By Mike Willis
The October 1994 issue of The Spiritual Sword featured an article by editor Alan E. Highers entitled “Who Are We?” The article introduced the issue, which was devoted to that theme. It was designed to show that the church of Christ is not a denomination, but is a Christ-centered, peculiar, Bible-believing people. This is a good issue of the journal. Brother Highers lamented that a significant change had occurred because members were “leaving the church” to become members of various denominations. In a former time, members rarely “left the church” to join a denomination.
Why? It was because members of the church at the time were nearly all grounded in the faith. They knew what was wrong with denominations, even if they did not always live up to what they knew was right. They might become unfaithful, but they could not bring themselves to join some religious institution they could not find in the Bible. A large percentage of the members never fell away at all. They were faithful members of the body of Christ all of their lives.
In this day, of course, it is not uncommon to hear about members leaving the church and uniting with a denomination. The change may be because of business interest, social advantage, marital harmony, or life style. In any case, their action represents a lack of understanding about the nature and identity of the church. We are reaping the harvest of twenty-five years of non-distinctive preaching. Many of our young people no longer know the difference between the church of the New Testament and the ecclesiastical kingdoms built by men (1).
From what I can read in the journals and books circulating among our liberal brethren, I conclude that the “winds of change” are blowing. These destructive winds have swept the larger churches and nearly all of the institutions supported by our liberal brethren into the “new hermeneutic” movement. A movement away from “legalism” to more grace oriented preaching is advocated. The new hermeneutic brethren are calling for “cruciform” preaching which is defined as preaching Christ rather than the distinctive features of the New Testament church.
Brother Highers attributes these problems to 25 years of non-distinctive preaching. That would mean that non-distinctive preaching began in the 1960s. Our readers may recall brother Dick Blackford’s October 21, 1993 article in Guardian of Truth which laid the blame for liberalism at the feet of those who introduced the sponsoring church, church support of human institutions (colleges, orphan homes, hospitals, old folks homes, etc.), and church sponsored recreational activities. Brother Highers protested brother Blackford’s assessment and wrote “A Response” which was published in the November 4, 1993 issue. Despite his protest, the fact remains that institutionalism, the sponsoring church, and church sponsored recreation were all part of the same movement as non-distinctive preaching.
The Herald of Truth shows were one of the chief examples of non-distinctive preaching (see Memphis Meeting With Representatives of the Herald of Truth, September 10, 1973, p. ii).
I remember contrasting the bulletins which I received from liberal churches with those published among us in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Liberal church bulletins were usually filled with positive, feel good articles. What they wrote was not contrary to the word of God, but they just did not teach the fundamentals to show men the difference between divinely revealed and humanly devised religion. This seed has been planted for twenty-five years and now the harvest is coming. Our more conservative liberal brethren refer to their more liberal children as “the new hermeneutic” brethren.
Brother Highers related a conversation he had with one of these brethren:
Some time ago a preacher/editor said to me: “Our young people are not buying the old arguments against instrumental music.” I replied: “No, our young people are not hearing the old arguments against instrumental mu-sic.” Some of them are soft on the issue of instrumental music not because they have rejected what they have been taught, but because they have never been taught at all. They do not understand the principles involved. They have never heard the old arguments relating to Bible authority, speaking where the Bible speaks, and remaining silent where the Bible is silent. They have grown up in “socialized” churches where the youth program was strong, but the teaching program was weak. They have majored on minors and minored on majors. They studied Bible school literature that never dealt with distinctive differences with denominationalism because the literature was produced by denominational publishers in the first place and merely adapted for brotherhood use. They were never exposed to “book, chapter, and verse” preaching. Some of them grew up on a style of preaching in which the favorite text was “what is wrong with the church.” The old preachers, the old ways, and the old message, so dear to many of us, became to them an object of scorn and laughter, as they were incited to mirth by a new breed of preachers and youth specialists. It is little wonder that some have abandoned the church in our day!
