When we speak “the truth in love,” the power of God’s love in His Word is exerted upon the sinner’s heart in order to convert him (Eph. 4:15). That power will convert him, if he loves truth (Jn. 7:17; Rom. 1: 16). As the truth of God’s love does its work, it comes into conflict with sin and error. Thriving on confusion, error charges those who speak the truth in love with causing the conflict and with lacking love. Loving “peace” (?), those in error often complain that “progress” could be made if only certain people would not speak the truth so plainly. Such peace-lovers crucified Christ because He would not and could not compromise the truth He came to proclaim (Jn. 11:48).
The Message and Method of Christ
Those “who controvert controversy” need to remember that “the Prince of Peace never sheathed the sword of the Spirit while he lived. He drew it on the banks of the Jordan and threw the scabbard away” (A. Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, 4 Jan. 1830, pp. 40 44). After rising from the dead, the Prince of Peace commissioned His apostles to convict all the world of sin, to convince men of all nations that there is only one right way in religion, and to convert all mankind to Himself (Matt. 28:18-20). It was not enough for Christ to fight sin and error of every kind while He walked on the earth – He also commissioned men to continue the warfare in His name during His absence and promised to be with them in it! Hearing the message and watching the method of the apostles, unbelievers soon “took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” and many complained that Christians were bent on turning “the world upside down” (Acts 4:13; 17:6).
The power of God’s love in His Word is exerted through both new converts and seasoned veterans of the cross who realize that sin and error condemn all the world to eternity in hell. Love for God, for truth, and for the sinner cannot be quiet in the face of sin and error. “Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dealt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:22). This new convert was not afraid for his new faith to be investigated nor was he afraid to initiate investigation of false doctrine.
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him (Acts 17:16-17).
Paul’s heart was touched by the plight of the sinner and there was something about error that stiffed the fighting spirit in him. He knew how to contend for truth and against error without being contentious in any ungodly sense.
Such preaching generates opposition and cries of, “Foul play!” but Paul did not know when to quit loving God, truth, and sinners.
And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:8-10).
Paul was not timid about pressing the demands of truth. He did not know the word quit. Faced with sin and error, he was always the controversialist never the compromiser. The message and method of the apostles was learned at the feet of the Prince of Peace, and by the revelation of the Holy Spirit sent from the Father in heaven. We cannot improve the message. We cannot improve the method.
What was the attitude of the inspired apostles in the presence of sin and error among brethren? Instead of ignoring the advance of false teaching in the hope that it would 44go, away,” they engaged in “much disputing” (KJV), “much questioning” (Marshall’s Interlinear), or “much debate” (NAS) in order to stop error’s advance (Acts 15:7). By the authority of “our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul pled for the Corinthians to “all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). He gave them the inspired Word of God to explain the limits of liberty, and to warn against the dangers of tolerating sin and of compromising with false teachers (2:13; chapts. 8-10; 5:6; 15:33-34). “The churches of Galatia” were warned against “some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7-9). Error rather than truth is the real cause of “trouble.” The Galatians were reminded that even Peter was rebuked publicly when he “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (2:14).
Those who spoke up for the truth were the ones who knew the true meaning of love. John, the apostle of love, wrote by the inspiration of God:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 Jn. 5:2-3).
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
Genuine love for God, for truth, for brethren, and for the lost demands that we not only practice the truth but also draw the line against error so plainly that no one will mistake where we stand. To leave the false teacher with the impression that he is somehow safe in the hands of God is to deceive him. To defend leaving such an impression in the names of “peace,” “love,” and “unity” is to fly under false colors. It means we do not know the true meaning of such terms.
A Better Message or Method?
