherhood.
“Speak And Hold Not Thy Peace”
When the apostle Paul came to Corinth, the Lord appeared to him and urged him to “speak and hold not thy peace” (Acts 18:9). The end result was that the gospel was preached, the Lord’s church established and, later, epistles written to correct error within the church. While not apostles, we are yet commanded to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2) and we fully intend to do so. We will not be deterred by those who do not like the role of watchmen, do not like to have their names called and their sins exposed. We will take every precaution to ensure patience and long- suffering (Eph. 4:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:14), remaining open to brotherly discussion, acting with love (1 Cor. 13:1ff). But we shall “write up” error and those who teach it, all their caterwauling notwithstanding. We refuse to “give place to the Devil” (Eph. 4:27), allowing him room to teach error without raising the cry of the watchman. Recognizing that there is a realm of judgment in “how” the gospel is preached, let me suggest that if anyone does not like “how” we do it, you feel free to do it in another way. But I give you this guarantee: If you do the work of a watchman, no method is going to be acceptable to those who teach error. You see, there may be fifty ways to skin a cat, but he won’t like any of them! Be as critical as you will of us. But if the cat’s being skinned, he’s going to howl. If he’s not howling at you, you haven’t started skinning yet!