The liberalism that brother Highers helped to defend in debate has progressed to its logical conclusion. He does not like its product, but he is unwilling to renounce what gave it birth.
Must The Lesson Be Repeated For Us?
Non-distinctive preaching has caught the attention of a new generation of preachers among us. They are enamored with the writings of Swindoll, Lucado, Dobson, Smalling, and other popular Evangelical writers who have little Bible exegesis in their lessons. They too have quit preaching sermons that contrast the organization, names, work, conditions for membership, etc. of the Lord’s church with that of the denominations of men. The believe that such preaching is caustic and will drive away the good, honest and sincere visitors to the services. Church bulletins are full of “feel good” articles but contain little to distinguish the Lord’s church from denominationalism. Preachers use less and less Scripture in their lessons; sermons are preached that are full of stories that make you feel warm inside. And the members love to have it so (cf. Jer. 5:31).
Do you think that the same kind of preaching will produce a different fruit among us? If so, why? If there is not a significant change in the soft preaching that is afraid to call the names of denominations and false teachers among us from the pulpit, young people will grow up not being able to distinguish revealed religion from unrevealed religion. Soft preaching prepares the soil for apostasy. When something is introduced into local churches that needs to be rooted out and exposed, those who have welcomed soft preaching in their pulpits are not willing to tolerate the kind of preaching that is necessary to root out the error and withdraw from the men who are teaching it. Instead, those influenced by soft preaching coddle the false teachers who are traitors to the gospel and castigate and belittle as “guardians of the orthodoxy,” “watchdogs,” and “shoot first and check later sheriffs” those Bible preachers who are calling for the false teacher to repent. The reception the false teacher receives will make him feel comfortable to stay and continue to spread his heresy among the churches.
We take no pleasure in witnessing the movement away from the truth among our liberal brethren. We fear that its influence has and is spreading among us. Let us not bury our heads in the sand, pretending that this can never happen among us. Rather, let us demand “book, chapter, and verse” preaching from the pulpits. Let us demand that revealed and unrevealed religion be contrasted. Let us encourage godly brethren who are willing to bear the blunt of criticism for exposing the false teachers among us and not take pot shots at them. Some brethren shoot their soldiers those who sacrificially defend the truth against the onslaught of error. Men who say they “agree with what you say” proceed to take pot shots at the soldiers wielding the sword to defend the truth, but these same men coddle the traitors to truth. Yes, we wound and kill our heroes!
Some Distinctives of the Gospel
Let me suggest some distinctives of the gospel:
1. God’s people are distinctive in their love, which serves others while stressing obedience to God (John 13:35; 14:15; 15:14; 1 John 5:1-3).
2. God’s people are distinctive in insisting on the inspiration of the Bible and on the authority of the Bible pattern of teaching (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1:13).
3. God’s people are distinctive in proclaiming the grace of God as to the provision of salvation and the necessity of obedient faith as to the reception of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 1:5,16).
4. God’s people are distinctive in living in the world without living like the world (Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 5:19-23).
5. God’s people are distinctive in preaching Christ and him crucified in all of its fulness, including all the facts, commands, and promises of the gospel; including the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; including faith, repentance, and baptism; and including the work, worship and organization of the local church (1 Cor. 2:2; Acts 20:20,24-27).
6. God’s people are distinctive in pleading for unity in religion on the basis of the restoration of New Testament Christianity (John 17:17-21; 1 Cor. 1:10).
7. God’s people are distinctive in upholding the same principles of morality which were originally taught in apostolic doctrine (Tit. 2:11-14). They will avoid the tendency to become conformed to this world in such matters as abortion, drinking, drugs, easy divorce and remarriage, and such like things.
Each of these distinctives of the gospel, and all others, require standing for what is revealed and standing against any departure from divine revelation. Distinctive preaching involves upholding truth by exposing error at times, including specific false doctrines and false teachers (2 Tim. 2:16-18).
Can we fare any better than our liberal brethren if we depart from distinctive preaching?
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII, No. 22, p. 2
November 17, 1994