In 1930 Roy Cogdill was twenty-three years old, living in Greenville, Texas, and conducting gospel meetings full time when he wrote the article “Much Ado About Nothing” (Gospel Advocate, 20 Feb. 1930, p. 171). The digressive Christian Church people proposed to celebrate Pentecost on 8 June 1930 and some of the brethren who opposed digression thought they saw in the proposal an opportunity to open lines of communication. The method of dialogue was for preachers on both sides to exchange pleasantries about our common ground – to emphasize what we agree on, rather than what we disagree on. Brother Cogdill regarded both the celebration and the dialogue as “much ado about nothing.” “Instead of patting them on the back for what little truth they do preach, I believe they should have their hearts pricked about much truth that they are willing to either compromise or will not preach at all.”
Talk with digressives of our so-called common ground on “peace,” “love,” and “unity” in the absence of clear condemnation of their sin and error leaves the impression of approval. It is compromise. It confirms the sinner in his error rather than convicting and converting him. When young preachers learn that principle, they can speak without leaving an uncertain sound and can follow a steady course in the truth – as brother Cogdill’s life illustrates.
“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). But the fad brother Cogdill noticed in 1930 has been in vogue again for the last decade. Some brethren who profess to oppose digression are “opening lines of communication” by exchanging pleasantries about “our common ground” with digressives. When questioned, some of our brethren claim that they are using a new “method” of converting digressives – but after a decade of such work, who has been converted? Several who once opposed digression have now gone into it while supposedly working to get somebody out! Those who have warned of that very danger have been told to keep quiet lest their warnings drive compromisers into the arms of the digressives – warning of the dangers of sin just drives
people into sin. Well, then, what would keep them out? Brethren, we have no better message or method than Jesus and His apostles had.
Those who have questioned the new dialogue and the new drift toward digression have been lectured repeatedly on peace, love, unity, unholy ambition, yellow journalism, preacher fights, paper drives, editorial pronouncements, brotherhood politics, and the like. Error thrives on confusion by charging those who speak the truth in love with causing the conflict and with lacking love. Some who have given lectures on “love” to men who believe that love of truth means conflict with error have become gradually embittered toward their brethren, toward the work of gospel preaching, and even toward life. Several things contribute to this bitterness. They apparently thought they could conduct these dialogues without review and protest, but found they could not. They thought their lectures on “love” and the like would stop the review and protest, but found they would not. Because of the cloud of confusion these brethren threw up, sympathizers made them believe ever more intensely that they were martyrs and victims rather than compromisers.
But, brethren, there is another cause for this bitterness and disillusionment. It is the gradual erosion of faith in the gospel, which is the true heart of the whole controversy. There is gradual erosion of faith in the authority of the Bible -the restoration principle that we can and must give Book, chapter and verse for what we preach and practice. Erosion of faith in the sufficiency of the Bible as the basis of unity. Erosion of understanding the Bible concepts of love, grace, gospel, peace, faith, unity, and fellowship denominational concepts are substituted. Erosion of faith in the Bible terms of pardon – toying with the idea that erring brethren and denominationalists may be saved whether they meet the conditions of pardon or not. Erosion of faith that people using instrumental music in worship, institutionalism in the work of the church, and other innovations are lost and in need of salvation. Erosion of faith in what the Bible says on morality – marriage, divorce, and remarriage; dancing, immodesty; social drinking; gambling, etc. Compromising the method of Christ in our fight against sin and error can lead us to compromise His message as well.
Let all of us renew our faith in both the message and the method of Christ. Let us preach the truth in love and condemn error with clarity. Renewed emphasis on fundamental truths is the answer. Jack L. Holt (P.O. Box 715, Sinton, TX 78387), a seasoned veteran, recently observed in a letter,
It seems to me there is a spirit of compromise spreading over the conservatives. Preachers are speaking the “smooth things” that people want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. There is a tendency to quit fighting the errors in denominationalism and just preach a positive gospel. Am I far out in this observation?
It is time to “preach the word,” to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” and to “fight the good fight of faith” (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Tim. 13; 6:12). Each of us must answer the question, “What attitude shall we take toward error?”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 17, pp. 516, 535
September 6, 1984